Lifestyle Issues of  1st John

At 04:50 AM 12/7/99 -0500, you wrote:
>I have been greatly confused recently over the issue of sanctification.
>In your theological position you write:
>"In this life time, those born of God are incapable of living a
>lifestyle of sin or of hating other children of God in any lifestyle
>manner because of the transforming nature of the regeneration."
>My questions:
>Is this to say that anyone that claims to be a Christian, yet sins, is
>nominal and not saved?
>Do Christians sin?
>If so, then how much is too much sin?

Good to hear from you.  Yes, the teachings of 1st John are often neglected in the Christian community today and they may seem confusing to hear at first. I've develop a somewhat extensive study on 1st John at

For example 1st John teaches:
"No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." 1John 3:9,10 (NIV)

What is sometimes unclear in reading this in English (rather than the original Greek) is that "continue to sin" and "cannot go on sinning" implies that those born of God absolutely do not sin at all. But actually in the greek, the grammar indicates that John is speaking of the person's overall lifestyle and not speaking of his behavior at every instance in time.

Thus for example, Paul also writes:
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders  nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 1Cor 6:9,10 (NIV)

Paul again is speaking in a lifestyle sense. So, for example, a "drunkard" would not be a person who gets drunk once, but rather is an alcoholic, or about the sexually immoral, he is speaking of those who accept sexual immorality as part of their chosen lifestyle. In other words if you were to examine a person's overall lifestyle and give him a label, you would not be able to label one born of God as  a slander, swindler, sexually immoral person, and so forth.  That is what John means when he says, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin"
This is not generally clarified in the Christian community today, but if you meet someone, for example, that claims to be a Christian be, let's say accepts a homosexual lifestyle, for example, you can say with assurance that such a person had never been born of God up to this point.

Thus we do not obtain our salvation status by our performance, but rather we reveal it thusly. While eternal security is true (once born of God, always born of God), how does one know whether one has been born of God?  John declares that we know it by our behavior. Notice all the places John says, "We know" including 1John 3:9,10 above.

"We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.  The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." 1John 2:3-6 (NIV)

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him." 1John 3:14,15 (NIV)

"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  This then is how we know that we belong to the truth"1John 3:18,19 (NIV)

"Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us." 1John 3:24 (NIV)

But to answer you question more explicity, I have to restate it: No there is no one born of God who lives a lifestyle of sin. But yes there are those who call themselves "Christians" who do. And everyone, including those born of God will sin from time to time. (At least in this lifetime)

>If not, then how are works different from bearing the fruits?

I think they're pretty much the same. Having been born of God through faith in Christ, it is inevitable that one bears fruit to God. It is in fact God working in the believer who does it. Notice the order in Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--
9  not by works, so that no one can boast.
10  For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So a person is first saved. That is his sins are forgiven (justification) and he is born of God (regeneration) and the God creates this new person in Christ to do good works (sanctification)

Sanctification is inevitable for the believer. Having believed, we are saved, but our experience of salvation is progressive. Our sins have been forgiven and gradually we are becoming more like Christ in terms of our behavior. We have been saved from sin through forgiveness, but we retain the sinful nature and are gradually being delivered from it, the culmination being its elimination upon our death and resurrection, where we inherit new bodies - without the presence of the sinful nature.  This is the completion of our sanctification.

>According to 1John 3:9 wouldn't it be contrary to say that Christians
>sin if we have lost the ability to sin?

We have lost the ability to live a lifestyle of sin. You want to see if you've been born of  God? Try to live a lifestyle of sin. You will find that those born of God just are not able to do it. Just as those not born of God find living the Christian life unnatural to them, so those born of God find living a sinful lifestyle unnatural to them.

>What is the difference between "backsliding" and "fallen away"?

Depends on who is defining the terms and in what context. What Bible verse are you referring to and I can give you my opinion as to its interpretation on this matter?

>What is true repentance? A desire or an act?

Faith leads to repentence. If a person believes that God hates sin and wants him to stop sinning, this can lead to a desire to turn to God and be saved from sin. It can lead to a hatred and contempt of his own sinfulness. But if there is no action associated with such an attitude, then such "faith" is in name only, being dead.  Not meaning faith and works, but rather a faith that produces works - that's the quality of faith that is of salvific value. Thus believers don't put our faith in the applications of our faith (our works), but rather we put our faith in the Biblical Christ and his atoning work on our behalf. But such faith will inevitably produce "works" of faith. Else it is merely "nominal".

>If someone is fighting a personal addiction, to what may be considered
>sin, does that actually mark a nominal Christian?

That's an interesting question and I think the fact that a person is "fighting" it would indicate that he is in the process of rejecting it as part of his lifestyle. So the issue is whether what constitutes "lifestyle sin" is simply the behavior itself or also incorporates the attitude of the acceptance of such behavior. I can say I'm not completely sure. But a serious lack of victory over sin may indicate a lack of the presence or power of the Holy Spirit. John writes:
"This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,  for everyone born of God overcomes the world."1John 5:3,4 (NIV) And Paul also, after the verse 1Cor 6:9,10 quoted above concerning a list of lifestyle sinners writes: "And that is what some of you were.", using the past perfect - indicating a past lifestyle implying they no longer live as such.

But on the other hand, all believers do still struggle with sin - indicating that complete victory has not been gained. But for  habitual sins which one is trying to overcome, they call into question whether one has been born of God, but one cannot say absolutely one way or the other. Paul even asks the Corinthians, in view of all the sinfulness in the Corinthian church, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2Cor 13:5 (NIV)And what is the test? Simply the things John was speaking of. Realize also that such a test is not limited to one's sinfulness, but also incorporates other areas - like the extent to which one is involved in loving other Christians.

>Is salvation a process or a one time event?

Salvation is a free gift, but involves both Justification (forgiveness of sins) and Sanctification (a change of one's behavior towards Christlikeness culminating in the removal of the sinful nature upon one's death and resurrection)

Justification is being saved from one's sin
Sanctification is being saved from one's sinfulness.

Justification occurs at a point in time when one believes in Christ with salvific faith.
Sanctification is a process leading up to a point in time event in which the sinful nature will be remove completely in the future.

Sometimes when the Bible (or Christians) speak of "salvation" they are just speaking of justification. So it's important to understand what people mean by their terms when communicating.

>If you question or doubt your salvation does that, in itself, prove
>you're not saved?

Absolutely not! This is a common misconception. Faith in Christ is not the same as putting faith in the assurance of our salvation!  In fact if one is putting their faith in the assurance of salvation to save them, they may indicate that they are not putting their faith in Christ.  Putting faith in "assurance of salvation" is a form of "easy-believism". It is not the gospel. And as I showed above, even Paul asks the Christians to question their salvation. "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2Cor 13:5 (NIV)And John similarly throughout the book of 1st John.

And just to clarify - "Assurance of Salvation" is different than the doctrine of "Eternal Security". It is true that "Once saved, always saved", but how does one know whether one has been saved? That's where there should be some healthy uncertainty. The assurance of Salvation is based on a relative measure of one's attitudes and behaviors. Faith is a condition for salvation. So how do you know whether you really believe?

>What if you don't confess your sin after you sinned?

There's often a misinterpretation of 1JOhn 1:9. In fact, I memorized this verse sortly after becoming a Christian, but never really understood it for many years.

1John (NIV)
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
10  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

Verse 9 sounds almost Catholic. To be forgiven of a particular sin, must we confess that particular sin? What if we die before we've confessed that particular sin? Are we not forgiven for that particular sin?  Some have even invented a purgatory concept to take deal with such problems. Others see this verse as referring to a point in time event when we pray to recieve Christ. Then all sins, even future sins, are forgiven.

But a problem is that John is using the present tense in the Greek when he says "confess", indicating a lifestyle, rather than point in time event. What I think he means is that if  confessing you sins is a general characteristic of your lifestyle, this indicates you have been born of God  as you're practicing walking with Christ (which he mentions in verse 7). And thus if you have been born of God, all your sins have been forgiven and "will cleanse you" - speaking of sanctification - from all unrighteousness - the sinful nature.

Notice also the context surrounding this verse in which he gives indications of "nominalism" - if we claim to be without sin or claim that we have not sinned.

But in answer to your question, if one refuses to acknowledge sin then it's evidence that one may not have been born of God. But again this can only be evaluated when viewing the person's overall lifestyle and not so much in a punctilinear fashion.

>Is ignorance of what sin is an excuse?

An excuse for sinning? If we were actually blind we would not be guilty of sin (John 9:41) But usually what happens is that sin so corrupts our conscience that we become insensitive to it. In the process of sanctification, I theorize that God gradually reveals our sinfulness to us so as to deal with one thing at a time. But I do think that one can legitimately say that most if not all of us are "ignorant" or nor aware of all our sinfulness.

Of course, if a person is not aware, then he cannot confess. But realize that confessing what we know is what John is talking about, and that which we don't is taken care of as well as he says, "will cleanse us from all unrighteousness".

>Do babies or others who never hear the message automatically go to hell?

I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't bet on presuming that people are saved apart from hearing and believing the gospel. If people are saved without hearing the message, then best not to tell them. For we put their "salvation" in jeopardy. But I would say that such is neither implied nor stated explicitly in the Bible.

The only righteousness that the Bible reveals is the performance based righteousness of the Law and the righteousness which is through faith in Christ. But "how can the believe in one whom they have not heard?"Rom 10:14 (NIV) "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Romans 10:17 (NIV)

I can imagine that maybe God makes exceptions, but it is never specified. There are those who propose that God saves babies not through faith in Christ,but through the ritual of infant baptism. The Bible doesn't teach that. In fact they try and equate water baptism with circumcision and thus fall under the theology of the group of the circumcision, whom Paul saw as enemies of the gospel and which he fought against in the book of Galatians.

There have been false doctrines and false practices coming out of the desparate attempt to go beyond what is written in order to rewrite the gospel so as to include whomever one wants.  Consider the Calvinists in the middle ages. They held great hatred even to the point of murder against "anabaptists" simply because they believed in infant baptism  and the anabaptists did not.  And what happened to the spread of the gospel? It was greatly hindered by the idea that the hearing of the gospel was not so important, but rather whether one was "chosen" by God's arbitrary standard - which hypothetically could not be known under Calvinism. Indeed, even today Calvinists believe that one is born of God before one has faith in Christ, contrary to 1John 1:12 and Ephesians 1:13. Beware of false theologies, though they may be popular. The Bible and the Bible alone is the basis of right doctrine. If only people would simply study the Bible and not the "theologians", they'd be better off. And do not presume that professional or lay Christians, like myself, are necessarily presenting you Biblical truth in the ideas and interpretations they propose. Check them out with the Bible.

"The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11 (NIV)

>While many of these questions may sound ridiculous, they are questions I
>have had.
>I can only ask you to forgive my ignorance at questions that may appear
>trivial or childish. If you could answer each question individually, for
>the sake of clarity, I would greatly appreciate it. I am greatly
>troubled because I always believed that by grace though faith we are
>saved. I get the impression that you believe that the test of salvation
>is whether or not you sin. Is this true?

Sinning in a lifestyle sense - yes it is a test of one's salvation status according to 1st John.

In Christ,


The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources