Please explain 1 John 3:9, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.’ How can this be?
Taken at face value, this verse seems to say a believer is wholly incapable of sinning. However, this cannot be John’s meaning; for we become free from sin only as we make the supreme effort to purify ourselves as Christ is pure and by cherishing the hope of being made immortal as Christ hoped (1 John 3:3). Earlier in this very Epistle, John says, “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). Surely, he is speaking as a believer and to believers, yet his “we” encompasses all.
“Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Only when we cease to transgress the law do we cease to sin. Even so, the inability to sin is not true for even the most sincere of believers. Not until we are made in the image of God, made like the angels of heaven, will we be totally beyond the possibility of sin (Luke 20: 35- 36).
What then is the meaning of the text in question? There are a few possibilities to consider.
First, John may have been referring to the ideal of fully matured people in Christ reaching the point devoid of sin. However, it seems unlikely that it could be said that they cannot sin.
Secondly, John may be saying that sin cannot dominate the life of one born of God. By definition, one born of God must be continually fighting against sin until the victory is complete. John was not saying that this is accomplished all at once, but that it is the goal toward which he works with all his might.
Third, John may have been saying that those truly born of God, in the strictest sense of the word, cannot sin; that when one is truly born of God, they are without sin. Peter identifies the word of God with the incorruptible seed of God. If this too was John’s thought, the “seed” is the word of God guiding and abiding in the true believer and that word can effectively keep us from sin. This was the Psalmist’s formula: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).
They who abide with God, never forget God and who draw so near to God that sin becomes increasingly repulsive, truly belong to God’s family. The word or “seed” of God dwelling constantly in our hearts can have this effect upon us. Such a one will reach the state where they “cannot sin” and will surely receive God’s forgiveness and eternal blessings.