The book of First John, written by the apostle John, had caused me much grief. To me, it always seemed so black and white. Listening to the wrong people just added to my confusion. According to this verse in the title, they will tell you that if you sin habitually, then you aren’t saved.
In addition, a number of popular preachers teach that I John demonstrates ten tests for determining salvation. One has come up with twelve tests to evaluate your salvation.
A reviewer summarized these twelve tests as follows [My answers are in parenthesis]:
Do you walk in the light? [Not all the time. It can change moment by moment.]
Do you confess your sins? [Not always]
Do you keep God’s commands and are not burdened by them? [Not all of the time]
Do you walk as He walked? [Absolutely not! Jesus is perfect. I am not.]
Do you love other believers? [Most of the time]
Do you reject “the world”? [More so now than I did when I was a younger believer.]
Are you remaining in fellowship with believers and persevering in your faith? [I am, but I cannot guarantee I will do so until the day I die.]
Do you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart what the Scriptures testify to about the Christ? [I do. This is basically the same as the last test.]
Are you growing in holiness? [I have, but it makes me see more of my wretchedness.]
Are you growing in your practice of righteousness? [Sometimes, but not always.]
Are you overcoming the world or is the world overcoming you? [I am overcoming the world at this moment. That could change in a nanosecond.]
Do you believe the Gospel? [Yes. It’s the only way to be saved.]
The Only Important Test for Salvation
According to these tests, I have failed miserably over 71 years of my life. It’s only the last test that can offer anyone assurance, because it’s the only Biblical requirement to be saved from the penalty of sin – to understand and believe the gospel. [See Assurance to be sure of your salvation]
The Purpose of the Book of I John
The book of first John was written to believers for the purpose of fellowship with God (1:3-7). It was written to encourage them to abide in Christ. Fellowship and abiding is basically the same thing. It focuses on the ongoing relationship [sanctification] a believer has with the person of Christ after they have become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ [justification]. See post, The Battle of the Two Natures
What is habitual sin?
I struggled with this verse for a long time -“Whoever is born of God does not sin“. (I John 3:9) Most will not go as far to say that you will never commit sin, but they will use this verse to say that you cannot habitually sin. According to them, if you habitually sin, then you were never saved. They are the ones who usually define habitual. I sometimes ask people how often one has to sin in order for it to be habitual – once an hour; once a day; once a week; once a month? I never get the same answer. How would it even be possible to know?
For that reason, we know it cannot mean habitual. There’s no way to determine what habitual means. John is also clear that we do sin. He says in chapter one, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us“. So to say we do not sin, is not a Scriptural option. We all sin even after we are saved. Biblical characters exemplify this as well as experience as a human being.
What does it mean, ‘does not sin’?
The third option to understand I John 3:9 is to see the difference in the meaning between ‘do’ and ‘practice’. The Greek word for ‘do’ is “poeio”  and is found in this verse. The Greek word for ‘practice’ is prasso  and is not in this verse. Strong’s concordance explains the difference – prasso, means to “perform repeatedly or habitually“, thus differing from  poeio, which properly refers to a SINGLE ACT. Thus, the verse would actually mean, “whoever has been born of God does not do a single act of sin“.
Since we do sin, the only conclusion one can come to is that it is impossible to sin when one is living out of the resources of the new nature, whatever is born of God. “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. (Gal. 5:16) It’s impossible for the new nature to sin, because it is God’s nature. The reverse is also true; we can only sin when we are living out of the resources of the old nature, the flesh.
How do I know I am saved?
God absolutely desires for us to live a holy life. There are consequences for sinning. It should be the desire of every believer to live a committed and faithful life, out of a thankful heart for what God has done for us. But the truth is that we are still sinners by nature and by practice even after we are saved from the penalty of sin.
The only accurate way of determining if someone is saved is to see if they have understood the gospel and believed it. All other ways lead down the road of self-examination. Have I done enough? Am I doing enough? Am I sinning less? Have I confessed all my sin? Did I really repent? Was I sincere? Those things will only lead to a performance driven life that causes more doubt than assurance. It may also lead one to think they are saved [I am doing many of these things], but have failed to place their faith in Christ and His work on the cross.
So my question to you is, “Have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ?” If you are a believer, are you desiring to live a life out of gratitude that glorifies Him and is good for you? For more on how to be successful at living the Christian life, check out the video, Living with Hope in a Hopeless World.
Assurance of Heaven; be sure that heaven is your final destination.
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