daily biblical sermons


No one who abides in Christ sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, after the Epiphany, January 11, 2020
1 John 5:14-21, Psalm 149, John 3:22-30


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18).

 

 

This is a very inspiring verse, but it is also difficult to reconcile with other things that St. John says in this same epistle as well as with the experience of our own personal lives. It seems to say that if we are truly born of God and are truly “new men” and new creatures in Christ through his redemptive action in our lives, then we can no longer sin, because Christ protects us. Isn’t that what St. John seems to be saying, “We know that any one born of God does not sin” (1 John 5:18a)?

 

 

Other things that St. John says in this epistle also seem to say the same thing. For example, “No one who abides in him [Christ] sins; no one who sins has either seen him [Christ] or known him” (1 John 3:6). St. John also says in this letter, “He who commits sin is of the devil for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Then he says, “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature [literally seed, sperma in Greek] abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). This presents a very high ideal of the Christian life. And we always need high ideals to help us live as a new creature in Christ.

 

 

But lest we misinterpret what St. John is saying, we also need to listen to other things he says in this same epistle, which seem to contradict this. For example, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). So we Christians are sinners, and if we deny this, we are lying and there is no truth in us. So we should confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness.

 

 

St. John is writing to his audience to try to keep them from sinning. In other words, these Christians are capable of sinning and do sin at times, as he says, “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin [so sin is possible for Christians], we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). And then he tells us that Christ came to deal with our sins, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NKJV).

 

 

So we have what seems to be a contradiction. St. John writes to try to keep his flock from sinning and tells them what to do about it if they do sin, namely confess their sins and rely on the merits of Christ who is the propitiation for our sins by his sacrificial death on the cross, which made reparation for them, which is applied to everyone who puts their faith in him and sincerely repents and leaves his sins behind him. Then on the other hand St. John seems to say that once you are a Christian, sin ceases in your life and you can never sin again.

 

 

Now a reasonable person – which I think we can assume that St. John is – does not contradict himself like this within such a short space of time in the same letter, which was probably written in one sitting or in a few days. So how do we explain this apparent contradiction, namely that we can sin and should be encouraged not to sin and have the means of propitiating our sins; and then saying the opposite, namely that being Christians, we no longer sin, we can’t sin, because God’s seed or nature is in us preventing us from sinning?

 

 

The answer usually given to explain this apparent contradiction (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1989), page 2317 on 1 John 3:9; John Gill; and the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) is to look at 1 John 3:6: “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” It is usually pointed out that the Greek word for “sins” in the second half of this verse is a present participle (harmartanon) meaning everyone who is sinning has neither seen nor known him [Christ]. In other words, anyone who is living in a constant state of deadly or mortal sin as his normal habitual lifestyle is not a true Christian. Such a person has neither seen nor known Christ. His Christianity, his justification, is no longer operative in his life, and he is little better than a pagan.

 

 

Then we take the insight we got from this verse and use it for all the other verses that talk about sinlessness. So St. John is really saying that people who live in a constant state of deadly sin are not now and never were real Christians. They never were born again. They are not regenerate. They have never deeply seen or known Christ, and their knowledge and experience of him was superficial. They underwent a false conversion, and so were not really Christians and were never justified.

 

 

However, a justified Christian can on occasion commit a sin – hopefully a small sin, a venial sin. This sin contradicts his whole new way of life in Christ, but it does not characterize his lifestyle, and he is certainly not living in a constant state of deadly sin, and he immediately regrets his sin, feels guilty, and confesses it and intends to immediately amend his life in order to receive Christ’s forgiveness, as St. John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:9-10).

 

 

So let us look at some of these other verses to see if we can understand them in this way that solves this apparent contradiction, for surely St. John is not really contradicting himself if we properly understand what he is saying, and certainly the divine author of this scriptural letter is not contradicting himself.  

Let us look at 1 John 3:7: “He who does [poion] right is righteous, as he [Christ] is righteous.” The word for “does” [poion] in Greek is a present participle meaning habitual continual action, in this case someone who is doing righteousness. St. John is talking about a constant state of doing righteousness. Then in the next verse he uses the same word [poion]: “He who commits [poion] sin is of the devil.” What this literally means in Greek is that he who is doing sin is of the devil, that is, he whose regular, normal, habitual lifestyle is sinning gravely is of the devil.

 

 

Then we have 1 John 3:9, which uses the same verb but in this case in the indicative (poiei): “No one born of God commits [poiei] sin; for God’s nature [seed, sperma] abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” This should be understood as meaning everyone who is born of God is “not doing sin” or is not in a constant state of sinning gravely. In other words, a true Christian born of God does not live in a constant, habitual state of objective mortal sin, although he is able to fall into sin – again hopefully small sins, venial sins.

 

 

Now in the verse of our first reading today there is no present participle nor even the indicative of the word “to do” (poiei) used, but I think that we can presume that St. John means basically the same thing that he meant in chapter 3, namely that he is talking about a constant state of deadly sin. So John is saying, “We know that any one born of God does not sin [literally, “sins not”], but He [Jesus] who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18). So if we interpret this verse as saying basically the same thing that John said two chapters earlier, what, I think, he really means to say is that anyone who is born of God is not living in a constant, habitual state of objective mortal sin, because the Son of God protects him.

 

 

This discussion has great meaning for the present crisis in the Catholic Church today, where a new false Modernist teaching has been revived these past few years, where some of our highest Church leaders are now falsely teaching us that repentance from a constant, habitual life of objective mortal sin is not necessary for some people if, due to the difficult circumstances of their life, it is too hard for them to keep God’s biblically revealed moral law, because God is merciful.

 

 

And so, according to this new false teaching, you should enter into a process of accompaniment and discernment with a pastor who believes in this false Modernist theory so that he can help you to “hear” (discern) in your conscience the so-called “voice” of God, telling you that he does not consider your constant, habitual life of objective mortal sin to be sinful in your case, because he is merciful and is revealing to you a lower moral law, custom-made just for you, more suitable to your life circumstances.

 

 

Therefore, they are falsely teaching us, when you live in a constant, habitual state of objective mortal sin, you are doing God’s will, since he is the one whispering in your conscience that this is the way he wants you to live, since he is so merciful. And so since you are doing his will, you are pleasing God and are therefore growing in grace, virtue, and holiness by living in a constant state of objective mortal sin.

 

 

This is the deadly mercy error that we are dealing with in the Catholic Church these past few years, and it is the exact opposite of what St. John is telling us today, namely that no one who lives in a constant, habitual state of objective grave sin has either seen or known Christ.

 

 

People who are being deceived by this new mercy false teaching or accompaniment/discernment false teaching need to be helped to see that this teaching is erroneous, for it is leading them down the road that will end in everlasting punishment in hell after their death by encouraging them to live a life of constant, habitual objective mortal sin and by telling them that there is no need to repent and intend to immediately amend their life and put their faith in Christ so that God can declare and thereby make them righteous and reckon to them by their faith his own splendid righteousness.

 

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