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1 John 3:9 says:

“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” (NIV)

The KJV says ‘cannot sin’ whereas Greek Experts (and most modern translations and commentators) tell us that it should be translated ‘cannot continue sinning’, which presumably means Christians might fall into sin, but they'll always repent, having been convicted by God of their sins, hence they won't continue living in sin.

1 Corin 11: 28-32 says:

“28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.” (NIV)

These verses appear to say that some Christians continue in wilful (or maybe inadvertent) continual sin and because they don’t judge themselves and turn from sin, God judges them with sickness and possibly even brings them home earlier than they ought to go so that they won’t be condemned with the world (incidentally I’m not saying that all sickness is due to personal sin).

Problem:

How can the apostle John say that those who are born again cannot continue in sin, yet the apostle Paul says that some Christians do lead lives of continual sin which grieves the Lord and requires Him to judge them?

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    You aren't asking us to check your exegesis, so the only question is about how to make sense of (apparently) contradicting texts, which is a wholly theological question. It's also based on the assumption that biblical writers can't contradict each other -- nothing in the texts themselves suggests this. This question is inappropriate to this forum. – Schuh Sep 14 '16 at 4:52
  • Possible duplicate of How should we understand "he cannot sin" in 1 John 3:9? – curiousdannii Sep 14 '16 at 21:50
  • Becoming free from temptation by the grace of God's Holy Spirit is not quite the same as never having previously succumbed to its alluring sweetness. Nor does it imply that the former is instantaneous rather than a gradual process. – Lucian Aug 1 '17 at 16:02
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The answer lies in the final verse you quoted.

Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. 1 Corinthians 11: 28-32

This indicates that the purpose of this "judgement" is to save the person. Punishment of this sort is a type of correction/discipline meant to ultimately benefit the recipient. This concept underlies much of the Bible narrative and is mentioned explicitly many times in the old and new testament. The book of Hebrews goes into detail, expanding on Proverbs 3:12.

because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:6-11

There's no reason to assume that this correction is not part of what 1st John is talking about. As children of God, those who are born in him receive the discipline they need to move away from sin and share in God's holiness. Saying they 'cannot' continue in sin seems consistent. I see no contradiction.

  • Thanks for that. I think I understand what you're saying, but if God's discipline includes allowing them to die prematurely, presumably they died without having repented of whatever sin they were being disciplined over. If they had repented, wouldn't there be opportunity to be healed from that illness, as stated at the end of James? So if a born again Christian starts sinning to such an extent that it requires God's discipline, even unto their death, then they continued living in sin, didn't they? Whereas John appears to say such a scenario is impossible. Continued ... – Marisa Apr 8 '16 at 20:08
  • Unless John just meant that anyone who wants to follow after God will find it impossible to continue in sin because the new man, who loves God, won't want to offend Him. Whereas someone living according to the old man (the carnal nature) will easily fall happily into sin and enjoy living there? – Marisa Apr 8 '16 at 20:09
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    I think your second comment goes more to the point of John's passage. 1 John draws a contrast between a true born-again Christian and someone who is still in darkness. Much of it may have been directed against the false teaching that Christians should go on sinning because it is forgiven anyway. (Read Roman's chapter 6 to see Paul's thoughts on this.) John needs to set the record straight that sin is still evil and Christians shouldn't practice it, no matter what the false teachers say. (1 John 3:7,8) Sin is not part of God or a godly character. – Solocutor Apr 11 '16 at 15:47
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How can the apostle John say that those who are born again cannot continue in sin, yet the apostle Paul says that some Christians do lead lives of continual sin which grieves the Lord and requires Him to judge them?

Actually John does not say "born again", but rather "born of God".

Also, the original text does not say "No one ... will continue to sin". It does not refer to sin as something that no longer occurs after some point in time. If so, this would contradict what John says earlier in his Epistle, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1:8). The NIV translation is quite distorted. What the passage literally says is:

Everyone [Πᾶς] who hath been begotten of God [ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ]
doeth no sin [ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ],
because His seed abideth in him [ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει];
and he is not able to sin [καὶ οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν],
because he hath been begotten of God [ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται].

The way to understand this verse, I think, is not to understand being "begotten of God" as an on-going process and not some one-time event (as "born again" would somehow imply). Orthodox Christian theologian and monk Justin Popovic explains this verse:

By performing the virtues, man is born of God: if he has love, he is born of God because love expels hatred from him, and does not commit it (doth not commit sin); thus he is born of God through the help of the rest of the Holy Mysteries [i.e., the Eucharist] and holy virtues, which expel every sin and destroy them so man does not commit them.

Originally the seed of God is found in the Divine likeness of the soul, mind, and will of man. Many seeds of God are sown in man, particularly through the Holy Mysteries and holy virtues of the Gospel. The Holy Mysteries and holy virtues are seeds of God in man, which through works sprout, grow, and ripen.

For example, Holy Communion is the seed of God in which rests the entirety of the God-man; the struggle of man is to grow that seed throughout his entire being, in all of his thoughts, in all of his senses, in his entire nature, to cultivate his entire soul, his entire heart, his entire mind, his entire strength [cf. Mark 12:30-31 et al.] with the zealous and diligent works of the Gospel.

Commentary on the Epistles of Saint John, pp. 43-44

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In cases where a precise literal translation is important, I look up the passage in the Berean Literal Bible translation in biblehub.com:

Anyone having been born of God does not practice sin, because His seed abides in him, and he is not able to continue sinning, because he has been born of God.

The Apostle John refers to the behaviour of someone who has been born of God that results from that new birth, that is a consequence of that new birth, i.e. the behaviour consequent to the "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17 & Gal 6:15). To the extent that someone who has been born of God behaves as such, he does not practice sin.

This is clear in Rom 8:5-14 and Gal 5:16-25. If someone has been born of God, is inhabited and guided by the Spirit of God. To the extent that he acts in line with that guidance, i.e. to the extent that he lives as someone born of God, he is not able to continue sinning.

Which does not imply the absolute impossibility to sin, because the inhabitation by the Holy Spirit does not make you a puppet. That's why Paul says: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal 5:25), as the exhortation would not be necessary if walking by the Holy Spirit were an automatic and unavoidable consequence of having received the Holy Spirit.

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