(1 Jn. 3:6-9) Can Christians gain sinless perfection?

CLAIM: John writes, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him… 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 Jn. 3:6, 8-9). Does this mean that Christians cannot sin?

RESPONSE: The Bible teaches that none of us will reach a state of sinless perfection this side of eternity. John writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). Later John even explains, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1). Therefore, John cannot be directly contradicting himself in the same letter. James writes, “For we all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2), referring to Christian believers. Paul speaks of the flesh and Spirit battling one another in the life of the Christian (Gal. 5:17), and he himself experienced this personal struggle with sin (Rom. 7:17). Moreover, if Christians are people who cannot sin, then I have never met a Christian before!—which would contradict common sense.

Instead, John is writing against libertine Gnostic false teachers, who were teaching that sin isn’t important. By contrast, John argues that love is central to the Christians life, and anyone who denies this is not really a believer (1 Jn. 2:4, 10-11, 19; 4:20). This is why John describes their sin as demonic in nature (3:8). These false teachers are committed sinning licentiously, and they have no intent of changing. This is not referring to Christians who fall into sin; it is referring to false teachers who are hostile to God. Jesus himself foretold this situation happening: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt. 7:15).