The verse in question, 1 John 3:4 (HCSB)

Everyone who commits sin also breaks the law; sin is the breaking of law. You know that He was revealed so that He might take away sins, and there is no sin in Him. Everyone who remains in Him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen Him or known Him.

Little children, let no one deceive you! The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who commits sin is of the Devil, for the Devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works. Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. This is how God’s children — and the Devil’s children — are made evident.

but earlier, in 1 John 1:10, he seemingly says the opposite

If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

In many other places, it is made clear that Christians are not made righteous by their own works and that we are not without sin, rather we are forgiven of sin and are made righteous by God's grace and Jesus' salvation. Why does 1st John 3:4 say otherwise? Am I missing the point?

  • Which perspective do you want? There are different approaches to this text, and narrowing at least to a particular branch (Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy) would be helpful. Nov 9, 2015 at 19:43

4 Answers 4


Why does 1 John say Christians are unable to sin?

1 John 3:6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

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.

One of the problems in translating something between languages is that if a word in one language carries more information in it than the other language can handle in one word, information can be lost.

For example in 1 John 3:9 the word "commit" is "poieō" in Greek which can mean commit, cause, perform, continue. However the word also carries with it additional information in that the verb is present, active, indicative.

Other translators would say something like "Whoever is born of God does not habitually commit sin."

The word "sinneth" in verse six is "hamartanō" and has the same "present, active, indicative" verb construction and can also be rendered, "Whosoever abideth in him does not habitually sin".

While there are many good English translations, it is sometimes necessary to go to the original language to find information that may not have been brought fully into the English.

  • The question is focused on the second half of the verse, so I don't think this really answers it. The key words are οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν 'not able to sin'.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 9, 2015 at 14:02
  • This is a pretty good answer @TomSterkenburg. The verses are confusing in the particular translation you cited. They are less so in others.
    – Stephen
    Mar 11, 2015 at 15:44

First off, concerning 1st John 1:10, though we are saved by Christ, we still retain the sin nature we were born with. There are those who claim that there is no wrong, e.g. moral relativists, who believe that there is no such thing as sin or evil. So, they claim they have no sin.

Our sins are covered by Jesus' sacrifice, which means that, in essence, they do not exist; they have no eternal consequence. However, we are still capable of sinning, and that is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Through the acts of sanctification and regeneration, we are made so we are able to resist sin. This is a process that occurs after salvation. In response to your final question, this is not referring to a requirement for salvation; rather, it is referring to that which occurs after salvation through the Holy Spirit. Salvation is through grace, but sanctification is an ongoing process throughout life after salvation that results in righteousness and being sinless.


John 3:3

3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

In other words: Don't claim to be saved from sin, only to continue in the old sinning ways. If you want to abide in him, don't sin (repent, better yourselves, etc.) (verse 6)

To show that this is more what he meant than "Christinas can't sin, or aren't held accountable any more", consider Chapter 2:

1 John 2:1-4

1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

He is preaching against sin here!


The question is what is meant by "abiding in Him", and being "born of God". Some argue that simply accepting Christ satisfies both these; others that baptism satisfies both these; yet others take it as a lifelong mission to "abide in Him". Many verses emphasize that if we love Him, we will follow His commandments. So to me, the logic works this way: those who are born of God and abide in Jesus do not sin, hence, if we are still sinning we are not yet born of God and abiding in Jesus.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .