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The following is not an attempt to track and categorize all of the concepts of "sin" in the book of 1 John. To do that one would need to look at walking in darkness, loving the world, not keeping commandments, not practicing righteousness, idolatry, etc. Rather, I simply want to highlight some of the various ways that John instructs us to think about what he explicitly calls "sin" (ἁμαρτ-).

Why is John writing this letter?

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin (2:1).

What is sin?

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness (3:4). All wrongdoing is sin (3:17a).

How do we escape God's wrath for our sin?

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (2:2). In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (2:10).

What does Jesus' blood do for our sin?

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1:7)

What if we do sin?

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2:1)

What if we confess our sins?

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1:9).

Why were our sins forgiven?

. . . your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake (2:12).

Why did Jesus come and what was his personal relationship to sin?

You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (3:5).

What if we say we have no sin or have not sinned?

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1:8). If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10).

What should we do when a brother commits a sin not leading to death?

There is sin that does not lead to death (5:17b). If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life--to those who commit sins that do not lead to death (5:16a).

What about a sin that leads to death?

There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that (5:16b).

What is the relationship between abiding in Christ and unrepentant sin?

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (3:6)

What is the relationship between Satan and unrepentant sin?

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (3:8).

What is the relationship between regeneration and unrepentant sin?

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (3:9). We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him (5:18).


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11 thoughts on ““Sin” in 1 John”

  1. Don Sartain says:

    Wow…so powerful to see be able to look over all of this at a glance…so challenging!

  2. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”

    In light of the Reformed Teacher Donald Barnhouse and his treatment of the relationship between humanity’s purpose, that of Christ and the Angelic (specifically Satan) conflict in his book “The Invisible War”, this verse stands out as a testimony to such work. It is also stated in the Bible that our Lord came to seek and save those who are lost with reference to humanity but with reference to Satan, Jesus’ work within humanity was to destroy Satan. The begged question:

    Why was humanity’s creation and our Lord’s work in the hypostatic union essential to destroying Satan?

    Barnhouse takes us there in his work which, outside Reformed circles, has been furthered by some Evangelical Teachers. I believe Reformed Teachers are doing themselves a bit of a disservice to ignore this work and denying themselves and their students more complete answers about God, man and the Satanic Rebellion and the purpose of our existence.

    Thanks for the post of the verses and comments.

  3. Gary H. says:

    I see that you equate “keep on sinning” and “practice of sinning” with “unrepentant sin”. I wonder what your basis for this is?

  4. Daniel says:

    Do you think that the present tense justifies the translation “keeps on sinning”?

    Sometimes I tell my four-year old daughter, “Big girls don’t cry.” I think that what John means when he says, “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” (NASB).

    Sin is contrary to our new identity in Christ.

    1. Daryl Little says:

      A little off topic, I realize, but dude, you tell your daughter that?

      1. Daniel says:

        I realize that there are appropriate times for a four-year old to cry. Maybe a better analogy is “linebackers don’t cry.”

        The point is that certain behaviors (i.e. sin) are antithetical to our nature as Christians.

        This interpretation is better than the unnatural reading of the present tense as “keep on sinning.”

  5. Bob says:

    In addition to your post here, I have found Charles Leiter’s explaination of “cannot sin” from 1 John very helpful. It comes from his book Justification and Regeneration. A free excerpt pertaining to “cannot sin” can be found here: http://www.puritanfellowship.com/2008/01/cannot-sin-1-john-34-9-by-charles.html

  6. Daniel says:

    In other words, we need to examine the purpose of v. 6 and v. 9 as speech-acts (i.e. Vanhoozer). It’s a challenge. “Step up and be who you were meant to be.”

  7. All of us have sinned and all of us, no matter where each of us are in the continuum of faith in God, still daily face the temptation to sin. Sin, at its most basic level, is simply not turning to / not holding on to God. Until we understood what Christ accomplished on the cross, we had no choice but to sin. Now, we have the choice to believe, even when every circumstance in our lives screams that we can’t trust God.

    After many years of walking with God, I have found that the only way to defeat sin is to grab onto God with everything I have and to not let go. He is the One who has the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that I need to defeat the power of sin–the power of unbelief (which is everywhere we look)–that is working to destroy me and my fellow human beings. And, best of all, God is faithful and His love is absolute!

  8. Adam Woeger says:

    Thank You for posting about the important topic of sin. Jesus Christ is truly the propitiation for our sins.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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