“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves”

I was asked a really good question by Rob in reference to my blog on Romans 7. He asked, “What about in 1 John where it warns against those who deny they have sin in their lives?”

This is a great question, but just like my post on Romans 7 it can very quickly be addressed by looking at both the context of the passage and the purpose of the book.

1 John is a letter John wrote while in Ephesus to directly attack the preaching that was happening in this church. The teaching that was prevailing was that Jesus did not come in the flesh and that once we were saved our flesh remained sinful and our spirit became pure, this teaching I am talking about is of course the heresy Gnosticism.

Chapter 1

The verse Rob was referring to is in chapter 1 of John, specifically in an introductory aside where John was directly addressing the Gnostic “believers” who are influencing the church.

He takes these leaders, and from there, the whole church on a journey. He says to them…

v8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” – the Gnostics said their spirits were perfect and it was just their dirty bodies that were the problem.

v9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – This is clearly talking about an unbeliever, as we know from the rest of scripture you don’t confess to be forgiven unless you are unsaved. That is not a believers reality! (See my article on confession), so here he is giving them an opportunity to repent, confess and come into the faith.

v10 “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – now he’s treating them like believers… saying you don’t deny you were a sinful being, past experience. (again part of the Gnostic teaching)

But that’s just the beginning of a whole letter, he then builds on his point by telling him why he’s sharing this all with them.

Chapter 2

v1 “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” – That is the whole point of the gospel, you come out of sin so that you will not sin.

Most Christians ignore that verse… but unfortunately for them there is more for them to ignore in this letter alone.

v4 & v6 say, if you don’t look like Jesus you are a liar and not in Christ.

v9 “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”

v11 “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

v29 “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”

It’s not looking good for anyone who still has sin in their life, but it gets much more condemning in…

Chapter 3

v6 “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” – doesn’t look good – if we sin we’ve neither seen Him or known Him!

v8 “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.” – If you sin you are a son of the devil… such a nice way of putting it John! haha

v9 “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.” – If you have been born of God you CANNOT keep on sinning. Hmm…

v10 – “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

So basically for every verse that one could incorrectly interpret that we should say we have sin by John there are about 6 or 7 that say if you have a drop of sin in your life you are a child of the devil…

I know, pretty scary, but he did preface this all with…

But if…

1 John 2:1 – “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

The emphasis is “BUT IF”… if you do happen to slip up and sin here or there, there is an advocate. John’s language is extremely strong but it’s because he really wants to hammer home you are perfect, righteous and holy – he is attacking people who are saying the exact opposite that your body is corrupt, sinful and unrighteous and that it is just their spirit that is pure. The focus is the total transformation, you were totally sinful and now you are totally holy! God didn’t give you your salvation in installments where you get to cash in the rest in the after-life!

So my point is still hinging on this, sin only comes from poor beliefs. Believing incorrectly about yourself and God. If you believe you are a sinner you will sin by faith.

Also for all those that seem to need to ask me almost daily but how can a person with a righteous nature sin?

Let me ask you this, how did Adam and Eve, two perfect beings without a sinful nature sin?

The answer is obvious and in the plain text of the Bible. They believed a lie that they were not like God.

The key to living a holy life is not trying harder or warring against your sinful nature – its deciding not to focus on sin, sinful nature, sinning etc. focus instead on who you are in Christ, perfect, righteous and holy and that will flow out of you as easily as sin did when you were full of a sinful nature.

Just remember, the war is in our minds, it’s already finished in His.

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  1. Wow!! I have never heard that John was speaking to Agnostics in the Church! Now it makes sense. Thank you so much, Phil!

      • Thanks for your article, I found it very helpful. (1 John has always been a bit of mystery to me and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone preach on it as a whole. Bits of it sound profound and wonderful like ‘Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God’ and other bits sounding downright offensive or scary.)

        • Thanks Tom – It’s definitely an interesting book that deserves to be read as a whole in it’s context!

  2. Thanks a lot for this when we bust down the false belief about Romans 7 this is always the next verse someone brings up. now I have a better understanding. 

    • Glad I could help with this – it’s true, it amazes me how many people pull this one out having NO idea what it means. They just fall over themselves as soon as you quote the verses later in the book because they are just as matter of fact and clear as this verse. Problem is there are more saying we shouldn’t sin than the ones that seem to suggest we should :)

      Love you bro! Thanks for all you are doing!

  3. Is that what you do Phil, you block people who don’t agree with you, or try to show you the truth. Now I see that you are all about your ego. It’s ok, you can block, but you will hear from me, and I will expose you. God bless you Phil.

  4. By the way Phil, you just blocked me, you just sinned, so what you are saying is a lie. Jesus didn’t not blocked the pharisees, he faced them, just like a man. You are a coward.

    • Hi Carlos, I have nothing against you disagreeing with me but posting 6 posts after one another all in the space of a couple of minutes is just spam.

      By all means state what you believe but my youtube channel is not just somewhere to dump post after post.

      It seems as though you plan to do that here as well though given your 3 posts in 2 minutes.

      As I said, I have nothing against you disagreeing with me. Please by all means do so. But I don’t need to create a platform for you to post multiple posts where you do not state anything of value and devalue what I’m trying to say.

      Bless you bro :)

  5. Phil–I come from a rather stiff protestant theological background, which really hasn’t helped any theological confusion I share, and much more have been struggling to find ongoing freedom from habitual sin…a topic that 1 John seems to be addressing head-on. Even though declared a saint by faith, I’m told I’m still 100% sinner as well. And I’m beginning to wonder if viewing myself at the core as a ‘worthless sinner who doesn’t really matter in the end’ is a current perspective on myself that I should assign to how I was before knowing Christ. I don’t know. Yes, so much of what I read in 1 John indicates otherwise–I “walk in darkness” as a “son of the devil” by struggling with anger at my family, or with internet pornography, or by denying genuine friendship to those worthy of any sort of hospitality, to be specific. Any light to shed here?

  6. Hey phil. Good day :) this is Flavy from Philippines.
    Thanks for your post. May God blesses you more and continue to share his goodness.
    Like the way you explain the gospel simply and understandable.

    • Hi Flavy, nice to meet you! I appreciate your encouragement and I’m so blessed to hear that you enjoy the way I communicate the gospel :)

      Much love!

  7. Please allow me to ask a question regarding this:

    v8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” – the Gnostics said their spirits were perfect and it was just their dirty bodies that were the problem.

    Isn’t the Gnostics Belief you are referring here actually contradicts the verse (v8) or the argument, whatever it is. If they belief their bodies are the problem, then, aren’t they believe they are sinning? If they believe they are sinning then they must not be the one saying they “have no sin”.

    I want to believe that John is talking to Gnostics here as you have said but what i am confused about is that verse (v8) is not actually saying the same with what we referred to here. It seems to me that v8 is zctually supporting their belief and they are not saying differently. I hope you underrstand what I mean thanks.

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