"No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 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. 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 John 3:6-9)This verse has always terrified me and, at the same time, confused me. James reminds us that, "we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2) and John promises us, "if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1) and yet here John seems to be indicating that, if you sin. you are not of God. So which is it? Is the standard of the Christian life total sinlessness and any sin an indication that we are not born of God or is there something else John is driving at here? The key to understanding this verse is the seed of God and the works of the devil.
When we come to Christ, we are not merely converted to a new belief in God, we are transformed into His children through a new birth from above. We are born of God's seed. The old manner of life has been crucified with Christ and we have received a new life, one born from above and not of this world. It is not just that we now believe differently, it is that we are in reality different! We have been born again to a new life, one vastly different from our previously life, one that shares the seed of God rather than the seed of man. Sometimes this transformation is hard to comprehend or express, since, on the outside, we look the same, but on the inside, we are a new creation.
Having been born of His seed, we share in His nature, and its not in His nature to sin. Previously, having been born of the seed of this world, we brought forth the fruit of that seed in sin and all unrighteousness, but now we have been born again of a different seed that we might bear its fruit; the fruit of righteousness. As new born children of God, when we sin, we sin in response to our old lives for there is nothing in our new life that would lead us to sin. It is when we leave our abiding in God to return to our old life and patterns that we find ourselves committing once again the sins we have left behind. For those who have been born again, sin is no longer natural, and an aberration from the new life that is ours.
Because of the new life we have in God, it is impossible for someone who has been born again of God's seed to willfully and persistently continue to practice sin. Such sinning is more than stumbling and falling, it is a willful persistence and continuance in what is contrary to the nature and image of God. Those who practice such sin do not know God and have never been converted or born anew into His image. It is incongruous to be a child of God yet to willfully continue to live as a child of the world.
So where does stumbling and falling come in? John says that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. This particular Greek word for destroy means to "loosen" rather than to "break." The picture is of one who loosens our chains of bondage rather than smashing them all at once. The goal of God is our sinlessness yet He approaches it one sine at a time. We have embarked on a life time journey of being taught and instructed by the Lord. Day by day He teaches us how to expunge the remaining vestiges of our old life; to transform our habits and our ways of thinking as our very life has already been transformed by His seed. Each day we find ourselves a little bit more "loosed" from the chains of the devil and the chains of sin; a little more free to be who we are in reality: sons and daughters of God. Each day we find new freedom and new strength to resist sin and experience the blessedness of sinlessness in our lives. We no longer practice sin and the sins of our stumbling and falling become fewer and farther in between. Daily we are on the path to true sinlessness.