God's a bit bigger than our minds can fully latch onto!
The use of paradoxical and categorical (extreme)
statements in the Bible, and in I John
For that reason, among others, God's word to us is also a bit bigger than we can fully appreciate. One result is that often there are double-edged, or multi-sided truths which can't be expressed without using a kind of paradox, or not without antinomies. ("Antinomy" means a situation where truths in tension, or apparantly opposed truths, work together to make a whole true picture.)
Thus Prov. 26:4 says "Don't answer a fool according to his folly" ("lest you become like him!" But the next verse says the very opposite: "Answer a fool according to his folly" ("lest he become wise in his own conceits!" -- a phrase which means something like "content with, or proud of, his own stupidity." Since John's epistle sometimes uses this kind of paradoxical style, it may be that the solution to your puzzle lies not in the exact construction in the verse you cite, but in the construction of balanced truths in the whole of John's letter.
Right here in I John, similarly, I John 2:7 says "I don't write a new commandment to you" (but instead "the old commandment ... which you have heard from the beginning.") But the next verse, I John 2:8 says the very opposite: "I am writing a new commandment to you" (because now it is true in a new and revitalized way: "true in Him and in you -- since the darkness is past and the true light is now shining."
Us and our sinfulness in John's Epistle
The opening verses of John's Epistle (I John 1:1-2:2)
I think it helps to start a little earlier, in I John 1 and 2.
There John writes these remarkable verses:
John's concern here is twofold. He sees sin as absolutely destructive and wrong, but he also understands that the basic message is that Jesus has come to take away our sins. Definitely Jesus washing away our sins means getting rid of our sins in the sense of stopping us from sinning, as well as in the sense of atoning for us to God. So John is concerned to deny the hypocrisy of those who think they are completely free from sin. Yet at the same time, as part of the very same motion and process, John says, God is taking away our sin, both forensically (bearing our guilt, and forgiving us for Christ's sake) and practically, in our lives, setting us free from sin and challenging us to stop sinning.
Originally Posted by I John 1:5-2:2
Of course this is just exactly what Jesus did during his ministry on earth! John started off his letter by emphasizing that he was an intimate witness who lived close with Jesus (who is the eternal word) during His earthly ministry: "That which was from the beginning, we ourselves have heard -- seen with our eyes, looked upon and even touched with our hands -- the word of life, the life which was plainly shown, and we saw it, and testify to it" (I John 1:1-2). John saw Jesus both tell people not to sin -- to strictly adhere to a high standard of righteousness, beyond even what the Pharisees taught -- and yet also welcome sinners warmly, help them not keep sinning, but also realize that they, the disciples, would continue to make mistakes, and must forgive again and again, as God would be forgiving them again and again.
It's all of this that is summed up, I think, when John says that "the message which we heard from" Jesus and now proclaim was that "God is light -- and in Him is no darkness at all." (The Psalms (139:11-12) say "If I say the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night, behold darkness is not dark, Lord, to you: to you the night and the day are both alike.") When people came to Jesus with the darkness in them, He dispelled that darkness. Thus His light constantly overcame the darkness, and was not pulled into more darkness. And this is the way it is with us coming to God also. God's light, God's healing, God's power, God's righteousness is for us.
Again as the Psalms (25:8) say "Good and upright is the Lord: therefore He will teach sinners in the way!" More fully,
We see here that God pardons and heals from our sin, that God insists upon our being obedient to His ways and not sinning, and that we have to come to Him honestly and openly with our sins and faults, and keep coming.
Originally Posted by Ps. 25:4-12
All that, IMO, is one of the chief teachings of I John, and the various parts of it cannot be separated: they are thoroughly intertwined.
Thus the wonderful statement "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" is immediately explicated by a threefold repetition of the idea that (i) we are sinners, and must openly acknowledge that, to God and to ourselves and to others, (ii) that God's purpose is to bring us to righteousness, and stop us from being mired in sin, which will require our utmost effort, and (iii) that this is going to require our honestly coming to God for forgiveness and healing through the blood of Jesus.
If we deny we are sinful (he says three times) we are in darkness and not truthful; but (he also keeps reiterating) if we come to Him acknowledging our sins we will find help and pardon. John's primary emphasis here is upon Who God is and what God does, and has so abundantly and amazingly done through Christ's blood poured out for us. Thus he emphasizes our need to acknowledge our sinfulness, and to come to God trusting in His forgiveness and healing. This forgiveness and healing is through Christ, and doesn't just refer in these verses judicial pardon (though of course that's a part of it): it means, as well, actual transformation of our lives. In both senses, "the blood of Jesus washes away our sins!" However, John does want to make sure, in emphasizing this, that we don't misinterpret this to mean that we can give up the ardent struggle to be pure and righteous, the struggle against sin. That we must seek to be righteous, to not sin, is implied in all that John has said, but it's so important that we not miss this, as a part (though not the center) of what he's saying that in his third repetition of the power of Christ coming to help us when we will be open about our problems John interrupts himself to emphasize that he is "writing this so that you will not sin"
And indeed -- having emphasized (2:2) again the comforting message that if we do sin "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world" -- John immediately turns in the next section of the Epistle (2:3 ff) to a very strict message, calling us to a high standard of holiness. John here is emphasizing obedience to God's commands: "We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands" and (2:4-5) "The man who says I know Him, but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him." Whereas the verses 1:6-2:2 emphasize God's mercy and forgiveness to those who honestly come to Him acknowledging their sinfulness, and Christ's power to forgive us and wash us, these verses emphasize the need for strict obedience.
We should not that this same combo can be found in Jesus's teaching -- in John's gospel and in the other gospels -- and indeed in the whole Bible (which is why I quoted at length from Ps. 25 to show the same two-edged dynamic at work there).
These themes -- balancing our obedience and our hope in Christ --
continued in I John 3:1-10 f.)
What we have seen in I John 1:1-2:2 with the following passage in 2:3 ff., is developed again in later passages of John's letter such as 3:1-3, and then the following warnings of 3:4-10, and especially 3:7-9 which Julie (the OP) asks about.
Again, John's emphasis here is on the gospel, the good news, God's power at work, the mercy that has been shown to us. God by His merciful grace has called us "children of God." What God speaks always comes to pass. And so we indeed are children of God. Moreover, though, this is not the whole story. Although we are truly children of God (incomprehensible to the world, because we are Christ's, God's, and He is incomprehensible to the world -- verse 1b) yet our sonship and daughtership is not yet finished, completed, perfected. Rather "It does not yet appear what we shall be." But the outcome which God intends -- although not-yet fully realized -- is that we shall be changed into the likeness of Christ. This is an incredible, a staggering promise. (The more you start to know what a mess you are, the more staggering and incredible -- and the more gracious and wonderful -- it is!!) "When He appears, we shall be like Him, because we will see Him as He is!" It should again be noted, here, that the work is primarily God's! We aren't able to remake ourselves in Christ's likeness: God will have to do that. And in fact we are told that He will do that not mainly through extravagant moral effort and discipline on our part, but simply by our seeing Jesus fully. It will be as we see Him fully and clearly, and because of that, that we are transformed into His likeness. (It's about God and His transforming goodness, not about what virtuous little soldiers we are!! And we're not!)
See what love the Father has showed us
that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! ...
Beloved ones, although we are now the children of God,
what we will be has not yet been made known. But we do know this:
when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.
Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, as He is pure.
Then comes a pivotal sentence
What is meant by that sentence. In my view, that question is key to understanding all that John is writing in his letter, and to properly understanding what Julie asked, and to the dynamics of the first part of the letter which we have already looked at.
Whoever has this hope in Him purifies himself, as He is pure.
John does go on at once to emphasize again the importance of obedience to God, and of living in His ways.
This includes the statement that this thread specifically asks about "No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God." or "Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." It's an urgent matter to John to make it clear that living in God, being a child of God, is not merely a matter of some verbal profession, but requires actually living as God requires us to live. To place faith in God, to trust in Christ, is not a matter of mere intellectual assent, but of placing our trust in Christ by living as He has commanded us to live.
Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous. He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.
John's very strong emphasis upon this point probably reflects that fact (so scholars tell us) that false teachers (sometimes called "gnostic") were going around saying that it made no big difference whether one sinned or not because one sought salvation from God. On that weird view, also, the material world does not matter (and thus our sins in this world) don't matter, since all to do with God is spiritual. (Thus John's strong teaching, which follows, that helping the poor in concrete material ways is in a sense the test of whether our love is genuine or not!) For all these reasons, John is insisting that being born of God -- abiding in God and God abiding in us -- is not some abstract spiritual or mental act that's apart from concrete obedience. Rather "Whoso does what is right is righteous"; and if God's word, God's nature, God's seed of eternal life, the seed that makes us "born of God" abides in us, that precludes our sinning.
However, in the context of the whole letter that cannot mean, I think, that those who are God's never sin. It does mean that we are struggling to live righteous, and that that struggle is part of our trust in Christ. It does not mean, though, that we are freed from all bad habits, or besetting sins, or persistent faults of character here and now at once. That is part, I think, of the distinction John makes between "now being children of God" and that we shall yet be something far beyond our current state as "children of God" -- namely made "like Jesus" as we fully apprehend who He is.
Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself as He is pure.
This post in continued in the following post, because it has too many characters.