Who is Deceived? 1 John 1:8
"If we claim to be without sin we deceive
| f you were speaking to a follower of
Krishna - such as Vrindavan das, who
claims that reincarnation is biblical - he might proof-text a variety
of passages such as John 3:3. He, like many others, would misuse the term
"born again" by equating it with reincarnation. Likewise, when talking with
those who believe
that we must sin, 1 John 1:8 is probably the main proof text.
the following points, you will easily see that this is an erroneous use
The question is this: Does this passage teach that if we are not presently committing sin, we deceive ourselves? Or is it saying instead that if we don't claim to have any sins, or charges against us; we deceive ourselves? It is my intent to show that the first view:
1 Contradicts the author's intent
2 Contradicts the context
1) 1 John 1:8 should not be used to imply that we are bound to sin, as this conclusion would contradict the clear stated intent of the apostle John. Immediately after making the statements in question, John says: " I write this to you so that you will not sin, (1 John 2:1). We should not interpret 1:8 in a way that contradicts 2:1. The intent makes it clear that John did not write this to tell you that you have to sin; indeed he had the opposite end in mind. Truly, verse eight does imply that none of us can claim to be sinless; none of us can claim to be without sin as our Lord was. The issue here is whether or not this verse implies that we must continue sinning. The intent of the author is crucial; if you ignore it, you could just as well use Ecclesiastes, to teach that life is vain or the doctrine of soul sleep.
According to Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible teaches that we have to sin every day. To those who disagree, he quotes 1 John 1:8. This is extremely unfortunate, because using this verse in the sense Hank does implies the exact opposite of what the Bible intends. By the inspiration of God, John must have known some would misinterpret verse eight and therefore stated his intent, to guard against those who would wrench the Word out of context. There are two safeguards in 2:1. First, he said: "I write this so that you will not sin" Nothing could be plainer than this. The second safeguard is: "but if you do sin..." The word "if " implies that you may or may not do so. You should not sin, but if you do, you have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ, the righteous One.
Holding the truth set forth in First John will set you free: that is the clear stated purpose. It is not intended to keep you in bondage to that which would rob you of your spiritual life. You may want to protect and excuse your sin, but you do so at your own peril.
John's epistle was written to those who were being infiltrated by what we call Gnostics. They would live in sin yet refuse to call their actions sinful. John saw that it was a lie holding them in bondage. He knew that before you can come to a place where you stop sinning, you must confess that you have sinned; you must confess it so that God can cleanse you. If you believe that slander is not inconsistent with obedience, and someone tells you to stop sinning, it probably won't have much of an effect on your slandering. The Gnostics went beyond this and taught that no action was sinful. The problem, according to the Gnostics, was the fleshly body itself - not our hearts or actions. Therefore, John had to clarify all these issues. Throughout the book he defines over and over what sin is.
With the authority of an apostle, he tells readers that they must confess their sins and demonstrate that they know God by being obedient and loving their neighbors. Thus, his instructions in verse eight are important and consistent with his intent: "I write this so that you will not sin." This one point is sufficient to defend the views here expressed, but I have recorded further.
Hank often reminds his listeners to consider the context:
We should always consider passages in context because it is very easy to misuse them. Consider even Hank's comments above. I could quote it and imply that Hank does believe we can obey the Law consistently with God's help. Based on this quotation alone, it would be easy to lead someone to believe Hank's position is the same as my own. Unfortunately, in doing so I would be guilty of taking him out of context.
If you consider the context of First John, you will find that obedience, rather than sin, is meant to be the the norm for believers. If you read the context you find that we do not have to sin. Hank needs to take some of his own advice concerning context. He cannot use 1 John 1:8 to imply that I'm deceived because I do admit to having sin (IE: I have charges against me), but that is not the only thing I can say. I can say the charges are not being held against me - I'm forgiven, cleansed, and furthermore I am dead to sin. How can I continue in it any longer?
Discussing context is best represented by Charles Finney in his Systematic theology:
I) Those who make this passage an objection to the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life assume that the apostle is here speaking of sanctification instead of justification. An honest examination of the passage, however, will render it evident that the apostle makes no allusion here to sanctification, but rather is speaking solely of justification. A little attention to the connection in which this verse stands will, I think, render this evident. But before I proceed, let us consider the sense in which they understand it who quote it for the purpose of opposing the sentiment advocated in these lectures.
They understand the apostle as affirming that if we say we are in a state of entire sanctification and do not sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Now if this were the apostle's meaning, he involves himself in this connection in two flat contradictions.
II) This verse is immediately preceded by the assertion that 'the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin.' Now it would be very remarkable if immediately after this assertion the apostle should mean to say that it does not cleanse from all sin, and if we say that it does, we deceive ourselves; for he had just asserted that the blood of Jesus does cleanse from all sin. If this were his meaning, it involves him in as palpable a contradiction as could be expressed.
III) This view of the subject then represents the apostle in the conclusion of the seventh verse as saying, the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us of all sin; and in the eighth verse as saying that if we suppose ourselves to be cleansed from all sin, we deceive ourselves; thus flatly contradicting what he had just said. And in the ninth verse he goes on to say that 'he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'; that is, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and if we say it does, we deceive ourselves. 'But if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.' Now, all unrighteousness is sin. If we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, we are cleansed from sin. And now suppose a man should confess his sin, and God should in faithfulness and justice forgive his sin, and cleanse him from all unrighteousness, and then he should confess and profess that he has done this; are we to understand that the apostle would then affirm that he deceives himself, in supposing that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin? As I have already said, I do not understand the apostle as affirming anything in respect to the present moral character of anyone, but as speaking of the doctrine of justification. This, then, appears to me to be the meaning of the whole passage. If we say that we are not sinners, that is, have no sin to need the blood of Christ; that we have never sinned, and consequently need no savior, we deceive ourselves. For we have sinned and nothing but the blood of Christ cleanses from sin, or procures our pardon and justification. And now if we will not deny, but confess that we have sinned, 'he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'. But if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us."
The truth that the apostle is teaching is as follows: if we claim to be without sin in the sense of "I've never sinned; I have no need of purification or forgiveness; I have no charges against me," then we do deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Picture two thieves who are both guilty of murder, standing accountable before the judge of heaven and earth. One bows his knee and confesses his crime, while the other refuses and says, "I have done nothing wrong." This is the situation addressed herein.
Hank Hanegraaff used 1 John 1:8 as an opening text in his criticism of "perfectionism." This is an appropriate use of the passage if you are refuting those who would say "I have never sinned." Such as in the original versions of the song " Spirit in the sky." Only Christ was sinless and perfect in this sense. However as we have seen it is a complete abuse of the text to use it to imply we have to continue sinning.
The belief that we must sin leads to what I call "a false confession." If you sin, you are called to confess that it was wrong, which directly implies that you should have acted differently. To me, saying that it was wrong to do but you had to do it is insulting. Therefore, I urge you to confess your sins and expect God to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. True confession implies that you have stopped the activity, and never plan on doing it again. Acknowledging sin without intending to stop would be open rebellion - not confession. I haven't written this because I have something against Hank Hanegraaf; I have written this because I want to urge people to live a life worthy of the Gospel.
From a discussion with Craig Adams and Bill Ross
There is an unusual structure in the Greek of that sentence that ought to
be addressed. It literally says "if we say that we *have* no sin." It
seems odd. Would it mean "we have no guilt?" Do you "have" sin or "do"
1. Hank Hanegraaff, Live program, (San Juan Capistrano, CA: The Bible Answer man Broadcast), 29 March 95.