1 John 3:6
Whoever stays in him sins not: whoever sins has not seen him, neither known him.
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1 John 3:6. Whosoever abideth in union and fellowship with him — By loving faith; sinneth not — Doth not commit known sin, while he so abideth: whosoever sinneth — Transgresseth any known law of God; hath not seen him, neither known him — His views and knowledge of him have been so superficial that they deserve not to be mentioned, since they have not conquered his love of sin, and the prevalence of it, and brought him to a holy temper and life. Or he has not attained to, or has not retained, a spiritual, experimental acquaintance and communion with him. For, certainly, when a person sins, or transgresseth any known law of God, the loving eye of his soul is not fixed upon God; neither doth he then experimentally know him, whatever he did in time past. Macknight thinks it probable that “some of the heretical teachers, condemned by the apostle in this epistle, to make their disciples believe that their opinions were derived from Christ, boasted their having seen and conversed with him during his ministry on earth, consequently that they knew his doctrine perfectly. But the apostle assured his children that, if these teachers, who avowedly continued in sin, had ever seen or conversed with Christ, they had utterly mistaken both his character and his doctrine.”3:3-10 The sons of God know that their Lord is of purer eyes than to allow any thing unholy and impure to dwell with him. It is the hope of hypocrites, not of the sons of God, that makes allowance for gratifying impure desires and lusts. May we be followers of him as his dear children, thus show our sense of his unspeakable mercy, and express that obedient, grateful, humble mind which becomes us. Sin is the rejecting the Divine law. In him, that is, in Christ, was no sin. All the sinless weaknesses that were consequences of the fall, he took; that is, all those infirmities of mind or body which subject man to suffering, and expose him to temptation. But our moral infirmities, our proneness to sin, he had not. He that abides in Christ, continues not in the practice of sin. Renouncing sin is the great proof of spiritual union with, continuance in, and saving knowledge of the Lord Christ. Beware of self-deceit. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, and to be a follower of Christ, shows an interest by faith in his obedience and sufferings. But a man cannot act like the devil, and at the same time be a disciple of Christ Jesus. Let us not serve or indulge what the Son of God came to destroy. To be born of God is to be inwardly renewed by the power of the Spirit of God. Renewing grace is an abiding principle. Religion is not an art, a matter of dexterity and skill, but a new nature. And the regenerate person cannot sin as he did before he was born of God, and as others do who are not born again. There is that light in his mind, which shows him the evil and malignity of sin. There is that bias upon his heart, which disposes him to loathe and hate sin. There is the spiritual principle that opposes sinful acts. And there is repentance for sin, if committed. It goes against him to sin with forethought. The children of God and the children of the devil have their distinct characters. The seed of the serpent are known by neglect of religion, and by their hating real Christians. He only is righteous before God, as a justified believer, who is taught and disposed to righteousness by the Holy Spirit. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. May all professors of the gospel lay these truths to heart, and try themselves by them.Whosoever abideth in him - See 1 John 2:6. The word here employed (μένων menōn) properly means to remain, to continue, to abide. It is used of persons remaining or dwelling in a place, in the sense of abiding there permanently, or lodging there, and this is the common meaning of the word, Matthew 10:11; Matthew 26:38; Mark 6:10; Luke 1:56, "et saepe." In the writings of John, however, it is quite a favorite word to denote the relation which one sustains to another, in the sense of being united to him, or remaining with him in affection and love; being with him in heart and mind and will, as one makes his home in a dwelling. The sense seems to be that we have some sort of relation to him similar to that which we have to our home; that is, some fixed and permanent attachment to him. We live in him; we remain steadfast in our attachment to him, as we do to our own home. For the use of the word in John, in whose writings it so frequently occurs, see John 5:38; John 6:56; John 14:10, John 14:17; John 15:27; 1 John 2:6, 1 John 2:10, 1 John 2:14, 1 John 2:17, 1 John 2:27-28; 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:12-13, 1 John 4:15-16. In the passage before us, as in his writings generally, it refers to one who lives the life of a Christian, as if he were always with Christ, and abode with him. It refers to the Christian considered as adhering steadfastly to the Saviour, and not as following him with transitory feelings, emotions, and raptures.

(See the supplementary note at Romans 8:10. We abide in Christ by union with him. The phrase expresses the continuance of the union; of which see in the note as above. Scott explains, "whoever abides in Christ as one with him and as maintaining communion with him. ')

It does not of itself necessarily mean that he will always do this; that is, it does not prove the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but it refers to the adherence to the Saviour as a continuous state of mind, or as having permanency; meaning that there is a life of continued faith in him. It is of a person thus attached to the Saviour that the apostle makes the important declaration in the passage before us, that he does not sin. This is the third argument to show that the child of God should be pure; and the substance of the argument is, that "as a matter of fact" the child of God is not a sinner.

Sinneth not - There has been much difference of opinion in regard to this expression, and the similar declaration in 1 John 3:9. Not a few have maintained that it teaches the "doctrine of perfection," or that Christians may live entirely without sin; and some have held that the apostle meant to teach that this is always the characteristic of the true Christian. Against the interpretation, however, which supposes that it teaches that the Christian is absolutely perfect, and lives wholly without sin, there are three insuperable objections:

(1) If it teaches that doctrine at all, it teaches that all Christians are perfect; "whosoever abideth in him," "whosoever is born of God," "he cannot sin," 1 John 3:9.

(2) this is not true, and cannot be held to be true by those who have any just views of what the children of God have been and are. Who can maintain that Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob; that Moses, David, or Job; that Peter, John, or Paul, were absolutely perfect, and were never, after their regeneration, guilty of an act of sin? Certainly they never affirmed it of themselves, nor does the sacred record attribute to them any such perfection. And who can affirm this of all who give evidence of true piety in the world? Who can of themselves? Are we to come to the painful conclusion that all who are not absolutely perfect in thought, word, and deed, are destitute of any religion, and are to be set down as hypocrites or self-deceivers? And yet, unless this passage proves that "all" who have been born again are absolutely perfect, it will not prove it of anyone, for the affirmation is not made of a part, or of what any favored individual may be, but of what everyone is in fact who is born of God.

(3) this interpretation is not necessary to a fair exposition of the passage. The language used is such as would be employed by any writer if he designed to say of one that he is not characteristically a sinner; that he is a good man; that he does not commit habitual and willful transgression. Such language is common throughout the Bible, when it is said of one man that he is a saint, and of another that he is a sinner; of one that he is righteous, and of another that he is wicked; of one that he obeys the law of God, and of another that he does not. John expresses it strongly, but he affirms no more in fact than is affirmed elsewhere. The passage teaches, indeed, most important truths in regard to the true Christian; and the fair and proper meaning may be summed up in the following particulars:

(a) He who is born again does not sin habitually, or is not habitually a sinner. If he does wrong, it is when he is overtaken by temptation, and the act is against the habitual inclination and purpose of his soul. If a man sins habitually, it proves that he has never been renewed.

(b) That he who is born again does not do wrong deliberately and by design. He means to do right. He is not willfully and deliberately a sinner. If a man deliberately and intentionally does wrong, he shows that he is not actuated by the spirit of religion. It is true that when one does wrong, or commits sin, there is a momentary assent of the will; but it is under the influence of passion, or excitement, or temptation, or provocation, and not as the result of a deliberate plan or purpose of the soul. A man who deliberately and intentionally does a wrong thing, shows that he is not a true Christian; and if this were all that is understood by "perfection," then there would be many who are perfect, for there are many, very many Christians, who cannot recollect an instance for many years in which they have intentionally and deliberately done a wrong thing. Yet these very Christians see much corruption in their own hearts over which to mourn, and against which they earnestly strive; in comparing themselves with the perfect law of God, and with the perfect example of the Saviour, they see much in which they come short.

(c) He who is born again will not sin finally, or will not fall away. "His seed remaineth in him," 1 John 3:9. See the notes at that verse. There is a principle of grace by which he will ultimately be restrained and recovered. This, it seems to me, is fairly implied in the language used by John; for if a person might be a Christian, and yet wholly fall away and perish, how could it be said with any truth that such a man "sinneth not;" how that "he doth not commit sin;" how that "his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin?" Just the contrary would be true if this were so.

Whosoever sinneth - That is, as explained above, habitually, deliberately, characteristically, and finally. - Doddridge. "Who habitually and avowedly sinneth."

Hath not seen him, nor known him - Has had no just views of the Saviour, or of the nature of true religion. In other words, cannot be a true Christian.

6. He reasons from Christ's own entire separation from sin, that those in him must also be separate from it.

abideth in him—as the branch in the vine, by vital union living by His life.

sinneth not—In so far as he abides in Christ, so far is he free from all sin. The ideal of the Christian. The life of sin and the life of God mutually exclude one another, just as darkness and light. In matter of fact, believers do fall into sins (1Jo 1:8-10; 2:1, 2); but all such sins are alien from the life of God, and need Christ's cleansing blood, without application to which the life of God could not be maintained. He sinneth not so long as he abideth in Christ.

whosoever sinneth hath not seen him—Greek perfect, "has not seen, and does not see Him." Again the ideal of Christian intuition and knowledge is presented (Mt 7:23). All sin as such is at variance with the notion of one regenerated. Not that "whosoever is betrayed into sins has never seen nor known God"; but in so far as sin exists, in that degree the spiritual intuition and knowledge of God do not exist in him.

neither—"not even." To see spiritually is a further step than to know; for by knowing we come to seeing by vivid realization and experimentally.

By sinneth, he meaneth the same thing as afterwards by committeth sin: see 1Jo 3:8,9. Seeing and knowing intend inward union, acquaintance, and converse; such as abode in him implies: see John 5:37 3Jo 1:11. Whosoever abideth in him,.... As the branch in the vine, deriving all light, life, grace, holiness, wisdom, strength, joy, peace, and comfort from Christ; or dwells in him by faith, enjoys communion with him as a fruit of union to him; and stands fast in him, being rooted and grounded in him, and abides by him, his truths and ordinances, takes up his rest, and places his security in him, and perseveres through him:

sinneth not; not that he has no sin in him, or lives without sin, but he does not live in sin, nor give up himself to a vicious course of life; for this would be inconsistent with his dwelling in Christ, and enjoying communion with him:

whosoever sinneth; which is not to be understood of a single action, but of a course of sinning:

hath not seen him, neither known him; that is, he has never seen Christ with an eye of faith; he has never truly and spiritually seen the glory, beauty, fulness, and suitableness of Christ, his need, and the worth of him; he has never seen him so as to enjoy him, and have communion with him; for what communion hath Christ with Belial, or light with darkness, or righteousness with unrighteousness? 2 Corinthians 6:14, nor has he ever savingly known him, or been experimentally acquainted with him; for though he may profess to know him in words, he denies him in works.

Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever {h} sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

(h) He is said to sin, that does not give himself to purity, and in him sin reigns: but sin is said to dwell in the faithful, and not to reign in them.

1 John 3:6. πᾶς ὁ ἐν αὐτᾷ (i.e. Χριστῷ) μένων] refers back to the exhortation in 1 John 2:27; μένειν, not merely = inesse, expresses close fellowship.

οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει] John hereby states the abiding in Christ and sinning as irreconcilable opposites; still it is not his meaning that the believing Christian does not sin any more at all, or that he who still sins is not in Christ, for in 1 John 1:8-10, 1 John 2:1-2, 1 John 3:3, he clearly enough expresses that sin still clings to the Christian, and that he therefore needs constantly both the forgiving and saving grace of God and the intercession of Christ, as well as self-purification. The solution of the apparent contradiction must not be sought by giving the word ἁμαρτάνειν here a meaning different from what it has elsewhere (e.g. = persistere in peccato; or with Capellus = sceleratum esse, or = to commit peccata mortalia); nor even by appealing to the apostle’s ideal mode of conception (de Wette, Düsterdieck; substantially also Weiss and Brückner[205]), for “John has here to do with real cases, and wants to indicate to us the marks by which it may be known whether a man loves the Lord or not, whether he is a child of God or of the wicked one” (Sander), as is clear from φανερά ἐστι, 1 John 3:10; but only in the fact that the Christian, who is a ΤΈΚΝΟΝ ΘΕΟῦ, bears the contradiction in himself that he, on the one hand, it is true, still actually sins, but, on the other hand, is also actually free from sin—so free from it that he cannot sin (1 John 3:9); he has actually broken with sin, so that in his most inner nature he is in the most decided opposition to it; yet at the same time he finds it in himself, and indeed in such a way that he still actually sins (chap. 1 John 1:10), but inasmuch as he confesses it, and experiences the forgiving and saving love of the faithful God towards him (chap. 1 John 1:9), and with all earnestness practises the ἁγνίζειν ἑαυτόν, it ever loses more and more its power over him, and thus it results that it is no longer sin, but opposition to it (as something foreign to his nature), that determines his conduct of life; and hence the apostle may with perfect justice say, that he who abides in Christ does not sin (so also Braune[206]), which is quite the same as when Paul says: εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις· τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδού, γέγονε καινὰ τὰ πάντα (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The antithesis expressed in the first clause is even more sharply brought out in the second, inasmuch as John does not say: Πᾶς Ὁ ἉΜΑΡΤΆΝΩΝΟὐ ΜΈΝΕΙ ἘΝ ΑὐΤῷ, but: ΟὐΧ ἙΏΡΑΚΕΝ ΑὐΤΌΝ, ΟὐΔῈ ἜΓΝΩΚΕΝ ΑὐΤΌΝ.

is every one who leads a life in ἉΜΑΡΤΊΑ, and therefore has not come out of the ΚΌΣΜΟς into the number of God’s children;[207] such an one, says John, hath not seen, neither known αὐτόν, i.e. Christ. Lücke takes the perfects ἑώρακεν and ἔγνωκεν in present signification, the former in the meaning of “the present possession of the experience,” the latter in the meaning of “the present possession of previously obtained knowledge;” but this is not rendered necessary by the context, and hence the perfects are to be retained as such, although it must be admitted that John is considering the result as one that continues into the present. The meaning of the two verbs in their relation to one another is very differently explained; according to some commentators, ἑώρακεν signifies something inferior (Semler, Baumgarten-Crusius, Lücke in his 1st ed.), according to others, something superior (Socinus, Neander, Frommann, p. 223), to ἔγνωκεν; with the former view οὐδέ is taken as = “and still less,” with the latter as = “and not as much as;” both are incorrect, for a difference of degree is in no way suggested; yet the two expressions are not to be regarded as synonymous, so that ἔγνωκε would only be added to bring out the spiritual meaning of ἑώρακεν (Düsterdieck), for although οὐδέ can neither be necessarily “disjunctive” (Lücke, 1st ed.) nor “conjunctive” (Lücke, 2d ed.), yet the form of the clauses shows, inasmuch as the object is put along with each verb, that οὐδέ here has a stronger emphasis, and that John wanted to express by the two verbs two distinct ideas. In order to determine these, the original signification of the words must be retained; ὁρᾷν signifies neither “the mere historical knowledge of Christ” (Lücke), nor the perseverantia communionis cum Christo (Erdmann), and γινώσκειν signifies neither “the experience of the heart,” nor even “love,” but even here ὁρᾷν means to see, and γινώσκειν to know; but the seeing of Christ takes place when the immediate consciousness of the glory of Christ has dawned upon us, so that the eye of our soul beholds Him as He is in the totality of His nature; the knowing of Him when by means of inquiring consideration the right understanding of Him has come to us, so that we are clearly conscious not only of His nature, but also of His relation to us.[208]

[205] When Weiss (and Brückner agreeing with him) says “that John here represents the Christian life as according to its nature it is and ought to be,” the expression of the apostle is explained by him also from its idealism.

[206] Besser appropriately says: “Every one who abides in Christ, to whom He once belongs, does not sin, but says ‘No’ to sin, which belongs to the old man, and resists its alien power. A Christian does not do sin, but he suffers it. His will, his Christian Ego, is not at one with sin. Hatred of sin is the common mark of the children of God; love of sin the common property of the children of the devil.” Augustine’s explanation: “in quantum in Christo manet, in tantum non peccat,” is unsatisfactory, because it would thereby appear as if the inner life of the Christian was something divided in itself; but it is more correct when he says: “Etsi infirmitate labitur, peccato tamen non consentit, quia potius gemendo luctatur.”

[207] Ebrard says this explanation is opposed to the context, because “even from ver. 4 the subject is such as are Christians, but are lacking in holiness, and it is only in ver. 6 that it is stated how far such Christians cannot be regarded as truly regenerate;” but (1) do not the unregenerate Christians still belong to the κίσμος? and (2) does not that explanation refer precisely to the close of the 6th verse?

[208] With this interpretation that of Sander, who interprets ἑώρακεν of “spiritual intuition or beholding,” and ἔγνωκεν of the “knowledge obtained more by reflection along the lines of dialectic and inquiry,” as well as that of Myrberg, according to which the former signifies the “immediata perceptio Christi spirituali modo homini se manifestantis,” the latter the “perdurans cognitio atque intelligentia,” are in substantial agreement. Braune, it is true, assents to this view, but he erroneously thus defines the thought of the apostle: “Every one who sins, and inasmuch as he sins, is one in whom the seeing and knowing of Christ is a thing of the past, but does not continue and operate into the present,” for John plainly says of him who sins that he has not seen or known Christ. When Erdmann defines ἔγνωκεν as the cognitio Christi, quae et intuitu et intellectu non solum personae Christi verum etiam totius ejus operis indolem complectitur, this is in so far unsuitable, as the intuitu belongs precisely to the ἑώρακεν. Very unsatisfactory is Ebrard’s explanation, that ὁρᾷν is “the seeing of Christ as the light, γινώσκειν the loving knowledge.” The difference between ὁρᾷν and γινώσκειν appears also in this, that in the former the operating activity is represented rather on the side of the object, which presents itself to the eye of the soul; in the latter, rather on the side of the subject, which this verb makes the subject of consideration.1 John 3:6. This seems a stark contradiction of 1 John 1:8 to 1 John 2:2. (1) St. Augustine first limits the statement: “In quantum in ipso manet, in tantum non peccat,” and then narrows the idea of “sin” by defining it as “not loving one’s brother” (1 John 3:10). (2) St. Bernard (De Nat. et Dign. Am. Div. vi.) compares Romans 7:17; Romans 7:20 : “secundum hoc quod natus est ex Deo, id est secundum interioris hominis rationem, in tantum non peccat, in quantum peccatum quod corpus mortis foris operatur, odit potius quam approbat, semine spiritualis nativitatis quo ex Deo natus est eum interius conservante”. (3) Romanists limit “sin” to “mortal sin”. (4) Many commentators say that St. John is thinking only of the ideal. All these simply explain away the emphatic declaration. There is really no contradiction, and the Apostle’s meaning appears when account is taken of the terms he employs with accurate precision. In the earlier passage he says that there is indwelling sin in the believer. The sinful principle (ἁμαρτία) remains, and it manifests its presence by lapses from holiness—occasional sins, definite, isolated acts of sin. This is the force ot the aorists, ἁμάρτητε, ἁμάρτῃ in 1 John 2:1. Here he uses the present ἁμαρτάνειν (varied by ποιεῖν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν) with the implication of continuance in sin. The distinction between present and aorist is well exemplified by Matt. 6 11: δὸς σήμερον as contrasted with Luke 11:3 : δίδου τὸ καθʼ ἡμέραν, and Matthew 14:22 : ἐμβῆναικαὶ προάγειν. The distinction was obvious to St. John’s Greek readers, and they would feel no difficulty when he said, on the one hand: ἐάν τις ἁμάρτῃ, Παράκλητον ἔχομεν, and, on the other: πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτόν. The believer may fall into sin but he will not walk in it. “Hath not seen Him,” because he is “in the darkness” (cf. 1 John 1:5-7).6. Whosoever abideth] Better, Every one that abideth: we have the same Greek form of expression here as in 1 John 2:23; 1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:3-4; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 3:15. 1 John 4:7, 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18, and it is better to mark this in translation.

sinneth not] The Christian sometimes sins (1 John 1:8-10). The Christian abides in Christ (1 John 2:27). He who abides in Christ does not sin (1 John 3:6). By these apparently contradictory statements put forth one after another S. John expresses that internal contradiction of which every one who is endeavouring to do right is conscious. What S. John delivers as a series of aphorisms, which mutually qualify and explain one another, S. Paul puts forth dialectically as an argument. ‘If what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me’ (Romans 7:20). And on the other hand, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20).

whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him] Or, every one that sinneth, hath not seen Him, neither knoweth Him. The second verb is the perfect of the commonest verb in Greek for ‘to see’ (ὁρᾷν), a verb of which S. John uses no tense but the perfect. The third verb, though perfect in form, is present in meaning, ‘I have come to know, I know’ (see on 1 John 2:3). No one who sins has seen Christ or attained to a knowledge of Him. What does S. John mean by this strong statement? It will be observed that it is the antithesis of the preceding statement; but, as usual, instead of giving us the simple antithesis, ‘Every one that sinneth abideth not in Him’, he expands and strengthens it into ‘Every one that sinneth hath not seen Him, neither come to know Him’. S. John does not say this of every one who commits a sin, but of the habitual sinner (present participle). Although the believer sometimes sins, yet not sin, but opposition to sin, is the ruling principle of his life; for whenever he sins he confesses it, and wins forgiveness, and perseveres with his self-purification.

But the habitual sinner does none of these things: sin is his ruling principle. And this could not be the case if he had ever really known Christ. Just as apostates by leaving the Church prove that they have never really belonged to it (1 John 2:19), so the sinner by continuing in sin proves that he has never really known Christ.—Seeing and knowing are not two names for the same fact: to see Christ is to be spiritually conscious of His presence; to know Him is to recognise His character and His relation to ourselves. For a collection of varying interpretations of this passage see Farrar’s Early Days of Christianity, II. p. 434, note.1 John 3:6. Οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει, sinneth not) In him the good of righteousness is not overcome by the evil of sin.—οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτὸν) hath not seen Him in spirit; although perhaps, as to personal appearance, he hath seen Him in the flesh: or even, though he hath seen Him in spirit, at the very moment of sin he becomes such, as though he had never seen Him in any way.—οὐδὲ ἔγνωκεν αὐτὸν, nor known Him) in truth; although perhaps he hath formerly known Him personally. Light and knowledge produce likeness to God: 1 John 3:2.Verse 6. - Every one that abideth in Christ ipso facto sinneth not; for, if he sins, he ceases to abide in him. Just in so far as he abides, he does not sin. Or it may mean that be who abides in Christ cannot deliberately and habitually sin. But then would not St. John have written, "He that abideth in Christ abideth not in sin"? But the main difficulty is in the second half. In what sense is it true that every one that sinneth hath not seen Christ? In the main two explanations are given.

(1) The Greek perfect expresses the present and permanent result of a past action, and is often equivalent to a present. No doubt; and all would be easy if we had only to deal with ὤγνωκε, which means, "he hath come to know," equivalent to "he knoweth." But does ἑώρακε ever mean "he seeth," as Alford suggests as the best rendering for a version? If St. John simply means that whoever sins thereby ceases to see and know Christ, he would hardly express himself thus.

(2) The fact of the man's sinning proves that his perception and knowledge have been imperfect, if not superficial, or even imaginary; just as the fact of Christians leaving the Church proves that they never were really members of it (1 John 2:19). This explanation is preferable. In verse 2 we were told that seeing God will make us like God; and similarly, to see and know Christ make us like Christ. Whoever is unlike Christ, to that extent has not seen nor come to know him. The best of us, it may be, have seen but the hem of his garment. Abideth

Compare John 15:4-10. To abide in Christ is more than to be in Him, since it represents a condition maintained by communion with God and by the habitual doing of His will. See on 1 John 2:6.

Sinneth not

John does not teach that believers do not sin, but is speaking of a character, a habit. Throughout the Epistle he deals with the ideal reality of life in God, in which the love of God and sin exclude each other as light and darkness.

Seen - known

The vision of Christ and the appropriation of what is seen. Rev., correctly, knoweth.

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