“What Means The Phrase ‘and he cannot sin’?”

First John 3.9-10


1.   The person you Church members should pay the most attention to is the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, the Savior of souls.  The subject that you Church members should pay the most attention to is the subject of sin; that which causes the pain and destruction which has ruined our world, and that which causes the separation of men from God that brings about their condemnation and their eternal torment.

 2.   Sin is the evil of evils.  That which causes the greatest harm is the greatest evil, and nothing is so harmful as the damnation brought on by sin.  The greatest good is that which remedies the greatest evil, which is the Lord Jesus Christ, the One Who conquered sin by His death, burial and resurrection from the dead on the third day.

 3.   So, sin is a topic which should be on the minds of every man and woman here as that which is most dangerous to your soul, just as the Lord Jesus Christ should be the Person Who is on the mind of every man and woman here as that One Who is the most beneficial to your soul.

 4.   This morning I want to speak to you on the subject of sin.  But it’s the sin of a Christian that I want to speak to about you this morning, not the sin of an unsaved person.  And this is well and good since sin is a most important subject for Christians, as well as for hypocrites.

 5.   Please turn in your Bible to First John 3.9-10.  When you’ve found that portion of Scripture, please stand for the reading of God’s Word: 

9       Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

10     In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. 

6.   The relationship that a Christian has to sin is of profoundest importance, for two reasons:  If the relationship that a Christian has to sin is the same as the relationship an unsaved person has to sin, then Christianity isn’t good for anything, is it?  But if the relationship that a Christian has to sin is not the same as the relationship that an unsaved person has to sin, then almost everyone who claims to be a Christian these days isn’t. 

7.   Herein lies the problem.  Young people, take a look at your parents.  You who are visitors, take a look at those here who are your hosts.  You who are lost, consider those here who claim to be Christians. 

8.   Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians in his second letter to them:  “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” 

9.   In other words, Church members, those who claim to be Christians are much like letters that are known and read by men, by lost men, who are very likely to pay more attention to the professing Christians they know than they are to the Bible they never read. 

10. If, when they look at you, they see that your relationship to sin is the same as the relationship of a lost next door neighbor to sin, who lives in a similar situation and station in life as you, then one of two things must be true:  Either the Christian faith which you embrace is nothing, or you are not really a Christian. 

11. Obviously, the implications here are profound and far reaching, and should certainly secure the attention of any thinking person.  So I want you to take careful note of three things we see in these two verses: 


“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him” 

Would you agree that the person who is born of God is the person who really is a Christian?  Think about this now, because where we are going with this leads to some very challenging conclusions.  Observe: 

1B.    First, we see in this phrase I’ve just read the cause, “Whosoever is born of God” 

1C.   What is the cause?  Being born of God.  Would you not agree that to be born of God ought to be the cause of some eventful things?  If Christianity really is something worth a lost person’s consideration, should there not then be some effect that is the result of the born again cause? 

2C.   And would you not agree that if being born again is not a cause, and not a profoundly significant cause of something stupendous and significant, then this whole Christianity business is so much hooey? 

3C.   Now, I’m not referring to pie in the sky bye and bye.  For Christianity to really be something worthwhile, for it to be meaningful, for it to really be the faith once delivered to the saints, for it to really be of God, then there needs to be something right here and right now caused by being born again. 

4C.   Isn’t that reasonable?  Wouldn’t you agree with that?  The apostle John agrees with you completely, and maintains that very thing.  Does anyone here disagree with what I’ve just said?  Good. 

2B.    The consequence of being born of God, the consequence of the cause, is “doth not commit sin” 

1C.   Because he is born of God, or because his seed remaineth in him (which is stating the same thing a different way), the Christian does not commit sin. 

2C.   Excuse me, but this is an astounding consequence!  This is astonishing.  Imagine!  Something happens to a person, a sinner, that results in him being described as a person who does not sin! 

3C.   Now, since anyone can say that he is going to heaven, there is no possible way to establish that Christianity really accomplishes anything if the only result of being born again is to someday go to heaven.  After all, no one can verify that.  No one can observe that a guy has gone to heaven. 

4C.   But to have a radical and otherwise unexplainable departure from sinning.  My friends, that is truly astounding.  If a Christian’s performance really measures up to what the apostle John says here, then two things are definitely established:  First, it is thereby established that Bible Christianity is a truly miraculous faith come from God.  And, second, it is thereby established that the person whose performance can be described in this fashion truly is a Christian. 

5C.   Such authentication of a religion, such consequence of a cause, is indisputable, is it not? 


Much to do is made these days about a Christian’s so-called power.  And talking about power all the time certainly does attract the attention of the wimps of the world who fantasize about being powerful.  But here in First John 3.9 the apostle makes reference to what a Christian cannot do, not to what he can do. 

1B.    Looking At The Sin Issue A Bit Differently This Second Time, John Here First Gives Us The Consequence, “and he cannot sin” 

1C.   My friend, it would be earth shaking if professing Christians did not sin.  Christianity would overshadow what is now seen to be the onslaught of Islam in only months if so-called Christians would demonstrate to one and all that he who is born of God “doth not commit sin.” 

2C.   But what John says here goes far beyond what he said before.  He said before that a person who is born of God does not commit sin.  Here he says that a person who is born of God cannot sin! 

3C.   In the first half of First John 3.9 he spoke of the will of that person who is born of God.  Here, in the second half of First John 3.9, he speaks of the ability of the person who is born of God, the power of the person who is born of God, the capacity of the person who is born of God! 

2B.    What cause does John assign to this consequence?   “because he is born of God” 

1C.   Hold on a second.  Wait just a minute!  We all know that you go to heaven if you are born of God.  We all know that your sins are forgiven if you are born of God.  We all know that you are a new creature in Christ if you are born of God, and that you become a child of God. 

2C.   But this verse in God’s Word deals with the life that is actually lived in front of lost people, in front of skeptics, in front of unsaved family members, in front of unsaved coworkers.  And it asserts not only that there is a radically different relationship to sin that results from being born of God, but that it cannot be otherwise. 

3C.   If you are truly converted you will not commit sin.  That’s wonderful.  That’s great.  That’s marvelous.  What an incredible testimony!  But there is more.  If you truly are converted you cannot commit sin.  That is mind boggling!  That is earth shattering!  That is attention grabbing! 

4C.   “But wait.  Hold on.  Stop the trains.  Time out.  Christianity can’t be real.  It can’t be genuine.  It can’t be of God.”  Why not?  “Because the Christians I know are no different than the lost people I know.”  Either that, or you don’t really know any Christians.  Ever think of that possibility?  What if Christianity is real, but you don’t know any real Christians?  Think about it. 


“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” 

Back in the days when I was a much younger Christian and assumed that everyone who said he was converted was really born again, I used to grieve at the thought of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and others living lives that were a better testimony than many so-called Christian’s lives.  And although I was obviously more spiritual than just about any Christian I knew, it bothered me that other Christians were so pathetic in comparison to Mormons and Adventists and Witnesses with regard to their level of commitment to their cause and the lifestyles they lived.  

Then I began to realize that I wasn’t all that spiritual a Christian.  It’s just that I really was born again and most of the so-called Christians I knew were not really born again.  That’s what explained for me why unconverted cultists faired so well in comparison to professing Christians. 

Notice how this 10th verse in First John 3 attests to what I had learned by experience and accident. 

1B.    First, the comparison   

“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil” 

1C.   There are only two kinds of people in the world, the children of God and the children of the devil.  That’s it.  There are no almost Christians and there are no good children of the devil.  You are either an all the way child of God or an all the way child of the devil. 

2C.   But the significant thing that most so-called Christians and even conservative pastors refuse to admit these days is that “the children of God are manifest.”  That is, the children of God are “clear, manifest, evident, conspicuous,” which is what the Greek word here means.[1] 

3C.   Do you understand what John wrote here under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, folks?  He pointed out that you can compare the Christians with the non-Christians and you can tell who the Christians are.  That’s what he is saying. 

2B.    And if that isn’t enough to shake people out of their lethargy, notice the contrast between the Christians and the unconverted 

“whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” 

1C.   If a person does not do righteousness he is not of God.  Surely this contrasts with the child of God who, according to Psalm 23.3, is led in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 

2C.   As well, if a person does not love his brother he is just like Cain, the wicked one, who slew his brother, First John 3.12. 


 1.   My friends, a number of truths are easily verified in our text for today.  First, it is established that there is a recognizable distinction and difference between the saved and the lost.  Undeniable.

 2.   Next, it is established that either Christianity is worthless or Christians have a markedly and dramatically different relationship with sin than do non-Christians.  This simple logic is verified by John in our text.

 3.   Third, it is established that the child of God does not commit sin and that the child of God cannot sin.  Whatever is meant in First John 3.9 by “doth not commit sin” and “he cannot sin,” they are two statements that do not in any way apply to unsaved people.  Of that we can be sure.

 4.   This morning’s sermon will focus on the second of these two phrases, the more astounding of the two.  But

      before the sermon brother Isenberger comes to lead us in song. 


1.   Folks, it is important to realize that there is a great and profound difference between the person who is unsaved and the person who is truly converted.  Sin creates a deep and yawning chasm of separation between a rebellious individual and the angry at sin God, and the blood of Jesus Christ bridges that great gulf and brings the sinner to reconciliation with God. 

2.   Whatever is done to effect that new Christian’s conversion to reconcile him to God, the result must be dramatic and important, or the saving work of Jesus Christ is denigrated and diminished in its significance. 

3.   If the gulf that sin creates between man and God is seen to be nothing more than a ditch to be jumped over by someone who is spiritually athletic, then the saving work of Christ is treated as a small thing, not the great and astounding miracle that it really is.

 4.   So, there is a great deal at stake here in today’s text.  The reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ as a great Savior is at stake here.  The genuineness of the Christian faith as a great faith is at state here.  And the credibility of your own testimony as a real Christian is at state here.

 5.   Let’s say you are a Christian dad who wants to see his son come to know Christ, be your son four, or fourteen, or forty.  Your relationship to sin will do more to convince your son that Christianity is real or that Christianity is false than anything I can say or do.

 6.   If your relationship to sin is almost identical to your son’s non Christian uncle then you, dad, are convincing your son that Christianity is nothing at all, unless of course he somehow becomes convinced that you are not really a Christian.  But if Christianity is seen by him to be real, while you live no differently than unsaved people live, then your son has no choice but to conclude that you, dad, are a hypocrite.

 7.   The real key, as I see it, is the more profound of the two key phrases in First John 3.9.  Look again at the last half of verse 9, “and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”  Specifically, I draw your attention to the phrase “and he cannot sin.”

 8.   What does this phrase mean?  What does it mean to say “and he cannot sin”?  Let’s try to settle this once and for all by making three observations:


 How can we be absolutely sure that John is not saying that those born of God commit no sins whatsoever?

 1B.    First, because the apostle Peter sinned & he was yet converted

 1C.   And I do not refer to the occasion of Peter’s three denials of the Lord Jesus Christ the night before the crucifixion.

 2C.   I am referring to that time when Paul confronted Peter in the city of Antioch, in what proved to be a clash between two apostles of Jesus Christ.

 3C.   Listen to what Paul wrote by inspiration of God, in Galatians 2.11:  “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”

 4C.   Peter obviously had sinned.  Yet Peter not only continued as an apostle of Jesus Christ, but he went on to write both First and Second Peter after this sad chapter in his life had passed.

 2B.    Next, we can be sure John is not saying that those born of God commit no sins whatsoever because John Mark sinned & was yet converted

 1C.   John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey.  But when the going got rough he chickened out and went home to his mommy, abandoning the others and proving himself to be unfaithful.  Unfaithfulness is a serious sin.

 2C.   Acts 15.39:  “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other.”  Paul was so convinced John Mark’s sin showed him to be unreliable on important missions, with Barnabas disagreeing, that the friends never again served together.

 3C.   Yet years later, after much maturing and seasoning in the Gospel ministry, Paul wrote to Timothy in Second Timothy 4.11, saying, “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”  He had sinned before, but he was profitable now.

 3B.    Then there is Matthew 18.15-22: 

15        Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16     But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

17     And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

18     Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19     Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

20     For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

21     Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

22     Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. 

1C.   These provisions for dealing with sin were established by the Savior during His earthly ministry.  Yet there seems to be no indication here that a sinning Christian is not a Christian still. 

2C.   If a Christian is not a Christian still after committing a sin then this provision made by the Lord Jesus Christ for dealing with sin in the Church makes no sense whatsoever.

 4B.    Fourth, we see conclusive evidence in First John 1.8 & 10 

8       If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

10     If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

1C.   So, it is clear that whatever “and he cannot sin” does mean, it cannot mean that one truly born of God no longer commits sins of any kind. 

2C.   Peter sinned, and he was yet converted.  John Mark sinned, and he was yet converted.  The Lord Jesus Christ made provision in the Church for dealing with Christian’s sins.  And the apostle John specifically and pointedly excluded anyone who denies committing sins from the family of faith as a liar who is devoid of the truth. 

3C.   So, John’s declaration “and he cannot sin” does not refer to sinlessness. 


What is unbridled sinfulness?  It’s sinning any way you want to sin.  It’s uncontrolled and unrestrained sinning, the way a horse without a bridle is uncontrolled and unrestrained. 

This phrase “and he cannot sin” cannot possibly refer to unbridled sinfulness.  Why not? 

1B.    If “and he cannot sin” means you can sin in unbridled fashion, then Jesus was mistaken 

1C.   Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 12.33:  “the tree is known by his fruit.”  In other words, you can tell who is saved and who is lost by their fruit, by their behavior. 

2C.   Now, was the Lord Jesus Christ right or was He wrong?  If “and he cannot sin” means that he can sin in unbridled fashion, then the Lord Jesus made a serious mistake in His teaching. 

2B.    If “and he cannot sin” means you can sin in unbridled fashion, then Paul was not authoritative 

1C.   Remember, Paul wrote these words in Romans 6.1-2, 22:  

1       What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

2       God forbid.  How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

22     But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. 

2C.   Paul points out the impossibility of a truly converted person continuing to sin in unbridled fashion.  So, was he wrong? 

3B.    How about the apostle John?  Was he also not authoritative? 

1C.   Look at First John 3.9 again.  Can anyone who reads this verse with understanding extract from this verse that a Christian can sin in unbridled fashion? 

2C.   Or do you just ignore those portions of the Word of God that personally indict your wicked lifestyle and call your fraudulent Christianity into question? 

4B.    Or do you discount portions of God’s Word as non-binding and without authority? 

1C.   Remember what you are doing to Second Timothy 3.16 if you discount and ignore First John 3.9. 

2C.   Some so-called Christians, who sin without restraint for years, maintain by their profession and their behavior that all scripture is not given by inspiration of God, and is not profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 

5B.    While others so twist the Scriptures that the only legitimate conclusion a person can arrive at to be in agreement with them is that words have no meaning 

1C.   My friend, to be intellectually honest there are certain things that must be admitted with regard to John’s statement in First John 3.9. 

2C.   First, it must be admitted that the phrase “and he cannot sin” cannot possibly refer to complete sinlessness and the absence of sin of any kind in the life of the person born of God.  There is no way sinless perfectionism can be justified from a Biblical perspective. 

3C.   Yet, on the other hand, neither can the position be justified that is taken by so many these days that “Christians can live just like unsaved people live.”  If that statement be true then the Lord Jesus Christ was mistaken, then the apostle Paul was not an authoritative spokesman for God, then the apostle John was not an authoritative spokesman for God, then all Scripture is not given by inspiration of God to be profitable for reproof and correction, and then words in the end have no real meaning.  You can just make of them what you choose! 

4C.   There must be yet another possible meaning for this phrase, the correct meaning! 


You folks know that my position is that context is king.  Words do have meaning.  And the best way, the most meaningful way, to arrive at the meanings of the words an author intends is to carefully consider the context in which the author uses the words he has chosen.  So it is here.  What does John refer to when he writes the phrase “and he cannot sin”?  Look over the entire 3rd chapter of First John. 

1B.    The phrase “and he cannot sin” is not likely to mean “and he cannot sin after the manner of Cain,” who is mentioned in verse 12.  This is because the reference to Cain comes afterward. 

2B.    But notice that the Devil is mentioned both before our text phrase, in verse 8, and after our text phrase, in verse 10, effectively bracketing the phrase “and he cannot sin.” 

3B.    Thus, the context shows us that the phrase “and he cannot sin,” which grammatically means “and he cannot continue sinning,” or “and he cannot sin habitually,” means that the one who is born of God cannot sin like the Devil, cannot live like he is the Devil’s child. 

4B.    My friend, can a person who is born of God commit a sin?  Yes.  Does a person who is born of God still have a sinful nature to contend with?  Yes, he does.  But one born of God must take after his Father, Who is God, and cannot take after the Devil any longer, because he is no longer a child of the Devil. 

5B.    I read some passages from God’s Word about sins, and then make some concluding remarks: 

1C.   Ephesians 5.3-6:  

3       But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;

4       Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

5       For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

6       Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. 

2C.   Revelation 21.8: 

8       But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. 

3C.   Romans 6.6-7: 

6       Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

7       For he that is dead is freed from sin. 


1.   I will not comment on these three passages that I have just read.  You have had enough commenting on enough passages for one sermon. 

2.   I simply point out that the Word of God portrays a dramatically different picture of Christianity than is found in most Churches these days, and that is imagined by most so-called Christians these days. 

3.   According to the Word of God there is a stark contrast between the life and lifestyle of the believer and the life and the lifestyle of the unbeliever, so much so that it is difficult not to tell the difference. 

4.   So, while the apostle John, in writing “and he cannot sin,” is not saying that the Christian is without sin, is not saying that sinless perfectionism is attainable in this life, he is saying that one who is born of God simply cannot sin in the same fashion that an unsaved person can sin. 

5.   He not only will not sin in the same fashion unconverted people sin, but he cannot sin after the fashion of the unconverted. 

6.   Again, this leaves the unsaved onlooker who is unimpressed with the Gospel with a real dilemma.  Either all this is hooey and Christianity is a complete fraud, or the so-called Christians he knows are so unimpressive and so similar to the unsaved people he knows that it is likely they are unconverted, just like he is. 

7.   What is the answer?  I never thought Christianity was anything at all when I was lost.  Looking back, I think it was because none of the so-called Christians I knew amounted to much for Christ’s sake. 

8.   Think about it.  How many of your children have come to Christ?  What’s your batting average?  How many of your family members are now converted?  Have you even considered the possibility that it is your own personal testimony that discredits the Gospel? 

9.   That’s where you must start in your search to find out why your loved ones are not coming to Christ.  That’s not the only reason they may not be responding to the Gospel, but it is the place you need to start in searching for an explanation. 

10. Can you sin like unsaved people sin?  Do you sin like unsaved people sin?  John says you will sin.   But he also points out that you cannot sin the way the unconverted sin unless you, too, are unconverted.

[1]Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library), p. 791.

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