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. — 1 John 3:9 KJV
– OR –
Whoever has been born of God does not [continuously] sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot [continuously] sin, because he has been born of God. — YLT (Modified)
The verb in 1John 3:9 “doth not commit sin” and “he cannot sin” is in the Present Active Indicative (tense/voice/mood) and can be translated either present or present continuous.
The Greek Present Tense can be either present tense of present continuous tense. Here is a quote from Croy’s Primer of Biblical Greek that deals with present tense.
2.11 The Present Active Indicative
In Greek, there is no such distinction. As a result, every single time you translate a Greek present tense verb, you must CHOOSE between the two English possibilities: present and present continuous. This is just one of those basic, pervasive differences between Greek and English that makes translation such a difficult art!
Every single time you translate a Greek present tense verb into English, you are making a choice – and that requires some thought on your part! There is no such thing as automatic translation when it comes to Greek and English.
You are going to be making stylistic choices every single time that you translate from Greek into English, and vice versa.”
The two components of the tense of a verb are Time and Aspect.
Aspect refers to the how the action unfolds, and tends to be the most important part of a verb in Koine Greek. Aspect may be either Undefined, Continuous, or Resultative.”
There are a number of ways different Bible Teachers deal with 1 John 3:9 and the question concerning can a born again Christan commit sin.
The Two Natures View:
The teaching that is most common is the Christian has Two Natures. The Old Nature and the New Nature. The Old Nature continues to sin from time to time or as Question 83 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism would say “No mere man, since the fall, is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them, in thought, word, and deed”.
This is the teaching that will be found in most liberal Christian denomination. They hold Romans chapter seven experience of “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom 7:19) to be the normal Christian standard.
Intermittent Sinning View:
Another view that is very common is that a Christian doesn’t continuously sin but intermittently commit sins. The Christian doesn’t walk in a life style of sinning but from time to time they sin.
Typically these that hold this view have a broad definition of sin that takes in faults, errors, any kind of carnality, and unwillful omitted commandments.
You will find this teaching in many plain clothes congregations like Charity, in some of the more liberal holiness denominations, or in some of the more conservative Pentecostal denominations.
The Wesleyan Christian Perfection View:
John Wesley taught in Plain Account of Christian Perfection that “even babes in Christ are so far perfect as not to commit sin” (PA Section 12).
Wesley’s position was based on a narrow definition of sin. He held that sin was “a voluntary transgression of a known law” and that “involuntary transgressions… you may call sins, if you please: I do not” (PA Section 19).
He considered “omissions, their short-comings, (as some not improperly speak,) their mistakes in judgment and practice, and their defects of various kinds… mistakes, and whatever infirmities necessarily flow from the corruptible state of the body, are noway contrary to love; nor therefore, in the Scripture sense, sin” (PA Section 19).
In Wesley’s Sermon 19 on The Great Privilege of Those that Are Born of God he provides his position concerning “whosoever is born of God” and “in what sense he doth not commit sin.”
He held that “one who is so born of God, as hath been above described, who continually receives into his soul the breath of life from God, the gracious influence of his Spirit, and continually renders it back; one who thus believes and loves, who by faith perceives the continual actings of God upon his spirit, and by a kind of spiritual re-action returns the grace he receives, in unceasing love, and praise, and prayer; not only doth not commit sin, while he thus keepeth himself, but so long as this seed remaineth in him, he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
Wesley’s position was that after “evil desire begins and spreads in his soul, till faith and love vanish away: He is then capable of committing outward sin, the power of the Lord being departed from him.” But if “he who is born of God, keeping himself, doth not, cannot commit sin; and yet, if he keepeth not himself, he may commit all manner of sin with greediness.”
While I would agree with much that Wesley teaches his position on 1John 3:9 seems to be that a Christian can’t sin outwardly until he gives into temptation inwardly and sins inwardly and then he can sin outwardly.
Further Thoughts on 1Joh 3:9:
If we admit a Christian can sin (1John 2:1), I feel we have no choice with 1John 3:9 but to translate both verbs in the present continuous tense otherwise we would cause the scriptures to contradict its self. “He cannot sin” in the literal sense can’t not be true as we know from the scriptures (1 Joh 2:1) that Christians can fall into sin.
We must reject the liberal two nature teaching and Wesley’s explanation of “cannot sin” being that Christians can not sin outwardly until they sin inwardly doesn’t seem to be in context nor does it make sense to me.
It appears that what this scripture is tell us is that a person that has been born again does not and in fact cannot continuously commit sin because he has the seed of God in him. Those who are continuously sinning simply are not born again.
Some would hold they never have been born again, I hold that the scriptures teach that those who have been born again and are continuously sinning have foriefted their standing with God just like the widows that cast off their first faith and have damnation (1Tim 5:12).