1 John 3:4, 6, Commits sin…does not sin. The false doctrine of sinless perfectionism refuted.
There is a false doctrine called sinless perfectionism that states that if one is born again spiritually, one will no longer ever commit a single sin for rest of their lives. In fact, one Bible teacher proponent of this idea in his book states that he hadn’t sinned once since becoming saved back in the 1970s. (I can’t help but think that in saying this, he has committed the worst sin of all: the sin of pride!) This notion is primarily based on three verses that are found in John’s first epistle: 1 John 3:4, 6 and 5:18 as the KJV and KNJV translate them. What is the real truth of these verses?
Are these two verses stating that if a saint sins even once, one is not of Elohim, is not abiding in him and doesn’t even know him (1 John 3:6)? No, not at all. The tense of the Greek verbs indicate that the sin activity must be a continual on-going, habitual action—a lifestyle. That is to say, one who practices sin habitually as a lifestyle is neither abiding in nor knows Elohim.
In the NKJV, verse four reads, “Whoever commits sin….” This translation doesn’t accurately reflect the sense of the Greek. William Mounce in his Greek and English Interlinear New Testament translates this verse as, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning….” This is because, as Mounce notes, the phrase “commits sin” is a verb that is in its present active participle form. Spiros Zodhiates in his KJV Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible notes the same thing.
In the NKJV verse six reads, “Whoever sins….” Again, this translation doesn’t accurately capture the sense of the Greek. Mounce and the NIV translate this same phrase as “keeps on sinning.” This is because, as Mounce notes, this verb is in its present active indicative form, and as Zodhiates notes it is a present participle showing that the verb is a continual, on-going action. It is the difference between a one time action versus an on-going action. It is the difference between the sentences “he committed a sin” versus “he is continually sinning.”
1 John 5:18 reads similarly as the verses above. “[W]hoever is born of Elohim does not sin” (NKJV). Mounce notes that the verb “does not sin” is in its present active indicative form and, as does the NIV, translates it as “does not continue to sin.”