This verse is often used as an attempt to support the idea that we can never stop sinning, but it must be viewed in its proper context. 1 John 1:8 seems to be way more popular to quote than 1 John 1:6 which says:
1 John 1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth
The reason why 1 John 1:6 has fallen into oblivion is likely due to the serious matter – that our souls are in great trouble if we sin. People’s ears might be more tickled by the message that they can afford to sin on a daily basis and still be saved. Here is the entire context surrounding the famous 1 John 1:8, which people often misuse to support the idea that it is perfectly normal for Christians to sin (and abnormal if they do not):
1 John 1:5This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
If John would suggest that 1 John 1:8 means that we can never say “I have no sin” at ANY TIME in our lives, not even for one second, then the only outcome is that we sin around the clock. It would even mean that we still have sins in our system one second after that we have repented! What is the big idea with repenting if we always sin and can never stop?
We can read in the same passage that we can be cleansed from our sins IF we confess our sins, but if we would confess sins and continue to commit those sins then we are only fooling ourselves. Surely we are free of sins when we are cleansed from sins, or can we be cleansed from our sins at the same time as we still sin? That does not make much sense. It is those who walk in darkness who are the liars if they claim to know God, and not those who walk in the light.
The significance of 1 John 1:8 is that none of us can say “I don’t have any sin on my record so I don’t need to repent and I don’t need a Savior” because the truth is that we have all sinned. “If we say that we have not SINNED, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” However, after that we have confessed those sins, repented, become cleansed and born again (become a new person), then the idea is that we should avoid getting dirty again. We will accomplish this goal by maintaining a few sins and hide behind Jesus, pretending that God the Father does not detect our sins. Jesus did not die so that we can sin in peace and be saved IN our sins. WE have to carry our own cross, but we have a great help by the holy Spirit who can guide us on our path – and we must choose to obey.
John also tells us elsewhere in his writings that we can indeed obey the commandments and live holy lives. John does not contradict himself by saying in one verse that we constantly sin and cannot stop, only to give the exact opposite message in other verses.
What else does John say?
1 John 3:6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that DOETH righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.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.—22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
1 John. 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
2 John. 1:6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.
3 John 1:11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. HE THAT DOETH GOOD IS OF GOD: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.—23 Jesus answered and said unto him, IF A MAN LOVE ME, HE WILL KEEP MY WORDS: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
John 15:2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.—6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.10 IF YE KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS, YE SHALL ABIDE IN MY LOVE; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
If we would embrace the faulty understanding of 1 John 1:8 (that we sin around the clock), are we also willing to blame the apostle John for having no truth in him – since he here suggests that he has won a complete victory over sin? Read about the false idea that we can get JESUS’ righteousness imputed into us in this blog article.