This plain, simple verse has been twisted by some who believe in the doctrine of perfection, and they have made it declare that it is possible for some to abide in Christ, and therefore not to sin. But you will remark that it does not say, that some that abide in Christ do not sin; but it says that none who abide in Christ sin. “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.” Therefore this passage is not to be applied to a few who attain to what is called by our Arminian friends the fourth degree—perfection; but it appertains to all believers; and of every soul in Christ it may be said, that he sinneth not. In reading the Bible, we read it simply as we would read another book. We ought not to read it as a preacher his text, with the intention of making something out of every word; but we should read it as we find it written: “Whosoever abideth in Christ sinneth not.” Now we are sure that cannot mean that he does not sin at all, but it means that he sins not habitually, he sins not designedly, he sins not finally, so as to perish. The Bible often calls a man righteous; but that does not mean that he is perfectly righteous. It calls a man a sinner, but it does not imply that he may not have done some good deeds in his life; it means that that is the man’s general character. So with the man who abides in Christ: his general character is not that he is a sinner, but that he is a saint—he sinneth not openly, wilfully, before men. In his own heart, he has much to confess, but his life before his fellow creatures is such a one that it can be said of him “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.”
For meditation: If Christians enjoy sinless perfection in this life, why do the epistles of the New Testament contain so much about practical Christian living? John does not deny the existence of sin in the believer (1 John 1:8-10), but writes to discourage the believer from sinning (1 John 2:1).
Part of nos. 61-62 13 July (Given on 20 January 1856)