What do 1 John 3:6 and 1 John 5:18 mean when they say believers will not continue to sin?

Throughout the book of 1 John, John outlines characteristics of true believers, such as: keeping fellowship with Christ and other believers (1 John 1:3); walking in the light and confessing their sins (1 John 1:6–9); being obedient to God's Word (1 John 2:3–5); living pure lives (1 John 3:3); and, finally, the text in question, seeing a decrease in habitual sin (1 John 3:5–6; 1 John 5:18).

First John 3:6 says: "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." Similarly, 1 John 5:18 says: "We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him." Some people read these verses and mistakenly think that it means true believers will not or cannot sin; however, this is an impossible feat for anyone but Jesus, as John also points out: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8).

Let's look a bit more closely at these verses. John clearly indicates that we cannot be perfect and without sin, even after being saved. The key to these verses lies in the phrase "keep on sinning," which occurs in each of them. This indicates that while believers may still sin on occasion, true believers will not maintain a pattern of habitual sin once they have been saved. Continuing in a life of sin indicates that the Holy Spirit has not truly been allowed to enter and transform a professing believer's life.

When we accept Christ, we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is through the Holy Spirit that we have the power to forsake old sinful patterns and establish new godly patterns. People should be able to see a difference in the way we acted before Christ to the way we act after receiving His salvation. As we submit sinful urges to God over and over, He replaces them with desires that line up with His will. The Christian walk is one of progressive sanctification and purification, motivated by the desire to live according to God's Word: "With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:10–11; see also 1 John 3:3).

Related Truth:

Will God still forgive you if you keep committing the same sin?

If Jesus forgave all my sins when I became a Christian, why shouldn't I continue to sin?

Is entire sanctification possible? Can Christians achieve sinless perfection in this life?

How can I have victory in overcoming sin?

How can I glorify God in everything?

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