Do we have a license to sin in 1John 1:8?

1John 1:8 License to sin?
1John 1:8 License to sin?

We all have sin!” Is this belief a license to sin?

Very few want to take the pains of actually describing the prevailing doctrine they choose to believe regarding 1John1:8. And even though they would not confess it, they do use it as a license to sin – or at least to justify their sin.

Their belief concerning this much-used scripture, when committed to confession, goes along these lines:
“John says in verse 8 that all of us have perpetual sin in our lives. Furthermore, if we dare say that we do not continue in daily transgressions against God and the revealed knowledge of righteousness, we lie and therefore the truth is not in us”.

But if they are wrong…?

Generations of professing Christians have used this scripture to justify sin in their lives. I am not talking about sin of human weakness like forgetfulness, calculating errors, omissions due to absent-mindedness, lack of knowledge, etc.. I am talking about the deliberate, willful acts of conscious disobedience to the revealed will of God through the conscience and His Word. But if what they say is true, then they have nothing to fear other than living a defeatist life with a license to sin. But if God’s Word finds them to be wrong, then what will become of them?

The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?  (Jer 5:31)

The reason John wrote the letter

To be able to understand a scriptural portion, one needs to understand the scriptural context, the spiritual context, and the historical context. These must also be reasonable and congruent.

The historical context

False doctrine started appearing not long after the early church began on the day of Pentecost. These doctrines subtly included the appearance of Christianity but denied His essence. That is; they taught that Jesus never rose in bodily form.

Gnosticism grew and soon ran rife, stealing believers away by appealing to the flesh. One of these sects was the Docetes, or as the Greek interpretation – phantomists (doketai). It was against this wide-spreading teaching, and that was so detrimental to the early church, that caused John to write this letter. (1John is not considered an epistle by most biblical scholars, but rather a letter or treatise). In  particular, John addressed their doctrine of dualism, which, in a nut shell, stated that man existed in a dualist form of spirit / soul and body. And, even though they co-existed in one being, each state of being was independent of the other as legal entities .

Dr. Scott Calef says: “The most basic form of dualism is substance dualism, which requires that mind and body be composed of two ontologically distinct substances”. See his posted article on Dualism

 Gnostics’ doctrine vs 1 John

The following are some of the doctrines of the Gnostics as opposed by 1Johng. The specific doctrines John was refuting were:

  1. Jesus was not the incarnate Son of God, i.e. He did not appear in the flesh.
  2. The gospels of the apostles were not original.
  3. There was no sin in their lives. They could not sin in the spirit but only in the flesh, which didn’t count.
  4. There had never been sin in their lives based on the above mentioned belief (3).

I submit their doctrines and give John’s refutations below each as follows:

1) “Jesus was not the incarnate Son of God

They believed that Jesus never was incarnate and that He only appeared as a man. This is particularly true of the Docetes sect of Gnosticism, who derived their name from the Greek word, doketai, meaning phantom. These were the phantomists.

But John said that he and the other apostles saw, heard and handled the substance of Christ’s fleshly body (1John 1:1). And anyone that said that He had not come in the flesh was not of God (1John 4:2).

2) “The gospels of apostles were not original

They taught that the apostles added to of altered the true gospel, and that they, the Gnostics, were the only ones who had been entrusted with the original gospel (Something that all false Christian religions say. e.g. JW’s, Mormons, Catholics). They assumed sole and universal authority of the only and original gospels.

John makes claim that the apostles (“we”) were the original ones who had the life manifested to them, and thus were the ones who had the authority to proclaim the truth of Christ to the church (1John 1:2-5).

3) “No sin in their life

Their doctrines dictated that:
a) Man’s real substance was spirit / soul. It was only the spirit that was saved and not the body, which the latter, according to them, would perish.
b) Because only the soul was saved, it did not matter that they sinned in the body. Their sin would not hinder their salvation or contaminate their soul. Therefore, they could sin perpetually in the body with no affect to their souls or their relationship with God. This in essence reduces the holiness of God to the level of man’s carnality. Their supposition is that God will fellowship with man in spite of him sinning against Him and all that He is – i.e. His infinite righteousness.

But John says that if we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness (i.e. sin), we lie and do not practice the truth (1John 1:6). This means that we cannot sin and think that we have fellowship with God. This is contrary to what the phantomists believed.

He went on to say: ” but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin”. John is saying here that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin only if we walk in God’s righteousness (i.e. cease from perpetual sin)! This is the state of true repentance.

Please note: This does not mean that we will never sin again; but it does mean that we will not continue living in besetting sin. True salvation does not remove the possibility of sinning; it removes the propensity.

Please also see the post on 1John 2:1 that deals with the occasion if we sin again.

4) “They never sinned

Their phantom (spirit) doctrine also meant that if the soul was “saved” (through belief (only) in their doctrines) that it was as if they never sinned; i.e. that they didn’t have sin in their lives. This would then nullify any guilt accrued to them.

However, John strongly contested this when he said: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us”. That is to say that if we confess to never having sinned, the truth is not in us.

Protest: But that is not what John is saying was it?

Many people will say: But that is not what John is saying!

Indeed it is. And  it can only be what he is saying. In fact, two verses later he reiterates and elaborates his meaning by saying: “If we say that we have not sinned (past tense), we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. He was refuting the Gnostics’ doctrine of denying that we had sin in our lives from passed acts of disobedience, and this is (so they taught) because we could only sin in the flesh while the spirit (phantom) remained untouched by sin.

License to sin

Those who profess that John purports that we all have continued sin in our lives, perpetuate the doctrine of the Gnostics. They take one verse of scripture out of context and purposely misconstrue it to justify their continued sin. Therefore giving themselves a license to sin.

Scripture was not originally written in chapter and verse. Therefore the thoughts of the writer pervade the whole of their works.

To strengthen the case at hand we only need to read the very next verse (after verse 10)to understand that John could never mean what these license-to-sin advocates choose to believe:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” 1John 2:1).

Let me know your thoughts on the above at

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