Questions From Readers
● In what way is it true, as stated at 1 John 5:18, that “every person that has been born from God does not practice sin, but the One born from God watches him, and the wicked one does not fasten his hold on him”?—N. B., U.S.A.
To understand this scripture it is necessary first of all to appreciate the point that the apostle John repeatedly makes in his letter, namely, that there is a difference between committing a sin and willfully practicing sin. He does not here say that a Christian born of God does not commit a sin. That Christians do commit sins he made clear previously when he wrote: “I am writing you these things that you may not commit a sin. And yet, if anyone does commit a sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one.”—1 John 2:1.
But true Christians do not make a practice of sin, even as John goes on to show: “Everyone who practices sin is also practicing lawlessness, and so sin is lawlessness. You know too that that one was made manifest to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Everyone remaining in union with him does not practice sin; no one that practices sin has either seen him or come to know him. Little children, let no one mislead you; he who carries on righteousness is righteous, just as that one is righteous. He who carries on sin originates with the Devil.”—1 John 3:4-8.
So John, at 1 John 5:18, is emphasizing that those who are born of God do not make a practice of sin. But note that he does not say that the one who is born of God cannot practice sin. The facts are that some who have been born of God have practiced sin. There was such a man in the congregation at Corinth, and the apostle Paul commanded the congregation there to disfellowship him, which they did. No one who practices sin can be recognized as a Christian.—1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11.
In considering this matter it is well to note that Bible writers often took for granted that certain things would be understood, just as writers in our day do. For example, the apostle Paul states, as we read at Colossians 1:16, that by means of Jesus Christ all things were created in the heavens and on earth. But since we know from Revelation 3:14 that Jesus himself was also created, the New World Translation adds the word “other,” which clearly is what the apostle had in mind. But even here, it might be added, that, were it not for the prevalence of the trinitarian teaching that Jesus was not created, it would not have been necessary to add the word “other.”
Thus also the apostle Peter at Pentecost quoted the prophecy of Joel 2:28 (RS): “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,” and applied it to what took place there. However, we note that God’s spirit was not poured out literally upon all flesh at that time. But it was poured out on ‘all sorts of flesh,’ that is, on not just a select few as in times past but on sons and daughters and men- and women-servants. And so the New World Translation reads that the spirit was poured out “on every sort of flesh,” which obviously is what is meant.—Acts 2:17, 18.
And so with regard to 1 John 5:18, where John says that the one born of God does not practice sin. As already noted, he did not say that one born of God cannot practice sin. What he meant is seen from what he previously stated more explicitly: “Everyone remaining in union with him [Jesus Christ] does not practice sin.” (1 John 3:6) Yes, anyone who is begotten of God, who is a real Christian, would not practice sin. That is not what he is expected to do; that is not what he would want to do. In keeping with this thought is what the apostle Paul told the Christian congregation at Corinth right after commanding them to disfellowship one who had been practicing sin: “And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.” Paul is here saying in effect what John wrote at 1 John 5:18, namely, ‘You are Christians now, and you no longer practice sin.’—1 Cor. 6:9-11.
The apostle John goes on to say, “The One born from God watches him, and the wicked one does not fasten his hold on him.” The “One born from God” is Jesus Christ. Since his resurrection and ascension into heaven, he, as a living powerful spirit person, is able to watch out for those born of God so that the wicked one, Satan the Devil, “does not fasten his hold on him.” That Jesus would watch out for his followers he himself indicated when he said to them just before his returning to his Father: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” Among the things he has done and does in behalf of his followers is to serve as “a helper with the Father,” to plead their case when they have committed sins. He serves as a “propitiatory sacrifice” not only for their sins but for all those of the “other sheep,” whose hope of life is an earthly one. Of these it also is true that they do not practice sin.—Matt. 28:20; 1 John 2:1, 2; John 10:16.
Thus we see that those who are “born from God,” who remain in union with Jesus Christ as well as their “other sheep” companions, do not make a practice of sin; not meaning, however, that no individual of these ever does. Helping them to keep from the grasp of Satan the Devil is Jesus Christ, “the One born from God.”