Christians are called to battle against Satan and sin. Satan is the captain of the army of spiritual wickedness. We are called to fight him and his angels. The Lord reveals that “. . . we wrestle . . . against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Jesus is our captain in this fight (Heb. 2:10). Some so-called soldiers of Christ’s army have the heart of a traitor, who has already made peace with the enemy. Their excuse is that ‘we are human’ and therefore as long as we live we will always sin. For them, Satan is a stronger captain than Jesus Christ as long as we are on earth. Satan wins a simple ‘word battle.’ There is no genuine fight. Their half-hearted ‘battle’ is a mockery of Christ, for they believe that Satan will always win some of the battles. Why wage a war against sin when the battle will be lost anyway? Is this the kind of Captain that Christians have? Is our Captain a sure loser? Why not at least put up some kind of battle? Surely something is wrong with this attitude!
Some interpret 1 John 1:8 to say “we will always sin as long as we are on earth.” The Greek language in this verse is in the indicative present active tense. Thus, to them, 1 John 1:8 says: “If we say that we have no sin (now, present tense), we deceive ourselves.” According to this interpretation, when we come out of the waters of baptism and say that we have no sin (now, indicative present active tense), we deceive ourselves. Who would believe that? According to this argument, when we confess our sins, then God is not faithful and just to forgive us our sins, because we can never say we do not have (now, indicative present active tense) sin, for if we do, we are deceivers. Who will believe that? After rising from the waters of baptism we can say we have (indicative present active tense) no sin. When we confess our sins to our Father and he forgives, we can say we have no sin. Not even the traitors would accept their own argument on these points. The present active tense argument does not teach what they want it to teach.
To fit their doctrine they must restate the scripture to read: If we say (or think) that we will not sin from time to time we deceive ourselves. This would clearly teach their doctrine but that is not what 1 John 1:8 says. He states that “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” We have already showed that the scriptures teach that there are times when we can say that we have no sin – in the sense of sin on God’s record. God does forgive and it is possible to state that we have no sin (on God’s record) most of the time. Second, the scriptures do not say that we will always be sinning in the sense that there will never be a time on earth that we will not be committing sins. We know that we are not always sinning. Third, to teach their doctrine we would have to change the scripture as stated above. This is simply not what God says. What is the Lord saying when he states that we can not “say that we have no sin?”
The only way this scripture makes sense is in the context of verse 10. God said “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). The expressions in verses 8 and 10 are almost synonymous. Some in New Testament times were saying they had not sinned. They were also stating that Jesus did not come in the flesh (1 John 4:3). This was the doctrine of the antichrist, of which there were many in John’s lifetime (1 John 2:18). Today we call them “Docetics,” forerunners to the Gnostics. To them, the flesh was not real. Thus anything done in the flesh was not real. If what was done in the flesh were not real, then their sin was not real, and they claimed to have no sin. If they had no sin, then they did not need a Savior to save them from sin. This is the context of verse 8: if we say we have no sin – that is – if we say that we have not sinned (in our lifetime) we deceive ourselves, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
The purpose for John writing this book is in direct opposition to their interpretation of 1 John 1: 8. Immediately in 1 John 2:1, he shows us he is not saying that we will always sin from time to time. He said “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not” (1 John 2:1). How could he teach that it is not possible to come to the point where we do not sin, and then immediately state that he is writing so we will not sin? John did not waste his time writing that book. His purpose is possible. It is possible that we will come to the point where we will not sin. Look at Zacharias and Elisabeth who lived under the old law. They grew in heart to the point that when John the Baptist was born, the Lord says: “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). If Zacharias and Elisabeth could walk in all the commandments and Old Testament ordinances of the Lord blamelessly, surely God has power to help us to walk in the same steps of faith, under a far better law, with far better promises. We can come to the point where we are “walking in all the (New Testament) commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Jesus overcame the world (John 16:33) and he can show us how to gain the victory over the same world (1 John 5:4). As these lessons progress we will see God’s plan or pathway to overcome the world.