1 John 3:9 - Does this passage really support Holiness Doctrine?

I was wondering if I could get some insight on this passage. I’ve read about holiness doctrine before and I think it contadics Paul’s writings in Romans 7. I don’t think we can completely stop sinning after becoming saved but I do believe we are not to practice sin. And I think practicing sin and making mistakes and committing sin are very different.


Hi, @Luna! Would you mind expanding a bit more on what Holiness Doctrine is? I’ve never heard of it, though I am not surprised that there would be some that believe that we have the ability to completely stop sinning.


@KMac Holiness Doctrine is where one believes that after getting saved you can 100% stop sinning because you have the indwelling of the holy spirit. There are some different variations of this belief but thats the gist of it for the most part. And some places use that scripture I posted for support of that doctrine.

Here’s a deeper explanation.

My question is what does John mean in this passage if its not talking about perfection? I assumed he means doing your best not to practice doing wrong.


Thanks for the additional info, @Luna! :slight_smile: I would agree with the direction of your thoughts. The article you linked points out that earlier in that epistle, John writes:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1:8-10 ESV]

Maybe they could get around that by saying that they once had sin but that, due to His cleansing, they are attaining perfection. I have a difficult time understanding how they would know that they have attained perfection. :woman_shrugging:

But you used the word ‘practice’, which is how the ESV translates the passage.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

This translation conveys to me a sense of habituality (if that’s even a word!) about sinning, which would tend to support the notion that the Spirit will convict the person in whom It abides of their sin. He cannot keep on sinning. God’s seed will work to break our sinful behavioural and thought patterns. We Christians can bet that the Spirit’s conviction will come. Sure, I can resist the Sprit’s work in my life and refuse to die to myself in certain ways, but only to a certain point. I know that, ultimately, He will win (i.e. I will be broken!)…and it will be the best thing for me.

Part of what’s at the center of the Christian life is what we do with the brokenness (both individual and systemic) that cannot be shaken. Being sanctified (i.e. made holy) is about growing in humility and knowing God’s grace and mercy in the face of both our and other’s sin, both intentional and unintentional.



Hi Luna,

Great question. There are passages like this which I have looked at and have to do a double take because they seem to be so clear cut. I love what @KMac has said and tend to agree with what she has said via habitual sinning (also love the new word habituality… I’ll use that if I may :slight_smile:). I agree with you that if it was saying what it may seem to say at first reading, then it would be contrary to other passages such as Romans 7.

I would say two things on the question…

Firstly, if you go back to the beginning of chapter 2 after his introduction, he begins this section with a proviso of sorts…

1 John 2:1-2 “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” emphasis added

and again at the end of chapter 3

3:20 “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

John makes the allowance for the (what I would call) fact that we will sin, but still tells us we must not. I think we are to take this idea through the rest of what he is instructing. I phrased it in another post that there is an allowance, but not a tolerance, for sin.

Secondly, I think to understand this better as I’ve thought about it, I imagine other ways he might have phrased this which may make it more ‘technically’ correct, but would be less helpful. Imagine, instead of saying:

3:6 “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”

He put it like this:

‘Everyone who lives in him keeps on sinning. No worries, just try harder next time. It doesn’t actually mean you’ve lost your salvation because Jesus’ death will cover all sins past, present and future if we put our faith in him’.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the second version is technically true, but is not really the encouragement that we should give. We should encourage and challenge ourselves to be like Jesus completely… which is what John says in no uncertain terms.

Stronger than this, though, John and every other writer in the NT as far as I can tell, say that as a Christian (that is, having God’s Spirit dwell within you) will necessarily and definitely must change you to be more like Jesus… continually. At no point should we reach the conclusion that we’ve finally become good enough or that we’re doing enough.

I think we can become complacent as Christians… maybe we (and I have noticed this in myself at many varied times) reach a kind of plateau of ‘goodness’ (I’m not saying I’m very good… just saying my perception is off :slight_smile:) . Nothing really stands out and so maybe we think there is nothing we need to actively work on. I think the NT as a whole, but specifically John as we’re discussing here, speaks to that attitude… don’t be content with being saved, but aim for perfection, because that is the goal.

John, among the other writers, teach grace and salvation by faith in Jesus alone; but what we look forward to is being perfect and so why aim for anything else.

This post became much longer than I had originally intended, so I apologise. There are times when what we need to know and be encouraged by is that if we have God’s Spirit within us, “nothing can separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8). But because we have his Spirit within us and in view of his mercy in saving us we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices (put to death our fleshly desires) and be renewed by the transforming of our minds by God’s Spirit (paraphrasing Rom 12:1-2).

I hope that is helpful.


@Luna. I have never heard of the term holiness doctrine. Yet, I was raised in a church that considered itself a holiness church. We were considered non-denomination until being non-denomination became a denomination.
However, there was never any confusion over the difference between sinfulness and humanness.

Simply put, sin was willful or deliberate wrong. Everything else was human error. I was taught that until we make choice to do wrong it is simply a matter of doing wrong in error. That’s not sin, that’s human limitation.

I do believe that you can live without willful or deliberate wrong. I also believe in the life of GOD’s people there is no place for sin. However, I am fully aware that the prodigal scenario is a real possibility for any of us. But we don’t have to be prodigal sons.

Being human does not mean we can’t avoid being prodigal sons. If we find ourselves living the life of a prodigal it ‘tracks’ that we are separated from the home we need and love. Home has never moved from its position, but in order to benefit, we must return home. The love of GOD goes nowhere. We are the ones who move.

Perhaps the true dilemma lies in our ability to know the difference between sin and human error. Both conditions call for a broken, contrite heart, and repentance. But only sin requires a return. Being human means simple course correction. But both sin and error involve choice. To disobey or to obey.


There is much confusion today concerning holiness doctrine. The Bible says in Hebrews 12, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” That’s a very strong statement. One of the most famous holiness preachers was John Wesley and his book titled “Christian Perfection” is an eye opener concerning what the truth is concerning holiness. There are some interesting books about having a “Sinning Religion” also. I have never read any trustworthy writer that teaches “Sinless Perfection”. I believe the Bible teaches that we can be made perfect in love. I am comforted in reading 1st John 2:1-3.


Hello @cer7, I was reading through the different responses to @Luna and came across your reply. I grew up in a holiness Pentecostal denomination, and was taught something similar to what you described, and I wanted to take a moment to respond to you, hopefully to the benefit of all.

I was, in fact, taught a doctrine of the “three definite works of grace,” which consisted of Salvation, Sanctification and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine to which this discussion most aptly applies here is Sanctification. Here, we find the idea having now been saved by God’s Grace through faith, Christ comes and removes the “root of sin” from our lives, thus enabling us to live sin free if we should choose to do so. My church had a myriad of various Scripture references in support of this idea, and while there are some definite differences from what it sounds like you were taught, there are some distinct similarities. Chiefly, the idea that we as humans become sinless. So if I may, I’d like to break this idea down a bit.

It is very true that there are many passages in the New Testament that speak to the Christian to be holy, sanctified, righteous, and to cease our engagement with sin. This we should do. However, there is a very deep ceded problem, and I dare say deception even, in the thinking that says, “I can become sinless.” Now this may go against many things you were taught so please hear me out. When Adam fell in the garden something became forever tied to his, and by inheritance, our humanity. He ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Let me say this a different way, Adam ingested the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Now what is interesting here is that after Adam did this God proclaimed, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil… (Gen. 3:22 KJV).” That word “know” is the same Hebrew word used in the next chapter when it says, “And Adams knew Eve his wife.”

Now I’m not suggesting anything sexual went on with the fruit in the garden, though some do. No, what I am suggesting is that Adam ate a fruit—fruits bear seeds—that gave him intimate knowledge of good and evil. Another way to say this is Adam, who is made from the soil, planted a seed within himself. This seed grew into a human tree that bore fruit. What kind of fruit did the human tree yield? A a fruit that has knowledge of the good, but a desire for the evil, corrupting the whole tree. Here we see the human contradiction Paul so brilliantly outlines in Romans chapter 7. Yet, we see something else too.

Jesus said, “but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit (Mat. 7:17 KJV).” Therefore, every human who has ever lived, or will ever live (excluding Christ) is corrupt and, though aware that the good exists—even capable of good acts—we are inextricably bound to the tree of our sin. I think it no mere coincidence that Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross, sometimes called a tree figuratively (Gal. 3:13). It is, therefore, the cross, which became that very tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For upon its branches hung the Good (for only God is good) who took upon Himself the knowledge of every evil fruit humanity had ever born or would ever bear. Then, He died—fulfilling God’s words, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:17).”

So, Jesus was dead and they did what humans always do with their dead, they buried Him. Only this was not just any human. No, this was the Seed of the Promise (Gal. 3:16). What do seeds do when you bury them? After three days laying dormant in the earth the Seed of the Promise sprang forth as the everlasting Root of Jessie, the eternal Branch of David. Jesus is the very Tree of Life that humanity was denied in the garden, but today stands ready to give salvation to all who believe.

Even though I wrote very figuratively thus far (and there is a reason for that) I think most of us in this thread agree on these things. However, it is here is were we need to focus on this doctrine of humans becoming sinless. We, as human trees, are not made sinless by having our own roots purified and the tree renewed. No, we are cut from our original tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and grafted into Christ, the True Vine, were we cease to be trees unto ourself, but become branches (John 15: 1-8). “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me he can do nothing (John 15: 5).” His root is good, therefore if we, in Him, bear fruit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance—the fruit is also good (Mat. 7: 17; Gal. 5: 22-23). However, that old tree rooted in our soil body is incapable of producing anything but death. Our very hope of salvation is dependent on His righteousness at work within us, like sap flowing from the good roots into the grafted branches, redeeming them from the Husbanman’s fire (John 15:1-2).

I hope that helps. I apologize at my reply’s length.

Thank you for such an extensive response. It shows great consideration on your part. However, my upbringing never dwelt on the possibility of becoming sinless humans, but rather sinless co-heirs with CHRIST.

It was accepted by virtue of our birth into this world that we were all sinners in need of grace. The difference in the need for redemption was highlighted by the example of the death of small children. Infants need no redemption yet they are born sinners. We were taught there is a distinct difference in being born into a sinful world, and living in sin.

Scripture suggests that after finding CHRIST the place for willful sin is abolished. That does not mean we can not choose to pick it up again. All of our living as we walk before the Lord can be summarized by our need to continue to learn and know Him. It is why we watch and pray.
It is why we study to show ourselves approved. I am human so sometimes that walk is plagued by error. Sometimes just being sincerely wrong.

But when the SPIRIT of GOD reveals the wrong of my actions, I can choose to ignore its urging or fail to heed His prompting. But to do so becomes deliberate and sin. That causes separation and requires repentance and a return. We have to choose to sin. However, we can not escape being human. When I am human grace remains for me. The Love of the Lord stands ready to embrace me in my fragility. But not in my sin. Light and dark have no fellowship. My sin will move me from the ark of safety that was meant for me. And if I dwell in that place too long, scripture assures me the spirit I had been redeemed from will return with seven additional and more evil. Choosing to sin comes with the peril of losing ourselves to the stench of our own pigpen.

The warning comes from the SPIRIT of GOD long before we engage in sin. We get to choose. (Ephesians 5:1-11, I Corinthians 6:9-11, Luke 11:23-26, Matthew 12:43-45. and Psalms 103:10-18.)


Ah yes, I begin to see some commonality amongst our diversity of terminology. Nevertheless, what is it you mean by “willful sin is abolished?”

I certainly agree that we can error and sin in ways to which we are oblivious. However, there seems to be a much deeper and more sinister force at work within us. Our flesh, that is to say our carnality, is present within us always, and it is perpetually set against God in its desire to sin. Now we are presented a means by which to crucify our flesh. Yet this seems to be a daily task, sometimes moment to moment. Each of us struggle against some aspect of this carnality. Not one of us is exempt from it. This is “human tree” I was discussion in my previous post. Its roots run deep into the essence of who we are. Now, we are provided a means of escape in that we crucify the flesh and wall after the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, we have not lost our capacity to, or our desire for sin, even if we hate the sin we desire. What we have gained, however, is the ability to exist within Christ. Thereby we are empowered by His righteousness within us, to resist our very human desire for sin. We are not rid of it However. For that, we wait for the fullness of our redemption to come into being. We look forward to the day we stand before Christ and we become as He is. Then, sin will at last be fully rooted out of all God’s people. Until then, our struggle against the sinful desires within us is very real.

@BenIAm. Thank you for catching that double negative. Willfulness is sin. Not a type of sin but rather the choice to sin. And I agree we are saying similar things in different words.

To say that we will always sin inadvertently concludes that the persuasion of our flesh supersedes the power of the cross. But whom the SON sets free is free indeed.

What we continue to war with is our natural flesh. The body remains flawed and fallible. But what sets the redeemed of the Lord free, is the power of JESUS to bring our bodies under subjection. We can’t help but be human, but we can choose to remain free.

Scripture alerts us to the battleground. Sin, it tells us is first conceived in the heart; therefore, let this mind be in you which is in CHRIST JESUS. We fail because we fight the battle in our flesh although we are told we wrestle not against flesh and blood.

The Apostle Paul gives us powerful hints but we seem to conclude that was only possible for him. He said I bring my body under subjection. And again, the spirit of a prophet is subject to the prophet.

We fail to remember we have a high priest who was subject to every temptation and infirmity that we experience. Yet He faced these obstacles without sin. JESUS gives us authority over the “can’t help its.”

Even satan understood the vulnerability that JESUS took on when coming to us in flesh and blood. It was not for nothing that he tried to tempt JESUS to slack his hunger by turning stone to bread. He then offered JESUS lordship if JESUS would fall down and worship. And according to the Apostle Luke, after JESUS had withstood the temptations, satan left him alone for a while. But just for a while.

We seem to forget his anguish was so great in Gethsemane that sweat like blood ran down. But He prayed through and concluded not my will Father but thine be done. If JESUS had to pray, what about us?

The question isn’t can we live without sin? But rather will we? Will we take full advantage of the complete redemptive package given to us on Calvary? "He laid the foundation and opened up the well, what more can He do? "

( John 8:36, Mark 7:21-22, 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, 1 Corinthians 14:32, Hebrews 4:14-16, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, Luke 22:41-44, 2 Peter 2:20-22.) Old church spiritual, author unknown.

Good discussion. I think we can all agree with Paul who said in Romans 7:24-25.

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I really do understand what you are saying. We are set free from sin by Christ. We are no longer a slave to it. But, there is a higher standard to righteousness than just not physically following through with the sinful action. Jesus tells us that if a man even looks at a woman with lust in his hear, he is already guilty of adultery. He followed that up by stating that whatever a person thinks in their heart, that is what they are.

Therefore to be free from sin involves more than just outward righteous living. I submit that is a standard of righteousness that no human is capable of living up to. Sooner or later every one of us will willfully and knowingly, maybe even uncaringly, step over that line in our hearts if not our outward deeds. All of us are sinners. Not one of us is capable of righteousness. This is why Christ is so unique throughout all of human history. He is the only sinless one. He is our righteousness. I am righteous because His righteousness supersedes my own. This isn’t permission to sin. This isn’t the idea that a Christian can engage in whatever wicked activity they desire and it’s fine. Clearly, a person behaving in such a way has some serious issues in play.

Nevertheless, we all remain sinners, saved by grace. Even Paul states that he was chief among sinners, and also that he does not count himself as having attained perfection. Our choosing not to engage in sinful activity, doesn’t make us sin free. It doesn’t make us holy. It doesn’t make us righteous. Christ is righteous and holy; as I partake in His image I share in His righteousness and holiness. If you show me a person who claims to live a sinless life, I will show you a person blinded by their own conceit.


I disagree that there are multiple standards of righteousness. And outward piety is not righteousness living. I’m not sure how you conclude that from my post.

I don’t know of any righteousness born from the efforts of any human. But I reject the sooner or later premise. If I am willing to be kept why wouldn’t the Lord keep me? As if there are some things doomed to occur because I am human. As if there are some situations beyond the authority of the Lord.
Being human is not being sinful.

We can be righteous because of CHRIST. What we consider righteous will always be a filthy rag.

I will always have the testimony of redemption just as Apostle Paul did. But I am cleansed through the grace and power of our Lord. Old things are passed away, all things are new.

If submitting my will to the Lord, which keeps me from sin is not living sin-free; then what is sin? Better yet, what is redemption?

Submitting to the Lord is not something I can do in my own strength. It is why I must choose to submit. Once I do so, it is no longer I but CHRIST.

Hello all… Can I just clarify something as I thought I understood where you both stood on this subject and now I don’t think I can tell.

Do you think we can stop ANY conscious sinful decision-making in this life? Is there a point where you think we can, as those with Christ’s Spirit in us, ALWAYS avoid temptation by choosing to do the outwardly righteous thing?

Just wanting to clarify. Thanks


Hello @cer7

Sorry my response has taken so long. Work and school can be cruel task masters. I’m not saying righteous living isn’t possible. It is most certainly possible. I’m asserting that none of us dwell in that state at all times. We all fall down. We all engage in sin sooner or later. It isn’t that we are doomed to do so. In theory we can live perfectly through Christ. The fact is that our desire to sin and our tendency to do so wherever our particular weaknesses lie is perpetually with us until we die, or receive our glorified bodies at Christ’s return. Thus Paul writes, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with my mind, I myself, serve the law of God; But with the flesh the law of sin (Rom. 7:24-25 KJV).”

Paul goes on to say that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. He further explains in Romans Chapter 8 that we are waiting for our redemption to be fulfilled (Rom. 8:23). Our soul is redeemed, but not yet our body. Thus we do live through the spirit, mortifying the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).

There is a tension present here that cannot be ignored. Our flesh desires sin, our spirit, being born again, desires the righteousness of God. In spite of this war within ourselves, our salvation is sealed by the Holy Spirit. We are assured of our hope and promise in Christ because nothing can separate us from Him.

Now you stated two questions, “what is sin,” and “what is redemption?” I will answer these together and in this way. Ravi Zacharias is very fond of saying, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, He cam to make dead people live.” For those who have faith in Christ, they have passed from death into life. This life is hid in Christ, as is the believer’s hope. Sin begots death, but Christ overcame both sin and death on the cross. Our sin, all of our sin, is covered by His blood, even those sins we have yet to do. They were covered. Therefore, redemption, which comes by faith, is the life we have in Christ, hid with Him until the day of His return. Sin, then, is anything that is not of faith (Rom. 14:23).

I hope that brings greater clarity to my previous statements. Thank you.

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@tsbehan. I am not sure about the term “ALWAYS,” and “we can stop ANY”. That’s a call that is answered by the willingness to follow JESUS. Not something accomplished because we will it or make it happen. Righteous living is no more automatic than is sinful living.

I think it is possible to live without yielding to temptation. I think our growth is identified by learning to be more and more like JESUS. But I also believe I can live a lifetime here and still find areas within my heart needing pruning for growth. That is the need and purpose of the keeper. The HOLY SPIRIT.

Outward piety is not an indication of inward piety. If we can give our bodies to be burned and still not have charity; it can be assumed that outward religiosity is not righteousness. On the best of days, I still need JESUS. With the best of intents, I still need JESUS. But I contend that the mind of CHRIST is mine for the asking and receiving. Everyday with JESUS is a march into victory. I can reach back and consume my own sinful vomit or choose to press into the mark of that high calling.



Hello and thanks for the question. In theory, yes. What I mean by that is, Jesus proved it is possible for a human being who is solely dependent upon God for his strength to live a perfect life. Therefore, the way has been made and Christ has made available for us His provision which is sufficient to keep us in a state of perpetual holiness, and therefore sinless from the moment of our conversion onward. We each have free will. We are provided the Spirit of God which, though our faith, can lead us out of every temptation. However, I have never met or heard, no not even read about a human being who has successfully achieved this. Our failure to do so is not because we are doomed to sin. Our failure to do this is because each of us simply chooses to operate in our own flesh. Nevertheless, the grace of God keeps us still, and the Spirit leads us to repentance. Hope that helps.


@cer7 and @BenIAm

Thanks for that clarification. I’m not sure I entirely agree with you on every point, but I completely agree with you that regardless of whether it is true or not, the focus should be on striving for the mind and righteousness of Christ given to us by His Spirit at all times. Whether or not we can or cannot actually achieve this, we are still regarded as without sin in the sight of God through the death of Jesus… all thanks and praise to him for that.

Every week at church we have a time of confession, with a prayer that most often includes the following:

“Merciful God, we have sinned in what we have thought and said; in the wrong we have done and the good we have not done.
We have sinned in ignorance;
we have sinned in weakness;
we have sinned through our own deliberate fault.
We repent and turn to you. Forgive us for our saviour Christ’s sake and renew our lives to the glory of your name.” (That’s from memory so I may have got a word or two not quite right).

My personal thought is that no matter how much we grow through God’s Spirit we will never avoid sin completely, either deliberately or otherwise. I say this only as a practical truth in grace, since we live in the fallen flesh… but that we must still strive (as you’ve both said) towards the removal of all sin through the power of the Holy Spirit even if we never attain it this side of Heaven.


Does this conclusion support the poplar notion that sinning is not a problem because grace will always save us. I know people who have concluded that all sin has been forgiven, so sin after grace is no big deal. They are often involved in adultery or fornication. Why indeed strive against sin if sinlessness is not achieveable? Not to mention it is often enjoyable. Why strive to live holy if its not achieveable in this life and offers no negative judgment in the life to come?