Sinlessness in the Johannine Literature

Christian Holiness in Biblical Perspective

Seminar nine: Sinlessness in the Johannine Literature

By Danilo Carvalho

(December 2006)


  1. What is Johannine Literature?

The Johannine Literature, consist of the Gospel of John the three Epistles and the

Book of Revelation. This literature will be studied against the background of the First Century with the theological importance in our own present day. Our study will not be from a sectarian or moralistic approach, but from a scholarly viewpoint taking these writings from a perspective of the Bible as a record of God’s own self-disclosure or revelation to man. Thus we are seeking to enhance our knowledge and intellectual understanding of the importance of faith in the life of the individual and the role that it has played in our present day society. This course will not provide easy answer to the questions of personal faith, but it should provide a strong foundation into historical and theological data that will provide the student with the ability to enhance his own personal faith. In order to accomplish this goal, we must each provide an atmosphere of freedom and intellectual honesty that will stimulate a desire to search for the answers that we all seek.

B. John Wesley said: “know your sickness and know your cure!”

Our sickness is sin and our cure is Jesus.

I. Sin – what is it?

A. This question is of vital importance because of the fearful judgment against those who commit sin. “The soul that sinned, it shall die,” thunders the Old Testament (Ezekiel 18:20). In like tones, the New Testament declares: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The one who lives in sin throughout its earthly life and faces God without having obtained divine forgiveness will be sentenced to eternal perdition. Sin sprang full-grown among human being. Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God. The first boy born on this earth grew to manhood and murdered the second-his own brother! And sin has existed in every generation since. In our time confusion exists, and since a person will not seek forgiveness for sin until he knows what sin is, a clear-cut definition, both negative and positive, is urgently needed.

The word sin in Hebrew is [chattath], from the root [chatta], and in Greek it is [hamartia]. Both these words mean ‘to miss the mark.’ They are words which illustrate that something is off target. With relationship to God’s laws, they mean that one has failed to meet the standard (missed the mark) set by God for us. God’s mark or standard is His law. Thus sin is the transgression of any of the laws of God. (Tony warren)

  1. Sin in Johannine Literature

For John sin usually means incredulity (John 15:24; 16:9): blindness – one who does not want to see (John 9:41): refusal of the Light (3:19); lawlessness is (gr. Anomia) the transgression of the Law. This definition is given in I John 3:4. By law, the apostle meant the Word of God, which originally was the Old Testament but which now includes the New Testament as well. Sin, then, is the transgression (breaking) of a commandment found in the Bible. Wrong-doing (injustice) (gr. Adikia) transgression of justice.

“In John’s view sin is anything that hinders fellowship with God.”(Dr. Swanson)

“Sin is anything that causes a breach between God and his people or between his people. (Dr. Brower)

  1. Types of Sin

  1. Original sin

Original sin is known in two senses: the Fall of Adam as the “original” sin and the hereditary fallen nature and moral corruption that is passed down from Adam to his descendents. It is called “original” in that Adam, the first man, is the one who sinned and thus caused sin to enter the world. Even though Eve is the one who sinned first, because Adam is the Federal Head (representative of mankind), his fall included or represented all of humanity. Therefore, some hold that original sin includes the falling of all humanity. Some see original sin as Adam’s fallen nature passed to his descendents. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned,” (Rom. 5:12).

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the doctrine of original sin is in some sense the reverse side of the doctrine of Redemption (CCC 389). In Genesis 2:3, God created man in His Image and established our first parents – Adam and Eve – in His friendship. This friendship included Sanctifying grace – the gift of holiness and eternal life. Adam, however, freely chose to live apart from God by trusting instead in the knowledge of good and evil – wanting to be like gods. Adam rejected God through disobedience and lost this friendship for him and us. This loss is original sin (Gen 3:22ff; CCC 396-399).

  1. Sins of commission

Someone is guilty of such a sin when he does something that the Word of God forbids.

  1. Sins of omission

He who fails to do what he knows God has commanded is guilty of a sin of omission. (James 4:17).

  1. The unforgivable sin

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (I John 5:16-17: Mat.12:31, 32 and Heb. 6:4-6)

D. Roman Catholic views – Roman Catholic doctrine distinguishes between personal sin and original sin. Personal sins are either mortal or venial.

Mortal sins are sins of grave (serious) matter, where the sinner is aware that the act (or omission) is both a sin and a grave matter, and performs the act (or omission) with deliberate consent. The act of committing a mortal sin cuts off the sinner from God’s grace; it is in itself a rejection of God. If left un-reconciled, mortal sins result in eternal punishment in Hell.

Venial sins are sins which do not meet the conditions for mortal sins. The act of committing a venial sin does not cut off the sinner from God’s grace, as the sinner has not rejected God. However, venial sins do injure the relationship between the sinner and God, and as such, must be reconciled to God, either through the sacrament of reconciliation or receiving the Eucharist.

Both mortal and venial sins have a dual nature of punishment. They incur both guilt for the sin, yielding eternal punishment, and temporal punishment for the sin. Reconciliation is an act of God’s mercy, and addresses the guilt and eternal punishment for sin. Purgatory and indulgences address the temporal punishment for sin, and exercise of God’s justice.

Roman Catholic doctrine also sees sin as being twofold: Sin is, at once, any evil or immoral action which infracts God’s law and the inevitable consequences, the state of being that comes about by committing the sinful action. Sin can and does alienate a person both from God and the community. Hence, the Catholic Church’s insistence on reconciliation with both God and the Church itself.

For John Wesley we are born ‘in depravity’ because Adam’s sin is transmitted to all succeeding generations. He admitted that he did not know how this transmission took place but he was sure that is what the Bible teaches. Believing that Adam was the Federal Head of the human race and that his sin in Eden was rebellion against God, Wesley wrote: ‘In that day he died to God … the love of God was extinguished in his soul…. And in Adam all died, all the children of men who were then in Adam’s loins … Everyone descended from him comes into the world spiritually dead, void of the image of God, of all that righteousness and holiness wherein Adam was created. Hence it is that, being born in sin, we must be “born again.’” (Works, 6:67-68). Wesley further believed this doctrine of original sin to be a fundamental part of the Christian faith, as he went as far as to say that all who denied this doctrine were but heathens! For Wesley’s full teaching on this subject, see his three sermons, ‘Original Sin,’ ‘On the Fall of Man,’ and ‘The New Birth.’ See also his New Testament Notes on Romans 5, and, in particular, his 1757 major work on this subject, ‘The Doctrine of Original Sin According to Scripture, Reason and Experience.’ This was his very full reply to the Socinian teaching of Dr John Taylor who had repudiated the doctrine of original sin as taught in the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Westminster Confession. Socinianism, with its denial of the doctrines of Christ’s divinity and of original sin, is the teaching subsequently known as Unitarianism. (

Victor A. Shepherd wrote about Wesley that:

In On Sin in Believers (1763) Wesley maintains “`That there is no sin in believers’ is quite new in the church. Such a notion was never heard of for 1700 years, never till it was discovered by Count Zinzendorf. I do not remember to have seen the least intimation of it in either ancient or modern writers, unless perhaps in some of the wild, ranting antinomians.”(1:324) Forbearing to say that his 1741 statement itself must have been an overstatement, Wesley invokes the “testimony of antiquity” (patristic) in support of his contention that believers have an “evil nature.”(1:317) plainly he does not want to say categorically that believers are sinless. The believer can be “a new creature and an old creature at once.”(1:325) Such a person is “partly renewed”(1:326); by grace he may yet become not only “truly” but also “entirely” renewed (1:326), being “delivered from the guilt and power of sin but not from the being of sin.”(1:328) Wesley’s statement here is more nuanced than that of 1741, distinguishing as it does between the power of sin and the being of sin, even though he does not amplify the distinction. While never denying the Reformers’ understanding of justification by faith, and never denying its place in the inception of the Christian life, Wesley consistently emphasizes the actuality of the regeneration and sanctification of the justified person. When he writes, “We allow that the state of a justified person is inexpressibly great”(1:320), the reader expects him to expand on the greatness of justification; instead he speaks immediately of the blessings of sanctification. Wesley typically has “sanctification” stand for “justification plus sanctification”; i.e., for the whole of the Christian life. Here he reverses Luther’s “shorthand.” Plainly the doctrine of sanctification is as luminous and illuminating for Wesley as justification was for Luther. It stands at the centre of and is the organizing principle for his theology; every aspect of the Christian economy converges upon it and radiates from it.

(Christian Perfection


The Bible declares, “The soul that sinned, it shall die.” Then it adds, “For all have sinned.” These two verses place everyone under the sentence of eternal death.

The only cure for all sin is found in Jesus’ expiatory death upon Calvary’s cross. “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrew 9:22), and in Christ “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). (See I John 1:9)

E. Brow sees in the singular “the sin” a contrast with the plural of I John 3:25 which has “take away sins”. He says, “The plural refers to sinful acts while the singular refers to a sinful condition” (ECH).

  1. What is Sinlessness?

S: (n) purity, pureness, Sinlessness, innocence, whiteness (the state of being unsullied by sin or moral wrong; lacking a knowledge of evil)

  1. The Sinlessness of Jesus

He was born sinless – Jesus had no sin. The Bible is quite clear on the Sinlessness of

Jesus. The apostle John tell us that “In him is no sin (I John 3:5) and Paul confirms for us that Jesus “had no sin” (II Corinthians 5:21). Even Jesus himself asked those around him, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46). The Gospel of John especially makes it clear that the Father-Son relationship belongs to eternity – — that the Son is supremely qualified to reveal the Father because He has His eternal being “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18).

The New Testament is emphatic. Jesus was tempted in all points like as men are “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Son of God– Jesus was acclaimed as the Son of God at His baptism (Mark 1:11). But He was also given this title by the angel Gabriel at the annunciation: “That Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The Gospel of John especially makes it clear that the Father-Son relationship belongs to eternity

  1. He lived a sinless life

“… in Him is no sin” (John 3:5) Jesus did not sin while in human flesh. “Who did not

sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (I Peter 2:22). “He that committed sin is of the devil…” (I John 3:8).

      Jesus is the only Person who ever lived to an accountable age in the flesh without sin (Heb. 4:14, 15)
  1. He died sinless

“… but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb, without blemish or defect” (I Peter

1:18, 19; 3:18). “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who offered himself unblemished to God…” (Heb.9:14)

III. Sinlessness of children of God

Is it reality or utopia?

“No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning…” (John 3:6a). Everyone who remains in Jesus does not sin.

  1. Living as child of God

If we have God for our Father (born of him John 2:29) we are to prove it by our godliness. Those born of God do not sin.

1. Reflecting Jesus in our lifestyle (I John 2:6)

2. How is it possible?

a) Walking in the Light (I John 1:5-7)

b) Loving and Obeying to the great Commands (I John 2:5; John 14:15, 21, 23, 24). The obedience of the Son of the Father is not merely a good example to be emulated by his followers. (Dr. Brower)

c) Abiding in Jesus (John 15:5-11)

d) Living by the Spirit (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15)

David Jack-man wrote in his commentary on John’s letter “if Jesus was sinless and

came to this world expressly to take away our sins, how can sin be cherished by anyone who is really living in Christ?

  1. Accepting Jesus’ offering

Sinlessness is not reward we can merit it is a gift we are invited to accept from Jesus who is all holy. (Edward Malatesta – Interiority and covenant)


We cannot understand Sinlessness of people of God if we don’t understand

Sinlessness of Jesus and His purpose for our live.

Jesus freedom from sin was the reason why he could free sinners is implied by

Augustine “In quo non est peccatum, ipse venit auferre peccatum”(Edward Malatesta)

The Son of God volunteered to become a man, because He desired to justify the

Father’s demand of loving obedience from all the children of men. (I John 5:3).

Tom Stewart said “Jesus came to destroy the arguments of self-justification that allow

man to hide behind physical flesh as his excuse for sinning”.

“He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from

the beginning. The reason the son of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (John 3:8).

God bless you!

Note: This is my first work in English; probably you will find a lot of mistakes.


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