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Sins of Ignorance...
He That Committeth
Sin Is Of The Devil
By Patrick Donahue
Those who teach that a Christian is "automatically" forgiven of the sins they commit in ignorance or weakness, without actually having to "turn from" (Ezekiel 18:21) them, sometimes claim that I John 3:8 is a verse that supports their doctrine. The part of the verse that is under consideration reads, "He that committeth sin is of the devil." We are told that this passage has under consideration the "practice" of sin, and that the "practice" of sin here would mean the committing of sin over and over again, and would not address the occurence of a sin committed only on occasion. The argument is then made that a person that commits one or two "inadvertent" sins occasionally is not practicing sin, in the sense of this passage, and is therefore, not of the devil, but of God. In other words, a person can commit a sin and be automatically forgiven of it "even as he sins," as long as he only commits the sin "every now and then." Is this what I John 3:8 really teaches? Let's think for a moment and see.
First of all, this passage says nothing about sins committed in ignorance or weakness. Suddenly we have gone from teaching the automatic forgiveness of sins of ignorance and weakness, which are types of sins, to the automatic forgiveness of sins based upon the quantity of sins, regardless of the type. This is a sure sign of where this teaching is going. If some are not satisfied with God's law that all sin condemns (Romans 6:23), but instead introduce certain types of sins that do not condemn, and then go on and say that really, any type of sin can be automatically forgiven, as long as we don't commit the sin too often, where will it stop, short of something only theoretically different from the "once saved always saved" doctrine?
Isn't it strange that these men would use (misuse) this passage in an attempt to support their theory when, if it really meant what they said it meant, it would contradict their doctrine anyway? They say that it means that if a person commits an occasional sin, he is all right, but if a man "practices" sin, then he is of the devil. However, these same men teach that a man can actually "live" in sin (practice it), as long as the sins are committed in ignorance or in weakness. Sometimes they say that it is the practice of a sin, regardless of the type, that causes you to be lost, but then other times they say it is the type of sin (wilful), regardless of the quantity, that makes the difference.
Even if John means the continual committing of sin by the phrase "committeth sin," it would not prove that a person who commits only one sin is not "of the devil." The verse would only be addressing the man who commits sin over and over, it would not be addressing the question of whether or not a man who commits only one sin would be "of the devil." But this really isn't the point here anyway. The point of this passage does not rely upon defining "committeth" as a continual sinning (practice). I John 3:4 uses the same word "committeth," when it says, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law." Does this passage mean that a person only transgresses the law when he continually commits sin (as opposed to committing only one sin)? Of course not, a man transgresses the law whenever he sins, even just one time. Likewise, John's point in I John 3:8 is that whenever a man sins, whether one time or many times, he is of the devil, he has taken the devil's side in that particular decision.
Some denominationalists use this verse along with I John 1:9a, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin," to assert that it is impossible for a person that has been born again to commit a single sin. Some answer that this is talking about the practice of sin, not the commission of sin on occasion. This really isn't an answer because we don't believe that it is impossible for a person that has been born again to go back and began again to practice sin. I John 1:8-9 is not saying that it is impossible for a child of God to practice (commit continuously) sin (a person who has been born again can choose to do so if he wishes), it is saying that a child of God should not (it is inconsistent with being born of God) commit sin. He should not commit many sins, he should not commit even one sin.
The Bible certainly shows that just one sin condemns. Ezekiel 3:20 shows that if a man, who has lived righteously all his life, commits even one sin, he will be lost. According to Acts 8:18-24, Simon the Sorcerer was condemned for only one sin. Galatians 2:11-18 shows that the apostle Peter was condemned for only one sin. Is that the same as saying they were "of the devil?" They were until they repented of their sin; they were following (of) the devil, not God, when they committed the sin. The Bible says in Matthew 12:30, "He that is not with me is against me." Every choice we make (in regard to sin) is either for God or for the devil, there is no middle ground. When a person sins he is acting as an instrument of the devil, not God.
The Bible clearly teaches in Matthew 16:21-23 that when a person commits even just one sin, he is "of the devil." In verse 22, Peter commits a sin, seemingly in "sincerity" or ignorance. He, from a human standpoint, shows his loyalty to the Lord (similar to Uzza in I Chronicles 13:7-10) by objecting to the forthcoming murder of Jesus. However "sincere" Peter may have been, Jesus still condemns him for his statement by saying, "Get thee behind me Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." When Jesus called Peter Satan here, it is the same as saying that he is "of the devil" (in the sense of I John 3:8). Certainly this case proves that "he that committeth (even one) sin is of the devil."
So I John 3:8 does not teach that God is going to let a few "inadvertent" sins slip by unnoticed. To the contrary, the Bible teaches that whenever a man commits a sin, he is "of the devil," he is following the devil instead of God (at least in that act), he has chosen the devil's way instead of God's escape route (I Corinthians 10:13), he has submitted to the devil. Any sin is serious to God, no matter how little it is, no matter what kind it is, no matter how many times it has been committed. In short, God hates every false way (Psalms 119:104), and so should we. -Patrick T. Donahue
[Editors Note: Thanks to Pat Donahue for writing the articles! He may be reached at:PatDonahue@mail.com 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, AL 35749, (256) 721-0726.]
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