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1 John 3:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness. John also distinguishes between committing a single sin and the practice of sinning, as we can see by comparing 1 John 2:1 and 1 John 3:4-8 as rendered in the Updated American Standard Version. Sin is lawlessness (ἡ ἁμαρτια ἐστιν ἡ ἀνομια [hē hamartia estin hē anomia]). The article with both subject and predicate makes them coextensive and so interchangeable. Doing sin is the converse of doing righteousness (2:29). The present active participle (ποιων [poiōn]) means the habit of doing sin.
Adam was the ancestor of all humans. He willfully missed the mark of perfect obedience to God, so he sinned and brought himself into an imperfect condition. As a result, all his children and their children and all who have been born down to this day are brought forth in that condition. We have all inherited his imperfection resulting from his sin. No single person has been born except Jesus Christ, who has been born without the effects of his sin. This is inherited sin, making us born sinners.
Another type of sin is anything opposing the personality of God, standards, ways, and will. It is anything harming one’s relationship with God. It can be in what we say (Job 2:10; Ps 39:1), in what we do (Le 20:20; 2Co 12:21) or fail to do when we should have done it (Nu 9:13; Jas 4:17). It can also be in what think, our heart attitude (Pr 21:4; Ro 3:9-18; 2Pe 2:12-15). Unbelief in God is also a sin. (Heb 3:12-13, 18-19) As imperfect humans, we cannot go without sinning. However, as Christians, we can try to do our best by obeying the Word of God. Our every effort to be obedient demonstrates our love for what is right. When we long to do what is right in the eyes of God, we are devastated when we fall short by violating his laws. In that case, we will repent for falling short; we will go to him in prayer and make every effort not to repeat that sin. By means of Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice, God will cover over our sin, throwing them behind his back, never taking note of them again. If we truly possess a repentant attitude, he will forgive us.
We discover here in 1 John 3:4, 8 that God’s forgiveness does not apply to the person who practices sin, who lives in sin, making it a routine part of his life. This person has no desire to live by God’s moral values. Instead, he willfully disregards God’s laws, possessing no love for righteousness and having no regret for his sins. The conscience that he was born with has been ignored and has become callused and unfeeling to the wrongness of his life in the eyes of God. He evidently has suppressed any sense of guilt and encourages as pleasing what God has said is sin.
And sin is lawlessness. That is, all sin involves this as a consequence that it is a violation of the law. The object of the apostle is not so much to define sin as to deter from its commission by stating what is its essential nature—though he has, in fact, given the best definition of it that could be given. The essential idea is, that God has given a law to men to regulate their conduct and that whatever is a departure from that law in any way is held to be sin. The law measures our duty and measures, therefore, the degree of guilt when it is not obeyed. The law determines what is right in all cases and what is wrong when it is not complied with. The law is the expression of God’s will as to what we shall do; when that is not done, there is sin. The law determines what we shall love or not love; when our passions and appetites shall be bounded and restrained, and to what extent they may be indulged; what shall be our motives and aims in living; how we shall act toward God and toward men; and whenever, in any of these respects, its requirements are not complied with, there is sin. This will include everything in relation to which the law is given and will embrace what we omit to do when the law has commanded a thing to be done, as well as a positive act of transgression where the law has forbidden a thing. This idea is properly found in the original word rendered transgression of the law—ανομία. This word occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Matt. 7:23; 13:41; 23:28; 24:12; Rom. 4:7; 6:19; 2 Thess. 2:7; Titus 2:14; Heb. 1:9; 8:12; 10:17, in all which places it is rendered iniquity and iniquities; in 2 Cor. 6:14, where it is rendered unrighteousness; and in the verse before us twice. It properly means lawlessness, in the sense that the requirements of the law are not conformed to, or complied with; that is, either by not obeying it or by positively violating it. When a parent commands a child to do a thing, and he does not do it, he is as really guilty of violating the law as when he does a positively forbidden thing. This important verse, therefore, may be considered in two aspects—as a definition of the nature of sin and as an argument against indulgence in it or against committing it.
I. As a definition of the nature of sin. It teaches (a) that there is a rule of law by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated and governed, and to which it is to be conformed. (b) That there is sin in all cases where that law is not complied with, and that all who do not comply with it are guilty before God. (c) That the particular thing which determines the guilt of sin, and which measures it, is that it is a departure from the law, and consequently that there is no sin where there is no departure from the law. The essential thing is that the law has not been respected and obeyed, and sin derives its character and aggravation from that fact. No one can reasonably doubt the accuracy of this definition of sin. It is founded on the fact (a) that God has an absolute right to prescribe what we may and may not do; (b) that it is to be presumed that what he prescribes will be in accordance with what is right; and (c) that nothing else, in fact, constitutes sin. Sin can consist in nothing else. It does not consist of a particular height of stature, or a particular complexion; of a feeble intellect, or an intellect made feeble, as the result of any former apostasy; of any constitutional propensity, or any disposition founded in our nature as creatures. For none of these things do our consciences condemn us, and however we may lament them, we have no consciousness of wrong.
II. As an argument against the commission of sin. This argument may be considered as consisting of two things—the wrong that is done by the violation of law and the exposure to the penalty. (1.) The wrong itself. This wrong, as an argument to deter from sin, arises mainly from two things: (a) because sin is a violation of the will of God, and it is in itself wrong to disregard that will; and (b) because it is to be presumed that when God has given law there is a good reason why he has done it. (2.) The fact that the law has a penalty is an argument for not violating the law. All law has a penalty; that is, there is some suffering, disadvantage, forfeit of privileges, which the violation of law draws in its train, and which is to be regarded as an expression of the sense which the lawgiver entertains of the value of his law, and of the evil of disobeying it. Many of these penalties for violating the Divine law are seen in this life, and all will be certain to occur in due time, in this world or in the world to come. With such views of the law and of sin—of his obligations and the evils of disobedience—a Christian should not, and will not, deliberately and habitually violate the law of God.
 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), 1 Jn 3:4.
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