Aug 30, 2012

Debate Available

The recent debate I had on the subject of eternal security is now available on the web site of the 46th Street Church of Christ in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  If you contact them and asked for cds (audio or video) they have promised to make them available for free. 

Aug 29, 2012

Debate Review I

In this series I will begin to address the recent debate I had with Bruce Reeves the last week of July in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  Hopefully, this debate will be available on the web site of the church Bruce pastors in Conway, Arkansas, as promised by Bruce.  Our debate on election is already available on the site.  The debate we had recently concerned whether those who are born of God can so sin as to be lost in Hell.  The recent series on "He Cannot Sin" covered some of the argumentation I made in that debate from the epistle of First John. 

Arguments From I John

"And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure."  (I John 3: 3)

I argued that John gives what is called a universal categorical proposition in these words.  John gave us several such propositions in his epistles.  A universal categorical proposition affirms something that is true about every member of a certain class.  The class in this verse is everyone who fits the description of "has this (Christian or Gospel) hope."  John also speaks of "everyone who is born of God" in other passages dealing with universal categorical propositions.  These are not two separate classes but the same class though described by different modifiers.  In other words, all who are "born of God" also "has this hope."  The Apostle is stating something about this class of persons that is true concerning each one in that class.  I argued that John could not have believed that true believers, or those born of God, could possibly sin so as to lose salvation and affirm, at the same time, such a universal proposition.  Had he believed that some who were born of God could and would lose salvation, then he could not have made such a universal proposition.  He would have to have said - "some of those who have this hope purify themselves." 

The purification is linear or continuous.  It is what characterizes those who have Christian hope.  Every truly born again soul is one who "purifies himself," that is, he practices self purification.  And, if so, then he certainly remains pure. 

"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."  (I John 5: 4)

By the words "whatsoever is born of God" the Apostle again states a universal categorical proposition.  What is it that is universally, without exception, true of all that has been begotten of God?  It overcomes.  It does not fail.  It succeeds.  Whatever fails was not produced by God.  This is how we can discern what is begotten of God and what is not. 

People are begotten of God.  Those people who are begotten of God are overcomers.  However, if some of those who were born of God did not overcome, then John could not affirm such a universal proposition.  He would have to say that only some of those who are born of God overcome.  This shows that John believed that none of those who are born of God lose their salvation.  To lose salvation is to fail to overcome, but this is what John says is impossible for one who is truly born of God.  John uses the words "overcometh" with the word "victory."  All the born again overcome, or obtain the victory over sin and death.  This is so simple and straightforward and it is only by stubborn refusal to accept it that men teach that true believers may so sin as to be eternally lost. 

Not only are people born of God, but so is "faith."  God begotten faith overcomes and is victorious.  If some one's faith fails to overcome or to obtain the victory, then it is clear that it was not of the kind described by the Apostle.  The faith of hypocrites and pretenders may be overcome, but not the faith of those who have the kind described by the Apostle. 

It is interesting that the Apostle speaks of all true believers overcoming in light of what I have recently taught about the Apostle's affirmation that they "cannot sin."  To "sin" (hamartia) denotes tragic failure, the very opposite idea involved in "overcoming" and obtaining "victory."  Those who are born of God cannot fail to obtain final victory.

My opponent never even made an attempt to respond to these arguments as anyone who listens to the debate must acknowledge.  When a man does not even attempt a rebuttal, it is clear proof that he is not able to do so. 

"We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."  (I John 5: 18)

John gives us another universal categorical proposition.  Everyone who is "born of God" does not "sin," that is, he does not meet with final tragic downfall.  Everyone wins who is born of God.  John also says that everyone who is born of God "keeps (linear) himself" and this insures that "that wicked one touches him not."  Not only do all those who are born of God practice self purification, but also self preservation.  Those who are kept by God keep themselves.  If one does not keep himself, then it is evidence that he was not born of God. 

But, again, my opponent never even attempted a rebuttal to this argument.
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."  (I John 2: 19)

The ones referred to by the Apostle, in this passage, are those who denied that Christ was come in the flesh, among other things.  They denied the Gospel and embraced what was of antichrist.  John says that their apostasy from the Christian faith was proof that they "were not all of us."  He is not denying that they were once "of us" externally, that they were once members of the churches of Christ.  If they "went out from us" then they were once a part of us.  But, then John says that their apostasy demonstrated that they "were not of us."  Clearly the Apostle is speaking of what was merely external versus what was internal, what was only seemingly so versus what was actually so. 

John affirms a clear proposition, which is this:  "If they had been of us, they no doubt would have continued with us."  This, I argue, is what is denied by those who teach that Christian apostates lose actual salvation, rather than only what they "seemed to have."  (Luke 8: 18) 

My opponent did not rebut this.  He did make one statement about it, however.  He simply stated, as most of those who believe that true Christians can lose salvation do, that the text does not say that the apostates had never really been "of us," but is simply saying that they were not "of us" at the time of their departure from the Christian faith.  My response was first to say "duh."  John is not affirming what is obvious and needs no proof or testimonial.  He is rather stating that their apostasy proved that they were never truly saved, never truly born of God.  He has already affirmed that all who are born of God overcome and so this statement about perseverance is but an amplification of that fact. 

If one who professes Christ and faith in the Gospel does not continue in that faith, then John says it proves that they had not really been "of us," had not really been born of God or had God begotten faith. John is affirming that once one is truly in the faith, he will always remain in the faith. 

Throughout John's epistle John alludes to those professing Christians who are "liars."  (I John 2: 4; 2: 22; 4: 20)   The word "liar" denotes what is false, not genuine.  Those who apostatize from the faith show that they were only pretenders.  Failure to persevere proved that those who apostatize from the faith were not real Christians, were not internally what they appeared to be externally.

In conclusion, it is very clear that the writings of John in his first epistle prove that all the truly born again cannot sin so as to lose salvation.

Why The Difference?

"For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?"  (I Cor. 4: 7 KJV)

This verse was the subject of a minor debate that I had with Peter Lumpkins of  See herehere, here, and here.  Peter objected to my use of this passage to prove the essential elements of Calvinism and of the doctrine of unconditional election.  He at first stated that this verse was not made use of by Calvinists to prove such and yet I offered numerous Calvinistic authors to show otherwise, beginning with Augustine.  Peter never retracted his false charge, however. 

Peter objected to applying this verse to salvation.  I responded by asking "why?"  Why would Peter object to the verse affirming that it is God who makes one to differ from another in the context of salvation?  Is it not because he denies that God is the one who makes the difference?  Is it not the foundation of Arminianism to affirm that the sinner, by his use of his free will, makes himself to differ? 

"But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel."  (Exo. 11: 7)

Certainly the difference that existed, in the eyes of God, between the Egyptians and the Israelites was owing to God's sovereign will and choice.  Who can deny that this is so in the context of being true Israelites, truly elect?  If God's choice of a sinner to salvation is determined by which sinners do this or that thing, then the ultimate difference is not made by God but by the sinners themselves.  Thus, sinners may claim that they had made the difference, and not God.  This is the chief error of Arminianism and conditional election.  It gives sinners reason to boast. 

He Cannot Sin IV

"If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."  (I John 5: 16-18)

The indefinite article "a" is not in the original.  The Greeks did not use such and the absence of the definite article does not automatically imply the indefinite.  This is the error of the Arians in John 1:1 in the expression "and the word was God."  The Jehovah's Witnesses translate "and the word was a god."  They think that the absence of the definite article implies the indefinite article.  But, this is fallacious.  The absence of the Greek definite article simply focuses on the nature, character, or quality of "God."  Likewise, the absence of the article in the above passage focuses on the quality of "sin" or "hamartia." 

The important thing to note about these words of the Apostle is the fact that he distinguishes two kinds of hamartia.  There is hamartia which is "unto" or "leads to" (pros) death and hamartia which is "not unto death."  Clearly the Apostle does not believe that every hamartia leads to death.  This is an important point. 

In my recent debate on the subject of eternal security or perseverance of the saints, my opponent believed that every sin a "brother" (professing fellow Christian) commits automatically brings instant death, or instant separation from God and salvation.  But, this was shown to be false.  Had the Apostle John believed such then he would not have affirmed that there is such a thing as "sin not unto death." 

Many and varied have been the opinions respecting these words of the Apostle.  Some seek to identify the sins which are unto death versus those which are not unto death.  Some think a single sin is under consideration when John says there is "a sin unto death."  But, as a single sin is not in view in "sin not unto death" so there is not a single sin in view in "sin unto death."  Had a single sin been in view then the Apostle would have used the definite article and written "the sin unto death" and "the sin not unto death." 

The quantity of sin is not in view but the quality of sin.  There is a qualitative difference between hamartia that is unto death and hamartia which is not unto death.  Discovering what is that qualitative difference is the chief concern of the Bible interpreter. 

Another concern of the interpreter is to discover what John means by "unto death" and "not unto death."  Some think that the Apostle alludes to sins that bring physical death and point to examples in the new testament where physical death was the result of certain sins of Christian brothers, such as the case of Annanias and Sapphira in Acts 5: 1-11 and the case of the Corinthians who were abusing the Lord's Supper (I Corinthians 11: 30).  This view, however, is untenable.  First, it does not fit the context.  Life and death in the epistle clearly refer to spiritual life and death.  Second, it is clearly implied that others are able to discern whether the kind of sin committed by a fellow believer is unto death or not.  John does not mean to say - "if you see a brother lie to the Holy Spirit" or "if you see a brother abuse the Lord's Supper." 

Some argue that John is not distinguishing two kinds of hamartia but two kinds of reaction to one kind of sinning.  In other words, sin unto death is sin that is not confessed or repented of, while sin not unto death is sin that is confessed and repented of.  But, this view is untenable also because John does not distinguish between two kinds of reaction to sin, but to two kinds of sin. 

The best view is one that sees two kinds of qualitative sinning which results from two kinds of "brothers."  One of the Christian brothers sins in a qualitatively different manner than does another Christian brother, just as there is a qualitative difference between the sins of truly saved versus that of unsaved people.  Viewed in this light, there is not only a difference in the kind of sinning done but in the character of those sinning.  Two kinds of "brothers" are therefore as much contrasted as two kinds of sin. 

Why does the Apostle recommend prayer for those committing sin not unto death but does not recommend it for those who sin unto death?  This point must help judge the various interpretations offered upon the passage. 

It seems likely that John is not encouraging the church to pray for those who have apostasized from the Christian faith and embraced the anti Christian doctrine of the apostates mentioned in his epistle.  Why would he encourage prayer for them? 

When John affirmed that the one born of God "cannot sin" he clearly means that he cannot sin unto death.  He sins, yes.  But, his sins are of the kind that are "not unto death."  This is the teaching of numerous scripture, as I showed in my recent debate.  Notice these verses.

"If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips."  (Psalm 89: 30-34)

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand."  (Psalm 37: 23-24)

Thus, one who is one of "his children" cannot sin so as to lose his relationship to God, cannot sin so as to lose salvation, cannot sin as did the apostates John refers to.  Their sins are not "unto death."  They are unto divine correction, yes.  They are unto temporal loss, yes.  But, they are not unto perdition.

Thus, I John 5: 16, 17 helps to explain I John 3: 6-9.  Whoever is born of God cannot sin unto death.

Aug 19, 2012

He Cannot Sin III

Hamartia is Anomia

"Whosoever committeth (the) sin transgresseth also the law: for (the) sin is the transgression of the law."  (I John 3: 4)

We may more precisely translate as follows:  "Whoever is committing (poieo - making or doing) the sin (the fatal error that brings downfall) also (kai) is making (poieo) the transgression of the law (anomia)."

Notice the use of the definite article in these words, which is absent in the KJV.  John seems to be referring to a specific act of sin.  It is possible that John is referring to the sin of the apostates referred to in his epistle. In verse 23 he wrote:

"And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment."

The sin of the apostates was that they no longer believed in the Jesus that John preached nor loved the brethren who were followers of the Apostle. Thus, "the sin" would be the sin of apostasy, or the sin that brings tragic downfall or loss of salvation.

"The transgression of the law" is from the single Greek word anomia. The latter part of the verse may therefore be simply translated as "the harmartia is the anomia."    

It seems that hamartia is the genus word and anomia is the difference word.  In other words, anomia, like adikia, is one characteristic of hamartia.  John is not equating the two words or making them synonyms.  Anomia is one of the several characteristics of hamartia.  In the first part of the verse the Apostle uses the word "also" (kai) which shows that he is not affirming that hamartia and anomia are synonyms.  In addition to other characteristics, hamartia is "also" anomia. 

"Nomos" is the Greek word for "law." When the alpha letter is prefixed it has the meaning of "without" or perhaps "no."  Thus, theist means a believer in God and atheist means one who believes there is "no God."  And, a gnostic is one who has knowledge but an agnostic is one who is "without knowledge."  Therefore, "anomia" literally means "without law" or "no law."  Many translations give the word "lawlessness" as a definition.

"For as many as have sinned (hamarton) without law (anomos) shall also perish without law (anomos): and as many as have sinned in (en) the law shall be judged by the law." (Rom. 2: 12)

"To them that are without law (anomois), as without law (anomos), (being not without law (anomos) to God, but under the law (without law - ennonos) to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law (anomous)." (I Cor. 9: 21)

If hamartia were a synonym for anomia then it would not be possible to sin apart from law.  But, the above verses show that one can be "without law" (anomos) and yet be a sinner.  Thus, it is wrong to say that all hamartia involves law breaking.  We may say that all anomia is hamartia but not all hamartia is anomia. 

Wrote Trench:

"It will follow that where here is no law (Rom. 5:13), there may be ἁμαρτία, ἀδικία, but not ἀνομία...Thus the Gentiles, not having a law (Rom. 2:14), might be charged with sin; but they, sinning without law (ἀνόμως==χωρὶς νόμου, Rom. 2:12; 3:21), could not be charged with ἀνομία." (see here)

It is the purpose of the law to discover hamartia, as Paul said - "by the law is the knowledge of sin."  (Rom. 3: 20)

"What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."  (Rom. 7: 7)

Is the law a hamartia, or a failure?  Is the law a mistake?  No, but the nomos is what discovers man's moral failure and his coming short.  Wrote Paul:

"But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead."  (vs. 8)

"For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death."  (vs. 5)

Man's inner character flaw is revealed by the law just as a mirror discovers what is held up to it.

Hamartia is Adikia

John also says that "all unrighteousness (adikia) is sin (hamartia)."  (1 John 5:17)  Thus, John says that adikia and anomia are elements of hamartia

Thus, all anomia and all adikia is hamartia, but not all hamartia is anomia or adikia.

What is righteousness?  It comes from the Greek word dikaiosynē and means to be right or correct.  It involves the idea of being upright.  W. E. Vine says that it denotes "the character or quality of being right or just;" it was formerly spelled "rightwiseness," which clearly expresses the meaning." 

It is used to characterize right action and behavior but also right character.  It involves right thinking and right disposition. 

A person who is a "sinner" (hamartōlos) is someone who is without righteousness and without law (or lawless).  The relationship of unrighteousness to being a hamartolos is seen in these words of Paul.

"For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Rom. 5: 19)

Being "made sinners" is set in opposition to being "made righteous."  A sinner is one who is not right nor correct.  He is all wrong.  He is not right with God.  He does not recognize any law other than his own self. 

Hamartia & Ungodliness

Asebeia is the Greek word for "ungodly" or Godlessness.  It refers to living and acting as though God does not exist.  In the Greek New Testament, the main words used for “godliness” are “eusebeia” and “theosebeia.” The adjective “godly” is “eusebes” and the adverb “godly” is “eusebos.”

Godliness is God likeness.  Ungodliness is to be unlike God.  Man's sin, or hamartia, is his inner lack of righteousness and likeness to God.  Though he was originally created in the "likeness" and "image" of God, he has lost that likeness and is now not anything like God.  This original likeness consisted in "righteousness and true holiness."  (Eph. 4: 24)  He had no character flaw when he came pristine from the hand of his Maker. 

Man's loss of God likeness is also connected with his lawless (anomia) condition.  This condition speaks of his nonconformity to God's law.  God's law is but the image of God himself.  Thus, to be lawless means much the same thing as being unrighteous and ungodly

Christians are regularly confessing how they fall short of being who they want to be, and so they mourn their moral failures and their disobedience.

It is not a mechanical process that the Apostle is establishing in I John 1: 9 as if to say that no sin is forgiven that is not confessed. This is the error of the Pelagians and Catholics who think that if they die with any unconfessed sin then they are doomed.  No one even knows the depth of his own sin.  How can a man confess his sins if he is not even aware of them?  What the Apostle is saying is that the person who is walking with God and in the light is one who is a confessor of his hamartia.

The Chief Aspect of Hamartia

"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Rom. 10: 2-4)

Man has been sewing fig leaves together since the beginning in an attempt to hide his spiritual nakedness and wretchedness. Most of man's religion is "fig leaf religion." They are failed attempts to please God and to procure his favor.

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way..." (Isa. 53: 6)

"Yea, they have chosen their own ways..." (Isa. 66: 3)

John expands upon the classical meaning of hamartia as reflected in Aristotle by adding the ingredients of lawlessness, unrighteousness, ungodliness, and of guilt.

John does not seem to discriminate in his use of the term hamartia in his epistle leading up to 5: 16-18.  But, he clearly does so in chapter five.  But, of this more will be said in the next posting.

Aug 17, 2012

Mackintosh on Evangelism

C. H. Mackintosh, 19th century Plymouth Brethren was a fluent writer and his book "Notes on the Penteteuch" is worthy of being in any pastor's library.  In the preface, written by W. M. Smith, the following citation is given from the periodical edited and published by Mackintosh ("Things New and Old"). 

"Our divine Master called upon sinners to repent and believe the gospel.  Some would have us to believe that it is a mistake to call upon persons dead in tresspasses and sins to do anything.  "How," it is argued, "can those who are dead repent?  They are incapable of any spiritual movement.  They must first get the power ere they can either repent or believe." 

What is our reply to all this?  A very simple one indeed--our Lord knows better than all the theologians in the world what ought to be preached.  He knows all about man's condition--his guilt, his misery, his spirutual death, his utter helplessness, his total inability to think a single right thought, to utter a single right word, to do a single right act, and yet He called upon men to repent.  This is quite enough for us.  It is no part of our business to seek to reconcile seeming differences.  It may seem to us difficult to reconcile man's utter powerlessness with his responsibility;  but "God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain."  It is our happy privilege, and our bounden duty, to believe what He says, and do what He tells us.  This is true wisdom, and it yields solid peace.

Our Lord preached repentance, and He commanded His apostles to preach it;  and they did so constantly." 

Our Hardshell and Hyper Calvinist brethren need to learn this lesson.

Aug 7, 2012

He Cannot Sin II

Trench wrote (emphasis mine):

"Nowhere in classical Greek do hamartia and hamartanein (G264) have the depth of meaning they have acquired in revealed religion. They run the same course there that all ethical terms seem to have run. Employed first about natural things, hamartia and hamartanein were then applied to the moral or spiritual realm. Initially hamartanein meant to miss a mark and was the exact opposite of tychein (G5177). Thus over and over in Homer we read of the warrior hamartei, who hurls his spear but who fails to strike his foe. Ton hodon hamartanein is to miss one's way. Next, hamartia was applied to the intellectual realm. Thus we read of the poet hamartanei, who selects a subject that is impossible to treat poetically or who seeks results that lie beyond the limits of his art. Hamartia constantly is contrasted with orthotes. Hamartia is so far removed from any necessary ethical significance that Aristotle sometimes (if not always) withdrew it from the realm of right and wrong. The hamartia is a mistake (perhaps a fearful one), like that of Oedipus, but nothing more. Elsewhere, however, hamartia can be as close in meaning to our use of sin as any word used in heathen ethics."   (Trench's New Testament Synonyms)

It is not denied that hamartia, like other words taken from the Greek language, was given an expanded definition by the new testament writers.  Their expanded definition included the concept of guilt and transgression of divine law.  Formerly, it only denoted weakness and ignorance without any emphasis on guilt, fault, and transgression.  The new testament writers, in expanding the definition, did not take away from hamartia its original ideas of tragic flaw and failure, but merely added to it.

Hamartia is viewed as a moral weakness by the new testament writers, but they saw it as resulting from depravity of nature, alienation from God, and to which blame was attached.  No man was innocent of his own harmartia.  All were responsible and accountable for their own tragic character flaws and for the death and downfall that results from it. 

Hamartia was also a moral ignorance, but it was much more.  It was willful foolishness and blindness.  The new testament or Christian definition did not take away the original meaning of weakness or flaw in character that brings downfall.  The new testament writers saw that sinful acts are but the result of an inner sinful state of the heart.  A man does evil because he is evil. 

The apostles, in their writings, never take away the Greek idea of moral failure from hamartia, and its connotation of tragic downfall, but even have it in mind in certain passages on hamartia, as we have seen already in John's saying that those who are born of God "cannot sin." 

"For all have sinned (hamartanō), and come short (hystereō) of the glory of God..."  (Rom. 3: 23)

This verse helps to explain the meaning of hamartia.  It means to miss the mark, not to achieve the end goal, to fail in purpose.  It was used in a physical sense of an archer failing to hit the mark.  So we read that there were 700 left handed Israelites who "could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss."  (Judges 20: 16) The Septuagint has the Greek word "hamartia" for "miss." 

Those who are "born of God," testified the Apostle John, "cannot miss the mark," or "cannot fail of the goal."  The words "come short" denotes much the same thing as "miss the mark."  So, using these definitions, we may say that those who are born of God "cannot come short" of salvation and the glory of God in Christ.  None of the born again will miss the chief end.  Lessor goals they often miss, but not the greater. 

Thus, hamartia was also used of failing in an ethical or moral sense.  It is true that every act of disobedience to God is a missing of the mark.  Every child of God that has ever been saved has lived a life where he did not always hit the mark as regards daily goals and activities, yet who did not miss the ultimate mark of winning Christ.  They have all "fallen short" of achieving perfection in this life, (though they all achieve perfection in the world to come through Christ).  So, the divine record testifies in these words.

"For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not."  (Eccl. 7: 20)  "Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah."  (Psa. 39: 5)  Christians are charged to "lay aside...the sin (hamartia) that does so easily beset us."  (Heb. 12: 1)  Paul said - "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.  Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin (hamartia) that dwelleth in me."  (Rom. 7: 19, 20)

It can be said that "hamartia," as used by the Apostle John, was used sometimes in one sense, and sometimes in another sense.  Paul does the same thing in his Roman epistle. 

"Sin" sometimes refers to an act of transgression, or disobedience, but sometimes refers to the evil principle residing in the "flesh" (sarx), or in the depraved nature, and which is the source of all actual transgression.  John sometimes spoke of "sin" with the definite article (articular), "the sin," and sometimes without it (anarthrous), simply "sin."  That John does not uniformly use hamartia in exactly the same sense may be seen further from the fact that he says there is "harmartia leading to death" and there is "hamartia not leading to death."  (5: 16-18) 

From this we may wonder what kind of "sin" John had in mind in previous chapters and verses in his epistle when he speaks of "sin" (singular) and "sins" (plural).  Is it all sin, sins in toto, including both that which is unto death and that which is not?  Or, is it sin unto death only or sin not unto death only?

Since hamartia may focus on the cause of downfall and moral failure, it denotes fatal character flaw or moral defect.  All men come into this world with a depraved nature.  (Rom. 5:12-19)  Thus, "if we say we have no hamartia" may be translated as - "if we say we have no moral defect."  Or, "if we say we have no inward evil principle that is the source of all our evil actions."  But, this is exactly what the Pelagians affirm.  They deny that all men have a natural moral defect or principle of sin within their inner being. 

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."  (1: 8)

Or, "If we say we have no fatal character flaws, no internal depravity," or "If we say we have no failure in our efforts to find peace with God." 

"The truth is not in us" may denote not only that the Gospel truth about Christ is not in us, but that "the reality" (aletheia) of salvation is not in us. Surely John's purpose in these words are to furnish a way for testing a Christian's profession, or what he "says" religiously. 

One of John's purposes in writing is to identify the "liars," distinguishing them from those who are "true," those who are real believers, truly born of God. There are professing Christians who are "liars," hypocrites who the Apostle says are "deceived." And, what is it that is false and deceptive about them? What is it that they are "deceived" about? Is it not in regard to their status as divinely begotten children of God as well as to the truth and reality of their faith in the divine revelation? They are liars, lying to themselves and to others, and therefore they have no "right to become the sons of God," (John 1: 11, 12) or right to be "called" (truly designated as) the "children of God."  (Rom. 9: 26)  John, in the Apocalypse, said  that "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."  (Rev. 21: 8)  They who are truly born again are they who characteristically "do his commandments" and therefore "have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."  (Rev. 22: 14)

Jesus spoke of the impossibility of the "elect" being "deceived."  (Matt. 24: 24)  Once they have genuinely trusted Christ and committed themselves to him with honest and sincere hearts, they form a bond of union with him that is unbreakable.  What they "heard" and "learned" of the Father (John 6: 44, 45) cannot be forgotten or lost from memory and experience.  What is heard and learned by the Father is called "revelation" and concerns the person and work of Christ.  (Matt. 16: 16-18)  Once a person becomes a "true believer," he can never become an unbeliever.  Once convinced, always convinced.  Once trusted and committed, always trusted and committed.  That does not mean that he has no unbelief at all, for he does not always have the degree of faith in the promises of God as he should have, and as he desires to have.  If he had perfect faith, he could work miracles.  Most worry, if not all, results from the sin of unbelief.  It reveals lack of faith in God and in his word.  But, though this degree and kind of unbelief exists in the daily lives of children of God, it is not of the kind of unbelief that denies Christ and the Gospel. 

John does not use the plural form "sins" in the above verse, but the singular without the article.  "If we say we have no hamartia, no character flaws that lead to tragic ruin..."  John will go on to say - "let us confess our sins" (plural), by which he seems to be focusing on the acts of the tragic hero in succumbing to his defect.  It is because of "sin" that there are "sins."  John thus does not seem to be referring to any particular act of moral failure, but to the principle of moral failure that men are born with. 

John sees that acts of transgression, unrighteousness, disobedience and lawlessness as symptoms of the moral disease that infects man's character.  When the definite article is absent in the Greek, one should not assume to add the indefinite article "a."  When the noun is anarthrous the writer is emphasizing the quality and character of the person or thing referred to in the context. 

The Apostle Paul also often spoke of "sin" (hamartia or hamartano) without the article.  In such instances he speaks of the state or condtion of non-conformity to God and his law.  In these instances Paul uses "hamartia" to denote much the same thing as when he speaks of the "sarx" (flesh).  Paul said that "hamartia" is "in the flesh," where "dwells no good thing."  (Rom. 7: 18)  And, "it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me."  (vs. 20)  Acts of sin do not "dwell" within a person.  The indwelling principle of sin is also called "lust" (epithumia) and "ungodliness" (asebeia).  We can distinguish between the actual missing of the mark and the reasons/causes of one's missing it.  Both are examples of hamartia though the focus is different.

Christians can never be as good as they want to be.   Thus, Paul wrote these words:

"For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."  (Gal. 5: 17)

"For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I...For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."  (Rom. 7: 15, 19)

Paul argues that the Christian cannot do and be the person he wants to be because of the presence of the lusting flesh.  Every Christian confesses that he is not as good and holy as he wants to be.  Paul would seem to overthrow the idea that Christians can and do live without sin.  Paul says that Christians "cannot do the things you would," meaning "cannot do the things you want to do."  In this life no Christian can be the kind of person that he wants to be, and he knows it, and grieves over it.  And, he knows that his achieving the goal, or hitting the ultimate mark, does not require perfect obedience to the laws of God.  He knows that his salvation is secured not on the basis of his own obedience to law but to the righteousness of Christ put to his account.

Not only does the presence of "the flesh," with its "lust" for what is evil and wrong, prevent the Christian from "being all you can be," but the presence of "the spirit" prevents the flesh from doing the things that it wants to do. 

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."  (James 1: 13-15)

James focuses on the causes and effects of hamartia.  The causes of sin (hamartia) he ascribes to "lust" and to "temptation" (which he seems to equate with being "enticed"), one external and one internal.  Paul and John seem to have used "sin" in the sense in which James here uses "lust" (concupiscence).  This is because James is focusing on simple acts of sin, on symptomatic sins, and views sin as act, as transgression, as doing what is forbidden.  James is not denying that "lust" is itself sin, or evil.  Though John and Paul spoke of "sin" (anarthrous) as being what resides in a man and what is equated with his "flesh" or sinful nature, James focuses on sin as lawless and ungodly act.  The sin of lust brings forth the sin of act.

Still, James does seem to retain the primitive Greek idea of "fatality" in its idea of hamartia by saying that "sin, when it is finished, brings forth death."  John also spoke of "sin unto death."  So too did the Apostle Paul when he said "the wages of sin (hamartia) is death."  (Rom. 6: 23)  "Unto death" corresponds with the Greek idea of tragic downfall. 

The idea is not that a sinner dies every time he transgresses, as some want to interpret the passage.  How can a man die when he is already dead?  But, all the sins that a spiritually dead man commits is yet in some sense "unto death."  It cannot mean "unto spiritual death" for this would limt sins unto death to the very first sin that brought death.  All other subsequent acts of sin could not therefore be "unto death" in that sense.  But, the Scriptures say that all an unbeliever's sins are "unto death," meaning that they point in the direction of and lead one to eternal death in the Lake of Fire, which is the "second death."  (Rev. 20: 14) 

James did say this about hamartia.

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."  (James 4: 17)

Missing the mark and coming short of salvation is evidenced not only in what men do, but in what they do not do.  There are sins of omission as well as commission.  This is seen in the ten commandments where there is "you shall not" as well as "you shall." 

What person does not know that he has failed to be the kind of person he ought to be?  What person has not said "I should have done" this or that?  What "good" has a man aimed at and yet fell short of the goal?  So many "resolutions" to do and be better that met with failure! 

What is the ultimate "good"?  Is it not "to be found in him" and declared righteous?  To win the prize of eternal life?  Hamartia is to miss the very point of life.

Paul said - "...for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."  (Rom. 14: 23)

Elsewhere Paul said that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim. 6: 10) and yet here he seems to say that unbelief is the root of all sin.  No doubt this is why Solomon said - "...the plowing of the wicked, is sin."  (Prov. 21: 4)  It is sin because it is not done out of faith, or with the right motive and reason.