Sheep and Pigs: What Does it Mean That a Christian “Cannot Keep on Sinning”?

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. (1 John 3:9, emphasis added)

Christians may and will sin but it’s no longer our nature to do so. We have a new nature, and by that nature we will not continue in what some call “habitual and reckless” sin.

It’s like the difference between sheep and pigs.[1] Sheep and pigs get muddy and dirty. However, they view and experience it much differently. Sheep get muddy and dirty, but I don’t think they like to. Their nature is different from the pig. The pig loves to get dirty and loves the mud. The pig is occasionally clean but prefers to be muddy. The sheep is occasionally muddy but wants to be clean. A pig will be happy to stay perpetually in mud. A sheep won’t. A sheep won’t stay in the mud. It’s not his nature to do so.

Now imagine that on the farm it rained for days and the pen outside the barn was a muddy mess. The mud was so thick and deep that one of your animals was stuck in the mud. Completely covered in mud, you actually couldn’t tell what kind of animal it was. It was just a pile of mud with eyes looking out. Days pass and you don’t know what to do. The animal is still in the mud. So you call the veterinarian and you say, “Doc, I have an animal encased in mud in the pen outside the barn. Can you help me identify it?”

He asks, “What kinds of animals do you have there at your farm?”

You say, “I have sheep and I have pigs.”

The doctor asks, “How long has this animal stayed in the mud?”

You say, “He’s been there for a week.”

“Well sir,” the doctor says, “I can tell you, it’s a pig.”

“But,” you say, “I talked with the animal and he told me that he was a sheep.”

The doctor says, “He can say what he wants, but if he’s been in that mud that long, there’s no way he’s a sheep no matter what he says.”

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. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)

Can I translate it this way? No sheep makes a practice of staying in the mud; he’s a sheep and cannot stay in the mud because he was born a sheep. By this it is evident who are sheep and who are pigs—whoever stays in the mud is a pig.

Christians are children born again by the Spirit of God who produces a new nature in us and which changes the way we experience sin. We used to be under the dominion of sin. We were enslaved to sin. We loved it. It had a draw and power to us that we were incapable of overcoming.

Regeneration is the birth of a new nature with a new set of desires. The very spiritual DNA of God. Now we prefer to be clean.[2] We prefer to please our heavenly Father. Our new nature celebrates holiness. Our flesh is still with us and we still sin against God. But we don’t stay there. As John says, we don’t continue to sin because God’s DNA of purity is in us. Like Father, like son. Sheep not pigs. This is how Jesus can say, You will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16)

“The apostle asserts with absolute clarity that those who live in habitual sin have not seen Christ and do not know Christ. This is the same as saying they do not have a saving relationship with Christ. On the other hand, those who abide in him live a life marked by habitual righteousness and purity instead of lawlessness (rebellion) and disobedience. While the unbeliever lives in sin and has not seen or known Christ, the believer has terminated a life of sin for a life of abiding in him. The child of God has experienced a decisive break with sin. Sin no longer controls his life.” (Daniel Akin, 1 John, p. 144)

Four Reasons Christians Will NOT Continue in “Reckless and Habitual” Sin

God’s spiritual DNA and life is in them

There’s no bragging or earning of salvation here. We are not God’s children if we act a certain way; we act a certain way because we are God’s children. If you are a Christian, you are a child of the Holy God. His imprint is upon your soul. His nature is in you. Sons will resemble their fathers, though not perfectly. Sons will obey their fathers, but not perfectly. Over time adult children are shocked, We’re becoming our parents!

Spiritually, the same thing is true. We are becoming more and more like our heavenly Father. If we aren’t and if the resemblance is increasingly dissonant with God, are we actually children of God?

The Holy Spirit is in us with the divine goal of making us more like Christ

We underestimate the significance of God in us. Why is the Spirit in us? What is he doing? Is he lazy? Is he vacationing? No. He is sanctifying us. He is stoking righteous desires in us. Convicting us of sin. Conforming us to the likeness of Jesus.

God lovingly disciplines us

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

Listen, God is more committed to your salvation than you are. He loves you. He loves you enough to bring a little rain into your life, a little hurt here or sorrow there, or other forms of discipline, which wean us off the world and ourselves and sin. He won’t let us continue in sin. He loves us too much to let that happen.

God works through means to keep us from ongoing bondage to sin

Scripture. Prayer. Meditation. Preaching. Worship. Fellowship with other Christians. The church. Life’s circumstances. How about accountability? Or even church discipline? Do you have anyone who will be honest enough with you to tell you when you are messing up? One of the best means God uses is another brother to tell us when we are being stupid; when we are acting more like a pig than a sheep. Matthew 18 describes how to lovingly confront each other when we see a sin dominating another Christian’s life. It is one way God keeps us from bondage to sin.

So what about so-and-so who claims to be a Christian and yet did such-and-such? If all genuine Christians will NOT continue in habitual sin, when so-and-so gets involved in such-and-such, time will tell. We all get sucked into such-and-such occasionally. In that we must not excuse it when it happens or think, “All Christians sin, so who cares?” Sin is a destroyer. Sin is a cancer. Jesus shed his blood for that sin I am choosing. But then we come to our spiritual senses and we confess that sin and make things right and restore our testimony and go on for God.

But when someone who claims to be a Christian sets their mind to continue in sin (No, I will not change course. I love this sin too much. I must remain in the mud), even when godly friends protest and confront—over time, as the sinner refuses to leave the mud, his true nature is revealed. He is not a child of God but a child of the one who loves the immoral mud and wants as many there with him as he can. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. (1 John 3:8)

So friends, if you are in the mud, get out. If you’ve been in the mud a long time, look inside and ask, Am I child of God? If not, believe in the one who got in the mud for your sake, and died to make you clean. Believe in Jesus. Trust in him. Enjoy being a clean sheep.

[1]There is a great difference between a sheep that by weakness falls into the mire, and a swine that delights to wallow in the mire.” (Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, p. 175)

[2]Sin is a burden that afflicts us rather than a pleasure that delights us.” (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, p. 71)

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address ( on the copied resource.

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