Posse non or non posse

Nothing to do with cowboys and sherrifs with their gathered together posse, but a bit of Latin: posse non pecare or non posse pecare – mainly a question regarding the human life of Jesus: able not to sin or not able to sin. If Jesus was not able to sin then in what sense did he willingly submit to the divine purposes? Anyway quite a discussion back in the day and one that extended to the four states of humanity. Ah well!!

So what about me? By that I don’t mean something like ‘can I make sinless perfection?’ but what about the REAL me? 1 John can make a seemingly set of contrasting statements:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin (2:1).
No one who abides in him sins (3:6).
Those who have been born of God do not sin because God’s seed abides in them (3:9).
We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them (5:18).

So which is it? ‘I do not sin’ is my statement (the hypothetical ‘me’, just for clarification) and I am deceived; or I read this letter so that I may not sin and if (and only ‘if’) I sin I can at least get back on course. And of course claiming to be born of God it is self evident that I do not sin!!!

I am sure the writer is making a few points considerably deeper than I can grasp but I think at the heart of it is what (who) I can see. In the midst of the letter we read:

What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (3:2).

‘See him as he is’. I am sure that when I claim ‘I know God’ it is in part true, and in part carries a little bit of self deception. Maybe that is why Paul corrects himself in Gal. 4:9:

Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God

Do I really ‘know’ God; do I truly see God as s/he is? And as Jesus is the revelation of God (see me, see the Father) if I see Jesus as he is then I can truly claim to know God, and if I truly see Jesus then I will be like him. In truth non posse pecare, not able to sin. Not because of some pre-ordained inner nature but because of being captivated and thus motivated by love. I think Jesus was posse non pecare (not to sin being a choice, otherwise he was not like us in every way) and also non posse pecare (not able to sin) as the choice was made. Love, eternal love, permeated his being, reflected through him to us so in that sense he was not able to sin – the love makes no room for sin.

Anyway, some of all this Latin can swing around speculative discussions but what remains is my sight of Jesus, not my trying harder will help me keep on course. We see in part… one day we will see him as he is.

2 thoughts on “Posse non or non posse

  1. Such Latin as I have is very rusty and I never learned Greek, but I rather suspect that there are tenses in John’s letter that suggest the idea of continuing in sin as a habitual thing, maybe ingrained habits, as opposed to everybody sometimes slipping up. Isn’t there a form of confession which refers to negligence, weakness, our own deliberate fault? – John’s letter could be intended to strengthen where there are weaknesses, point out where there are omissions. That would give the idea of moving from the one state to the other, and eventually beyond both, which would make sense. Would be interesting to find out.

  2. Do you think a move towards greater recognition of institutional/corporate sin (without losing the idea of personal sin) would be helpful? So often our preoccupation with self and improving self through removing ‘sin’ doesn’t translate to looking beyond our self improvement.
    as you say ‘…not able to sin. Not because of some pre-ordained inner nature but because of being captivated and thus motivated by love’. If truly seeing Jesus (becoming more like Jesus) moves us to love and truly seeing the other who is not us, might at least lead to less sin as in personal preocupation and more motivation to see transformation of structures that do not love. Gives us an identity as part of the whole a sense of belonging and becoming.

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