Apostle John seems to have an appearance (but not apparent of course) of contradiction between his first and third epistles. In my opinion, a seemingly-apparent contradiction may be one of the means by which God hides His Word from the natural man (Matt 13:11, 13-17).
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8); “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
To have the sin nature (“old man”) is to have sin within, which complies with 1:8. In 3:9, “His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin,” can refer to John in his “new man” meaning Christ’s seed or if you will, His “divine nature,” of which we are ”partakers” (2 Pet 1:4). This can collate with Paul’s claim in Romans 7:17, 20, that “it is no longer I who do it,” meaning he in his new man is not participating, but rather the wrong being done is by the “sin that dwells in me.”
I believe there is also a need to point out that what Scripture defines as a “sinner” is not synonymous with the traditional comprehension among Christians. If you use a Bible concordance for the word “sinner,” you will not find a scriptural reference indicating one who is in God, with the exception of Paul’s, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (Tim 1:15), which I will shortly explain.
Though Christians still sin, it does not mean they are still referred to as “sinners” by scriptural definition.
The reason scripture never refers to the saved as a “sinner’ is because, as J Gill explains it, “He does not make it his trade and business; it is not the constant course of his life; he does not live and walk in sin, or give up himself to it; he is not without the being of it in him, or free from acts of sin in his life and conversation, but he does not so commit it as to be the servant of it, a slave unto it.” I also believe this answers to, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Rom 8:9), e.g. our course of life is no longer controlled by the old man but, “by His Spirit in the inner man (new man).
My explanation for Paul’s claim of being chief of sinners lies within the two words “I am,” which is Strong’s Greek word “eimi,” which can intend “was” or “have been.” Strong’s translates G1510 in the following manner: I am (with G1473) (74x), am (55x), it is I (with G1473) (6x), be (2x), I was (with G1473) (1x), have been (1x).
As always, the definitions which apply are the terms to be used in the context of the passage and therefore rendering a paraphrase of “I was chief.”
Let it be known that this article in no way implies a sinless state of the believer (though guiltless), nor that he no longer sins, though sinning is no longer a major factor in the believer’s life and if it evinces otherwise one should, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5).
May we always remind ourselves that, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20).