Dead to Sin, But Not Sinless
When the apostle Paul wrote to the brethren in Rome, he outlined the great need of salvation for the whole of mankind, and reminded the brethren of the salvation they now had in Christ; he also reminded them that salvation required that they no longer live as they once did. Right after he noted the measure of the abundant grace of God, describing its breadth by noting “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5:20), he asked what would probably be their next question: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” He then answered the question without hesitation: “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1, 2).
As Christians, sin is no longer our way of life; we are, as he would later state it, “dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). He would further describe the difference in the two lives, admonishing the brethren, “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). Though they had previously “presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness,” now, as Christians, they were to “now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness” (Rom. 6:19).
The core message of the gospel is that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly” (Titus 2:11, 12). As Christians, we have the responsibility to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24). Simply put: We cannot continue living as we did before we became Christians.
The apostle John also wrote of the need for God’s people to no longer live for sin, reminding the brethren of the first century, “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). Some have taken this statement and declared that Christians do not sin — cannot sin — because they have been “born of God,” but is that what the inspired writer is saying? Absolutely not, for John himself also wrote [to Christians and about Christians], “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8), and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). So when he wrote that the one “born of God does not sin,” he did not mean that a Christian will never sin at all, but that sin will not be the way of life any longer.
Yes, Christians still sin. We even have examples of such in the New Testament, lest anyone doubt. We have the example of the relatively-new convert, Simon, who offered money to the apostles to gain the power to lay hands on others to give them the Holy Spirit. When he did so, Peter told him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23). At that moment, Simon would perish, his heart was not right in the sight of God, he was bound by iniquity, and he needed forgiveness; it certainly sounds like he had sinned! Though he was a Christian, his soul was now endangered because of his sin.
We also have the example of none other than the apostle Peter as an example of Christians who sin. In Antioch, Peter had no problems associating with the Gentile brethren — until “certain men came from James.” It was then that Peter “withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12). His influence affected others around him so that the “rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:13). Because of Peter’s hypocritical actions and the effect it was having on others, Paul “withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11). The Greek word translated as “blamed” is the same word translated in other places as condemned. Peter had sinned!
So, it is obvious that Christians can and do still sin; how can we avoid this? Do not be overly concerned, for God has not left us to ourselves! If He expects us to avoid sin, you can be assured He has provided the means to do just that. And He has.
The apostle John not only differentiated between the way of life of the Christian and the one who lives for the world, but also gave us the answer to avoiding sin, telling us plainly, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). He also tells us, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin” (1 John 3:6); and ‘abiding in Him’ means we “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). In simple terms, we avoid sin if we live a life like Jesus lived [who, by the way, did not sin]. But we have all failed to do that, haven’t we?
Do not give up just yet! Let us not forget the great promise of God: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13); for every temptation, God has provided a way of escape. That “way of escape” is found within the written word of God, for we see in the temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11), He answered every temptation with, “It is written”; the written word of God is the “way of escape”!
The psalmist understood this principle, for it was he who wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11). This all meshes together and gives us the answer to temptation and sin: the written word of God. When we follow the word of God, it is certain we will not sin; it is when we ignore it, deviate from it, or disobey it that we will sin. But, as Christians, we must never again make sin our way of life. As Peter wrote, a Christian “no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:2). We live for Christ now, not self.
But, since we do still sin, as Christians, what do we do? Have we failed altogether when we sin?
John also gives us the answer when Christians sin; right in between the two verses that clearly acknowledge Christians still sin, John gives us the answer when we do: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9); right after telling us he had written the letter that they might not sin, he added, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Peter gave this same answer to Simon when he sinned, telling him he need to “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22).
No, we are not a failure. God has an answer to sin! — Steven Harper