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Sin and the Christian

 

Does the person who is born of the Spirit of God commit sin?

Written by Ken Walker - revised September 2001

 

Introduction

This is the third article written by the author on the subject of the fullness of life in Christ.

The first article Searching for the Promised Fullness of God is one of the articles listed on the Internet at http://www.vicnet.net.au/~gnaust/life/index-gr.html That article examined how a correct understanding of Romans 7 opens the doorway to both and full and proper understanding of the Gospel and the operation of faith in a believer.

The second article Biblical Stages of the Christian Life examines the scriptural descriptions of three stages of development of the Christian life that the Bible itself describes. That article is listed on the same internet page mentioned above. It is hoped that this present article will unfold another aspect of the Christian life for those moving towards fullness of life in Christ. A proper understanding of the sin issue is a necessary part of achieving that fullness.

Part One


1 Do Christians sin - or sin not?

The book of 1 John says both Yes and No but then qualifies the issue with integrity, as it must do in keeping with the Word of God which ultimately never contradicts itself.

There are three main verses in 1 John that say that Christians who are truly born of the Spirit of God do not sin, and in fact cannot sin. They are:

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)

We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him. (1 John 5:18)

No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. (1 John 3:6)

On the other hand John also makes the following statements, which appear to contradict his other statements. They are:

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

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:10)

Then he seems to change tack a little as though acknowledging the possibility of sin, apparently hoping that we will not sin, but if we do, we have an Advocate in Jesus Christ, who can appear on our behalf before Father God Himself.

My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; (1 John 2:1)

And then he says, as if acknowledging we might sin or have sinned, that our sin will be forgiven if it is confessed before the Lord. Not only that, but we will be cleansed from that sin. He says:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

 

2 An Apparent Contradiction.

So John, in writing in this way seems to be backing himself both ways. Christians do not and cannot sin, but if we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves. Then, if we do sin we can have that sin forgiven and be cleansed from it.

1 John 2:1 seems to eliminate the possibility that we can become or are perfect, because it says "if anyone sins", indicating the possibility of sin. Remember the full verse says:

My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

Moreover, the experience of life in Christian circles provides fairly convincing evidence that Christians do sin. One does not have to think too hard to recall obvious public sin of Christian notables or in our own church or homes or indeed in our own lives. Christians can sin, and if aware of their biblical obligations, confess it in order to be forgiven and obtain cleansing.

So what does John mean when he says Christians do not sin and cannot sin?

Walvoord and Zuck in their Bible Knowledge Commentary suggest the following on page 894.

"A widely held explanation of 1 John 3:6 is that the believer does not sin habitually, that is, sin is not his way of life. They say that the Greek text has no words to represent phrases such as "keeps on" or "continues to" or "habitually". .........For the believer, sin is abnormal and unnatural; his whole bent of life is away from sin........... The Christian still experiences a genuine struggle with the flesh and overcomes its impulses only by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Spiros Zodhiates in his Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible seems to have similar views. He says on page 1529 that: "...yet he ( John ) speaks even of himself, as well as those whom he addresses, as capable of committing sin - sin considered however, not as a habit, but as an uncharacteristic act."

A further view is worth stating. Barker and Kohlenberger in their NIV Bible Commentary on page 1095 say this: "....those who "live" in the "sinless one" will. like Him, live a life of righteousness...but if they do sin, they will confess it as lawlessness and abandon it........ John acknowledges that the life of righteousness is only possible in Christ. By "living" in Him, in his "sinlessness," one can expect conformity to His righteousness."

Joining up these views we can say that no sin in a life means no habitual sin and that the only way we can live close to a sinless righteousness is by living in Him - that is by having and knowing we have the life of Christ within us as a complete replacement for our old sinful life.

The apparent contradictions here are resolved even further by reference to Dan Stone's description and relevance of the spiritual and temporal realms in Chapter 2 of his book The Rest of the Gospel. Based on 2 Corinthians 4:18, he places the Eternal Unseen Realm above an imaginary line and the Seen Temporal Realm below the line. The eternal realm is the realm of the spirit where we have been perfected at the time of our regeneration and are dead to sin. The temporal realm is the realm of the soul and body, the visible temporal realm.

Relating that perspective to this issue of whether Christians sin or not, Dan agreed with my assessment of it as follows. There is no sin in the eternal unseen realm and if we are living and operating in that realm, then we do not normally sin. However, if we continually live in the soul/body realm, the seen realm of life, without reference to the spiritual, then we may well sin, needing the cleansing and forgiveness that comes from 1 John 1:9. As can be seen from other articles listed at http://www.vicnet.net.au/~gnaust/life/index-gr.html, yieldedness to the Lord brings about a separation of soul and spirit by the Holy Spirit as per Hebrews 4:12, the consequences of which are that the Christian does not sin habitually. A study of Dan's book is included in a course Fullness of Life in Christ, which is available online at the above address.

 

3 Why are not more Christian lives lived in righteousness?

Misinterpretation of Romans 7

One reason would be that many Christians and many churches teach and live with an incorrect interpretation of Romans 7. This was the subject of the first article in this series entitled "Searching for the Promised Fullness of God".

Readers really need to refer to this 15 page document which attempts to clarify the problem and open the way for a full faith to operate in the believer. The essence of that article is that in Romans 7:13-24 Paul describes his own experience when in Arabia, just after his conversion, when he did not yet fully understand that he did not have an independent nature which he himself had to control. He had moved from his sinful Satanic controlled state where he was a son of disobedience, to a state where Christ was now his life. His experience described in Romans 7 tells of his struggle against sin and the law, until the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he was wholly taken over by Christ and had to rely on Him for everything. Striving from his own self-state was no longer an option, for there was indeed no self state from which to operate - it was a phantom that did not exist. He had then realized the full implications of Romans 6 where he was dead to sin, and in the early part of Romans 7 where he was dead to the law. Being dead to both sin and law the life of Christ could flood through him by faith. It was in fact all he had - but that was all the completeness he needed anyway. This is a very brief summary of the point. Readers of this page need to examine the full document.

It is my belief that each believer must go through his own Romans 7 experience of finding out their true status in Christ, to eventually realize that both sin nature and Christ nature cannot be both fully operating at the same time. It is something for which each believer must rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal that state to him, quite apart from any intellectual understanding he may already have of it from scripture. Christians who rely solely on the printed word of scripture and not on the leading of the Holy Spirit cannot expect to have full truth within them. "It is the Spirit who gives life" John 6:61

The argument about wrong interpretations of Romans 6, 7, 8 and 1 John doctrines suggests that those who consider themselves believers can and probably will still sin if they have not worked through those scriptures and come to full faith in what these verses say. This is because they continue to allow and believe in the flesh - spirit struggle, which does not exist in Romans 8 for those who live in the Spirit, for anyone that has full faith in what these scriptures say:

Knowing this, our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom 6:6-7)

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin,.... (Rom 6:11)

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4)

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. (Rom 8:11)

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)

We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him. (1 John 5:18)

No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. (1 John 3:6)

So a significant part of the answer to the question of why are not more lives lived in sinless righteousness, is that many or even most people of my acquaintance still consider that both natures operate within them and therefore struggle with the sin nature instead of assuming that they are dead to sin and law, and consequently they are not operating in full faith that Christ is their life.

 

4 What believers need to do.

Best of all to do is to do the study (on this site) The Enigma of Romans 7.  Audio and print are both there.  It's long, but...

What needs to happen in believers is:

to correct their interpretation of Romans doctrine and then allow time to pass for the Lord to witness the truth to them.
to have an acceptance of what John says in his book of 1 John about believers not sinning.
To confess any sin that they do commit, thus receiving cleansing.
To accept these by faith and live according to each, whatever life might bring.

 

5 Not sinning habitually is normal

John is able to so confidently asset that Christians do not sin - meaning that they do not habitually sin - it is not a normal characteristic of their life. Remember he said:

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:9)

So it is quite true that Christians not sinning should be the normal state of their lives. They are not sinners per se. However, as we have already said John was also instructed by the Holy Spirit to write that, although we are righteous, we may well still sin and how we obtain cleansing for any such sin that may occur. If we are not considered righteous but sinners, then what has salvation achieved? We cannot be righteous and unrighteous at the same time.

John asserts that it is not the normal custom of Christians to sin. The big value in John's assertion that Christians do not normally sin, is that it opens up the Christian's life to allow the Holy Spirit to control the life and for the believer to not be continually striving against sin - they are dead to it already. To do so would be trying to live by self-effort and not by the Spirit of God as scripture says we can. It is also denying that we are dead to sin as scripture says. This then means that believers can live without fear of sin and live in God's fullness knowing that the guidance of our mind is almost certainly the Holy Spirit and not the enemy. "We have the mind of Christ" Paul says. So also can we have a full faith that we are kept by Jesus Christ.

 

6 Believers take care!

Those who believe that true Christians commonly sin in their lives, that it is there as a characteristic state, need to be careful they don't throw the baby out with the bath water. If we believe John's words that it is uncharacteristic for believers to sin, then we should be asking questions and examining scripture as to what our true status is and why we might permit ourselves unwarranted sin. We also need to check this unscriptural thought to interfere with the operation of the full faith of Romans 8, the fullness of God of Galations 2:20, and the fact that Christ is in you - Christ is in ME!!! Christ is dwelling in any true believer, as the following verses clearly say.

Col 1:25-27 "...... the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Col 3:4 When Christ who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

This then is the true state of the believer. Christ in us - as our life. A further question to be asked is how can Paul say we have His fullness if we are not basically without sin? After all, he says:

"and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God." (Eph 3:19)

Moreover, we have the divine nature -as Peter says:

"as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." (2 Pet 1:3-4)

Being referred to as having the divine nature complies with John's statements that we do not habitually sin. How could someone with the divine nature habitually sin?

 

7 The place of faith

Faith plays an important part in all this. It would be very difficult for a person focusing on their own works or personal effort to overcome flesh and sin to then to also say they are acting in full faith in God and His power to keep.

After all, God's Word says:

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Heb 11:6)

"Then He touched their eyes, saying, "Be it done to you according to your faith." (Matt 9:29)

"Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." (Mark 9:23)

So without faith, personal effort to overcome sin will predominate. We cannot overcome sin without a true biblical faith.

 

A summary of part One - Does the person who is born of the Spirit of God commit sin?

Sinning habitually is not the norm for Christians, but if they do inadvertently sin, they are forgiven on their confession. Those who do not have the Spirit of God do sin habitually, for they do not know God or are born of His Spirit. However, it should be of great comfort for true believers to know that their life is characteristically without sin, providing they fully believe and have faith in God that His promises are true.

For those who are confused about the issue a proper study of Romans 6,7,8 and 1 John would help to clarify the position. This and other related articles will be able to be located on the internet at http://www.vicnet.net.au/~gnaust/life/truthgr-04.html

Part Two

 

1 Another possibility

There is another possibility as to why a person (who considers themselves a believer) might be living without normal Christian righteousness. This is the tragic case of those who are in fact not saved, born again and still unregenerate, but believe they are saved. One's salvation is so precious and so important and one needs to be sure of it according to how the Bible reveals it. Salvation is so simple and yet so profound, it is possible due to wrong or incomplete teaching that some are not truly saved.

If in fact a person is not truly saved, then this of course would position them without the Spirit of God and unable to operate from His presence within.

Such a person is discussed by John when he was comparing believers with unbelievers, just so we would know the difference. John also covers that situation in the following verses.

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29)

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

So John is saying that if a person cannot practice righteousness, then they are not born again. They are still children of the devil.

John also provides a verse to indicate the positive side of this issue. He says that keeping commandments means that the person has the Spirit of God and is abiding in Him. He says:

And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:24)

The argument from John says that those who do sin:

Have not seen Him or know Him.

Do not keep His commandments

Do not abide in Him.

Do not practice righteousness

Do not love their brother.

Are not born of Him

Are children of the devil

 

Summary of Part Two

It is best to encourage all who say they are believers to treat them as such, but at the same time encourage them to study the relevant Romans and 1 John teachings. No man can determine the salvation of another - it is the province of God alone. Only He know the true status of each person.

 

Summary

So there seems to be two possible reasons why people may sin habitually. Firstly, through not being true born again believers and secondly, through not knowing and practising right doctrine and interpretation of scripture.

It would seem obvious that if John were asked which reason was more likely he would choose the first - that they are really not true believers. However, whilst that is certainly true I have observed some confusion in the church and in many believers about the presence of two natures in the believer, and the battle that is said to go on between them. This I believe, could easily lead to a person sinning on the basis of a misunderstanding of relevant doctrine.

Ken Walker

September 2001