Something the Lord is increasingly making me aware of is the extent to which we can downplay sin in our lives. After all, in Christ we are forgiven. Aren’t we?
Recently someone insistently told me that on receiving Jesus we are forgiven for all sin – past, present and future, so it doesn’t matter how we live as Christians. I find that very scary – that someone could put their trust in that kind of belief.
But it’s probably not too far removed from what many of us have believed at some time.
I recall a slogan that was popular when I first became a Christian: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”.
But is that why Jesus sacrificed Himself? To allow us to continue in the sin that was taking us to hell? To merely sweep our guilt under a forgiveness carpet?
Or did He come to bring CHANGE, not a cover-up?
Did He come to bring about something NEW, and not merely to legitimize the old?
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:
He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. … Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
And to the church in Ephesus:
I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Anyone in Christ is a new creation and the old has gone, but we need to put off the old self and put on the new.
Paul also expresses it this way in Romans:
…clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Many excuse their ongoing sin by referring to 1 John:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. … If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
But they ignore the rest of the letter where most other references to our relationship to sin are along the lines of this:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Does that seem like John giving a license to keep sinning? And note the “IF anybody does sin” – not WHEN anybody does sin.
And if that is too subtle, giving room for potential ambiguity, what about this:
No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.
Jesus didn’t sacrifice Himself merely to cover up the devil’s work, or to forgive us for doing the devil’s work – He came to destroy it, and through the new birth free us from it.
After pointing out these things, it is common to be falsely accused of preaching “sinless perfection” – in a similar way that addressing the realities shared in my article “Son of Man” leads to false accusations of denying Jesus’ Divinity.
There are two equal and opposite errors regarding the believer’s relationship with sin.
- We remain sinners, and will always keep sinning, and there’s nothing we can do about it except trust in God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness.
- “Sinless Perfection”, the belief that the new birth makes it impossible for us to sin.
The truth is that we remain capable of sinning, but we are not bound to sin. We are free NOT to sin, though not made incapable of doing so. The choice is ours and no temptation is irresistible.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
The title I gave to this article relates to the video below from a site I recently discovered and have found to be doctrinally sound – an apparent rarity on YouTube.
The video covers some of the same ground I’ve addressed above.