The Christian And Sin

I’ve been reading in 1 John recently, the book of seeming contradictions. It’s interesting to see how some believers resolve the passages that deal with sin — passages like verses six through ten of the first chapter:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

What’s the problem, some say. The passage is clear. We sin, we need to repent.

But John goes on to say in the third chapter

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. (vv 4-8)

Well, that passage is clear, others will say. Christians won’t sin, and the test of who a real Christian is will be whether or not they sin.

Aren’t the two sections of the same letter, written by the disciple of Jesus, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in contradiction?

No, one camp will say. The first passage is talking about our pre-Christian state. Repentance in those verses is what the unbeliever must do, not the Christian who is walking in the Light.

No, the other camp says. In the second passage the “practices sin” indicates the habitual, consistent life-style of sin, not a sin act resulting from the “not yet” state while we are being sanctified and shaped into the image of God’s Son.

In other words, neither camp sees a contradiction because both take one passage or the other and interpret the second in light of the position they hold regarding the first. Both claim to believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God.

I’ve said from time to time that it’s important to consider the whole Bible, and not simply a handful of proof texts. I’ve been trying to do that more and more in my personal study. What I see is amazing consistency, even in places like this that seem to take honest, truth-seeking Christians in opposite directions.

Why are we stumbling if the Bible is consistent? That would be a worthy topic for another day.

Right now, I want to suggest, the way out of these quagmires is to look at God’s person and character.

We know that He is eternal (outside time) and that He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). We also know that He said, “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 – emphasis mine).

Does it seem consistent with the nature and person of an eternal God to forgive up to a point and not beyond, in light of His promise? Is He limited to cleansing us in a moment in time in the same way that He forgives us? I suggest He is not limited and that His forgiveness covers a lifetime.

But if God forgives past, present, and future sins, does that mean the Christian can sin with impunity? Hardly. This was the very issue Paul was addressing in Romans when he said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (6:1-2)

Some may think we’re right back where we started, but Paul’s emphasis seems to be on what we should do. Are we to continue in sin, he asked? No, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin (v 11). We are not to let sin reign in us (v 12). We are not to present our bodies to sin (v 13). We are to present our members as slaves to righteousness (v 19).

These seem very choice oriented — things we are expected to do, things we are now capable of doing, but things we must do and do and do again.

The bottom line is this: sin enslaved us until Christ freed us. Our nature had been the same as the dog returning to its vomit, but now I have the mind of Christ, and I have the Holy Spirit living in me, convicting me of sin and pushing me to repentance, teaching me what it means to be Christ-like, increasing in me the knowledge of God.

Will God finish this work in me here and now? I wish, and I’m sure my friends and family do too. But sanctification is a process, not a finished product as is the right standing I enjoy with God. That’s a done deal. My becoming like Christ –that’s a work in progress.

Published in: on August 19, 2011 at 7:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. If Jesus tells human beings that they must forgive their brother seven times seventy times a day, then what is God’s limit? Some people seem to think he only forgives you once! It doesn’t look good when you indicate that humans are more forgiving than God is.

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  2. […] with the passage in 1 John which I looked at in an earlier post, “The Christian And Sin,” these two conflicting views put those of us who believe in the Bible into a […]

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