The Truth About Christians And Sin

Some people claiming the name of Christ prefer to shuttle past the subject of sin. We’re all sinners, after all, no one is perfect. We sort of just have to live with it. Sin is part of the condition of Man.

A small group of Christians disagree, however, claiming that Christians have new birth and new life. There’s a new man inside, old things are passed away and all things are new. Sin is of that old life; consequently Christians — true Christians — no longer sin.

As 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 quagmire.

The Bible does indeed describe life in Christ as new. It does say old things are passed away. It even says we are no longer slaves of sin.

But the New Testament is also replete with commands to Christians about not sinning. If a “new creature in Christ” does not sin, then why all these pointed instructions? For example, Paul commands believers in Philippians to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” James addresses his “beloved brethren” and says “if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Be angry and do not sin

Or how about Peter’s command to those suffering for the sake of Christ? “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler.” Paul was pointed in speaking to the Christians in Ephesus, too:

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Eph 4:25-26 – emphasis added).

Then there is his admonition to the church in Thessalonica not to quench the spirit.

Which brings up an interesting question. David said in Psalm 139

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me

Clearly he was turning to God to reveal any sin in him, a wise thing considering that Scripture says our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked.

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the LORD, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds. (Jer 17:9-10)

Wouldn’t it be true that those who quench the Holy Spirit would never ask Him to search their hearts?

But be that as it may, the Bible acts as the mirror to show us our lives. James again, addressing Jewish Christians dispersed because of persecution:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

James contrasts this believer with the who who “looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it.” Scripture, then, can inform us of our sin if we hold it up as a mirror and if we keep our eyes on it and live accordingly.

For example, the Bible says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Paul explains we are not to “merely look out for our personal interests but also for the interests of others.” As soon as a Christian turns his eyes exclusively on himself, then, he sins. Who among us can say we have always, since accepting Chris and His forgiveness for our sins, consistently thought of the interests of others and not merely our own?

In this instance, a person might claim selflessness in his heart, but I think actions override any protestations of righteousness. If someone is actually and truthfully thinking of the good of others, wouldn’t the “others” know it?

So what is the truth about Christians and sin? We are no longer slaves to sin, but our becoming like Christ is a process, not an accomplished state.

To know this is so, we have only to look at the first century Christians who the Bible showed to be sinners. Peter is one example. Paul confronted him for his hypocrisy.

Then there was the Corinthian believer who was living in sexual sin, and the rest of the church in Corinth who were feeling pleased with themselves for their tolerance.

In Phillipi there were Euodia and Syntyche, Paul’s fellow workers who were not living in harmony. Or how about John Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary trip.

Yes, Christians sin. But should we respond with a fatalistic shrug — oh well, no one’s perfect. Hardly! We’ll need to look at that another time.

Published in: on August 25, 2011 at 6:26 pm  Comments (10)  
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10 Comments

  1. I’m coming to more and more appreciate the tensions in Scripture which paint us with much more depth than a simple black and white ideal could give us. I find that Scripture, then, speaks to me more clearly about me and my relationship to the grace and love of God. We are free from sin, so may we walk in that freedom and not use our freedom to sin more. …someone said something like that, I believe [smile].

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  2. The “old things pass away and all things become new” verses have troubled me – cause that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve had a new perspective of God and the sin He hates – but that sin is still present in me. The call for repentance, turning from sin, shows us that we are sinners incapable of it. It, like faith, is a gift – the gift of sanctification by the Spirit. No one in the end will be able to lift a self-righteous, sinless finger up in the day of judgment.

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  3. I’ve often found that the Bible is the best explainer of its own seeming contradictions. Everything has to be in harmony with itself. So how can a literal, face-value reading of 1 John 3:4-8 square with the numerous admonitions to believers not to sin?

    This example is perhaps the most blatant contradiction I can find. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul warns Timothy that a bishop “must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous…” And then he says the bishop must “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” If I was the prospective bishop, I’d say, “Hey Paul, have you read 1 John? I don’t sin! I can’t be prideful! Haven’t you heard?” Some say that these warnings are given to mixed audiences of believers and unbelievers, which makes this even more absurd. Is Paul really sanctioning allowing unbelievers to become bishops?

    The volume of material simply makes such a reading of 1 John impossible. The problem, I think, is that this theology holds an assumption that God has no ability to set aside the jurisdiction and enforcement of the moral law. Therefore, there is no “future” forgiveness of sins because God needs a present and future obedience to the law to accept you. I’ve read many writings that confirm they hold this view.

    This is the result of bad logic. If the apostles admonish believers to good behavior, it cannot hold that they are incapable of bad behavior.

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  4. Luke, no doubt there is a tension in so many issues. Gives new meaning to the term “straight and narrow,” I think.

    Yes, I think “someone” did mention walking in freedom but not using our freedom for sin. 😀

    Becky

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  5. Thanks for your input, Bob. I think the new man verses are hard, too. But when we look at them in light of the rest of Scripture we get a picture that coincides with our experience.

    I know I’m forgiven, I know I’m reconciled with God. But I also know my heart and how often I must confess my sin to our Father. I long for the day when I won’t fall into the same pits. But on the other hand, I remember a day when I didn’t even recognized that the pits I was in were anything to worry about. God has changed me, no doubt, and He is changing me.

    Thanks be to our glorious forgiving God for patiently whittling away at us to bring us more nearly into alignment with His Son.

    Becky

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  6. Jason, you’re so right. The Bible interprets itself better than we could ever do.

    You’ve listed some great examples. Why would the writers of Scripture list command after command and admonition after admonition to believers if in fact they would no longer sin as a result of their relationship with Christ?

    In fact, why didn’t those writers tell the Church they would know false teachers because of their sins?

    The volume of material simply makes such a reading of 1 John impossible.

    That’s what I think, too. It’s not a handful of verses that say something contradictory. It’s person after person and verse after verse. It’s hard to see how anyone could read the New Testament and believe that those words were written to people who no longer sinned.

    I’ve not studied the doctrine. I always thought it came about as a literalistic interpretation of the passage in 1 John., and also in Hebrews 6. Your suggestion that the belief limits God’s jurisdiction of moral law makes sense. I suggested it limits Him to operate within our time. In either case, I do think it limits God.

    And what a perfect conclusion:

    If the apostles admonish believers to good behavior, it cannot hold that they are incapable of bad behavior.

    Becky

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  7. Excellent argument. There are a great many people out there listening to false preaching–and a great many teachers/authors buying it hook, line and sinker. Unfortunately, when the teachers buy into it, it doesn’t just effect THEM, they turn around and share it with others. Their sincerity (they sure believe it) converts others, and it goes on–in venues you’d least expect. Paul said it well in 1 Cor. 16 : 13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

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  8. Hi, Becky, I always love your thoughts on this issue. I know you have had some inner conflict over “certain people” ahem, who teach sinless perfectionism–the same inner conflict I’ve also had. It’s a terrifying and debilitating doctrine b/c it plays on every fear an anxious believer has ever had. But you and Jason are SO right about the Bible defending itself, and that Bishop example is a great prooftext. Another is Jesus teaching his disciples (and us) to pray: forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Why would Jesus tell us that if we won’t sin? Sinless Perfection people counter that this prayer was prePentecost and no longer applicable. Horse Hockey! Nothing in scripture has the apostles devaluing Christ’s prayer because it was before Pentecost! Grrr… Living on this sin-stained planet as a Christian is hard enough without well-meaning folks spending their lives with such a destructive doctrine.

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  9. […] my last post on the subject of Christians and sin, Jason commented, “If the apostles admonish believers to good behavior, it cannot hold that […]

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  10. Thanks, Wayne, Becky. Wow, I really made an impression with my closing statement, huh? LOL.

    I’ve studied this doctrine in great detail, so I’m not just familiar with how they interpret Scripture, but also their underlying logic.

    The doctrine does play on what I think is a basic human fear, that in a moment of weakness we will fall short of a standard and not be forgiven despite our pleadings. (BTW, Jesus told us to forgive our brother seven times seventy a day, so how God can have a lower standard for Himself should puzzle everyone) It’s because instinctively, we know the perfect nature of the moral law, and in its perfection, it offers no forgiveness. It only cares about performance. Mercy is a foreign concept to it. It’s not interested in whether you had a bad day or not. There’s only one penalty for a transgression: death.

    Now what human being would institute such a system? What parent would act that way to their children? Can we imagine a system of rule and law without any grace? Even God Himself restrained the pure moral law with the sacrifices of lambs in the Old Testament. If the lamb was clean, the person was accepted. The priest didn’t say, “Move that lamb over and let me check you out.”

    That anxiety is understandable because the sinless perfection doctrine is trying to force you under a system that you know instinctively you and everyone else could never bear. But once you understand that Jesus didn’t come to put you back under the law, but to set you free from it, then that anxiety will go away.

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