Christians and Sin

A while back, there was some disagreement in a chat room regarding whether or not Christians could be fully obedient to God. It is my stance that they can be, and in fact are. Nevertheless, one person wrote something attempting to show how my beliefs were in error. This is a reply:

But what about the other type of failure? What about the failures of sin? First of all, I want to address a heresy that was recently brought up and hotly discussed. It is the belief of some that Christians do not sin. This is bunk.

I want to admit that I cut out the first half of the sermon, since it wasn’t relevant to what I was hoping to discuss. My opponent was quick to use the term “heresy,” though. And he has already placed his opinion out in the open. That makes it easier to address. Needless to say I disagree with his claim.

Some will even go so far as to say that it is the body which sins, but the spirit remains innocent. This is the belief of the Cathars, who are among the worst heretics of all time, claiming that the God of the Old Testament is evil.

I agree that these claims are ridiculous.

The bible is full of proof that God’s people sin, whether adherents of Judaism in the Old Testament or Christians in the new.

First John reminds us that we do sin, and that we need to daily confess our sin to God to maintain our relationship with Him. It also says that if we calim NOT to have any sin, we are lying and calling God a liar. This is NOT written to unbeievers, it is written to Christians. John says in chapter 2 that “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. Does Jesus represent those who are not His? No. Jesus is OUR advocate, standing by our side as OUR advocate when WE sin. He then goes on to talk about how those he is speaking to know the truth, how they have overcome the evil one, and that they know God. If Christians cannot sin, why is John talking to Christians about the need to confess? God’s people can sin, and some of them have committed doozies.

I will get to this in a moment, but first, “sin” needs to be defined. I have often seen the definition “to miss the mark.” While this is what the word translated “sin” does literally mean, it’s not useful until the mark is known. What the mark is can be discussed another time, but for now let it be sufficient to say that sin is the willful violation of God’s commands. (God’s commands can be summed up in this verse: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Also, to love our neighbor.)

It may take some time to unravel the incorrect, but common, interpretation presented here. My opponent is first referencing 1 John 1:5-10. All of this must be viewed as one thought, beginning with the first verse.

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life– and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us– what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 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.” (1 John 1:1-10)

Beginning in verse 5, John is trying to explain how one can have eternal life (or fellowship with God). He starts out by saying that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. In the following verses he goes on to say that those who claim to have eternal life but walk in darkness are lying, but those who do walk in the Light have eternal life and have been cleansed from all sin. This is an important distinction to make. Without it, we are left with the conclusion that those who walk in darkness are also cleansed from sin, which is supported by no Scripture.

My opponent’s main issue lies with verse 8: “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” My opponent claims that this verse proves Christians do sin.

One is immediately struck by two important clauses in verses 7 and 9. Verse 7 tells us that “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.” Verse 9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These clauses cannot be ignored in understanding verse 8.

If we are to take my opponent’s interpretation of 1 John 1:8 as valid, then John contradicted himself. If he is correct, in the middle of two phrases declaring that Jesus has cleansed believers of all unrighteousness (sin), we are told that believers sin. Put yet again, people who have been cleansed from all sin still sin. But how is it possible for someone who has been cleansed from all unrighteousness to sin? Perhaps Jesus didn’t do a good job? Because it is an indisputable fact that those who sin are not righteous. Yet believers are righteous.

This insistence on verse 8 declaring sinful Christians also runs into a problem in regards to time frame. If I may be permitted to speak from experience, I have been called a liar by claiming to have not sinned in several months, using verse 8 as a defense. Let’s adjust the claim slightly: “I have not sinned in five seconds.” Everything in the claim is identical except for the time frame. Most will permit a sinless five seconds, and the few that don’t will not be addressed here. (These are the ones who are not satisfied with one microsecond.) Now, if one instance is permitted, what makes the other a lie? They are the exact same condition, only with a different time frame.

Looking at verse 10 aids the understanding of this passage. It says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” In light of the clear promise that believers are cleansed from all unrighteousness and all sin, it is most reasonable to conclude that the ones who claim to have not sinned are unbelievers. If they claim to have not sinned, they do not consider themselves to be in need of salvation. This is what makes God out to be a liar, because He says they have sinned.

It should be clear by now that the “we” in 1 John 1 does not mean “we Christians.” There are two groups of people in “we”: those who walk in the darkness and those who walk in the light. Those who walk in the darkness are not saved, and they must confess their sins. Those who walk in the light are believers and have been cleansed from sin.

My opponent continues his incorrect assumption when reading 1 John 2. He automatically assumes that it is a Christian who is sinning in the first verses. A closer look at the pronouns used will reveal this is not the case. In verse 1, John states that he writes these things to his readers so that “you” may not sin. In the next sentence he immediately switches gears, saying “if anyone sins.” That is a flag that John is not talking about the same group of people anymore. Otherwise, he would have said, “if you sin.” But he didn’t.

He does correctly state that unbelievers do not have our Advocate, but he errs after this by forcing the notion that Christians sin on the verse. Here is a better interpretation: Sinners do not have an Advocate; Christians do. The Christian’s duty is to share our Advocate by proclaiming the message of the Gospel, so that the sinners may become believers.

But that alone is not enough to provide evidence for my claim. It comes from the next four verses:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

In this passage John tells the audience how to know if someone knows God. It should be obvious that, in light of chapter one, to know God is to be a believer. Therefore, we see that those who keep God’s commandments are the true believers, and those who do not keep His commandments are not believers at all. The Christian, then, is recognized by his obedience.

If, as John says, the true believers are the ones who keep God’s commandments, then the statement that Jesus stands as our Advocate when we sin has no scriptural basis.

I find it interesting that Oren admits John’s audience has overcome the evil one, then falls back on this and says that the overcomers need to know God. Nowhere in the text can this assumption (that the overcomers need to know God) be made. In fact, it is because they know God that they have overcome the wicked one.

Adam and Eve were the first. Their sin had an almost unfathomable cost. It broke their communion with nature, with the animals, and most importantly, with God. All people forever afterward would be cursed because of what they did. Cain was the first murderer, and was cursed to wander the Earth for his crime. Moses failed to glorify God when he struck the rock to make it produce water, and for that, he was cursed to never enter the promised land. David had an affair and covered it up by having her husband murdered. He was cursed with the promise that trouble would never leave his house. Peter publicly renounced Jesus three times. His curse was self-imposed. He never forgave himself for the rest of his life.

And all the examples given are of unregenerate men (and before the giving of the Holy Spirit), so it neither helps nor hinders either argument.

Have you ever broken your favorite cup? You know that if you try to repair it, it’s never going to be the same. Sometimes it breaks in such a way that it can still be used as a cup. It just doesn’t look as good. More often, though, it is no longer good for holding liquids, and is retired to life as a pencil can. But you know what? Even if it becomes useless as a drinking vessel, it does not cease to be a cup. And the fact that you took the time to glue it back together testifies to the fact that you still treasure it.
Adam’s days of walking with God in the garden of Eden were over, but He still loved God. He and Eve thanked God for giving them Seth, and they taught him about God. Cain was placed under God’s protection. God placed his mark on Cain and vowed vengance upon anyone who would dare to kill him. Moses was taken to paradise after viewing the promised land, and he DID in fact set foot there when he spoke to Jesus during the transfiguration. David was commended as being a man after God’s own heart, save in the matter of Uriah, and was promised that his dynasty would endure forever. Peter was restored to fellowship by Jesus who confirmed his love three times. Peter is now one of Heaven’s 24 elders. Now Peter did sin later in his life, as Paul attests when he chews Peter out in Acts for snubbing the gentile brothers. This didn’t make him any less of a Christian. All of these people broke when they sinned. Some were still useful for their original purpose. Some were not. And while I can’t say for sure about Adam, Eve or Cain, I know that David, Moses and Peter are among God’s most precious friends to this day.

Interesting illustration, but I have no idea where he is going with it so I will ignore it until it can be clarified. All but Peter were not regenerate, so that does not help him. Now for Peter.

My opponent is pointing to Paul’s rebuke of Peter in the book of Galatians. Admittedly this is a more difficult passage, but I will attempt to show that the accusation being made here is not valid.

It would be wrong to try to force an interpretation in which Peter in the right in this passage, so that will not be done. We need to let Scripture interpret Scripture.

In order to say that Peter sinned, my objector must actually prove that Peter sinned. Most likely this will come from the use of the word “hypocrisy” in the passage, so we will focus on that.

The word “hypocrisy” is transliterated from the Greek, but it does not follow that we must translate the word used as “hypocrisy.” That is fallacious. Literally, the word used means “to play or act out a part,” and it can be good or bad. In light of the fact that the word has come to mean a bad acting that is always a sin, it is best to remove that term until we know what kind of acting Paul was talking about. We know that Peter would act as a Gentile around the Gentiles and as a Jew around Jews. So did Paul:

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23)

Peter was doing what Paul had taught, so that was not the problem. What Paul needed to do, though, is tell Peter that his method was wrong. By acting like the Jews and withdrawing from the Gentiles, he was preaching an inconsistency.

But one cannot immediately call that a sin, unless one can prove that Peter knew better. There is, however, no evidence for that claim.

What we are left with is Paul showing the Gentiles that adherence to the Law is not a requirement of salvation. Paul does not accuse Peter of sin, and he definitely doesn’t say all Christians sin.

But since this passage is unclear, it is best to not struggle with it and interpret the passage in the light of one that is clear, namely the passages from 1 John. Since 1 John is adamant that Christians do not sin, it is best to conclude that Peter did not in fact sin.

If you sin, and make no mistake, you will, You do not cease to be a Christian. You are forgiven. You were already forgiven back in 33 AD. That doesn’t make it acceptable, but it does make it survivable. You may have done something extremely wicked. You may even have to serve an extremely severe punishment here on Earth. You may go so far as to do irreperable damage to your testimony. Many have. There are far too many people who were once bright lights for God but through sin and scandal have made themselves practically useless. These unfortunately self-destructive saints have brought shame to the name of Christ. But they are still saints. God is a father who loves His children. A good father loves his children even when they are bad. He hates the bad things they do, but he does not hate his children. He punishes them because he loves them. The bible says that God chastens us because He loves us, and if He did not do so, we would be as illegitimate offspring.

In the first sentence, he negates the promise of God (1 Corinthians 10:13). He also makes a blunder about forgiveness, but that is a topic for another day (No one is forgiven until he or she repents.) And I must say that his “don’t be afraid when you sin” attitude is dangerous. Hebrews 10:26-29 says,

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

That alone should give pause to those who say that sinning Christians are still saved (if they ever were).

It appears he thinks that chastening and sinning go hand-in-hand, but he doesn’t provide his reasons for that. So I will withhold my opinion on that subject until a later date, should he choose to engage in a discussion on the topic.

6 thoughts on “Christians and Sin

  1. Hm… I can be chastened without having done anything sinful. That’s a strange way to look at it…

    Good job for standing up, Kriegel!

  2. Hmm, you sound a lot like Mr. Davis…
    No, I agree with you. Personally, I find it interesting as to how so many people could reject the holiness doctrine when it’s so clearly correct. I hope to be able to show others what I’ve so recently learned.

  3. Lisse,

    Thanks for bringing up Hebrews 12. I think once we understand what’s being discussed here, the concept makes a lot more sense. To begin, let’s look at the passage often brought up, in a larger context.

    You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
    It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

    But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

    Obviously, it would be wrong to even dare to suggest that believers are not disciplined. Such would go counter to Scripture. But what is the discipline spoken of, and why is it given?

    I quoted verse 4 because it mentions sin. It is also the only time sin is even mentioned in this passage. So it looks like we will need to go back a few more verses. In chapter 11, the author describes many of the faithful. At the end of this chapter and beginning of the next, he states:

    They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

    Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

    The author is comparing his readers to those who have gone on before, this cloud of witnesses. These witnesses did resist sin to the point of shedding blood, unlike the readers. But whose sin was it? Not the witnesses’, but those who tortured them and mocked them. So, since the sin mentioned is not that of the believer, it cannot be said that the believers are disciplined for the sins they commit.

    What are we to conclude? The “discipline” exists in the form of persecutions that the believer experiences, persecutions that will cause the believer to grow to be what God intends for him to be.

  4. Gwendolyn,

    Mr. Davis and I are friends, and he was the one who first showed this truth to me. That might explain some of the similarities. :)

  5. Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve checked your blog. I didn’t realize this had been up all this time.

    Great job, man. I think it turned out really well.

  6. CFA,

    Thank you for your comment.

    It’s not been up very long, though.

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