Believers do not continue in sin
I want to address a cancerous error that has festered in the body of Christ for too long. It is a misconception that has resulted in defeated, sinful living; a mindset that blocks the power of God’s grace from fully immersing the believer. It is a lie from hell that has been strikingly successful in keeping struggling Christians in a position of defeat, despite the fact that we have already been declared the victors. What is this error to which I refer? It is the error of thinking that it is normal for Christians to continue to sin, knowingly and intentionally, after they have been converted.
I want to make myself clear before I dismantle this erroneous thinking. I am not claiming that Christians are supposed to become sinlessly perfect upon conversion or even after a period of maturing as believers. I think we all know that we have blind spots in our lives where we unwittingly do things that God regards as sinful. We all have places of limited maturity where we sin and do not realize what we did until after it is over. We all say and do things occasionally that we later regret and repent of. I am not referring here to those kinds of sins, but only to intentional sins. I am talking about things we say or do that we know are wrong before we do them, yet we do them anyway.
These are the types of sins referred to in Hebrews 10:26: “if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.” All sin is wrong, but deliberate decisions to continue to sin is in a special category of wrongness. For the text to say, “no sacrifice for sins is left” suggests that the sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient to stop deliberate sins from continuing, so to continue sinning deliberately is to reject the sacrifice of Jesus. We who have accepted his sacrifice should not deliberately continue to sin.
John gives more insight on this. He says, “no one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he is born of God” (1 Jn 3:9). Before we were born of God we continued in sin. We repeated the same sins over and over. Now that we are born of God we can no longer do that. When we commit a sin, it is the exception, not the rule. That is why, earlier in the same epistle, John tells us that he is writing “so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense –Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 Jn 2:1).
John wants us to know that sin, even intentional sin, will occasionally happen, and when it does, we still have forgiveness. There is no room for condemnation in the body of Christ, and I certainly do not want anyone reading this article to feel any condemnation. Condemnation is from the devil and it is for the devil. It is not for believers. But we should feel conviction when we sin, and conviction leads to repentance. When this occurs, the sins that are confessed should not be repeated. That is, after all, what repentance means. For this reason, a believer cannot continue to sin. He will feel conviction, confess his sin, and repent. That stops the chain of continuation in sin. The practice of walking in God’s light, confessing any sins that the light exposes, and being not only forgiven, but also cleansed of that sin (1 Jn 1:7-9), should be a regular habit of every believer.
The victory over sin brought by the death of Jesus is clearly articulated in Romans 6. Paul says that when we repented we were baptized into the death of Christ (v. 3). Because a death has occurred, Paul can say, “Our old self was crucified with him, so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we no longer should be slaves to sin” (v. 6). Paul understands our entrance into Christianity as a death experience, literally being co-crucified with Jesus. This is not just an analogy, but a real death has occurred in the spiritual realm. Because of this death we no longer are slaves to sin. The word for “done away with” means to render ineffective, or more strongly, to abolish. This means that the power of sin has been broken off the believer through death. That is why Paul can go on to say, “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (v. 7). This refers to all believers.
If sin no longer has power over us, then we are free to live a life of holiness. That is why Paul tells us, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (v. 12). Paul would not say this if it were not possible. In fact, he not only thinks it is possible to live a victorious life; he claims it is already true. All we need to do is, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). One commentator famously summarized Paul’s words here with the phrase, “become what you are.” According to Paul, we are already victorious. We already have victory over sin, because its power over us has been broken. We are already freed from sin’s grip because when we were saved, our old, enslaved self died and our new life in Christ is a life free from sin. We just need to apprehend what God has already done for us and that new life will become reality for us. The blood of Jesus is sufficient. Everything we need to live a life that is pleasing to God has already been given to us. It is now left for us to take hold of that grace and permit God to work it out in our lives.
Excuses allow sin to continue
Considering that Paul so pointedly tells us in Romans 6 that believers have everything they need to live a victorious life, it should come as a surprise to think that anyone would interpret Romans 7 to mean that believers do not live a victorious life. But that is exactly what many people do. When they read the words, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15), they think Paul is talking about himself as a mature Christian, and that he is describing the normal Christian life. How insane! Trust me when I tell you that the Apostle Paul would never refer to himself as a believer with the words, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (v. 14). How impossible it would be for the same man to tell us the power of sin has been broken and then one chapter later tell us we are slaves to sin.
In Romans 6, Paul says, “you used to be slaves to sin” (v. 17) but “you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (v. 18). Unless Paul is schizophrenic and directly contradicts himself, the person he is describing in chapter 7 is not the same person he describes in chapter 6. In chapter 6 we know the person is a believer who has been baptized into the death of Christ. Therefore, the person who struggles with sin in chapter 7 cannot be a believer, whether that person is Paul or anyone else.
In fact, Romans 7 describes a person who is under the law. In case you never noticed, the word “law” appears 23 times in this chapter. Paul describes what the believer has died to (see v. 4), not what he lives in. But when this passage gets misinterpreted to refer to the normal Christian life, it justifies sins of all kinds in the believer’s life and blocks the grace of God from setting you free from sin, because you don’t believe God has provided for that. Until we firmly believe that God can and will free us from all sin, we will never be free. Remember, we have to apprehend this grace. We have to “count” ourselves dead to sin. That is an act of the mind, not the body. We must first win the victory in our minds before it is won in the members of our body. And the only way we can win this battle in our minds is to stop making excuses for our sins.
Only those who are living a life of moral defeat and are fighting a losing battle against sin can claim that Romans 7 portrays the normal Christian life. Those who interpret it this way betray their own lives of moral futility, for if they were living in victory, their own lifestyles would disprove their interpretation of Romans 7. We should not interpret Scripture according to our experience, but according to truth.
One might argue: “Well, Romans 7 is normal Christianity, and Romans 6 is still possible for the believer, just not required.” This kind of reasoning is unbiblical. Jesus died so that we could be set free from our sins. Jesus did not give his life for options or accessories that we may choose to add to our Christian ensemble. He died for things that are necessary. He died for the essentials, and the clear testimony of Scripture is that holy, sin-free living is an essential: “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14b).
It is time for Christians to stop making excuses for the continuing sins that are in their lives and take ownership of the low level of life they are currently experiencing. Jesus did not come short in any way of providing “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). If we are going to begin to walk in victory, we first have to admit that the sins we still struggle with are nobody’s fault but ours, and the reason we are not living in greater victory is because we have chosen not to apprehend the grace of God that “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12).
Will believers intentionally sin after getting saved? Probably. We do not become sinlessly perfect when we repent. Nor am I suggesting that this happens at any time in this life. Just to be sure that I am not misinterpreted, I repeat: I am not referring to accidental sins, mistakes, human error, or sins of ignorance. I am referring only to intentional sins: those things that we know are sin before we decide to do it, but we do it anyway. No one is perfect and “we all stumble in many ways” (Jas 3:2). And if we do sin intentionally, we have forgiveness from “Jesus Christ the Righteous One” who “speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn 2:1). So there is no reason to feel condemned if you have repented of the sins you have already committed. That forgiveness is full and forever.
But at the same time, when we sin we cannot claim that we had no choice. We cannot argue that because no one is perfect this was bound to happen. We cannot pass the blame on to someone or something other than ourselves. Either the blood of Jesus was sufficient for us not to have committed that sin, or it wasn’t. If we sin, it is because we chose to sin, not because the power of temptation was too great or the devil was too strong. It is not even because we are too weak. If we are weak it is not because God has failed to make us strong enough. It is because we have not fed ourselves on God’s word and strengthened ourselves in the Holy Spirit’s presence. Besides, God has given us a promise that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13b). Even weak Christians have this protection from God. And any believer, however strong or weak, always has the presence of the grace of God to keep us from sinning. If you do not want to give in to sin, you can call on God at any time and he will “provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor 10:13c).
Take a stand
Let us take a stand against sin and make a firm decision not to make any more excuses for the sins we willfully commit. Will you agree with me that you will not make any more excuses, that you will walk out daily the principle of walking in the light and confessing your sins to God, that you will seek out God’s grace and find the way out of every temptation, that you will indeed count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord? The grace of God is with you, and you have everything you need to be successful, including the prayers of the saints and the intercession of Jesus, the Righteous One. Let us all help each other run our race and live out the victorious life that Paul tells us is ours already.