Christians Cannot Sin...
One of the most difficult questions Christians face has to do with sin. How can a Christian sin and retain any confidence at all of being with the Lord in glory? The truth is, that the Christian cannot sin and hope to go to heaven. Our heavenly Father has made a provision for that, so read along with me and we will study it together today as we continue this series on the letters of John.
Can a Christian sin? The answer is all too obvious -- certainly, Christians can and do sin. But before we get settled down with that answer, listen to the following reading from 1 John. “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:7-9). There is no question that Christians sin. John said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just 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 1:8-10). This is not a contradictory statement. The Bible does not contradict itself.
These two thoughts harmonize. The verb “to sin,” in these verses, is used in two different ways. One time John refers to the overt commission of an act. The other time he uses it as an ongoing practice or habit. When John says that the one who abides in Christ cannot sin, the verb “cannot sin” means a present, ongoing, practice rather than a one time event. Please consider the studied comments of B.F. Westcott. He said, “The mention of sin at the end of verse 7 leads on to a new thought and a new plea. ‘How,’ it may be asked, ‘has the Christian anything more to do with sin?’ The question has real difficulty.
“Some who do not venture to affirm the practical indifference of action, may yet maintain that sin does not cleave to him who has committed it, that man is not truly responsible for the final consequences of his conduct. This is the second false plea: We have no sin; sin is a transient phenomenon which leaves behind no abiding issues: it is an accident and not a principle with us.” (The Epistles of Saint John, pages 21-22). Westcott focused on the nature of sin with the Christian. Rather than a principle that regulates one’s conduct, it is an interruption, an accident, a momentary false step in the life of one who has devoted him or herself to serving the Lord as perfectly as is humanly possible.
The New International Version renders this, “cannot go on sinning.” It is the practice of sin as a normal rule of life that John says is impossible for a Christian. Every accountable being, saint and sinner on earth has the ability to sin. All rational beings are free to choose good or evil. Becoming a Christian does not remove the capability to make moral choices. Being in Christ, and remaining in Christ, renders it impossible for one to continue practicing sinful ways. Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). A servant is one who gives himself up to be dominated by something. It may be a person; it could be a habit. Think of those unfortunate souls who are slaves to alcohol, drugs, and other forms of human degradation. The Bible teaches us that such horrible slavery is chosen, never forced. “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:16-18). One who surrenders to the practice of sin is incapable of remaining in Christ. One who is in Christ surrenders his or her life to righteousness, goodness, faith, and obedience to the Lord.
When one is ready to leave the enslaving power of sin and be rid of unrighteous conduct, obedience from the heart is the turning point. Obedience from the heart is all inclusive. It is an obedience that commences in the heart -- where faith is conceived. Paul said, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). Faith that is conceived in the heart develops a sense of sorrow for sin that results in repentance. “For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, ...” (2 Cor. 7:10a). Finally, such a heart brings one through confession of his lovely name to baptism. Paul said, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (verses 3-5).
Faith leads a Christian to know the enormity of sin and its unthinkable punishment. Repentance destroys that person’s love and practice of sin. Baptism destroys the relationship one had to sin and brings that individual into Christ, into a new life, into salvation. It is rank error to speak of water baptism as optional or non-essential to salvation. The means by which we are introduced into a “new life,” that which puts one into Christ, is baptism in water in the name of the divine Trinity, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I confidently affirm that no unbaptized individual will go to heaven.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). A new creature cannot continue living the life of the old creature, and remain a new creature. John does not intend us to understand that once one becomes a new creature it is impossible for that person to commit an act of sin. He intends us to understand that it is impossible to remain in the new life and continue the practice of sin. The late Robertson L. Whiteside explained this so clearly. He wrote: “The Bible was written in human language for human beings. If it had not used language as we use it, we would never be able to know what is meant. God’s cannot is like our cannot. A little attention to the common use of cannot, both in the Bible and out, will remove any seeming difficulty in the statement. It is frequently used when no idea of impossiblity is meant, or even implied. . . . Take its first appearance in the Bible. Sodom was to be destroyed. Lot was told to take his people and flee to the mountains. He pled that he might be allowed to go to Zoar, and said: ‘I cannot escape to the mountain, lest evil overtake me, and I die.’ No one thinks Lot meant that it was impossible for him to go to the mountain, but that it was not for the best.” (Reflections, pages 174-175).
There is a definite reason why it is impossible for one to remain in the Lord and live a life of habitual sin. John said, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” The seed remains in the one who becomes a Christian. The word of God is called “seed” in Luke 8:11. Jesus, the Messiah, is called the seed. “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19). Since the seed is both the word and the Son of God it follows that the two are inseparably connected. John began this letter by referring to Christ as “the Word.” As the word abides in a person the compulsion and desire to live a habitual life of sin is removed. This is Christ in a saved person and a saved person in Christ.
I am reminded of the story of the intellectual skeptic and an uneducated blacksmith. The skeptic made it his daily concern to find something in the Bible that contradicts itself. He loved to taunt the blacksmith who was a very devout man. One day the skeptic asked the blacksmith, “John, how can a person be in Christ and have Christ in him at the same time?” The hard working blacksmith looked for a long time at the skeptic. He took an iron out of the coals where he had been heating it and the end glowed with white and yellow heat. He replied, “That’s easy. Just like this metal; the fire is in the metal because the metal is in the fire.” Christ’s influence is in the life of those who are “in Him,” and who abide with them. They may occasionally slip and sin, but it is not their way of life. As soon as they recognize their errors, they confess them and pray for forgiveness. That is the law God gives to those of His family who may err.
The Lord expects us all to live without sin, but has graciously made provision for us when we do. For those who have not yet abandoned the world, the steps before you are clear. Faith in your heart must lead you to repent and be baptized in water for the remission of sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:31; 2:38; Matt. 28:20). Those who have become Christians, but strayed away into forbidden ways of sin, must confess their sins, repent of them and pray for God’s forgiveness.
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