If there is one thing that is not the will of God it is sin. Regardless of the circumstances, sin is never the will of God. In fact, sin is the very antithesis of the will of God. It was Jesus Christ who remedied sin through the Redemption. Through His redemption is the provision for every condition of sin as well as the sin nature itself. Jesus Christ won victory, forgiveness and finality over all sin.
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And yet, the Christian sins. The Reformed Arminian view is this sin will not separate us from Christ. In fact, the rejection of faith in Christ (i. e. apostasy) is the sole sin to provide such separation. (Pinson 187) How then, is the believer to approach sin? If the sin does not break our relationship with Christ, is it serious? Stephen Ashby answers the question, ” Sin in the life of the believer is a serious matter.” (187) As such, sin must not be ” glossed over” in the life of the believer.
There seems to be two extreme views of sin in the life of the believer. The first is the idea that ” Christians cannot sin.” Persons in this camp argue that real Christians cannot sin because a Christian is Christ-like and Christ had no sin. If one claims to be a Christian and is sinning, he is a liar. A sinning Christian is an oxymoron. John Wesley insisted that through God’s grace the living presence of sin could be conquered and he preached that people must remain steadfast in the faith. (Johnson 224) Wesley followers insist on living a sinless life in order to remain in the family of Christ. The doctrine tends to surface from a hyper-Arminian or holiness denomination. Their greatest concern is for purity of life – a life without sin. Necessarily, the doctrine insists on absolute purity to be a Christian.
Persons of these beliefs can quote many scriptures to support their position – verses such as 1 John 3: 6 and 9, ” Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him… Vs. 9.. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (KJV) Additionally, they purport, ” if a Christian should sin, he is no longer a Christian. A sinner lives like he always has – in sin and disobedience, and the other has a changed life: he has stopped sinning.”
The ” can’t sin” crowd often is unsure of where to draw the line with sin. It’s as if the believer is walking a tightrope – knowing that the smallest deviation from the rope will result in death. Even the Wesleyan Arminian J. Stephen Harper struggles with this issue in his ” A Wesleyan Arminian View” in Four Views on Eternal Security. ” So the first thing to see is that the act of committing sin is not in itself ground for the loss of salvation… The loss of salvation is much more related to experiences that are profound and prolonged. Wesley saw two primary pathways that could result in a permanent fall from grace: unconfessed sin and the actual expression of apostasy.” (Pinson 239) Now the reader is confused. Does or does not sin constitute death in Christ? Harper fails to address the issue clearly.
The second extreme view is that ” Christians must sin.” This group teaches that sin is natural and a normal part of being human. We were born sinners – it’s in our blood, or it is our nature to sin. Edward Fudge states, ” God requires absolute obedience, and not one of us has presented it.” (2) They argue that Paul confessed he was the ” chiefest of sinners” yet certainly he was a Christian? Verses in 1 John are crucial to them as well… 1 John 1: 8, 10 ” If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … Vs. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Robert Shank, in Life in the Son, declares ” Sin, we may tell ourselves, is an inevitable fact of human life and conduct, even for Christians.” (131)
Consequently, the tendency with this group is to treat sin as something normal – that is, something about which we should have no concern. A casual attitude toward sin develops and is often fueled by writers such as Lewis Sperry Chafer. In his Major Bible Themes he writes: ” Through the present priestly advocacy of Christ in Heaven there is absolute safety and security for the Father’s child even while he is sinning. An advocate is one who espouses and pleads the cause of another in the open courts. As Advocate, Christ is now appearing in Heaven for His own when they sin.” (54) Chafer uses two specific verses for his basis: Hebrews 9: 24 ” For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: and 1 John 2: 1 ” My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
The extreme danger in this view is to treat sin much too casually. If the focus is totally on Christ as Advocate and none on daily life, one will become complacent in his practices and attitudes of Christianity. Consequently, if I ” must sin”, what is the point of trying to stop? Isn’t the blood of Jesus Christ strong enough to take care of my sins?
I believe there is a third option. That option is that Christians can sin… but they don’t have to. The Bible is full of great examples of sinners who just happen to be Christians, too. Peter denied Christ; John was judgmental; James was hot-headed. To say that Christians cannot sin simply does not conform with scripture. Christians can and do sin. Additionally, when the Christian does sin, he doesn’t ” fall from grace” either. Robert E. Picirilli states, “… we must not make sinful acts, in themselves, the cause of falling from grace.” (205) Ashby clarifies the issue with his statement, “… short of that solitary act of apostasy, the believer is to be found in union with Christ and thus stands justified in the merits of Christ alone.” (Pinson 187)
Then, what shall we do with sin? Or, as the Apostle Paul would state, ” What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Romans 6: 1 Paul is introducing the doctrine of sanctification. J. D. O’Donnell indicates that growth in Christ is our sanctification. The Treatise says, ” Sanctification is the continuing of God’s grace by which the Christian may constantly grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (80) Paul, of course, goes on to answer his question, ” What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Romans 6: 1, 2
There are three crucial truths to understand about sin. First, we must recognize that sin does not condemn us. Romans 8: 1, ” There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” The term ‘condemnation’ has two aspects: 1) the term refers to the decision a judge makes when he finds a person guilty of a crime – he condemns the guilty, 2) the meaning also includes the sentence imposed on the guilty. Paul is stating that God’s verdict on those who are in Christ Jesus is ” not guilty.” Consequently, if the verdict is pronounced ” not guilty”, there is no room left for punishment – only freedom. In a strictly judicial sense, Paul is, in effect, saying that God has nothing against those who are in Christ Jesus; he has no reason to punish them and no reason to be displeased with them.
The pronouncement of ” not guilty” is not just on the last day – the judgment day. In fact, Paul says ” there is now no condemnation…” This is a present tense situation indicating that there is today no condemnation. There is no judgment from God on the believer, nor annoyance with God in respect to the believer – neither in the last day nor today.
From a familial aspect, God is significantly displeased with our behavior and punishment is sure – either from God or from our own consequences of that sin. One could look at David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 to see the devastating effects of sin in his life. In addition, almost all references to the law of sowing and reaping are addressed to God’s people – not to the world. (Numbers 32: 23, Galatians 6: 7-8). Colossians 3: 25, ” But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.”
Furthermore, God cannot wipe away the possibility of sin. To do so would be to wipe away our free wills. He would have to make it impossible for us to choose wrong. Likewise, if He could eliminate the possibility of sin, He would also have to eliminate the possibility to choose good. And, if we cannot choose right, then there is no such thing as righteous character. All character would be imposed by God. Thus, Christians must have the power to sin. But if there is no condemnation to those who sin, does that give us a license to sin? Or, are we free to sin as we please? Paul would answer emphatically, ” God forbid!”
Secondly, we must recognize that the believer is undergoing the process of sanctification. C. S. Lewis states…
Christ says, ” Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” (169)
The basic underlying meaning of sanctification is consecration, or separation, unto God. As Lewis eludes, this will result in purification and cleansing from moral evil and defilement, and a brighter image of Christ will be seen in our lives. It must be noted, however, that sanctification is not just limited to regenerated believers. For example, scriptures state that the prophet Jeremiah was sanctified even before his birth (Jeremiah 1: 5). The furniture of the tabernacle, which in itself was morally neutral, was set apart, or sanctified (Exodus 40: 10; Numbers 7: 1). Jesus Christ, who had no need of cleansing from sin, sanctified Himself (John 17: 19), showing us that sanctification, as it applied to Him, was a complete separation from this world to the perfect will of the Father. In John 10: 36 we find the Father sanctified, or set apart, the Son for a specific purpose.
It should be noted that sanctification is not an act to make us sinless, for who would dare say that Jesus Christ would need such an experience? For Hebrews 7: 26 states, ” For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens…” The truth is that believers are set apart or sanctified in Him; thus, separating us from sin and the world.
In considering what part sanctification has to play in our Christian experience, note that there are three areas or aspects of sanctification. Our positional or definitive sanctification has been brought to pass by the blood of Christ and we are now in Him. This positional side of our sanctification is eternal and belongs to all believers regardless of maturity or lack of it, because it is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ . Hebrews 10: 10 ” By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Since it is not based on man’s efforts, we are set apart or sanctified forever, and this position can only be altered by the act of apostasy.
As a result of a believer’s perfect position in Him, the child of God will be motivated to live a life of obedience to Jesus Christ. When the believer walks by faith and rests in his Savior, he is in a position to grow in grace and be used in the service of the Lord. This brings us to the ” present tense” of our sanctification. The Apostle Paul urges the Corinthian new Christians to ” grow up.” 1 Corinthians 3: 1-3, ” And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” These were still babes in Christ and were filled with envying, strife and the like. Unfortunately, many who are recent converts will indeed act like babies for they are in the process of growing to maturity. They are in the very early stages of progressive sanctification. (McGowan 102)
In order for Christians to progress in practical sanctification, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit and in a state of complete dependence upon Him. Ephesians 5: 18, ” And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit…” Then, we must use the Word of God to live a holy life. God’s Word will continually transform believers into the image of Christ, as the Spirit of God empowers us for a life of victory.
The third aspect of sanctification is when we will be entirely separated, or sanctified, from the very presence of sin. This aspect, often called ultimate sanctification, will be obtained in heaven when we shall be completely and eternally set apart to God. Philippians 1: 6, ” Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
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The final crucial truth to understand about sin is that there is only one sin that can separate us, eternally, from Jesus Christ. That is, only one sin can bring about, as the Free Will Baptist describes, a ” fall from grace”. This issue is that act of apostasy – the willful retraction of faith. Free Will Baptists believe the Scriptures do teach that in regard to believers ” their future obedience and final salvation are neither determined nor certain, since through infirmity and manifold temptations they are in danger of falling; and they ought, therefore, to watch and pray lest they make shipwreck of their faith and be lost.” (O’Donnell 77)
Hebrews 6: 4-6, ” For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Picirilli summarizes this passage by stating, ” Hebrews 6: 4-6 and the entire book seem too clear to dispute: personal apostasy from a truly regenerate condition really is possible and recovery from it impossible.” (228)
Apostasy involves a willful defection from the saving knowledge of Christ. The apostate forsakes Christ and the cross by renouncing faith in Christ alone. This is in sharp contrast to the ” backslider.” As Picirilli states, apostasy is ” much more serious than what most people mean by backsliding.” (228) The term ” backsliding” is applied only to God’s people, not to unbelievers. In other words, the backslider must have at one point in his life been placed in a position close to God from which he has since slid back or away from and toward a more distant position from God. Backsliding does not necessarily mean a loss of salvation, but certainly may lead to it if the believer becomes apostate.
The New Testament is filled with warnings against a believer making compromises in his spiritual life. The one common cause of backsliding is sin allowed in one’s life. The remedy is repentance and return to God. God offers hope of restoration for the backslider. The classic example is the story of Peter’s denial of Christ, his repentance and restoration.
But, the apostate has no remedy for his condition. As Ashby clearly states, ” My exegesis… leads me to believe that when one abandons the one condition God places upon salvation, he or she thereby enters into a spiritually lost state from which there is no possibility of returning.” (183) Likewise, Picirilli echoes this sentiment, ” Repentance is a thorough-going change of heart, mind, and will. Now that the falling away has taken place, repentance from that apostate unbelief is not possible.” (222)
It is crystal clear that sin in the life of the believer is not the will of God. In addition, it is a very serious matter not to be taken lightly. And while some believe that Christians cannot sin and others believe that Christians have no choice but to sin, the truth is that Christians can sin… but don’t have to. In order to grow in faith, the believer must recognize that there is no condemnation to those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. In addition, the Christian must live a life of progressive sanctification – constantly growing and maturing in Christ. Finally, the believer must realize that the sin of apostasy will forever break the relationship between the believer and his Savior – a break that cannot be restored and will prove to be eternally fatal. Sin, in the life of the Christian, is a crucial issue that the believer must address immediately.