Do Christians Sin?

Jun 23, 2015

A friend on Facebook posted the following to start a discussion:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the discussion with “Kent Hovind”, and his comments regarding sin in the life if the believer, and how that a “ Christian” may live in all forms of sinfulness, and still be fully assured of salvation. Does anyone have any thoughts on this subject?

I don’t have Kent Hovind’s comments on the subject, so I’ll speak to it more generally. Christians throughout the ages have struggled with the concept of sin in the life of the believer, but a few distinct points stand out.

Do Christians Sin?

Saint Paul (painting by Rembrandt)

Some few believe that Christians should never sin, and that if they do, it means they are not truly saved. This belief is often called “sinless perfection,” and usually derives from a misreading of 1st John. But John himself tells us “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Others believe that, as God’s grace is sufficient to cover all our sin, we may live however we please and He will forgive us. Only a few try to defend this position from Scripture; most who actually adhere to this view in practice are simply “cultural Christians” who don’t really realize that the Bible calls us to holiness. Paul rebukes this view in Romans 6:1.

What the Bible does say is pretty straightforward. We are all sinners. Even Christians sin. I don’t know anyone who can honestly claim to perfectly live out God’s command to love Him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, or to love their neighbor as himself.

Yet we are no longer enslaved to sin. We are enslaved to righteousness instead, and our trajectory has changed:

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Romans 6:19)

We will still struggle with the reality of sin and the righteousness of the Law as long as we live in our current bodies (see Romans 7). That’s one reason we look forward to the future glory that is being prepared for us (see Romans 8).

So the viewpoint that most Christians through the centuries have held is that we are sinners, being sanctified by the Spirit that dwells in us, eventually to be perfected in glory.

But that doesn’t completely answer your question.

Do Christians Live in Sin?

You asked specifically about “living in sin,” presumably because that’s a distinction that is drawn by John and Paul in their epistles. I think the best way to describe the term “living in sin” is to say it refers to someone who knows what they are doing is wrong, but doesn’t want to change.

Those two points are important.

As Christians, we’ve all had times when God has shown us some sin in our life we were unaware of. We were “living in sin,” in a sense, but not in the same way the Apostles mean it here. When the Holy Spirit prods us, we bow to His standard of holiness and give up the sinful behavior. We all fall short of perfection, but we don’t always know where we need to improve.

Most of us have also struggled at times with a particular sin that is especially tenacious. We know it is wrong; we abhor both the sin and our weakness in allowing it to continue; we plead with God for the strength to overcome it; and yet, for a time at least, it seems impossible to conquer. Could we still be Christians? Or does our inability to defeat this sin mean we have fallen from grace?

The answer to that question could get very long, but I’ll try to keep it brief.

Yes, God sometimes allows Christians to fight a particular sin without achieving complete victory for many years. He doesn’t promise perfection in this life. But we know that His Spirit dwells in us because we keep fighting. Our minds are set on the perfection of Christ. (Romans 8:5-11)

No, God doesn’t give up on us because we can’t defeat sin in our life. We don’t fight sin in our own strength; it is His Spirit within us that conforms us to His image. And, He promises, ”he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

But if a “Christian” knows that something is sin and deliberately continues in it, he reveals that the Spirit of God is not in him. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:6)

Do Christians sin? Sadly, yes we do. But we long for better things, and we trust that Christ will lead us to perfection.

Edited to add: In Matthew 18, Jesus gives us guidelines to deal with a fellow Christian who is deliberately living in sin. We’re to start by confronting them with their sin individually; if they won’t listen, take a few other Christians along. If they are still stubborn in their sin, we finally confront them before the church.

If they don’t listen to the church, then we can only assume they are an unbeliever, not truly a Christian at all. So we start from the beginning: We preach the Gospel to them. We call them to confess their sins and repent, and God will be faithful to forgive them.

The Weight of Evidence

Let me close with a word of caution.

The outward signs of salvation are just that - signs. It’s possible to misread them, or miss them entirely.

It’s easy to make snap judgments about someone from a brief encounter, their media or Internet presence, or some other small facet of their lives. But it’s hard to actually see if God is truly working from such a fleeting glimpse.

Let’s be careful not to deny the reality of grace in someone’s life based on a cursory impression.