Do Christians sin? by Kevin Probst
In the days of John the Apostle there were a group of heretics called Gnostics. They claimed that man has a dual nature, the flesh and the spirit. They taught that the flesh was evil and sinful and there was no way a person could refrain from fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. They believed that the soul was detached from the body and whatever sin affected the body could never cross the great gulf that separated body and soul. This philosophy provided a foundation for a society to indulge in sin frequently and habitually with no feelings of remorse or guilt.
The Apostle John was appalled by such teaching and he wrote a letter to refute Gnosticism. In a nutshell, John taught in his first epistle that a person cannot claim to be a Christian and continue sinning. He said that a person who is saved and has a vibrant, living relationship with Christ will not only feel a hatred for sin but he will find an enabling by the Spirit of God to assist him in avoiding sin in his life.
But John’s epistle seems to have a glaring and troubling contradiction. In 1 John 3:6 he says “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” It seems John is saying that Christians don’t sin. He seems to reaffirm this in 1 John 3:9 “No one who is born of God will continue to sin”
But earlier in his letter he had said quiet clearly that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn. 1:8) “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” Some would argue that John is writing to non-Christians who claim they have not sinned. How can this be when 1 John 2:1 reveals that John is writing to those he calls, “My little children”? John is not claiming sinners as his children. He claims those who have been converted to Christ as his children. He then goes on to say, “these things I write unto you, that you sin not.” Why would he be warning Christians to “sin not” if sin wasn’t a possibility?
John is not teaching that a Christian cannot sin, he is teaching that a Christian should not sin. At this point it may be very important that we perceive of what sin was in the mind of John and what it might be in our own minds. I believe John was defining sin as he had learned it from scripture and from the teachings of Christ.
The Bible teaches that sin is faithlessness. Romans 14:23 “But the man who has doubts is condemned ….everything that does not come from faith is sin.” What Christian has never doubted? Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that entertaining doubt is sin.
The Bible teaches that when we know to do good and fail to do it we sin. James 4:17 “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Who among us who call ourselves Christians would declare that we always do the good we ought to do? Are not all guilty of occasional sins of omission?
Finally, the Bible teaches that “Everyone who sins breaks the law.” (1 John 3:4) If we live as if there is no law are we not living as if there is no God? If we live as if there is no God are we not living as the atheists do?
1 John 3:6 in the original Greek text reads like this, “Whosoever is born of God does not continually, habitually practice sin.” Do Christians sin? It seems they do but it’s not that they have to. The difference between a Christian who sins and a non-Christian who sins is that the Christian will immediately feel remorse and grief and seek repentance and ask God to help him to “sin no more.” When a non-Christian sins he has no restraining Spirit within to keep him from returning to the sin he enjoys so much so his sin, though unfulfilling, becomes frequent and habitual.
Christians cannot habitually sin. Sin is incompatible with God’s law, it is contrary to the life Christ lived and sin contradicts the person of the Holy Spirit who comes to abide in those who have repented.
So, it seems John is not denying that a Christian might sin, but he teaches clearly that a Christian cannot live in habitual sin. A Christian living in habitual sin is behaving as if Christ never existed. Though he may claim to be a believer he is actually practicing atheism because he is acting as if God doesn’t exist.
If Christians are continually living in habitual sin then Christ would have to look at his sacrifice on the cross and report to the Father that it was all in vain because people can find no deliverance from the sin in their lives.
I think Paul summed it up well in Romans 6:14 “Sin shall not be your master.” The true test of whether or not we are Christian is to apply this verse. If Christ is master of our lives, sin cannot be. If sin is master of our lives, Christ cannot be.