Can I Be A Christian and Continue To Sin?
Is it possible to follow Christ and still disregard His commands? Let's find out.
Can I Be A Christian and Continue To Sin?
Another complex question that a simple answer will be offered is Can I Be A Christian and Continue To Sin?
Focusing on that word Continue, every way you slice this question, the answer is no. But that simple answer requires an explanation. So once more let’s explore the problem of sin.
The scriptures boldly declare:
1 John 3:6 (NIV)
No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
It vitally important that we understand first what sin is and what the scripture means by “keeps on sinning” and “continues to sin.” The widely used definition of sin comes to us from the Greek word which means “missing the mark.” The mark missed is righteousness. Righteousness is best understood as being the way God desires, in harmony with God’s will. If that is the only understanding that we attach to the idea of sin then you would be forced to answer the question “Can I be a Christian and continue to sin” with a yes. We have brothers and sisters who teach that by default you will sin every day in either thought, word or deed if not all three because of the human condition. We need to get more specific.
Sin has categories under the general heading of “missing the mark.” First is original sin. Second, we’ll call egoism, the propensity to do our own thing. The third category of sin which is actual sin. Actual sin has two categories voluntary and involuntary. There are what we will call infirmities. Finally we will consider habits, attachments, and addictions
Let’s look at each.
In the biblical story, it was Adam who was given God’s charge to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When he did, he disobeyed God’s command. Since the story explains that we all came from Adam we are therefore guilty of his sin. We call this original sin. Original sin taints all of humanity until the time of Christ who was born through supernatural means that circumvented a human father. Jesus was born without original sin. The rest of us are not so fortunate.
When Adam rebelled the relationship created in the Garden of humanity’s beginnings was disrupted by disobedience. The best way to understand the result of original sin is to think of estrangement (H. Ray Dunning The Whole Christ for the Whole World p 99). Once there was a good relationship now that relationship is broken. This is the original excuse for bad behavior: “I was born this way.” The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is the reconciler of this estrangement and forgiver of bad behavior. It is through faith in Jesus that the estrangement comes to an end and actual sins committed find forgiveness.
Colossians 1:19-20 (NIV)
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through [Jesus’] blood, shed on the cross.
1 John 2:1-2 (NIV)
Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Faith is trust and confidence that motivates behavior. The behavior involves some facet of acknowledging that you are separated from God, believing that Jesus by his death has made it possible for you to be made right with God, and believing that Jesus rose from the dead making it possible for you to commit yourself to follow Jesus and then simply asking God to accept your faith.
That is amazing. No great works need to be done to make yourself worthy. There is nothing you can do to earn this gift. God freely gives to all who ask. It’s so unlike the ways of the world that sometimes it is hard to understand the generosity bestowed.
Romans 10:13 (NIV)
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Have you called on the name of the Lord? It is the only way to get right with God. It is the only way to deal with this original sin issue. God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness and love are open to you right now. Enter into it.
Actual sins are behaviors out of sync with the way God wants human beings to live. God wants all of us to be lovers. Love for God is expressed in your obedience to His commands (1 John 5:3). Love for others is demonstrated by your respect and seeking to meet their needs as an opportunity arises (John 15:13). Love also deals with being a good steward of the resources that God has given you. We can also see love in the way we treat ourselves, for we treat ourselves best when we follow God’s ordinances for living abundantly. The sins listed in scripture are all some type of violation of love. The Apostle Paul, one of the early followers of Jesus gave us a shortlist to help us see what actual sin entails.
Galatians 5:19-21 (MSG)
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.
The good news of the gospel is that all those behaviors before you placed your faith in Christ, all those sins, God has graciously forgiven. The proverbial slate has been wiped clean, if in a court of law you have been acquitted all charges dropped if in financial trouble your debt has been paid if kidnaped the ransom has been paid. In God’s gracious economy the sins you committed will no longer be held against you. Now Psalm 103:11-12 is your testimony. The poet writes:
Psalms 103:11-12 (NIV)
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
It may be wise to translate the word fear as reverence, honor, and esteem. Such reverence is seen in our obedience to God's great law to love.
You have committed yourself to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s the response of gratitude for what He has been done for you. Before you came to Christ for salvation you were under what the bible calls slavery to egoism. Before faith in Christ egoism called the shots. You did as you saw fit in your own eyes. But now there is a new authority that has indwelt you, God the Holy Spirit. Our mentor Paul told us that Egoism, what he calls the sin nature, and the Holy Spirit are in conflict within you. guides in a different direction.
Galatians 5:17 (MSG)
For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day.
Here’s a really bad illustration for you. When I was a kid there was a cartoon that depicted an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other, each urging you to do what they said. When the main character would choose, the winner would cross over to the opposite shoulder and punch his opponent in the face.
All your life you listened to egoism. Your actions were dictated by selfish interests, what’s in it for me, how does this make me feel good. Such a voice has a powerful influence on you. You tend to do the things you’ve always done. Some of those actions transgress the law of love, God’s will for everyone. When that happens that new voice of the Holy Spirit convicts you of actual sin.
John another of the early followers of Jesus tells us:
1 John 1:9 (MSG)
“…if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won't let us down; he'll be true to himself. He'll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.”
Now here is where the “keeps on sinning” the “continuing to sin” comes into play. When the Holy Spirit convicts you of an action that is contrary to love, you know that action to be wrong. So you repent. You agree with God that the action is inconsistent with the lifestyle of a disciple, you forsake it, and God forgives and restores. But if knowing that the behavior is sin and you choose to do it away, we call that volitional or willful sin. You may think of volitional sin as premediated. I know what God wants but I am going to do what I want. To choose to continue in what you know to be wrong is anti-Christ behavior. You can’t be both a follower of Jesus and one who doesn’t follow. You are not a Christian if you continue to sin.
Before you give up on the faith lets continue our examination of “missing the mark.” There are two categories of actual sin, Volitional and involuntary. The difference between the two is intent. With volitional sin which is contrary to your new life in Christ, you know what God desires but you purposely disregard God’s will and do what you want. With involuntary sin, there is no premeditation. You can almost say there wasn’t a choice, but your action resulted in harm to a relationship with either Others. God, or yourself. When you realize what you have done you immediately repent seeking forgiveness from all the offended parties. You have sinned but you’re not continuing in it.
This leads us to consider infirmities. Infirmities are imperfections within us that are not of a moral nature. A lack of understanding, poor judgment, depression, anxiety, mental illness can result in a behavior inconsistent with discipleship. There is no sin in such as these.
There is one more category of sin and it deals with habits, attachments, and addictions. A habit is something we do without thinking, an attachment is something that we need to feel normal, an addiction causes pain, physical, psychological when deprived. A habit you can break by yourself. An attachment requires a support group to help you create a new normal. An addiction requires an intervention to become free of. All take determination and effort to change. When the Holy Spirit reveals to you that a habit, attachment, addiction is inconsistent with discipleship this behavior is must be replaced with one that is.
Susanna Wesley left us a great rule to help us discern behaviors that are inconsistent with following Jesus. “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sight of God, takes from you your thirst for spiritual things or increases the authority of your body over your mind, then that thing to you is evil. By this test, you may detect evil no matter how subtly or how plausibly temptation may be presented to you.”
There is one addiction that we will use as an example today. That is an addiction to pornography. Participation with the pornographic is an act of lust and adultery, two sins clearly that damage relationships. In your new life in Christ, you come to the point when you realize that indulging in this is detrimental to your well-being. So you want to quit. It will be a fight that requires more than confession and asking for forgiveness. Replacing an addiction in your life requires an intervention that will involve others. You want to stop using. You purge your computer. You turn off the TV. You pick a resource to help you. You have accountability persons built into your plan, a support group to confide in. You are working a plan to stop. But then you relapse. As long as you repent and immediately go back to working the plan, confession, accountability, you are not continuing to sin.
The temptation will always be with you. There will be a fight to be free, but relapse is not continuing in sin if you refuse to accept it. If you give up the fight and rationalize blaming God that this is how He made you then you are willfully choosing to sin and will suffer the consequences of your actions.
Given these understandings of sin, we can conclude with confidence that “No” You cannot be a Christian and continue to sin. If you are it is an indication that something is wrong and you need to seek God’s help to discover what is at the heart of this issue so you can be set free.