As any Christian can testify, following Christ is a wonderful privilege accompanied by many undeserved blessings. The fact alone that Jesus Christ pardoned sin in exchange for his life warrants rejoicing for such an unmerited blessing. But not only this, Christ’s sacrificial death has ensured eternity in full fellowship with God for the believer. Any Christian would affirm that God has given them far more than they deserve.
And yet, an honest Christian would equally affirm the cold reality of this present life – Christians still daily struggle against earthly sin. This reality coupled with Scriptures of Christians no longer sinning (ex. 1 John 3:6, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”) tend to give tremendous consternation to believers. In addition, sober-minded Christians understand that besetting, or habitual sins are also part of a sinful existence. Whether a teenager with a propensity to lie to his parents or an adult who consistently lusts, Christians often engage in perpetual sin. Therefore, the question must be asked, “How can we reconcile the problem of God’s people continually committing sin?”
To answer this question, we must consider passages such as 1 John 1:8 and Romans 6:12-14, which teach that while sin must be put to death in the life of the believer, it still remains in part. Biblical examples of God’s people still sinning is scattered throughout Scripture – Abraham’s sin of self-preservation (Genesis 20), Moses’ sin of disobedience (Numbers 20), and Peter’s sin of denial (Luke 22). Scripture calls Christians to fight against sin, but sin continues to be a reality in this life.
However, the certainty of sin does not give Christians allowance for it. Paul speaks to this in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace my increase? May it never be.” Just because sin is part of the human existence and Christ’s grace cleanses all unrighteousness does not give permission to continue in or minimize sin.
Therefore, the answer to this spiritual conundrum is found squarely within Scripture. For the Christian who sins (whether momentarily or continually), confession (1 John 1:9) and repentance (Acts 3:19) must be honestly pursued. The sin of King David should serve as a mindful example of a believer in sin. When the prophet Nathan confronted him of both adultery and murder, King David wrote the following words in Psalm 51, “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (v.2), “Against You God, You only, I have sinned” (v. 4), and “purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Elsewhere, David would again write, “I acknowledged my sin to You and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
Christian friend, I may not know the depth of your particular and private sin, but I do know this – Christ is completely sovereign and more than able to heal you from sin’s bondage. Do not excuse, continue in, or diminish sin in your life. Instead, humbly take your struggle with sin to the Lord and plead for the Holy Spirit’s promised power (Acts 1:8). Christian, don’t expect moral perfection, but fight diligently to mortify the “sin which so easily entangles us” (Heb. 12:1). Take to heart and put into practice the words of the Puritan, John Owen, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
One final word of caution is necessary – a person claiming to know Christ, yet willingly and continually persisting in sin has very likely not experienced the redemptive work of grace. Jesus taught “you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20), and Hebrews warns, “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (Heb. 10:26) God’s grace does not cover the unrepentant. However, for those who confess sin, continually repent their sin, and humble themselves before their Savior, there is mercy and grace to cover all sin. May the words from the old hymn ever ring true in our lives, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood; sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior!”