There are different beliefs about a Christian’s capacity for sin. From what I have seen, there is a spectrum that ranges from helplessness to holiness.
What I mean is on one end we find those who feel as if they are hopelessly sinful apart from the grace of God through the blood of Jesus. They believe that we are forgiven once we put our faith in Jesus, and we are saved no matter what we do from that point on. A sinless life is not attainable in the flesh.
The temptation then is to give up and accept sinfulness, or to focus on certain outward sins while we neglect hidden and more difficult matters of the heart. This leads to hypocrisy and an attitude of superiority over others.
Those who adopt this view are prone to legalistic ideas about salvation including baptism and recital of certain prayers—which can be works of faith—but can also be works of the flesh when performed in insincerity or if the faith is later abandoned. Yet, we assure salvation. This is potentially dangerous.
On the other end we find those who believe that a Christian who is born again of the Spirit will no longer sin. If a Christian does not cease from all sin in this life, then they will not be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They will not be saved.
The temptation is to consider ourselves sinless when we are not, while we accuse other Christians as being false. Those who adopt this view are also prone to legalistic attempts at sinlessness regarding dress, praise preferences, and other matters of conscience. This leads to hypocrisy and an attitude of superiority over others.
Another issue is this: with what judgment you judge, you will be judged. If we say that a person cannot be saved if they continue to sin—yet we are blind to our own sin because of legalism or pride—then we are at risk.
Each view is understandable when we look at the scriptures, but both are problematic.
Many scriptures emphasize grace, the forgiveness of God, and the sinful nature that clings to us. Many scriptures emphasize righteous living, holiness, and places great weight on the severity of sin and those who use God’s grace and the blood of Jesus to excuse sinful living.
We don’t have to draw a dividing line down the middle and choose one side or the other.
One thing I have observed about mankind is our tendency to choose sides, then once we have chosen a side, we can become loyal to a fault. Our loyalty—or sometimes pride—blinds us to what the other side is saying.
Another thing I have observed, in Christian circles and elsewhere, is that the truth is often found when we consider all sides and find a balance between them. Of course, that does not always work. In this case, I think a balanced view is just what we need.
In general terms, I think it is dangerous to have a pessimistic view about sin that makes a person feel as if freedom from sin is impossible. I also think it is dangerous to claim to be sinless. Both views can lead to stagnancy and accusation of our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Both views also lead to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy keeps us from experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus came to testify to the truth, so we should hold truthfulness in high regard. If we are truthful with ourselves, then we will see our sinfulness. We can be blinded to sin, but if we want to see ourselves honestly then the Lord will help us according to His will and timing. When we see our sinfulness while considering the sacrifice of Jesus, repentance should be the natural result.
Yet, we are complicated creatures. As Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We can hate sin and love it at the same time. If we continue to fight against sin and seek Jesus, He will make a way for us to escape. However, there is always room to grow.
Another thing to think about is the purpose of creation. Christians are being raised up as adopted sons of God. If we are still alive, then that means that we are still being formed. We are not yet perfect. Jesus was without sin, but the author of Hebrews wrote that Jesus was not perfected until He suffered the cross. How much more is this true for us? The continuation of our existence in this earth is evidence enough of our need to further mature in the faith.
I also think part of the problem is our need to put things in neat packages, including our faith and the faith of others. We want to know what it means to be a real Christian. We want to know that our salvation is assured, or we want to be able to assure the salvation of others.
What really matters is the grace and election of God.
I know the concept of election is touchy, and as with most things we are dealing with a perspective issue. In any case, we can agree that God is in control of all things and He knows all things. We can agree that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We can agree that no one can pluck us out of His mighty hand, and nothing can separate us from His love. If we truly belong to Him, then He will not allow us to fail.
We need the blood of Jesus so that we can stand before God in perfection. If we are truly receiving the grace of God, then we will not count the blood of the Son as some simple thing or an excuse for sinful living. We will draw nearer to Jesus and we will want to know what He stands for. We will regret our sin sorrowfully, and if we seek the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, we will find power to overcome.
This is the lifelong pursuit of a Christian. We are pursuing a kingdom in which righteousness dwells. As the Spirit of Truth writes the laws of the Kingdom in our hearts, we participate in that kingdom even now in spirit. When the Kingdom of Heaven comes, we will know Jesus and we will be as He is. Until that day, we strive to enter in by the blood of Christ, the promise of His resurrection, and the power thereof through the Holy Spirit. So, let’s keep striving in faith, knowing that our salvation is in the hands of Jesus.
Let’s not focus on a to-the-letter interpretation of Christianity that leads to accusation, stagnant growth, and hypocrisy. Let’s use the scriptures to guide us towards a stronger relationship with Jesus, and in so doing we will learn to love as He loves. We will build each other up, and all that needs to fall will fall by default. Those who do not really love Jesus are taken by the deceit of this world. Let’s walk in the Truth—which makes us free. All that remains Jesus will take care of. He knows what is best, after-all.
It is hard to be patient. It is hard to have faith and trust the Lord to convict us so that each person can live according to his or her conscience in Christ. It is also hard to accept that if we separated ourselves from our loyalties and pride, much that we are used to and put our trust in would fail, including our Christian leaders that we hold in such high regard. These things will end one day. For now, the name of Jesus is preached, and that is good.
I know this was a long-winded article. I have thought much about this, and I could write so much more. I actually tried to keep things simple, believe it or not. It is an important topic. Do you have thoughts you’d like to share, a question, or a comment on something I wrote that could be in error? Leave a reply below.