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Can a Believer sin?

aymon de albatrus


“Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1Jo 3:9)

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1Jo 1:8)

“Faithful [is] the Word and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1Ti 1:15)

 “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. ” “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 7:23-25)

“My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:” (1Jo 2:1)

There is a school of thought in Christian circles that interprets 1Jo 3:9 as meaning that a Born Again cannot commit sin, this is known as the Antinomian view i.e. The Law of God is not applicable against what he does for whatever he does is no sin to him. Dictionary definition of Antinomianism: “one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of Grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation”. Methinks that this is a fanciful interpretation instead and a gross excuse and excitement to commit sin.

But we see above in 1Ti 1:15 that Paul was considering himself the chief of sinners, and that when he was in his old age, around AD 64, well over 30 years after his conversion. Also in Romans again Paul laments of sin in his life around AD 57, about 27 years after his conversion. Now if a holy man like Paul that has written a large portion of the New Testament testifies openly of sin in his life after conversion, can anyone honestly say that he has no sin in his life and that he sins no more? Methinks NOT.

Now we know for sure that the Bible cannot contradict Itself (for if It did then It would not be the Word of God), therefore the meaning of 1Jo 3:9 has to be congruous with the rest of the Word of God even though it seems to be contradicting 1Jo 1:8 and both verses were written by the same man John in the same book, surely John was not schizophrenic.

And he cannot sin: which is not to be understood simply as if he could not sin at all, for this would contradict what the Apostle had said before in 1Jo 1:8 and supported in 1Jo 2:1. But it is obvious that the Apostle intends by these two expressions the same thing. He cannot sin, in the sense he cannot get involved in known gross sin, deliberately, easily, remorselessly, and maliciously, as Cain did (1Jo 3:12) out of hatred. The sense here is that he cannot do such acts customarily, and definitely cannot commit the sin unto death (1Jo 5:16).

Such person does not make it his trade and business to be in constant sin; he does not live and walk in sin or give up himself to it continually; it is not the constant course of his life. He is not free from acts of sin in his life and conversation, but he does not so commit it as to be the servant of it, a slave unto it, or to continue in it.

This cannot mean that one who is born again has not physical ability to do wrong, for every moral agent has; nor can it mean that no one who is a true Christian never sins, in fact we do wrong in thought, word, or deed, for no one could seriously maintain that he is without sin. But it must mean that there is somehow a certainty of an inner brake that restrains those who are born of God from being characteristically and habitually sinners; that they will not sin in such a sense as to lose all true religion and be numbered with transgressors. They will not fall away and perish for they are born of God.

The Apostle here is not saying that a real Christian can fall away and become again a sinner because he has sinned after conversion, for if that was the case why is then Jesus forever interceding for them? “Why he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb 7:25). If they sin no more after conversion then they would be holy and perfect requiring no intercession (1Ti 2:5).

Every redeemed sinner is the workmanship of the Lord and He is well able and will bring His work to completion and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, not even ourselves. (Eph 2:10; Heb 12:2; Rom 8:38-39).

The verse here does not mean that it is impossible for such a person to do acts of sin, or that it is possible for him to live without sin; for the words are not to be understood in the sense of those who claim for themselves perfection in this life; for though the saints have now perfection in Christ, yet not in themselves for they are not impeccable. The saints on earth are not as yet free from sin, neither from acting in it; sin is in them (see Paul above). Sin does live in them, dwells in them, hinders them in the good works, and does all the mischief it can.

It is not as if the sins of believers were not sins for though they are pardoned and expiated and they are justified from them for Jesus paid fully for all sins of His elect: Past Present and Future -yet they do not cease to be sins, they are equally contrary to the nature, will, and Law of God as well as the sins of others. And are oftentimes attended with more aggravated chastisements which God in a fatherly way will dispense to them for we are His dear sons and not bastards: “for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and He scourges every son whom He receives: "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the father does not chasten? But if you are without chastisement, of which all are partakers, then you are bastards and not sons.” (Heb 12:6-8)

A truly regenerated person will never commit gross sins such as: denying Christ to be the Saviour of sinners and The only sacrifice for sin, and having hatred of a Christian brother, and sinning the sin unto death or the unpardonable sin. A born again saint cannot live in a continued course of sinning with pleasure and without reluctance so as to lie in it as the whole world does; but he is in continuous repentance for his sins as God grants the increase (Act 11:18).

Nevertheless, even though forgiveness of sin blots out the sinfulness of sin, its consequences in the flesh remain. God does forgive sin under Repentance but the effect of the sin will carry on in the flesh. For example look at king David he had committed the sin of Adultery in a most vile way (amongst many other sins) and eventually God did forgive him (upon repentance) and no doubt David is in Heaven with God, but the sword never left David's side from there on, his son of adultery died, his son Absalom rebelled against him and almost took the crown away from David and died, moreover Absalom committed Adultery with some of David's wives in full view of everybody. From that moment on David had all sort of troubles till he also died, and yet God says this of David: “And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.” (Act 13:22)

Holy Moses was supposed to speak to the rock for water (that Rock was Christ 1Co 10:4), but he smote the Rock in rage instead, upon repentance God forgave him, but the consequence of his sin was that he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. (Num 20:8-12) Nevertheless God admitted him into heaven with the same honour of Elijah in the presence of the Lord (Mat 17:2-3) and indeed he may even have been translated to Heaven for his body was not found.

Another example even in the natural, if a man has committed a crime worthy of death and he is condemned to death but he repents later, is then the penalty of death revoked? NO, it is carried out in the flesh, but his soul is saved.

Sins are forgiven upon repentance as the Lord says, (Luk 17:4), but the consequences thereof do carry on in the flesh, especially in the believers, although they glorify God for His munificence in forgiving.

Because he is born of God, or begotten of God, God has given to the believer, by the new birth (Joh 3:3), the real spiritual life, and that life can never become extinct. As he is born of God or that which is born of God in him, the new man or new creature, cannot sin; for that is pure and holy, nor can anything that is sinful come out of it for it is the workmanship of the Holy Spirit of God; it is a good work, and well pleasing: in the sight of God (Eph 2:10). Although it is as yet an imperfect work, it is not impure: the reason of the impeccability of the regenerate man is because he is born of God: for that which is born of God in him does, under the influence of the Spirit and power and grace of God, preserve him from the temptations of Satan, the pollutions of the world, and the corruptions of his own heart. Do note how 1Jo 5:18 furnishes a considerable argument for the perseverance of the saints. AMEN

Let us now consider the humble admission of Paul: “I am chief of sinners”. After his conversion, he never attempted to extenuate his conduct, or excuse himself. He was always ready, in all circles and in all places, to admit to its fullest extent, the fact that he was a sinner. So deeply convinced was he of the truth of this that he bore about with him the constant impression that he was eminently unworthy and hence he does not say merely that he had been a sinner of most aggravated character, but he speaks of it as something that always belongs to him. We then glean from this that:

  • a true Christian will always be ready to admit that his past life has always been evil,
  • this will become the steady conviction of the regenerated soul that still he sins, and
  • the acknowledgment that we are sinners is not inconsistent with evidence of salvation, with a broken humble heart in front of God. The most eminent Christian has the deepest sense of the depravity of his own heart, and of the evil of his past life.

To each true believer his own sins must always appear, as long as he lives, greater than those of others which he never can know as he can know his own. For Paul his own sins were so great that in deep sorrow he externalised. “I am the chief sinner” and so we must honestly repeat the same for ourselves. In that Paul was bringing great Glory to God for in effect he was saying: “having been so great a sinner as I have been and am still, yet I received mercy from the God of Grace” (1Co 15:10; Eph 3:8). What a great Saviour we have in our God.

In Romans above we see Paul representing himself as engaged in a warfare and as being overcome, and being made an unwilling captive to the evil inclinations of his heart. The expression is strong; and denotes deep corrupt propensities, like in every one of us. It is a truthful language which all sincere Christians can identify themselves in it, as expressive of that painful and often disastrous conflict in their bosoms when they contend against the native propensities of their own hearts even though they are now believers.

Bringing me into captivity to the law of sin; Paul here confesses that sin is drawing and hurrying him to the commission of sin, against his will and consent. He pursues forcefully the point that the flesh does not only war in the regenerate, but many times it overcomes and has, alas, success, as he clearly states in (Rom 7:15). Obviously Paul testifies that the believers can and does sin even after regeneration and he is not without sin as the Antinomians would have us believe.

But in his hopelessness Paul sees a way out of that body of death and it is our marvellous Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Mat 1:21)

There is no final condemnation under the gospel of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Gospel is to free His people from the condemning death sentence of the Law. The glorious announcement of the Gospel is that through Him it frees lost and ruined men from a most fearful and terrible condemnation to Hell.

True believers are not mere professors in Christ, who may and are lost and damned, but they being planted truly in Christ, being elect of God are united in Christ from everlasting to everlasting: being loved by Him with an everlasting love and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4); united to him as members of His Kingdom, considered in Him in the covenant of Grace. They being in Christ are secure from all condemnation, they are now new creatures, passed from death to life (2Co 5:17), and so they having the surety of Christ’s sacrifice shall never enter into condemnation (Rom 8:1), hence they shall never be lost as our Lord promises: “That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spoke, Of them which you gave me have I lost none.” (Joh 18:9)

Praise to our marvellous God that does not leave us in deep despair as with Him there is always: “For all the promises of God in Him are yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God by us.” (2Co 1:20)

We see then that later the Apostle John brings about the forgiveness of God for His glory: “My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:” (1Jo 2:1). To whom He addresses this expression of tender affection: “my little children”? To the believers, of course, especially to them who have sinned after conversion!

these things write I to you, The Apostles refers to the things he has just written that they should not abuse them in giving a license to sin but, on the contrary, "in order that ye may not sin at all" and that they should "walk in the light" (1Jo 1:5,7). The first step is confession of sin to receive Christ’s forgiveness (1Jo 1:9) making us free of sin. Then we should repent and forsake all sin (1Jo 2:1) as much as God grants us strength to do so (Act 11:18).

The Apostle continues with, "if any man sin" (this allowing for the possibility of sinning after conversion, for the epistle was addressed to believers) let him, while loathing and condemning sin, not fear to go at once to God, the Judge, confessing it with a broken heart, for "we have an Advocate with the Father” that understand our weaknesses. John here speaks of a believer’s occasional sins of infirmity through Satan’s fraud and malice. “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mat 26:41)

we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, Our ‘Advocate’ are both Christ and the Holy Spirit (paraclete, comforter) (Heb 7:25; Rom 8:26,27) that grants only to His children, not to the world: justification, sanctification, continued intercession, and peace. Christ’s advocacy is inseparable from the Holy Spirit’s comfort and working in us, as the spirit of intercessory prayer for us.

Our "advocate" Christ is not a mere suppliant petitioner. He pleads for us on the ground of justice and righteousness (His). Though He can say nothing good about us, He can say much for us based on His righteousness and obedience to the Law, and having paid the full penalty for us, His claim has holy ground for our acquittal. The Father, by raising His Son Jesus from the dead, and setting Him at His own right, has once for all accepted Christ’s claim for us. Therefore the accuser’s charges against God’s children are vain, and we are set free from all sins by His holy blood. Glory to God to the highest and AMEN and AMEN.

Il conclusion we see then that the Born Again believer can and does sin, he is not completely free of sin on this earth, but our great God in His graciousness grants both Repentance and Forgiveness and internal Peace to bring Home (clean and holy and perfect) the poor struggling Christian, by His Grace alone (Eph 2:8). Soli Deo Gloria.