In the previous article ‘Christ in you’, I made a radical statement. I said Christ in you cannot sin. What do I mean by that? Does it mean that a born again believer never sins again? John in his first Epistle seems to indeed say that:
The believer cannot sin?
1 John 3:9 “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
1 John 5:18 “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”
Indeed, he also say that if you commit sin you are of the devil! You can’t get much more black and white than that!
1 John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
However we do sin?
However, we all know from own experience, that even after we are born again and filled with the Holy Spirit, even though we desire to live holy, a completely sinless life is not a reality and is probably not even possible. Indeed, John himself a few verses later seems to contradict himself and confirms this by the following verses:
1 John 1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
1 John 2:1 “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, (aorist tense, one off) we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:”
So, what is John saying. Does he really mean a believer cannot commit sin?
A believe does not practice sin
Firstly, a better translation of 1 John 3:9, 1 John 5:8 and 1 John 3:8 would be ‘practice sin’ as translated in the ASV. This is because the tense of the verb ‘sin’ is not ‘aorist’ (sinning in a moment of time, even once – see verse above 1 John 2:1), but ‘present active’ or sinning continually.
Therefore, John is saying that a true believer may sin in moment of time but doesn’t sin continually – or practice sin. In fact, if he or she does sin continually, then there are grave doubts that they ever knew Christ in the first place!
1 John 3:6 “No one who sins (present active) has seen him or known him!”
A believer practices righteousness
However, I don’t believe the above explanation, although technically correct, is the complete answer because John not only talks about practicing sin, he talks about practicing righteousness. See the following scriptures:
1 John 2:29 “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of him”
1 John 3:7 “Little children, let no one deceive you, the one who practices righteousness is righteous even as he is righteous”
1 John 3:10 “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious, anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God”
Now this is problematic, because John uses the same present active tense to describe righteousness! In other words, a believer practices righteousness – he or she doesn’t just do occasional acts of righteousness, like an unbeliever might. No, they constantly and continually do righteousness.
Now, we can easily cope with the idea that we occasionally sin but can we honestly say that we practice righteousness day in day out? Well, John says if you don’t then you’re not born again! There must be a more complete answer – and there is!
I believe, that in context, the Apostle John is describing who we are in the spirit. In other words our spirit man (christ in us) practices righteousness and cannot sin.
So, why do we still want to sin?
So, if we have christ in us and we have a brand new nature inside of us as we believe, why do we still want to sin as well as want to do whats right? Have we got two natures now, a sinful nature and a christ like nature that are locked in some sort of mortal combat or tug of war? Or, are we schizophrenic with some kind of weird personality disorder because for many of us that’s certainly what it feels like?
No, I don’t believe that is the case. You don’t have two natures. You have one new nature. However, the scripture does indeed suggest that there are two opposing forces – the flesh and the spirit at war inside you!
Gal 5:17 “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
The conflict of desire
Paul describes a similar conflict of desire in Romans 7:
Romans 7:15 “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do but I am doing the thing I hate.
Romans 7:16 “But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do I agree with the Law confessing that its is good.”
In affect, what he is saying is that even though he doesn’t want to do bad things, he has no power to actually stop doing bad things – even if he wants to. So, becoming monk, hiding away from the world and from all temptation to sin, will not change the fact – that even in a monastery sin is with you. The war carries on relentless:
Romans 7:23 “I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members”
Unfortunately, even though you are born again, you still carry around the body of death, your mortal flesh: mind, memories, emotions, will, sexual drive and so on.
Romans 7:24 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
As Paul says in an earlier verse: Romans 7:14, we are sold in bondage to sin:
“For we know that the Law is spiritual but I am of the flesh sold in bondage to sin”
Its not me its this darn flesh!
In verse 17 and 20 of Romans 7 though, Paul comes to three important realisations:
Firstly, there is no good in his sinful flesh (note he is careful to say in his flesh because he knows that his spirit man is good and desires good)
Romans 7:18 “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
Secondly, that he has no power to do the good that he (his spirit man) wishes.
Thirdly, he realises that if he doesn’t want to do it, then it’s not really him doing it. In other words, it’s sin in the flesh. His true identity therefore, is not in the sinful behaviour but in the new man.
Romans 7:17 “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
Romans 7:20“But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me”
For example. Imagine you are driving your kids to school and they are behaving very badly in the back seat, fighting, screaming and even trying to distract other drivers. You can’t do much about it because your trying to keep your eyes on the road. Do you just ignore the behaviour and pretend it’s not happening? No, of course not, because if you don’t deal with it soon, you’re likely to have an accident!
This is very much like sin in the flesh. It’s a like big bad dog straining at the leash. We need someone to help us and fast! Who is going to deliver us from this body of death? Who do we turn to?
Most people of course turn turn to Mr Law. Yes he’s Mr Perfect, he knows the rules absolutely but he’s no teacher or coach. All he does is point out to you that your children are misbehaving, and he even finds time to comment on the inadequacies of the driving! Thankfully we are no longer married to Mr Law!
Therefore, the Law, rules, church attendance, determination, self-help, education, self-discipline, even prayer, all may help for a while and even manage the sinful flesh but they will never control it.
A positive note
Romans chapter 7 ends though on a positive note: he maybe stuck, in needs of help frustrated and unhappy in this struggle against sin but he’s seen the light at the end of the tunnel. He has grasped two important positives:
Firstly, he knows now there is only person who can help him get free from the law of sin and death – he’s given up himself and on Mr Law!
Romans 7:25 “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Secondly, he’s now has a clear revelation of who he is in Christ (I MYSELF). He understands now beyond a doubt, that his sinful flesh is not his identity even though its his responsibility.
Romans 7:25 “So, then, on the one hand I MYSELF with the mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, WITH MY FLESH, the law of sin.
To conclude therefore and to answer our original question: “why do we still sin?” We still sin because we have the sinful flesh!
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