Letters to a Christian

Question 2

Sin,Forgiveness and Sanctification

Dear Steve,

I have heard the word of the Lord and had previously asked him into my life.
I still willfully sinned. Is there any hope for me? Please be honest.

BCBSR Response

A man went to his doctor and said, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." The doctor replied, "Well stop doing that!" If you hurt your conscience by doing something bad, then stop doing that. But in fact can you stop doing that? Is it necessarily as "willfull" as you think?

Sinning willfully does call into question one's salvation status. For as I quoted previously, "if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries ... " Heb 10:26+

Furthermore it's also written, "let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." 1John 3:7-9 Though he's speaking of sinning in a lifestyle sense, but that is essentially willful sinning. So willful sinning calls into question whether one has been born of God. Interesting here, by the way, is the phrase "cannot sin", which in greek literally means one is incapable of "sinning" in this sense, and thus no choice is involved. For those born of God it is not an issue of permission. It is not a grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it type of thing, but rather its an issue of ability, or rather non-ability to sin in such a sense.

On the other hand the Bible also indicates that Christians are not perfect and can fall into sin. For why else would there be such commands as "do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts."Rom 6:12 if it is inevitable that Christians will not sin? Paul described his own struggle with sin as a Christian in

Romans 7:
18  "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
19  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
20  Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21  I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
22  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
23  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.
24  O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
25  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."

But this doesn't sound like willfull sinning, but rather reluctant yet perhaps conscious sinning. Nonetheless this does describe a war going on within us, as Christians - a war between us and our flesh.

But getting back to your case, there's another issue to bring up. Many times even in the quotes I've mentioned the Bible warns us not to be decieved. Thus indicating that it is possible for Christians to be deceived. How do you know that you are not only deceived into believing that you sin willfully? For it could very well be that you sin consciously, that is, you are aware of yourself sinning, but that you are taking a passive role allowing your flesh to take over your actions, and are in fact reluctantly sinning. Else why would you repent afterwards? In the passage above Paul speaks of his own experience of his flesh "bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." One of the effects of becoming a Christian is that we become more aware, more conscious, of our sinfulness. The law of God is put in our minds, against which we judge every action. Thus every sin may appear "willfull" in that we feel the freedom to chose not to sin. But as Paul says at times, "to will is present with me, how to perform what is good I do not find."

The war against the flesh cannot be won simply through the will. I don't think it can be won in a vacuum. Let me give you a simple example. Let's say you had nothing to do, or in particular nothing occupying your mind. There's an old saying, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." And so your flesh will start to occupy your mind and eventually you may find yourself carrying out some sin. You may experience a "wilfullness", but it could be the willfullness of the flesh, having taken over. But the choice may actually have been a passive one allowing the flesh to dominate. I think this is particularly true in the case of past habits. It wouldn't surprise me if the sins you struggle with, of which you label "willfull", are not some new kinds of sins, but simply the old sinful habits you practiced previously. It's the nature of the flesh to be habitual. So while we are forgiven, yet we may experience temptations from those old sinful habits the rest of our lives. That's one of the natures of sin. That's why Paul said, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Yet we will be delivered. That is one of the inevitable natures of salvation.

Yes, when we sin it calls into question our salvation status. Not because we are trying to save ourselves, but rather because it calls into question first of all whether we have saving faith, for faith without works is a dead faith. And secondly calls into question whether we've been born of God, for whoever has been born of God has lost the ability to live a lifestyle of sin. But nonetheless Christians are still sinners. While the Bible does advocate this doubt, just as it does in 2Cor 13:5 where Paul questions the Corinthians, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you— unless, of course, you fail the test?", yet it also appears that the Bible does not presume that Christians are going to have perfect behavior and thus it has many instructions and exhortations concerning avoiding sin.

"I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish." Galatians 5:16,17

A practical application is to not allow yourself to be idle but to always be active in God's work or at least with something not sinful. When is it that you don't even feel temptations to sin? I bet it's when you're occupied with something else. Need something to occupy your mind? Memorize scripture or such. Of course it's difficult developing spiritual disciples. But then again the flesh can actually help. For disciplines develop into habits, and the flesh being habitual will actually help one to sustain habits. Actually the problem there is that when a spiritual discipline becomes a habit one might develop a legalistic mindset, but that's the other extreme in the battle with  the flesh. Thus we struggle to live between the extremes of legalism and lawlessness. We have freedom in Christ, but not freedom to sin.

Furthermore we don't just occupy ourselves with activities that may be labeled "spiritual", but with many ordinary things, like work. "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Col 3:22,23 Go to school, get a job. Notice I mentioned previously of Paul's advice to those who lack self-control should marry - the effect being that they will then be occupied with married life. Even surrounding yourself with seemingly unncessary responsibilities nonetheless helps to occupy one so as to not give an opportunity for the flesh to take over. Tired? Well may just take a nap, I guess. Just suggestions, but the principles are there. Read the New Testament letters with these issues in mind, because I think it has alot to say, especially the second half of many of Paul's letters tend to be application oriented.

2Peter 1:5-11
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence,

And one final thing, getting back to your original statement "I have heard the word of the Lord and had previously asked him into my life", asking him into your life does not mean you were born of God at that time. Just to be clear, a person is not saved simply by deciding to follow Christ, though that is a necessary step on the path towards salvation. A person is saved when they put their faith in Christ, which may occur at some point in time after they decided to follow Christ. But prior to that a disciple may fall away as for example in John 6:66 "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." The goal of discipleship is the development and application of saving faith. Yes, once saved, always saved. But whether that "once saved" has actually occurred in our own lives will be evident from our behavior, which is an effect of being born of God. Put your confidence in Christ, but not in your decision to follow Christ.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015