How can we ever be free from sin in this world? Is it even possible?
No Sinless People
A couple of years ago, a man who came to our church told our elder he was leaving the church. The elder asked him why, and he said, “I don’t like your prayers which ask God to forgive us of our sins and admitting that we are sinners.” The man never came back. That’s sad because everyone in our church still sins. How many times do you have to steal to be called a thief? One time, right? So if we still sin (and I do), we are still sinners, but we might (and in fact should) be sinning less over our time as we grow in holiness and Christ-likeness. No one will ever reach sinless-ness in this life because it can’t be done, but only in the life to come will we be saved to sin no more. In the meantime, we must admit we’re sinners. The Apostle John wrote, “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1st John 1:8), and “ If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1st John 1:10), so I felt sad for this man who said he wasn’t a sinner, because Jesus came and died for sinners, not sinless people (of which, by the way, there are none!). I remember asking the church once, “Everyone who has lied since they’ve been born again, raise your hand (mine went up too). Everyone who’s ever coveted anything since you’ve been saved, raise your hand.” All hands, including mine, went up into the air. I told them, “Well, our church is just a bunch of covetous liars!” And we are. They laughed because it was true. The point is we are all sinners, and the man who left thinking he wasn’t, I felt sorry for because if you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you don’t realize that Jesus came and died for sinners, of whom I am one. Pride can do that, but God will resist that pride (James 4:6), so we must all admit that we are sinners, and not one of us in and of ourselves are good (Rom 3:10-11). This means we have the wrath of God abiding on us (John 3:36b) and must look outside of ourselves for God’s mercy.
The Sinless One
What a blessed thing was Jesus’ life. He lived a life of 30 + years in total perfection and He never sinned once, He never lied, He never stole, and He never coveted. Jesus was perfect in every way, and that’s why He, as the Sinless One, could satisfy the wrath of God. If Jesus was not sinless and Jesus was not God (which of course, He is), we would still be in our sins, because it takes a perfect sacrifice to be able to forgive the most imperfect of creatures (us!). John the Baptist understood this fact and when “he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Zechariah the Prophet wrote, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1), and that fountain flowed from Immanuel’s vein, or Jesus’ shed blood. Jesus’ step father, Joseph knew this too after the angel of the Lord (Matt 1:20) came to him in a dream and said Mary “will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Jesus Himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Free from Sin?
How can we possibly be free from sin while still being sinners? Here’s how: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1st John 1:9). Isn’t that crystal clear? That means all sins…all unrighteousness is gone…almost as if it never happened. That’s very much what the Apostle Paul said in 2nd Cor 5:21, where he wrote that it was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” and it is “with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom 10:9), not about doing this or doing that (Eph 2:8-9). The great error when people say, “I’ll come to God when I clean my life up” is that they just can’t do that….so they might never come to Him. Others declare they have too many sins to have God forgive them, but the blood of the Lamb is sufficient for all sins, no matter how heinous. I usually ask them, “How many of your and my sins were still ahead of us at the cross? All of them!” That means when Jesus died for our sins, we hadn’t even been born yet and every single sin we’d ever commit had yet to occur, so Jesus died for our sins before we were even born, and even though we were “conceived in sin” (Psalm 51:5), He came to die for sinners. If we don’t believe Jesus died for our future sins, then that means we’d still be in our sins right now, because our sins came 2,000 years later. Paul asks, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Rom 6:16), and although we “were once slaves of sin” (Rom 6:18), the person who’s trusted in Christ has “been set free from sin [and] have become slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18), so we are set free from sin, even though we still do sin. The difference is, we obey our Master (Christ) more than our former master (sin), and so to sin, we are no longer enslaved.
We are still in the battle. We are free from sin in the sense that we’re freed from the penalty of death and the consequences, but we are still entangled by the desires of the flesh and still do what we know we shouldn’t do and don’t always do what we know we should (Rom 7:19). Welcome to the club Paul. He’s in good company, isn’t he? We will never quite be free from sin in this life, although we should be sinning less over time, but until the time we enter the kingdom, we remain sinners. Even so, God now sees us as having Jesus’ own righteousness. We are declared righteous in Him and only in Christ can we stand before God. It’s almost as if God cannot see my sins after I’ve been saved because Christ’s righteousness covers them, or actually, took them away. We can live a life, not free from sin, but a life where we’re free not to sin. Not being a slave to sin means God has changed our nature and now we are slaves of Christ. Even though we still are sinners, we are saints at the same time, declared to be the children of God through the Son of God, and all, for the glory of God.
Take a look at this interesting article: Three Sinful Views of Sin
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.