Can a Christian commit a sin once he or she has been saved? Is it possible for a person who is truly saved to sin? What if a Christian has a pattern or habit of sinning unrepentantly? These are all great questions to consider.
I’ll never forget a sermon I heard by Dr. Adrian Rogers. He opened it by asking and answering the following questions: “Can a Christian Sin? Yes. Can a Christian sin and not suffer? No.”
Isn’t that a great summary of Biblical truth? Any Christian is capable of sinning. However, no Christian who is really twice born (saved) can sin again without suffering in some way. And we can suffer in many ways: Chastisement from God, conviction from the Holy Spirit, falling out of fellowship with God, reaping what we sow, and so forth.
Sin is an unfortunate part of having a fleshly nature. Although Christians become “born again” of the spirit at the time of salvation, we never lose that flesh until we are given glorified bodies.
Let’s examine what the Bible says about sin in the Christian’s life.
Christians Can and Do Sin
First, it’s important to note that Christians can still sin after they’ve been saved. Some people erroneously teach something called “sinless perfection.” However, the scriptures clearly teach that saved people can sin. In fact, they can even be carnal when they are babes in Christ.
As we read the book of First Corinthians, we see that the Christians in that church were sinning. Paul clearly calls them “brethren” who are “in Christ.”
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as an unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
These Christians were immature and carnal. Paul had to write them this letter to straighten them out. So, clearly a saved person can sin, especially when they are immature “babes in Christ.”
The Bible teaches that the moment we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we are justified before God. Our sins are blotted out. They’re no longer counted against us with regards to salvation. Next, we are sanctified, which is a lifelong process of becoming more and more like Christ. We mature in the faith and learn to resist many temptations of sin. In fact, God’s great mission is to conform us into the likeness of His son, and that takes time. I love the bumper sticker which reads, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.”
Finally, we will one day be glorified, which is when we receive glorified bodies. So, even though we’ll never be sinless in the flesh, we should sin less as saved, twice-born Christians.
As another example of the ability to sin, the Apostle Paul’s gave us a great illustration of the Christian struggle:
“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:18-20).
Here, Paul tells us that when we are saved, our spirit no longer desires to walk in sin. We hate sin. We avoid sin. One preacher put it this way, “Before I was saved, I was running to sin. Now I’m running from sin.” Another person said this, “I sin as much as I want to. In fact, I sin more than I want to–because I don’t want to!
However, we do still fall into sin due to our sin nature, even though our spirit detests sin. Our new nature desires holiness, because the spirit that dwells in us is the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Apostle John also tells us that, yes, Christians can sin:
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1–emphasis mine).
Notice that John wrote that “if any man sin,” which clearly indicates that we can sin, even after we are saved. John reassured us that Christ will be our advocate with the Father when we do sin.
Christians Should Never Use Grace as a License to Sin
Even though we all have a sin nature which can cause us to sin (even after being saved), we should never use God’s grace and mercy as a license to sin. Many people want to emphasize God’s love but forget about the call to holiness. Paul refutes this idea in Roman’s 6, verses 1-6:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
Paul clearly says that we should never indulge in sin, even though God is loving and full of grace. We were slaves to sin before we were saved, but those shackles of sin have been broken. We are now slaves to Christ, and we should use our bodies as instruments of righteousness. God loves us, but He also expects us to live holy lives and bear Godly fruit.
People Who Sin Habitually Don’t Know God
Even though John just told us in this same book that Christians can sin and that we have an advocate with the Father, he also tells us that individuals who live in rampant sin don’t even know God:
“Whosever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him” (1 John 3:6)
“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 3:9).
A lot of people will get confused about those passages. At first glance, it appears that John is telling us that a truly saved person can’t sin. However, when it says, “whosoever sinneth” or “doth not commit sin,” it is not talking of committing an isolated sin for which the Christian then repents. After all, the Apostle has already informed us that IF a man sin, we have an advocate with the Father. And we all know that even the best of Christians fall short and sin.
Rather, the verb is in the present tense, which indicates a continual pattern of unrepentant sin. In other words, if a person’s life is characterized by consistent and unrepentant sinful behavior, they don’t even know God. They’re unsaved. They’ve never been born again. That’s the idea in those passages.
Christians Who Sin Won’t Lose Their Salvation
The good news is that Christ’s blood sacrifice paid our sin debt–past, present, and future. When we sin, we don’t lose our salvation. However, we can experience many negative consequences that should cause us to do everything in our power to avoid sinning.
Here are 5 negative consequences of sinning for the Christian:
- Sinning can cause you to lose your testimony among other Christians or even unbelievers.
- Sinning will hinder your prayer requests.
- Sinning will cause you to temporarily fall out of fellowship with God. The only way to restore that joy and fellowship is to confess your sin and be cleansed.
- Sinning will cause you to experience the cause/effect consequences, and those consequences can be severe. For example, if you are sleeping around with random people and committing sexual immorality, you may end up with a sexually transmitted disease. That’s a built-in cause and effect of sin. Someone once wisely said that “We don’t break God’s laws so much as we’re broken on them.”
- God will chastise us for our sin: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). God will chastise the Christian to correct sinful behavior. Consider this: God chastised King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. God took David’s baby on home to eternity. In the New Testament, God also took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira, because they lied to the Holy Spirit. God will chastise you in a way that will hurt you. If you don’t respond to that chastisement, the Holy Spirit will continue to rebuke you. As a final consequence of unrepentant sin, He may even take you on home.
What to do if You’ve Sinned
Even though we’re saved, our flesh is weak, and we can still fall into sin. What should a Christian who has sinned against God do to make it right? Here are four things you should do:
- Yield to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, but do not yield to Satan’s criticisms. The Holy Spirit will convict you of sin. You will become aware of it. He convicts you because He wants you to confess it and get cleansed. Satan, however, will criticize you because he wants to kick you around and discourage you. He wants you out of God’s service. The word devil literally means slanderer or accuser. Satan will say, “Ha! I knew it. You’re just a big sinner like the rest of them. You’re not a good Christian. You’ll never do anything great for God! You’re a big hypocrite. You may as well give up on the whole holy business.” Don’t let the devil kick you around. Rebuke those thoughts!
- Recognize that your sin is first and foremost a sin against God. That’s what I love about King David. Even though his sin affected other people, David rightly recognized that all sins are primarily against God. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psalm 51:4).
- Repent and confess your sin to God, and God will be faithful and just to forgive you of your sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:19). You may need to make it right with the person you sinned against, too, but it depends on the circumstance. Nevertheless, confess it to God and get clean.
- Dust yourself off, and know that your fellowship will be restored. God loves you, and He knows we are weak in this flesh. He wants fellowship with you and service from you. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples, and he loved the Lord Jesus Christ. But he committed a horrible sin in the New Testament. After Jesus stood before the high priest and was struck and mocked, Peter denied knowing the Lord. It was a horrible sin, and it no doubt hurt the Lord. However, Jesus forgave Peter, and God used him mightily to spread the gospel. Don’t ever get the idea that because you’ve sinned, God is done with you. Friends, He wants to restore you, fellowship with you, and then use you!
Have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation? The Bible teaches that there is only one way to have everlasting life, one way to have your sins forgiven, and one way to heaven. His name is Jesus. You can become saved right now by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. You may want to pray to God and say something like this: “Lord, I know I have sinned. I know that my sins deserve judgment. However, I believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. I believe that you sent your son to die on the cross for me and pay the penalty for my sins. I also believe that Jesus rose on the third day bodily, and then He ascended to the Father’s right hand. Please forgive me of my sins, save me, and help me to understand your Word.”
May God bless you!