Is It Possible Not to Sin?

Ugh. I went a little long on today’s post, but bear with me as I could kinda use your help.  I’m going to be totally transparent here in saying I’m having a little trouble with the My Utmost for His Highest devotional dated 8/15/12.  Particularly the last paragraph of that day’s entry:

 “Whoever has been born of God does not sin. . .” (1 John 3:9). Am I seeking to stop sinning or have I actually stopped? To be born of God means that I have His supernatural power to stop sinning. The Bible never asks, “Should a Christian sin?” The Bible emphatically states that a Christian must not sin. The work of the new birth is being effective in us when we do not commit sin. It is not merely that we have the power not to sin, but that we have actually stopped sinning. Yet 1 John 3:9 does not mean that we cannot sin— it simply means that if we will obey the life of God in us, that we do not have to sin.  (www.utmost.org)

Let me take this passage in reverse and unpack it as I see it.  Maybe you can help me come to some understanding of the problems I’m having.  First off, “Yet 1 John 3:9 does not mean that we cannot sin— it simply means that if we will obey the life of God in us, that we do not have to sin.”  Okay, I get that.  In fact, as I understand what Mr. Chambers is saying here, it is the very essence of the saving grace of Christ: My belief in Christ as being who He said He was, that He went to the cross, died for the sins of the world (including mine) and rose again on the third day, therefore MY sins have been nailed on the cross with Him ~ past, present and future.

Does that mean I am free to sin now?  As Paul would say, “By no means!”

But! Does it mean I have now been given supernatural ability to NOT sin?

Is that even possible?

The Utmost devotional goes on to say, “The Bible emphatically states that a Christian must not sin.”  Okay, I get that too.  Both Jesus and Paul say that . . . several times: Not that those who follow Christ WILL not, but they MUST not. (That’s a key point for later.)

Chambers also says, “The work of the new birth is being effective in us when we do not commit sin. It is not merely that we have the power not to sin, but that we have actually stopped sinning.”  Um . . . wait a minute.  Let me run the antithesis of that statement, because by my understanding, if it is true one way, it should be true the other way: If we haven’t stopped sinning, it is because we do not have the power not to sin.  And, if we commit sin, the work of the new birth is not effective in us.

Problem #1: If THAT sentence is true–yet we earnestly accepted Christ’s saving grace into our lives–what happened?  Why isn’t the “new birth being effective in us”?  Did we do it wrong?  Did we lie?  Are we bad Christians?

Chambers says, “To be born of God means that I have His supernatural power to stop sinning.”  Again, taking the antithesis of this: If I do not stop sinning, I do not have His supernatural power, and therefore I have not been born of God.

Problem #2:  (Actually, it’s the same as Problem #1 . . .)

Lofty goals indeed, and damning consequences (no pun intended).

Again I ask; is this possible?

I suppose my sticking point on this subject is in trying to see these “inspirational” words through the eyes of a new Christian, or in fact, someone far from God, or someone who doesn’t even believe in a god.  Asking these very same questions.  Feeling these very same frustrations.  I see these folks saying, “Well crap, I can’t do that.”

THEN they look around at the plethora of  self-professed Christians of the world and say, “Well, apparently they can’t either.” And conclude with a hearty, “Why bother?”

This is why absolutes drive me absolutely nuts!  We have set the bar so high it’s unachievable–not just for those far from God . . . but for us as well!  And I emphasize, GOD didn’t set the bar that high, WE did!  Or put another way, FAITH didn’t set the bar that high, RELIGION did.

Matthew 22:37“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (NLT)

“MUST not sin” is a goal that we should all strive for; out of a genuine love and respect for God and our neighbors (i.e. everyone else).  Yet when we fall–and we will–thank God for the gift of Christ.

“WILL not sin” is a goal that is simply unachievable.  If it were, the law would have been sufficient, and the gift of Christ . . . unnecessary.  And Paul’s letter to the Romans would have never been written . . .

Romans 7:18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (NLT)

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10 thoughts on “Is It Possible Not to Sin?”

  1. In this flesh we live in it’s not possible we sin everyday and often times we aren’t even aware of the sins we do…Until Christ comes back and call us home to be with Him than there will be no more sinning for us.

  2. I don’t particularly agree with the way Mr. Chambers words this, as it smacks of perfectionism (he was, after all, something of a mystic). But note he didn’t say we would overcome all sin, all the time. We shouldn’t sin and we have the power to overcome but, due to the effects of the flesh, we do fall (just like Paul). That’s why this same letter from John tells us, “If we confess our sins…”

    As a general rule, the pattern for most growing Christians is an increasing victory over sin but it is never practically vanguished in this life, in this body. The good news, as you well put, is that we have been declared righteous through faith in the finished work of Christ.

    That’ just my $.02.

    1. Thank you Linden, your comments are always appreciated. My hackles seem to always get raised at things that, as you say, “smack of perfectionism” . . . or exclusivity. A friend of mine gave me a link to an answer to this type of question wherein the gist of it was that, day by day, minute by minute and situation by situation we choose whether to sin or not. Choosing the spiritual nature over the sin nature in these situations allows us to say, “I didn’t sin” . . . this time. With that understanding, I can see where the statement, “A Christian WILL not sin” would be valid. Especially if prefaced by the clarifier, “If faced with the choice . . .”

  3. When our children sin or make a mistake, do we turn our backs on them and abandon them? Of course not. We instruct them, discipline them, love them, and praise them for their progress. I have entered into a covenant with God to keep His commandments—-but I still am far from perfect and continue to sin. Someone once wrote that her “little” sins were like static in her prayers—making it more difficult to feel God’s presence. However, the good news is we can sincerely repent and sincerely strive to change. Change is hard–it takes TIME and energy and sweat and prayers. God knows that, and every time we repent in sincerity and make even a little progress, He is pleased. We are in school here—life is a university. We are BECOMING! I do not believe that our spiritual rebirth is a one-time event. It is a life-time process. I’m not suggesting that we make excuses for our sins, or treat them lightly, or that we willfully sin with the notion that we can just repent the next day.
    I think one of Satan’s most deadly doctrines is that we are too weak, have made too many mistakes, and we may just as well pack it in. When you feel that way you can be sure it is not the Lord’s Spirit that is guiding you—-the author of those discouraging, disheartening feelings is Satan.

  4. Okay, don’t get used to this 🙂 , but I’m going to answer this as if I were a believer.

    I always took that passage in I John to say that Christians do not sin as a practice. Obviously, that’s not always true either, but the habit of a Christian should be an avoidance of sin. Sometimes they will make mistakes — like Peter’s denial of Christ, for instance. But their lifestyle should not be one of sin. Does that make sense? That’s how I always took it…

    1. Isn’t this twice now in a row that we’ve agreed with each other?? A disturbing trend indeed! I always knew there was hope for your heathen-ness! Ha ha! 🙂

      But yes, in all seriousness, your point is right on. There will be times when we will sin, we all do–sometimes unaware, sometimes unavoidably. The goal of a “Christian Life”–for everyone’s life, actually–is, when faced with the choice of sin, to instead choose the alternative. What I don’t agree with are positions or statements of “absolute”. “A Christian WILL not sin.” Umm, no.

      BTW, I enjoyed your latest post as well, although I would have to say that the comments are sometimes as much fun to read as the post itself. They be lively 😉

      Always good to hear from you, my friend!

  5. Hey Kent, I know I’m a little late with a comment on this post but I’ve been enjoying browsing your blog and this one grabbed my attention. Like you I bristle at Chambers wording here. I appreciate you bringing Romans 7 into the mix and I have been enthralled with Romans 8 for a couple of months now as Paul elaborates on what it looks like to do life in the Spirit. I especially like how Eugene Peterson phrases it here:

    Romans 8
    5-8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

    9-11 But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

    What jumps out to me is that we can experience new life as the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead comes to enliven us to God and sweep away our being slaves to sin, and yet he states “even though you still experience all the limitations of sin.” As new creations in Christ we are no longer slaves to sin but we will struggle with it – and on occasion lose – until the day we die or Jesus returns.

    Sorry for the lengthy response but this issue really resonated with what God has been drawing my attention to lately. Thanks!

    1. Hmmmm, what’s interesting Rick, is that we’re in the midst of a study of Romans 8 ourselves 🙂 I love the paraphrase of Peterson here where he says, “It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?” We often think of what God did with Jesus as this awesome, unimaginable, magnificent feat; and it certainly is. But that same God, and hence that same feat, is available for us as well, today, while we are still sinners!

      One of the ‘ah-ha’ moments I had during a recent sermon our pastor gave on sanctification was when he said, “When you come to accept the claims of Christ, and the Holy Spirit comes and indwells within you, it doesn’t mean your sin nature automatically departs. It’s still there. It remains. And it’s at war with the Spirit.” I don’t know why, but that just clicked with me and made Paul’s confession in Romans 7 & 8 that much more clear and real for me.

      Thank you so much for the comments (not belated at all) as well as the FB ‘follow’. Have a great day and holiday season if we don’t “talk” before then. 🙂

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