Why Can't A Christian Sin?
Of course, right about now many Christians, likely most of them evangelicals, probably think this borders on heresy if not outright blasphemy. After all, does not the apostle John clearly state, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” [1 John 1:8]. Yes he does. So what in the world am I talking about? I’m talking about 1 John 3:9. “Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed [the Spirit of God] remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Contradictory statements? No. Complimentary.It’s all about timing, and as we’ve said many, many times before, it’s all about the covenants. [Read the Feature article, The Tale Of Two Covenants]. As the apostle Paul clearly states in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God ….” In order to be born of God or born from above [born again rather than conceived again], it means at some point in our life we followed the apostle Peter’s advice from the first day of Christianity. “Then Peter said unto them [the House of Israel], Repent [turn from our old way of life centered on those things of the flesh], and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 2:36-38]. When we do this, we are born from above or born, again. “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” [Rom. 8:11, NLT*]. It is at this point that John’s statement, “ … he cannot sin, because he is born of God” comes into force.
Prior to following Peter’s advice, pre-Christians if you will, all of us were in a state of “sin.” Our mortal bodies were given life by the spirit of man that we have at first breath or birth. [See Gen. 2:7; also the Feature article, Life In The 'hood and chapter one in The Blind Man’s Elephant]. However, once we have received the Spirit of God after baptism and the laying on of hands [See 1 Tim. 4:141 Tim. 4:14; Heb. 6:2], we can no longer sin. And while this may seem to be somewhat of a contradiction in religious terms, theologically it makes perfect sense when we understand the significance of the covenants and what it means for us in this very specific age. [For details see the Covenants in the Feature article section].
However, before we can even discuss sin, we need to know one fundamental point so we are all on the same page from the start. We need to understand the Biblical record’s definition of sin, rather than our own, and how sin is imputed rather than relying on supposition and hearsay. In all cases, theologically sin only can be understood in context of the covenants, both old and new, for the definition of sin differs between the two for a very fundamental reason. When we understand this, we can fully comprehend John’s statement.
For purposes of our discussion, we will focus on the New Testament uses of the words sin and sins. Sin, a legal term Biblically speaking, in the New Testament Greek is hamartia. It is used both in the singular as sin and the plural as sins, and in the noun and verb forms. Hamartia simply means to miss the mark, to err or miss the path. When we say, "he sinned," we are saying "he missed the mark in regards to the word of God." This seems rather innocuous compared to what we hear about sin in those Christian “hellfire and brimstone” sermons. But when it comes to sin, it is either hit or miss. Missing the mark by a fraction may as well be a miss by a mile. While the mile misses are easier to spot, the ends thereof are the same. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God [the Spirit of God] is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Rom. 6:23]. This echoes John’s point, “Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin.”
There are other words in the New Testament translated as sin or sins. One is the Greek paraptoma, which means to fall beside or near something or as we might say today falling short of the mark. It has the same implication as missing the mark or the path set before us. Another one is the Greek, hamartema, which is an evil deed. This is similar to hamartia but with a critical difference. The difference is that of the covenant. In this case, it is the law covenant. Missing the mark equates to evil deeds, but with the law covenant, it was legally imputed as sin. As Paul pointed out, “For until the law, sin was in the world [kosmos]: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” [Rom. 5:13]. Therefore, missing the mark, or sin only becomes legally attributed within the context of the law covenant.
In other words, evil deeds or missing the mark was in the world, but missing the mark, as concerns God, wasn’t imputed as sin before or after the law, or the law covenant. Once we had a legal agreement with God, we were bound by its terms. Violation of its terms was a transgression and counted as sin. Again as Paul pointed out, “And for this cause he [Christ] is the mediator of the new testament [or covenant], that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions [sin] that were under the first testament [the law covenant], that they which are called might receive the promise [made to Abraham] of eternal inheritance.” [Heb. 9:15]. Legally, as John noted, “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” [1 John 3:4]. And as Paul also said, “Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, "You must not covet.” [Rom. 7:7 NLT] Therefore, sin, missing the mark, is identified by the law.
Who were the only people in the law covenant with God? Israel. This is inclusive of the twelve nations of Israel including Judah, the Jews. [See Gen. 49]. By the very terms of the law covenant, it was not given to the Gentiles of the world. “Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." [Exd. 34:27]. So the only people who could sin, or transgress the law covenant, by legal definition, were the nations of Israel. Gentiles, however, having the knowledge of good and evil, do miss the mark. But not having a covenant or legally binding relationship with God, missing the mark is not imputed as sin or transgression of the legal agreement, i.e., the covenant. It's just old fashioned evil. And on the great day of judgement, they will be judged according to their works.
As Luke correctly pointed out in his gospel, Christ came to “give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins” or the transgressions imputed under the terms of the law covenant. [Luke 1:77]. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression [sin], and the house of Jacob [nee Israel, Gen. 32:28] their sins.” [Isa 58:3]. And to whom did Christ say he was sent to redeem? “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” [Mat. 15:24]. And as we read in Isaiah as well, “For he said, Surely they [House of Israel] are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour.” [Isa. 63:7, 8; see the Feature article, Why Was Jesus Jewish, But Not Moses?].
Christ was not sent to all the people in the world, meaning mankind, but to his people, Israel and specifically the House of Israel in this age. [For context to this statement, read the Feature article, Mirror, Mirrror On The Wall]. As we read, “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of the many, and to them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” [Heb. 9:28]. The word many here is the Greek polys, which does mean many and not all. Israel, and the House of Israel in particular, the only ones bound by the law covenant, are many, but not all mankind. All in the KJV translated from the Greek is an adjective, pas. And it refers to each individually, i.e., all men individually or all things individually, and not necessarily as a group. [See the Sneakers article, What About Everyone Else?].
The key point regarding the understanding of sin is that the difference the law covenant made was that violating its terms, or committing evil deeds as defined by God, was imputed as sin. We were accountable and guilty unto death because we had a covenant agreement with God. If we didn’t, we couldn’t sin, at least in terms of what we think sin to be for sin is defined by the law covenant. Outside the law covenant, what we commonly call sin, is referred to as evil. And this, of course, takes us back to Adam and Eve with the knowledge of good and evil. [See the Sneakers article, Bum's Rush]. And while Adam and Eve “sinned” or missed the mark in the garden of Eden regarding our LORD's word, sin was not imputed as such for Israel and wouldn’t be so legally unless the law covenant was in force. Evil wasn’t codified or spelled out exactly until the law covenant was put in place as the apostle Paul pointed out. Once it was, violating the terms of the covenant was imputed as sin. We missed the mark or walked off the path we had agreed to walk.
As to why a Christian born from above cannot sin is similar to running a stop sign when there is no stop sign. Let me explain. Let’s say you leave your house in the morning, drive down to the corner, where there is a stop sign. You fully stop. Then you proceed when it is safe to do so. This is the law covenant. Can a cop give you a ticket if you don’t come to a full and complete stop? You bet. Your transgression of the stop sign law means your “sin” is imputed. But let’s say, a few years later the traffic commission deems that this particular intersection no longer needs a stop sign. So you leave your house in the morning, drive down to the corner, where there is no stop sign. You slow down, but do not stop and proceed safely on your way. Can a cop give you a ticket for not coming to a full and complete stop? Nope. Why not? No stop sign means no violation of the law can be ascribed. Why not? Because the law, [our stop sign] no longer exists. This is the Abrahamic covenant [see 1 Chr. 16:13-17] and why John was correct to say Christians cannot sin when we are born of God. And in order to be born of God, we must have faith. Faith in Greek, pistis, is defined as a conviction of the truth.
Now legalistically speaking, Christ broke the law covenant the day he was crucified. “And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD. And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant, which I had made with all the people. And I said unto them, If you think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.” [Zec. 10:10-12].
With the law covenant broken, sin, or missing the mark, could not be legally imputed. However, the terms of the Abrahamic covenant came into effect from the day of Christ's resurrection. And it was on the day of Pentecost that the Spirit of God was made available to the House of Israel as we read in Acts 2. And as we know, Abraham is the father of the faithful. “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know you therefore that they, which are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture [the Old Testament given to Israel], foreseeing that God would justify the nations [Greek, ethnos, Abraham’s sons or seed line] through faith [the conviction of the truth], preached before the gospel [Greek, proeuaggelizomai] to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all nations [of Israel] be blessed. So then they, which be of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham … But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith.'” [Gal. 3:6-9; 11; also read the Feature article, We're Abraham's Seed And Heirs for a more thorough explanation].
With the advent of the Abrahamic covenant, put in place by his seed, Christ, and not seeds as in many [See Gal. 3:16], we have the new covenant definition of sin. “ … for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” [Rom.14:23]. And without faith, we cannot accept Christ and receive the Spirit of God. Faith, [Greek, pistis], is defined as the conviction of the truth. Therefore, sin can be defined as the conviction of a lie. For whatever is not the truth is a lie; whatever is not of faith is sin. Conviction of the truth is required, by definition, for faith to exist in our lives. Under the Old Covenant, no such conviction was needed, just an absolute obedience regardless of one's convictions. It was the fleshly "have to" rather than the spiritual "want to." Nevertheless, today many Christians still think of sin in terms of the legalistic Old Testament. Pastors quote from it all the time especially when it suits their purpose. This is a strange affiliation that Christians have for the Old Testament especially if we are the “Gentiles of the world.” But, it is not so strange considering that we are the House of Israel.
Being Christ’s, and therefore Abraham’s seed [Greek, sperma meaning physical descendants; Gal. 3:29], our lives should be completely centered on living in faith rather than guided extrinsically by the law. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith [the conviction of the truth]. And the law is not of faith: but, the man that does them shall live in them. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law [covenant], being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the nations [of Israel] through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith … Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [all Israel’s, never the gentiles of the world] to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For you are all the sons of God by faith [the conviction of the truth] in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Gal. 3:11-14, 24-27].
Of course, some of you may be thinking, well if I can’t sin, then, I can go and do anything I want and be home free. Well, not exactly. We can’t put new wine into old wineskins. [Mark 2:22]. While we still have the potential to do evil, when we truly have the Spirit of God living within us, we have the conviction of, and a love for the truth guiding our actions. When we do miss the mark, we have a guiding hand to help us get back on track. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and change your ways.” Using grace as an excuse for license runs contrary to the word of God, the truth, and how we should conduct ourselves. As the apostle Peter advised, “As free people, don't use your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but live as the servants of God.” [1 Pet. 2:16].
Paul addressed this very issue. “For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another … 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 the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would. But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law.” [Gal. 5:13, 16-18].
Paul also pointed out, “Don’t you know, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” [Rom. 6:16]. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” [Rom. 8:5]. We either serve the flesh or the Spirit in this life. As Bob Dylan intoned, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Theologically, sin was only imputed to the nations of Israel. Only the nations of Israel were in the law covenant relationship with God. Therefore, the only people who could sin, by definition, are those of all the nations of Israel. Everyone else, however, is perfectly capable of committing evil deeds, though these deeds are not imputed as sin theologically. Because of the House of Israel’s sins, our ancestors were divorced from God and cast out of their covenant relationship. [See Jer. 3:8]. Hence, they needed to be redeemed. And this is why Christ said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” And our redemption in this age is by grace. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:” [Rom 3:24]. In other words, Christ covers our sins on our behalf. “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” [Rom. 4:7].
“For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” [Rom. 4:13]. Therefore, if we don’t have the conviction of the truth, then we cannot have faith, and we miss the mark. This is why we find in Luke 18:8, “Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” In short, do we have a love for the truth or not? [2 Ths. 2:4-12; also the Feature article, The Love Of The Truth].
“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” [Rom 4:16]. Bear in mind Paul was writing here as a descendant of Abraham, and his great-grandson Benjamin, one of the sons of the House of Israel. [Rom. 11:1].
“The reward for trusting him [Christ] will be the salvation of your lives. This salvation was something even the prophets [of Israel in the Old Testament] wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. The prophets wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ's suffering and his great glory afterward. They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. [The House of Israel in the Christian age]. And now this good news [gospel] has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.” [1 Pet. 1:9-12, NLT*]. This is the apostle Peter writing to those of the House of Israel in the first century. Two millennia later, we lack the conviction of the truth of our Biblical ancestry. In this, we are without faith.
To answer one of our initial questions, what exactly is sin anyway? Regarding the law covenant, it was transgressing the legal terms of that covenant made between Christ and the children of Israel through Moses. As the law covenant is no longer in force, missing the mark, or sin can no longer be imputed. By definition, we cannot sin.
Therefore, can a Christian sin once we are born of God? The answer is no. The law covenant has been broken and no longer applies. And when we are led by the Spirit of God in our lives, we live by faith, for repentance and faith go hand in hand. [Heb. 6:1, 2]. “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning [the teachings we have from Christ and the apostles in the first century]. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us. I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit [the anointing], and he lives within you, so you don't need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie.” [1 John 2:24-27 NLT*]. When the Spirit of God living in us teaches us the truth, and we remain steadfast in that conviction, we shall remain in Christ, no longer in sin.
Italics and [ ] are the author’s.
* Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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“Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed [the Spirit of God] remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”