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Just One More "Itching Ear" Doctrine, Needing to be Confronted!
"Christians Can Not Sin!"
Part Two

July 2013

At the end of last month’s study we concluded by saying that being “in Him” is a spiritual reality, which means walking in perfect harmony with Him (Christ Jesus) at all times.  There is however, a physical reality as well.  One in which we must chose to accept and strive with and one in which we must endure.  “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  (13) And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:11-13). 

In these verses we see words like “reckon yourself,” “do not let,” “obey,” “do not present,” “but present yourself,” these are words that signify direct conscious decisions on one’s part.  They are voluntary choices, not involuntary natural occurrences.  In essence Paul is saying that the power to decide not to sin is present in you “IF” you consciously make that choice.  I will to walk in this sinless reality by obeying every command given me by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul did not say that sinning is impossible.  Only that it is a possibility if we consistently chose to obey God in all things, at all times, without fail.

Some might say that though these verses clearly point to the existence of a physical reality that we all must consciously deal with on a daily basis.  The Bible does say that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for His seed remains in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (Ref. 1st John 3:9).  This is true so let us examine this verse for a moment.  First please notice that this verse is referring to every born again believer. We see this by the use of the word “whosoever.”  Now we all know by experience that sinless perfection is not true of every Christian, yet this verse says it is true.  How can this be?  What is the explanation?  The answer is that every believer born of God receives God's life and nature, and those are sinless.  However, by natural birth one received a life and nature from his parents which is sinful.  Hence, once a person becomes “born of God” he has within him his old sinful life and nature as well as a God given nature which is sinless; hence the warring of the heart, flesh and spirit (Ref. Romans 6:11-13, 7:23).  Both exist in the same body; and with the God given gift of “free will” man is capable of making choices that please God and that are displeasing to God.  It all depends on which life has the upper hand at that moment.  More will be covered on this later, but for now let us examine other verses like John 15:2-6; 2nd Corinthians 5:16-17. 

Let us start by taking a closer look at the terms “In Me,” “In Him;” “In Christ; or In Christ Jesus.”  Let us examine what exactly they imply.  After all these terms appear over 100 times in the New Testament each referring to the condition established in every true “Born Again” believer,  This fact alone makes it important for us to come to a complete understand of their meaning and how they apply to the subject at hand.  Let us look at two Biblical passages.  The first being John 15:2-7; “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  (3) You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  (4) Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  (5)  "I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.  (6) If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.  The second passage we will examine is 2nd Corinthians 5:16-17.  “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.  (17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

The phrase “in Christ” and its related terms do NOT mean, like water is in a bottle.  To be “in Christ” denotes a close intimate union; and implies that all our strength is derived from Him; furthermore it means that we shall partake of His fullness, and share in His blessings and glory, as the branch partakes of the strength and vigor of the vine.  To be united to Christ; or to be “in Him” is like a branch is to a vine, Jesus said; that is, so united, or so in touch as to derive all one’s nourishment and support from Him, and be entirely sustained by Him.  Notice; “every branch in Me…“Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me (John 15:2a, 4).   

Take special note of the word “abide.”  To “abide in Him” is the foundational key to living without sin.  The word “abide” is found three times in John 15:4, eight times in verses 4 through 10 and 118 times in the New Testament.  The Greek word translated “abide” is “meno.”  Meno” is a “primary (first, main or root) verb” which means; to stay in a given state, relation or expectancy: to continue, dwell, sojourn, endure, be present with, remain, stand or tarry; to remain as one, not to become another or different.  It is important to note that the word “abide” is usually associated with Christ.  For example, “in Me” (Jesus) who is the “true vine” (Ref. John 15:1), in “Jesus” or “the Father’s love” (Ref John 15:10), in His word (Ref. John 8:31).  Simply put, we must remain or continue as one with Christ and not become different or independent, if one wishes to bear much fruit and not be thrown out and burned (Ref. John 15:5-6).  These two things are essential to understand.  One; we must continue closely united to Christ by faith and love, and live in and for Him if we are to continually receive from Him the power to do good and not sin; for as the branch, cannot bear fruit from itself, neither can we, unless we abide in Him.  As the branch partakes of the nature of the vine and is nourished by its life giving flow and lives by its life, so we must be made partakers of His Divine nature in order to do the same.  We must be wise in His wisdom, powerful in His might, and pure through His holiness.  Two; if we do no t do so; we will be cut off, thrown out and burned. 

Now let us look at 2nd Corinthians 5:16-17 which says; Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is “In Christ,” he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  Some might argue that verse 17 is conclusive in support of the belief that Christians can not sin.  For it is obvious in its language; “Old things have passed away” (they interpret this to mean, our sinful nature is dead and gone) and now we are brand new creatures because “ALL things have become new” (meaning, we now have a sinless Godly nature incapable of sinning).  Oh how sweet that sounds!  If only it were true; but it is not!  So exactly what is being said; is the old sinful nature dead and gone and one that is sinless really established?  Or does it mean something beside the ability not to sin anymore.  Seeing that we have already examined what “In Christ” means, let us examine how being “In Christ” affects our old and new natures. 

Paul is not referring to a physical change in nature; when he says “Old things have passed away” if you need proof of that just look in a mirror.  We are still corruptible we have not yet been changed to incorruptible.  That will happen at the last trumpet blast (Ref. 1st Corinthians 15:50-55).  What is being said is that anyone who is “in Christ,” has been given a totally new way of seeing reality in regard to the Redeemer which is so diametrically different then before that it can easily constitute a change like becoming a new creation.  

Let us look at 2nd Corinthians 5:16 the verse before the one we just looked at.  No longer then, do we judge anyone by human standards.  Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so” (GNB).  God’s Word translates verse 16 like this; “So from now on we don't think of anyone from a human point of view.  If we did think of Christ from a human point of view, we don't anymore.”  What exactly is Paul saying?  First notice that this declaration is universal, “if any man be in Christ;” that is, all who become true believers, undergo such a change in their views and feelings as to make it proper to say that they are new creatures.  No matter what they have been before, whether moral or immoral; if they become true believers they all experience such a change in their view of the world and all that is in it, that it can be said that they are a new creation.  Therefore, because the old way of looking at things is so different, “he that is in the faith of Christ is a new creature” which is the way the Arabic translation translates verse 17. 

Old things are passed away” Here lies the crux of the misunderstanding regarding this belief.  Again, it is not referring to our old sinful natures parse, but as stated earlier it is referring to our old ways of looking at things in regard to Jesus and His work, and in regard to people, things and life in general (Ref. 2nd Corinthians 5:16).  In other words, the old course of living, the old way of serving God, whether among Jews or Gentiles; the old legal righteousness, old companions and acquaintance are dropped; and all external things, as riches, honors, learning, knowledge, former sentiments of religion, are changed they are over written by a new way of seeing things.  For example;

1.      In regard to the Jews – which their former prejudices against Christianity, their natural pride, and spirit of seducing others; their attachment to their rites and ceremonies, and dependence on them for salvation had all passed away.  They now renounced that independence, relied on the merits of the Savior, and embraced all as brethren who were of the family of Christ.

2.      in regard to the Gentiles – their attachment to idols, their love of sin and degradation, their dependence on their own works, had passed away, and they had renounced all these things, and had come to mingle their hopes with those of the converted Jews, and with all who were the friends of the Redeemer.

3.      in regard to everything else – It is true that old things pass away.  Their former prejudices, opinions, habits, attachments pass away.  Their supreme love of self passes away.  Their love of the world passes away.  Their supreme attachment to their earthly friends rather than God passes away.  Their love of sin, their sensuality, pride, vanity, humor, ambition, passes away.  There is a deep and radical change on all these subjects – a change which commences at the new birth; and is carried on by the on going desire for sanctification; which is completed at death.

“Behold, all things are become new” – That is, all things in view of the mind.  Everyone who is “in Christ” is a new "creation", as the words rendered: “ברייה חדשה, kainos ktisis” imply.  ברייה חדשה, kainos ktisis” is a phrase often used by the Jewish doctors, and was also used by the apostles referring to the newly converted.[1]  The term implies not an outward reformation of life and conduct, though that is one result, but an inward principle of grace, it is something new implanted in the soul, which had never existed before; it is not a working upon, or an improvement of the old, but an impartation of new principles; principles of grace and holiness.  As a result of this impartation there is a new heart, and a new spirit, and in them new light and life, new affections and desires, new delights and joys; here are new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with.  There is a new course of life, both of faith and purity; a new way of serving God through Christ by the Spirit, and all through the principles of grace; a new and better righteousness is received and embraced; new companions are sought after, and delighted in; new riches, honors and glory.

The purposes of life, the feelings of the heart, the principles of action, all become new.  The understanding is consecrated to new objects, the body is employed in new service and the heart forms new attachments.  All is new!  There are new views of God, and of Jesus Christ; new views of this world and of the world to come; new views of truth and of duty; and everything is seen in a new aspect and with new feelings.  Nothing is more common in young converts than such feelings, and nothing is more common than for them to say that all things are new.  The Bible seems to be a new book, and though they may have often read it before, now there is a beauty about it which they never saw before, and a wonder they have not before perceived.  The whole face of nature seems to be changed, and they seem to be in a new world.  A new beauty is spread over them and they now see them as the work of God.  Even the heavens and the earth are filled with new wonders, and all things seem now to speak forth the praise of God.  Even the very countenances of friends seem to be new; and there are new feelings toward all people; a new kind of love to kindred and friends; and a love before unfelt for enemies; and a new love for all mankind.

As you can plainly see being “A new creature” means a new creation in a moral and spiritual sense.  It is a phrase that is equivalent to the expression “new man” in Ephesians 4:24 “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”  The new man, who is following after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness.  It means, that there is a change produced in the renewed heart of man in which by an act of our conscious will we desire toput on the new man” and that is equivalent to the act of creation, a change, so to speak, as if the man was made over again, and had become new.   

Now let us examine 1st John 3:4-9.  Admittedly this passage would, after a superficial reading, seem to confirm the doctrine that “Christians can not sin!’  However, in order to establish this doctrine as true, we must remove this one passage from the rest of 1st John and from the entire Bible.  However when this passage is included in the rest of the 1st John and is compared with other passages in the Bible and with life’s experiences, this doctrine falls apart.  Only someone suffering from true spiritual blindness and a heart that is not after God but after self justification would defend this error as truth.  Let us examine this passage with scrutiny and care.

Now let us examine these verses in their proper context for better understanding, starting at verse one and ending with verse ten.  Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!  Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  (2) Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  (3) And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  (4)  “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.  (5) And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.  (6) Whoever abides (meon) in Him does not sin.  Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.  (7) Little children, let no one deceive you.  He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.  (8) 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.  (9) 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.”  (10) In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”

When one reads 1st John 3:4-9 in line with the rest of 1st John 1:1-10, the belief that “Christians can not sin” comes apart in the mind of any rational reader.  Let us start our examination by looking at verses 1-3 especially verse 3.  Verse 3 points us back to verses 1-2.  Verses 1-2 sets for us a great adoration of God and Christ that carries with it innumerable blessings and advantages to all who hold fast to Him; such innumerable blessings in fact, that the world does not and can not comprehend.  Verse 3 tells us that any Christian, who holds fast to this hope – purifies himself, just as He (Christ) is pure.  In other words, if we know Christ, His beauty and His glory, we will do whatever is necessary to be like Him.  We will by thoughtful decisions and conscious actions, make ourselves holy.  This is the result of a strong desire to be like the Savior.  One will put forth all effort to struggle against anything that is unlike Christ.  For to be unlike Christ is Sin!  Any success we can hope for can only take place by an absolute dependence on Him and His divine aid; which is what Paul often teaches in his epistles.  The continuous effort to be attached to Christ is the essential force behind salvation (Ref. Philippians 2:12).  The foundational thought here is that the hope of being like Christ and of being permitted to dwell with him, will lead a man to do whatever is necessary in order to become holy for He is holy (Ref. 1st Peter 1:16).

Notice the main principle given by John in this passage.  Namely, if one wishes to be pure, one must purify himself (hagnizei heauton).  To “purify himself” is a “present active indicative” in the Greek.  It means a continuing present working reality.  It refers to the work of personal internal cleansing of heart (Ref. James 4:8), soul (Ref. 1st Peter 1:22) and self (Ref. 1st John 3:3).  There are two ways of becoming like Christ found in this passage.  One, “If we see Him” we shall be ‘like Him’ (Ref. verse 2).  The second is “love” (Ref. verse 1).  Love always breeds likeness.  As we gaze upon Christ with an intensity of love, simplicity of trust, the joy of aspiring, and eagerness of desire we shall be transformed into His very likeness. 

The essential argument is, that the whole work of Christ was designed to deliver us from the dominion of sin.  Not to furnish us the means of indulging in it.  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound” (Ref. Romans 6:1)?  Notice verse 10b.  “…Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”  Did you notice the word “practice?”  This is referring to one who continues in unrighteousness.  A believer who indulges in sin and denies it, perverts the whole design of the coming of Christ and so is he that so interprets the methods of His grace as to suppose that it is now impossible to do so. 

It would be amiss of me if I were to conclude this teaching without looking at 1st John 3:9.  “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.”  Hey preacher, how can one deny what it says?  It is plain and direct; “for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin,”  Once again, let us keep this verse in context and not separate it from the entire passage or use it as a sole foundational scripture by not comparing it to other Biblical passages.  Let us compare verse 9 with verse 6 for example and see the principle behind the phrases “does not sin” (verse 6, 9) and “cannot sin” (verse 9).  In verse 6 the phrase “does not sin” is preceded by the words “abides in Him” which we looked at earlier in this lesson.  It says; “whoever abides in Him does not sin.  The key to understanding this verse is found in the words “abides in Him.”  We must remain as one, with Him and not try to become another or different.  We must remain or continue as one with Christ doing always what is required and if we do, one “does not sin” nor can he sin!  On the other hand, if we do not remain as one with him, the possibility of sinning is a certainty.

When we carefully scrutinize verse 9 we see that it has only two possible meanings; either they who are born of God, that is, who are true Christians, do not sin habitually and characteristically, or (2) that everyone who is a true Christian is absolutely perfect, and never commit any sin.  If this passage can be used as referring to the doctrine of absolute perfection, it proves, not that Christians may be perfect, or that a “portion” of them is perfect, but that they are completely perfect!  Who can honestly say this is true!  The only way, one can maintain this view is by their utter arrogance.  Believing that they are perfect and without sin and believing that anyone who proclaims to be a Christian and commits the slightest sin is not a Christian at all.  Who can believe that is what John meant?  This verse could not be clearer in its meaning and that John did not teach a doctrine so contrary to the teaching of Scriptures, he knew so well.  If we acknowledge that John did not teach that “Christians can not sin,” then we must also acknowledge that he must be referring to those who are habitually and characteristically righteous.  Who, strives every moment to be more like the Master, in all His ways. 

If in the face of this information you still can not accept the possibility that Christians can sin.  It may be well to call to mind our natural and moral weaknesses.  The unregenerate person is morally unable to do that which is religiously good.  The regenerate person is freed from the dominion of sin.  He is given as a result of his new birth the power to resist sin, a restraint, an embargo (if you will), laid upon his sinning ways.  It now goes against his nature to deliberately, habitually and characteristically sin.  We see this so clearly in Joseph’s reaction to the advances of Potiphar’s wife.  In the face of this sinful temptation he said; How can I commit this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Ref. Genesis 39:9) and then ran as far away from the temptation as he could.  Obviously, Joseph could have sinned against God if he chose to, but he chose holiness and righteousness instead which demonstrated that he was one of God’s own.  And so it can be seen in those who persist in a sinful life, they sufficiently demonstrate that they are not born of God and are not one of God’s own.

Now let me ask you; is there the possibility that at times you fail to present you body, heart or mind as an instrument of righteousness?  Paul believed there was.  In fact he experienced failure.  Notice what he said; “For we know that the law is Spiritual, but I am Carnal, sold under sin.  (15)  For what I am doing, I do not understand.  For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  (16)  If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.  (17)  But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  (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” (Romans 7:14-25).

Can a Christian sin?  Absolutely!  The Bible, as well as universal experience, bears abundant witness to this.  Hebrews 12:6-7 states: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens and scourges every son whom He receives.  If ye endure chastening God dealt with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the father chastens not?  If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons.”  Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 11:30-32: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep, for if we judge ourselves we should not be judged, but when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world.”  Paul, speaking of himself, showed he was capable of being lifted up with pride; for “everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.”  Hence there was given to him a thorn in the flesh – some physical affliction – which he called a messenger of Satan to buffet him – 2nd Corinthians 12:7.  An affliction God refused to remove lest he be exalted above measure and as we all know Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

There are hundreds of exhortations to believers in the New Testament to avoid sin, all tell the same tale.  Such as: "Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak": or: "let none of you suffer as a murderer or as a thief or as an evildoer or as a busybody in other men's matters".  1st Peter 4:15, etc.  Universal and personal experience adds its solemn note, for every honest believer in Jesus will confess that he has sinned many times.  The very holiest of men recorded in the Bible have sinned.

Allow one last word please, a strong word of warning for all who believe that Christians can not sin.  The apostle John writing to a group of believers (Christians) told them:  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1st John 1:8, 10).  Verse 9 gives a way of escaping the judgment that is upon all who deceive themselves by holding to this un-biblical devilish lie; “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


[1] T. Hieros. Roshhashana, fol, 59, 3; Vajikra Rabba, fol, 170, 4.

 

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