THE ARTICLE on the "Unpardonable Sin" (July 1971 -- TOMORROW'S WORLD) brought a heavy and most gratifying response. Thousands were helped -- many minds freed from doubts. Consequently I want now to make plain a related truth.
I have written on this subject before. But perhaps I can approach it in a different manner, and explain more clearly.
Do Christians ever sin? If one does, is he "lost"?
First let me ask -- and answer the question, WHAT IS a Christian? Does joining a church make one a Christian? Does saying, "I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour" make one a Christian?
Let's get the Bible definition. In Romans 8:6-9 you will read: "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind (fleshly mind) is enmity (hostile) against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh (fleshly MINDED) cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
A Christian, then, is one who has received, and in whose mind dwells the Holy Spirit of God. Otherwise he is NOT Christ's -- NOT a Christian.
But how does one receive the Spirit of God?
On the day the Church of God was started, the Apostle Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized ... in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
Repent of what? Of sin. And what is sin? "Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). What law? The law that the carnal mind, hostile to God, is not subject to -- the Law of God (Rom. 8:7). Again, we read of "the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5:32).
There are the two CONDITIONS to receiving God's GIFT of the Holy Spirit: REPENTANCE and FAITH. Being baptized is the outward manifestation of the inner faith in Christ. Repentance is not merely being sorry for something one has done -- or even many such sins. It is a real repentance of what one IS and HAS BEEN -- of his whole past attitude and life apart from God. It is a total CHANGE of mind and heart and direction of life. It is a CHANGE to a new WAY OF LIFE. It is a turning from the SELF-centered way of vanity, selfishness, greed, hostility to authority, envy, jealousy and unconcern for the good and welfare of others to the God-centered WAY of obedience, submission to authority, love toward God MORE than love of self and of love and concern for other humans equal to self-concern.
LOVE is the fulfilling of God's Law (Rom. 13:10) -- but God's Law is a SPIRITUAL law (Rom. 7:14) and can be fulfilled only by "the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5).
The Holy Spirit will open one's mind to UNDERSTAND God's instruction on how to live, but it will not force one to live God's way -- it will not pull or push one. Each Christian must take his own initiative, though God's Spirit will give him help, faith and power. But it is "as many as are LED BY the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14).
So a Christian, then, is one who has received God's Spirit, which is dwelling in him, leading him, and he is following GOD'S WAY of life. A Christian has forsaken his former habitual way of life -- his selfish way unconcerned with God. Now he lives in the habitual way of God's Word -- in the light of the Word of God.
But suppose, like an 8-or 10-month-old baby trying to learn to walk, as he "walks" this NEW WAY, he stumbles, "falls down," as it were, and sins. Is he then condemned -- lost -- no longer a Christian?
I would like you, now, to notice, and UNDERSTAND, what the Apostle John was inspired to write for our admonition. It is in the first letter (epistle) of John:
Speaking of Christ, in his opening salutation, as "That which was from the beginning ... which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:1-3).
The true Christian has been reconciled to God through Christ. And, having God's Spirit, he enjoys actual FELLOWSHIP with the Father and the Son Jesus Christ. And even his fellowship with fellow-Christians is through God and Christ. He is joined to them, as the different branches are joined to a grape vine and joined together through and by the vine. Compare Jesus' analogy in John 15:1-7. Christians, then, are actually WALKING with Christ -- and two cannot walk together except they be in agreement (Amos 3:3).
Now continue in I John: "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not (are not doing) the truth" (verses 5-6). That is, He -- the living Christ -- is walking in the light -- as if on a brilliantly lighted path. But if we are walking in darkness, we are walking on a different path altogether, where it is dark. Therefore we are not walking WITH Him at all, and if we say we are, we are lying.
But suppose, while walking with Him -- in the light -- one of us stumbles and falls down. This is not a case of having turned away from Him and the path He is treading, to a different and darkened path. If we say, "Oh I'm sorry," would He not give us a hand and help us get up and continue on the lighted path with Him? Would He become angry and say, "Get off my path -- go walk down a darkened path"?
In still other words, the true Christian has turned FROM his former life of HABITUAL sin -- and from his former attitude of selfishness, and self-seeking when he had no serious intention of living God's way. But now he has turned from his former way. His life, in general, now, is the HABITUAL way of the Christian life.
But he is not perfect the minute he is converted and receives God's Spirit. He must GROW spiritually, in grace and the knowledge of Christ, as Peter writes in II Peter 3:18. He is the creature of habit, and all old former habits do not just automatically leave him without any effort on his part to overcome them. He must learn to OVERCOME sin. It is inevitable that he may be caught off-guard and make a mistake. So, continue in I John 1:
"But if we walk in the light" -- that is, even though we may stumble occasionally, it is now only the occasional slip -- not a turning our back on God's WAY -- NOT a turning back to the HABITUAL and constant way of sin.
Do you begin to UNDERSTAND the difference? The true Christian INTENDS to live God's WAY. He wants to live God's way. He TRIES to live God's way. And, in general, it now actually is his habitual NEW WAY of life. The occasional slip, or sin, does not mean that in his mind and heart he has rejected God and God's WAY. Continue:
"... As He is in the light" -- if that is now our goal and purpose and habitual way of life -- then "we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us (us who are now Christians) from all sin. If we -- (Christians) -- say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (verses 7-8).
If we, now Christians, say that we are already perfect -- that we never slip up and make a mistake or commit a sin, we are deceiving ourselves. I knew a woman who deceived herself in this way. She claimed to be above sin -- claimed she NEVER sinned. And although she was what most people would call a GOOD woman, she actually was committing the biggest sin of all -- spiritual pride and vanity! She gloried in her "sinless" state. She lacked Christian humility.
But if, while walking down this LIGHTED path with God, one stumbles and falls down, does God kick him aside?
Verse 9: "If we (we who are Christians -- it is NOT talking about the unconverted) confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
So notice the "IF." "If we CONFESS our sins." When we stumble, we must admit it -- we must repent of it -- we must ask forgiveness. If we deny it, or blame it on somebody else, we shall not be forgiven. We must confess it -- to God!
"If we say that we (as Christians) have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." The context continues right on into the second chapter: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not." In other words, we SHOULD not sin -- we must strive to avoid any sin. God gives us no license to sin. But, "... if any man sin, we (we Christians) have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins (those of us who are Christians): and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (chapter 2:1-3). But, of course He is the propitiation for the sins of the unconverted in the world ONLY when they come to real repentance, and faith in Christ.
God looks on the heart -- the attitude -- the INTENT.
As long as one, in his heart, has the real desire to walk God's WAY with Him -- is deeply sorry and repents when he commits the occasional sin -- and is seeking to overcome sin, and to make God's Way his habitual way of life he will stumble on occasion, but if he confesses it and repents, he will be forgiven. But, if he is diligent in his Christian life, his occasional stumbling will become less and less -- he will be making good progress, overcoming, GROWING spiritually and in righteous godly character.
What is your attitude? When you have sinned, have you been carelessly indifferent about it? You are on dangerous ground. Do you justify it, feel OTHERS are to blame? That will never justify your sins. Do you still DESIRE to go God's Way? Then it's not too late. Turn from sins, CONFESS your sins to God. REPENT! Pick yourself up, with Christ's helping hand, and go on overcoming and GROWING spiritually.
And once you know you have repented and been forgiven, don't repeat it, but FORGET it. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "FORGETTING those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14).