Can a Christian sin? What happens when a Christian sins? If a Christian sins, does that mean they are no longer saved?
These are questions that people often have at one time or another. I was recently asked a similar question and wanted to share a few thoughts from the Bible on this topic:
1. Understand what it means to be saved.
The word “saved” means rescued or delivered. Spiritual salvation is when God recuses or delivers us from the curse, the penalty and the guilt of sin. This deliverance or salvation is something that 1) God made possible for all mankind when Christ died on the cross and 2) God does for us when we believe on Jesus Christ.
So, the important thing is to understand that God is the One who does the saving. As Jonah 2:9 says, ‘Salvation is of the Lord’. And those who are ‘saved’ have many incredible promises that become immediately true.
John 5:24 describes some of these promises: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.’ Notice that those who hear and believe:
- have everlasting life at the moment of faith
- will not come into condemnation, and
- are already passed from death unto life.
What this is showing us is that the believer has a changed position, a changed standing in the eyes of God. He is no longer a sinner but a saint in the eyes of God, has already passed from death to life, and will never be condemned for His sin again!
For a believer to be rescued from his sins through faith in Christ and then be lost again would impugn the character of the Rescuer. The security of the believer is not in his own ability to keep his salvation – it was never his in the first place. The security of the believer is based on the power of the One who saved them – God. Notice the following verses:
- 1 Peter 1:5 speaking of believers says, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Ever believer is kept not by their own ability or righteous but by the power of God.
- John 10:27-29 assures us that those who are in God’s hand through hearing and believing on Christ have been given eternal life and will never perish or be plucked out of God’s hand, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
So for any true believer in Christ to “lose their salvation” goes completely against the nature of Biblical salvation. God’s salvation is an eternal salvation – it never ends, no matter what. It is a total salvation, it rescues us from sin’s penalty (death), sin’s power in the here in now, and sin’s presence (in the future). It is an unconditional salvation, meaning that there is nothing that we need to do to earn it or keep it.
No wonder Hebrews 2:3 calls it ‘so great salvation!’
2. Understand how a believer should live.
Romans 5 shows us what it means to be justified (declared righteous by God) through faith in Jesus Christ. It tells us that those who have believed on Christ have many wonderful blessings and that even though our sins may have abounded, God’s grace has much more abounded (Romans 5:20, ‘Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’)
The fact that God is able to save and rescue the worst of sinners is an amazing truth that not only transforms our eternal destiny but should impact our present day living. Just because we know that God has already forgiven all of our sins, past, present, and future, does not mean that we should continue in sin, so that God’s grace might keep abounding (See Romans 6:1).
Instead, those who are saved are now dead to sin. They are identified with Christ and their new identity in Christ means that death has no more dominion (right of control) over them. So the questions is why would someone who is free from the slavery of sin, who has a new identity in Christ, and who has the power of the Holy Spirit changing them from the inside out want to serve sin any longer? Romans 6:2 asks the same question, ‘How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?’
A person who is saved, who has been freed from sin, now has the power to not sin. But that does not necessarily mean they won’t sin. Actually, even some of the greatest Christians in history still struggled with sin. Paul said, ‘the evil which I would not, that I do’ (Romans 7:19. John said, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…’ (1 John 1:8)
But what the believer does have is the indwelling Holy Spirit who will be changing them and saving them from sin’s power in their life. This is a lifelong process called sanctification in which God through suffering, through trials, through His Word, through the Holy Spirit helps us to live out our new identity more and more.
And when a Christian sins, he maintains his righteous standing before God, not through any works of his own, but through the work of Christ. Notice what 1 John 2:1-2 says, ‘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: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’
- The believer has a righteous standing because of Christ and can live a righteous walk because of Christ. Jesus Christ died to pay for all our sins. His death and resurrection make our salvation possible, and the moment we believe on Him we gain a new identity. We may not always live up to that identity but that does not change the way God views us.
- Knowing that we are saved, that we are free from sin, and that we do have eternal life should motivate us to live more and more righteously.
- Until we receive our new bodies at the return of Christ, we will still need God’s help every day to live out our new identity and get victory over sin.