You’ve heard it said, “If you can keep from sin for 30 seconds, you can keep from it for a minute. If you can keep from it for a minute, you can keep from it for an hour.” But I say to you, the Bible portrays a different picture.
I think everyone, in some way or another, has heard the sermon pushing for perfect sinlessness on the basis of the argument presented in quotations above. And the argument is true, in a sense. We are called to ‘sin no longer’ and by the blood of Christ we are freed from slavery to sin. But are there Christians out there who live complete days without sin, perfectly glorifying our great God above and obedient in all things? I think not (and rather strongly, I might add).
But don’t take my word for it, as with all things, let’s go to the Bible:
1. Let’s ask the apostle Paul. Paul, are we good or righteous? “None is righteous, no, not one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23)
2. In fact, no matter how righteous the apostle Paul was (and indeed he was), what does he say of himself anyway? “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15) – Not ‘I was’ but ‘I am.’
3. Let’s ask the wisest man who has ever lived, save Jesus. Wiseman, are we good? “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
4. Or “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9)
5. Or “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalm 143:2)
6. Or “…all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
7. If we can live perfectly sinless lives now, why did Jesus teach us to pray daily for forgiveness? “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts…” (Matthew 6:11, 12)
8. Why then did he turn toward his disciples and say, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (Matthew 7:11). Clearly, being able to do something good does not necessarily make us good.
9. Also, Jesus made something very clear in his ministry: “No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19)
If we happen to still think that, even as Christians, we can be and are perfectly righteous and have lived a day without sin, let me ask a question. Jesus said the greatest commands were to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39) – who here or who reading this article has done this perfectly for even a single day since they’ve been a Christian? Dare we raise our hand? My point exactly.
We absolutely must forsake the teaching that we can stand alone as ‘good’ or as a perfect law-keeper (even when we’re Christians) simply because the very foundation of the gospel lies on the truth that we are, most emphatically, NOT good. The good news of the gospel of Christ depends on us knowing that God has not redeemed the ‘cream of the crop’ of all human existence but rather that he has redeemed those who are utterly lost in their sin. Otherwise, how significant can the true statement “Jesus Christ died for your sins” be? Jesus Christ died on the cross to seal the statement that ‘we are not good’ and he alone was good and perfectly righteous and, in the love of God, died in our place for it. Since the blood of Christ is still applied to justified sinners today and the gospel message is still relevant, the truth remains, we are still not good.
But we are good. We are perfect.
The thing is, you see, Jesus is our perfect righteousness before God. When he traded places with us on the cross, not only did we receive forgiveness of sins by him nailing them to the cross as he bore them in our place but we received his perfect righteousness. The apostle Paul says, “For our sake [the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And so we also have odd passages like Hebrews 10:10-14. This passage demonstrates one of the many, as some call it, ‘already and not yet’ passages. There are many such passages in the Scriptures that demonstrate a truth as being both fulfilled them and not yet fulfilled, i.e. being saved, as in, we are saved now, but we’re not completely saved until Jesus comes back to take us home. We are both ‘already and not yet’ saved. But anyway, back to Hebrews 10. Notice two verses in particular:
(v.10) And by that will we have been sanctified (made holy) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. [ALREADY]
(v.14) For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. [NOT YET]
We are both sanctified yet being sanctified. We are both perfect and yet being perfected. And so in Christ there is no sin, but we are commanded everyday to ‘put to death the deeds of the flesh’ and to not practice sin. *[Not to mention that being righteous in Christ and being just an overall righteous person in general does not necessarily include perfection. Note these two passages and what they imply: “there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccl.7:20) and “the righteous falls seven times and rises again” (Prov.24:16).]
C.S. Lewis said, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”
Some of us simply have not figured out yet just how bad we are in ourselves. And, unfortunately (but fortunately at the same time), it’s not until that point, when we’ve admitted that we are bad and we can’t do anything apart from Christ, that we really can do anything spiritually meaningful for Christ’s sake.
The key to our practicing righteousness now is relying on He who is eternally righteous. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). You see, the key is sharing Christ’s yoke. It is a yoke of obedience that Christ helps us to carry. Why is the yoke promised to be ‘easy’ and ‘light’? Because God is helping us to carry it. Jesus made it very clear that whatever good we do, we do not do it apart from him and his divine help: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Christ can become everything for us precisely when we recognize that apart from him, we can do nothing. Paul said that it was in his own weakness that Christ shone through and made him strong (2Cor.12:9). It is precisely when we decrease that he increases (Jn.3:30).
So what am I saying? Am I saying that we are sinful and so it’s not a big deal to sin anyway? Absolutely not. Those who commit willful sin will find a rather uncomfortably warm place in eternity (Heb.10:26-31). As Paul said, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? Absolutely not” (Rom.6:1, 2). But I am saying that we are not good. God is. And he says to rest in his righteousness and trust him for help to do his work. He illustrates for us very clearly that out of two men who go to the temple to pray, it is not the one who is self-righteous and trusts in himself that is justified, but rather, the man who beats his breast saying “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” who goes to his house justified (Lk.18:9-14).
Now what will adopting this humble mindset result in? More prayer and humble reliance on God. And this will result in more help, more obedience and then more righteousness, as it is written, “For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb.4:15, 16).
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 1:7 – 2:1)