Why do people sin? Why do they keep doing bad, even when they know it’s wrong? And what about people who say they belong to God, but keep sinning? Are they saved?
“For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12)
Human nature is peculiar. The sin we are infected with by virtue of our birth causes us to be naturally opposed to the holiness of God–to what is right and good. Jesus knew this and explained exactly why some people reject Him:
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21)
People who choose to live rightly have nothing to fear; their deeds are good and their conscience is clean before God, and they are drawn to the message of truth. Those who live in sin, however, don’t want to read the Bible or attend church because they intuitively feel God’s condemnation–they know they aren’t right and are hostile to His message.
It sometimes seems murky as to who belongs to God and who doesn’t–whether it is possible to be saved yet still live in sin–but God is straightforward about this. We must believe on the Lord, Jesus Christ, but not all who say, or even think, they have faith actually have saving faith:
“…He was manifested [revealed to us] to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides [stays] in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 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. 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. (1 John 3:5-9)
Clearly, this does not mean we will never again be guilty of a single sin after trusting Christ, because sin is so pervasive that we commit it daily without even understanding that we are doing it. Yet sin will not characterize us; it will not be a present pattern in our lives.
The Word of God teaches us that our own human righteousness does not earn us salvation (“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9), but that those who are saved exhibit righteousness (“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:10). A righteous (free from a pattern of sin) life is a consequence of–a proof of–our salvation, not the way to earn it.
Part of the confusion in our modern English-speaking world is because of the verb “believe” and the nouns “belief” and “faith.” In our culture it is entirely possible to believe something, but not have it impact our behavior, yet this is not the kind of belief that saves us from God’s righteous wrath against sin. The kind of belief that saves is a complete transformation and is more accurately represented by our word “conversion.” In other words, if our belief in Christ is not a conversion–a genuine change of heart–if it does not result in an altered lifestyle from sin to one of actively avoiding sin–it is not saving faith. But what is conversion? What, exactly, does that mean?
Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit and is a complete 180 degree reversal of loyalty. Whereas before we were our own god and served ourselves and our own interests and agenda, after conversion we serve the real God and live for His purposes. His Spirit enables us to do this–to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him–truly fulfilling the heart of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods [nothing that we value more] before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
This, then, is the problem with the issue of people who claim to have been born again but whose lives are characterized by an ongoing pattern of sin. Has such a person been genuinely converted to Christ? Have they been born of God? What does He say? “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.” (1 John 3:9)
So how can we know we are right with God?
“And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ [be converted] and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:19-23)
Help us be born of You, that we not sin. Amen.