Christian Living: Trusting God With the Problem of Sin
“OK, I understand that the blood of Christ covers all sin. And I understand that there is nothing I can add to the equation. But here’s my question: If God, for Christ’s sake, has completely forgiven me for all my sins, past, present and future, then what is to stop me from just going out and sinning all I want? I mean, is the law meaningless for Christians? Does God now condone sin? Doesn’t he want me to stop sinning?”
These questions are important. Let’s go through them one at a time, and see if any more crop up along the way.
All sin forgiven
First, you said that you understand that the blood of Christ covers all sin. That’s a great beginning. A lot of Christians don’t understand that. They believe that the forgiveness of sins is a transaction, kind of a business deal, between a person and God. The idea is that you do the right thing for God, and God will give you forgiveness and salvation.
For example, you put your faith in Jesus, and God rewards you by applying Jesus’ blood to your sins. Tit for tat. That would be good deal, but still a deal, a transaction, and not the pure grace proclaimed by the gospel. In this way of thinking, most people are damned because they didn’t ante up in time, and God divvies out the blood of Jesus to only a few; it never actually redeemed the whole world.
But many churches don’t even leave it there. Potential believers are lured in with the promise of being saved by grace alone, but once the believer enters the church, the list of rules comes out. If you don’t toe the line, you might get kicked out, and under certain circumstances, not only out of the church, but out of the kingdom of God as well. So much for “saved by grace.”
There are sometimes situations in which a person must be removed from the fellowship of the church (which does not remove a person from the kingdom), but that’s another subject. For now, suffice it to say that organized religion tends to have a love affair with keeping sinners out of the church, whereas the gospel trumpets them an invitation to enter.
According to the gospel, Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). That, contrary to what many Christians have been told by their preachers, means absolutely everybody. Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Jesus is God the Son, by whom and through whom all things exist (Hebrews 1:2-3), and his blood redeems no less than everything he made (Colossians 1:20).
By grace alone
You also said that you understand that there is nothing you can bring to the table to sweeten the deal God has drawn up for you in Christ. There again, you are way ahead of the game. The world is full of sin-battling preachers who lay weekly guilt trips on their cowering flocks with a long list of specially selected commissions and omissions that reputedly ignite God’s ever-shortening fuse and threaten to land the whole pathetic lot of spiritual low achievers in the fiery torments of hell.
The gospel, on the other hand, declares that God loves people. He is not out to get them. He is not against them. He is not waiting for them to trip up so he can squash them. Quite the contrary, he is on their side. He loves them so much that he has set free from sin and death all people everywhere by the atoning sacrifice of his Son (John 3:16).
In Christ, the door is open to the kingdom of God. People can believe God’s word (faith), turn to him (repent) and claim their freely given inheritance—or they can continue to deny God as their Father and reject their part in the family of God. God honors our choice. If we disown him, he lets our decision stand. That is not the choice he wants us to make, but he does allow us the freedom to make it.
God has done all that needed to be done for us. In Christ, he has said “Yes” to us. It is up to us to say “Yes” to his “Yes.” But the Bible indicates that there are, amazingly, some who say “No.” They are the wicked, the haters, the ones who oppose God and themselves. They have committed themselves to the proposition that they have a better way; they have no need of God. They regard not God or man. To them, God’s offer of complete amnesty and eternal blessing is a meaningless and worthless insult. God, who gave his Son for them, ratifies their appalling decision to remain the children of the devil they have chosen over him.
God is the Redeemer, not the destroyer, and he has done this for no other reason than that he wants to, and he is free to do what he wants. He is bound by no outside rules, but he has freely chosen to be utterly faithful to his covenant love and promise. He is who he is, which is exactly who he wants to be, and he is our God, full of grace and truth and faithfulness. He forgives our sins because he loves us. That is how he wants it, so that is how it is.
No law could save
There is no law that could bring eternal life (Galatians 3:21). We humans simply don’t keep laws. We can argue all day over whether it is theoretically possible for humans to keep the law, but the fact is, we don’t keep it, never did and never will, and nobody ever has but Jesus.
There is only one way salvation comes, and that is through God’s free gift apart from anything we do or don’t do (Ephesians 2:8-10). Like any gift, we can take it or leave it. Either way, it is ours already by God’s grace, but we can use it and enjoy it only if we actually take it. That is a simple matter of trust. We believe God and turn to him. If, on the other hand, we are foolish enough to reject it, we will, tragically, continue to live in our self-imposed darkness and death as though we never had light and life handed to us in a golden goblet.
Hell a choice
Such a choice, such contempt for God’s free gift—a gift paid for by the blood of his Son through whom all things exist and consist—is nothing less than hell. But it is a choice made by people whose invitation to pre-paid life is just as real and valid as the invitation of those who accept theirs. Jesus’ blood covers all sin, not just some sin (Colossians 1:20). His atonement is for all the creation, not just part of it.
Those who scorn such a gift are kicked out of the kingdom only because that is their own preference. They want no part of it, and God, though he never stops loving them, won’t allow them to stick around and ruin the joy of the eternal celebration by stinking up the place with the pride and hate and unbelief they have made their gods. So they go to where they like it best— to hell, where there is nobody having fun to spoil their miserable self-absorption.
Free grace is good news! Even though we didn’t earn it or deserve it, God decided to give us eternal life in his Son. Believe or scoff, it’s our choice. Whatever we decide to do about it, this much is forever true: Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has concretely demonstrated how much he loves us, and how far he has gone to forgive our sins and restore us to himself. He has freely poured out his mercy everywhere in abounding love on absolutely everybody. It is pure grace—God’s free gift of salvation, and it is enjoyed by everybody who believes his word and accepts him on his terms.
What stops me?
That brings us to your questions. If God has already forgiven my sins even before I commit them, what is to stop me from just going out and sinning my brains out?
First, let’s clear some ground. Sin is primarily a condition of the heart, not merely individual acts of wrongdoing. The acts of wrongdoing don’t come from nowhere; they spring naturally from our hearts, which because of the fall, are corrupt. The solution to our sin problem therefore is that we be given a new heart, thus dealing directly with the source of sin, rather than merely treating its effects.
God is not interested in finely behaved robots. He wants a love relationship with us. He loves us. That is why Christ came to save us. Relationships are built on forgiveness and mercy, not on forced compliance. If I want my wife to love me, for example, do I force her to act as though she does? If I did, I might get compliance, but I certainly wouldn’t get her to actually love me. You cannot force anybody to love. You can only force people to act.
Through self-sacrifice, God has shown us how much he loves us. Through forgiveness and mercy, he has proven his great love. By suffering for our sins in our place, he has demonstrated that there is nothing that can come between us and his love (Romans 8:38). God wants children, not slaves. He wants a love relationship with us, not a world of cowering whipped dogs. He made us free beings, with real choices to make that matter to him very much. The choice he wants us to make is him.
God gives us freedom to behave as we wish, and he forgives our failures. He does it because he wants to. He set things up that way, and he makes no apologies for it. If we have any sense, we will see his love for what it is and latch onto him like there’s no tomorrow.
So what is there to stop us from sinning all we want? Absolutely nothing. There never has been. The law didn’t stop anybody from sinning all they wanted (Galatians 3:21-22). We have always sinned all we want, and God has always permitted it. He’s never stopped us. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t condone it. He doesn’t endorse it. In fact, it grieves him. But he has always permitted it. That’s called freedom, and he gives us that freedom.
The Bible says that we are righteous in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9). We are not righteous in ourselves; we are righteous in Christ. In ourselves, because of sin, we are dead, but we are also, at the same time, alive in Christ—our lives are hid in Christ (Colossians 3:3). Without Christ, we are in hopeless shape, sold under sin, with no future. But Christ saved us. That is the gospel—good news! His salvation, if we receive it, puts us on a new footing with God.
Because of what God has done in Christ for us, including his prompting, even urging, us to trust him, Christ is now in us. For Christ’s sake (he intercedes for us), we are, in spite of our sin, acceptable—righteous—before God. The whole business, from start to finish, is done, not by us, but by God, who wins us not by force, but by the power of his self-sacrificial love.
The law meaningless?
Paul was plain about the purpose of the law. It shows us that we are sinners (Romans 7:7). It declares the fact of our slavery to sin so that we might be justified by faith when Christ came (Galatians 3:19-27).
Now, suppose for a moment that you enter the judgment believing you are righteous because you always tried hard to obey God. So, instead of taking the wedding garment provided at the door (the free, clean one that goes only to dirty people who know they need it), you go in by a side door wearing your striving-hard garment, reeking all the way, and sit down at your place at the table. The lord of the house will say to you, “Hey buddy, where did you get the brass to come in here and insult me in front of all my guests with your sewage-soaked rags?” Then he will say to the staff, “Handcuff this filthy imposter and dump him in the swamp.”
We cannot clean our dirty faces with our own dirty water, our dirty soap and our dirty washcloths, and go happily on our way thinking our hopelessly filthy faces are clean. There is only one way to remedy sin, and it does not lie with us. Remember, we are dead in sin (Romans 8:10), and dead people, by definition, can’t remedy their deadness. Rather, the acute knowledge of our sinfulness should lead us to trust Jesus to clean us (1 Peter 5:10-11).
God wants you sin-free
God has given us indescribably great mercy and salvation not so that we feel a license to sin, but to free us from sin. That freedom not only removes our guilt from sin, but it also empowers us to see sin stripped naked for what it really is, instead of dressed up in the pretty costume it wears to fool us, and to reject its fraudulent and pretentious power over us. Even so, when we sin, which we certainly do, Jesus remains no less our atoning sacrifice (1 John 2:1-2).
God not only does not condone sin, he condemns sin. He does not like or endorse our glazed-eyed rationalizations, our comatose suspension of good sense or our hair-trigger, dive-in responses to temptations of every sort, from anger to lust to scorn to pride. He rarely bails us out of the natural consequences of the things we choose to do. However, because our faith and trust are in him (which means we are wearing the clean wedding clothes he provides), neither does he kick us out (as some preachers seem to think) of his wedding feast because of the poor choices we make.
Have you ever noticed that when you become aware of sinfulness in your life, your conscience plagues you until you confess your sins to God? (Chances are, there are some forms of sinfulness that you find yourself confessing rather frequently.) Why do you do that? Because you have committed yourself to “go out and sin all you want”? Is it not, rather, because your heart rests in Christ, and you, in tune with the Spirit who dwells in you, are grieved until you re-establish a sense of right relationship with him?
The Spirit in us testifies with our spirit, we are told, to the truth that we are the children of God (Romans 8:15-17). Two things to remain keenly aware of here:
- You, by the testimony of the Spirit of God, are, in Christ and with all the saints, a child of God.
- The Spirit, as the inner witness to your real identity, does not neglect to rumble your landscape when you choose to live as though you are still nothing but the dead meat you used to be before Jesus redeemed you.
Make no mistake. Sin is God’s enemy and your enemy. We need to fight it tooth and nail. But we must never think that our salvation depends on the level of our success in overcoming sin. Salvation depends on Christ’s success in overcoming sin, and that’s already been done. Sin and the death that shadows it have already been defeated in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the power of that victory resounds through all the creation from the beginning of time and forever. The only overcomers in the world are those who trust in Christ to be their resurrection and life.
God takes joy in the good works of his children (Psalm 147:11; Revelation 8:4). He delights in our acts of kindness, our sacrifices of love, our devotion to justice, honesty and peace (Hebrews 6:10). These and every good work are the natural outgrowth of the Spirit’s work in us, leading us to trust, love and honor God. They are part of the love relationship that he has built with us through the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lord of life, Jesus Christ. Such deeds and such work are God’s own work in us, his beloved children, and as such, they are never useless (1 Corinthians 15:53).
God’s work in us
Our faithful devotion to do what pleases God reflects our Savior’s love, but again, our works of righteousness in his name are not what saves us. The righteousness that finds expression in our words and deeds of obedience to God’s commands is righteousness that God himself is behind, joyfully working in us to his glory to bring forth good fruit. For us to try to take credit for what he does in us would be silly.
It would also be silly to think that the blood of Jesus, which covers all sin, leaves any of our sinfulness uncovered. If we think that, then we still don’t have a clue as to who this eternal and omnipotent triune God is—this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created all things, redeems us freely and magnificently with the Son’s own blood, dwells in us through the Holy Spirit, and renews the whole creation, and makes us into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) along with the whole universe (Isaiah 65:17), because of his indescribable love.
Though God commands us to do what is right and good, he does not determine salvation by keeping record books. That is good for us, because if he did, we would all turn up in the reject pile. God saves us by his grace, and we can walk in the joy of that salvation if we give up all our claims on life, turn to him, and trust him and him alone to raise us from the dead (Ephesians 2:4-10; James 4:10).
Salvation is determined by the One who writes names in the book of life, and he has already written everyone’s name in that book with the Lamb’s blood (1 John 2:2). It is a colossal tragedy that some refuse to believe it, because if they would trust the Lord of life they would find that the life they have been scratching to save is not really life at all, but death, and that their true life, waiting to be revealed, is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). God loves even his enemies and wants them, along with all people, to turn to him and enter the joy of his kingdom (1 Timothy 2:4, 6).
So let’s summarize. You asked: “If God, for Christ’s sake, has completely forgiven me for all my sins, past, present and future, then what is to stop me from just going out and sinning all I want? I mean, is the law meaningless for Christians? Does God now condone sin? Doesn’t he want me to stop sinning?”
There is nothing to stop us from sinning all we want. There never has been. God has given us free will, and he values it. He loves us and desires a love relationship with us, and such a relationship comes only through free choice, rooted in trust and forgiveness, not through threats or forced compliance. We are not robots or videotaped characters in a predetermined play. We are created as real, free beings, made so by God in his own freedom, and the relationship God has with us is real.
The law is far from meaningless; it serves to make it abundantly plain that we are sinners, falling far short of God’s perfect will for us. God permits us to sin, but he does not condone it. That is why he has gone to such astounding self-sacrificial lengths to save us from it. Sin hurts and destroys us and everyone around us. It springs from a corrupt heart of unbelief and selfish rebellion against the source of our life and being. It saps us of true life and being and imprisons us in the darkness of death and nothingness.
In case you haven’t noticed, sin hurts like hell—literally, since that is in essence what it is. It makes as much sense to “go out and sin all I want to” as it does to stick my hand into a running lawnmower. “Well, then,” I heard one man say, “If we’re already forgiven, we might as well just go out and commit adultery.” Sure, if you want to live in constant fear of being caught while you risk unwanted pregnancy and some nasty diseases, breaking your family’s hearts, discrediting yourself, losing your friends and paying alimony out the nose, not to mention a plagued conscience and the likelihood of having to deal with very angry husbands, boyfriends, brothers or fathers.
Sin has consequences, bad ones, which is why God is at work in you to conform you to the image of Christ. You can work on listening and cooperating, or you can keep feeding appendages to the law mower. We must not forget that the usual sins we think about when we say things like “go out and sin all I want” are only the tip of the iceberg. What about being greedy, or selfish or rude? What about being unthankful, or saying mean things, or not helping out when you ought? What about holding a grudge, envying someone’s job, clothes, car or house, or harboring angry thoughts about someone? What about taking home your employer’s office supplies, sharing in gossip, or belittling your spouse and children? On and on we could go.
These are sins, too, some big, some little, and guess what? We “go out” and do them all we want to. It’s a good thing God saves us by grace and not by works, isn’t it? Sin is not OK, but that does not stop us from sinning. God does not want us to sin, yet he knows better than we do that we are dead in sin, and that we will continue to be dogged by sin until our true life, redeemed and sinless, which is hidden in Christ, is revealed at his appearing (Colossians 3:4).
Sinners alive in Christ
Purely by the freely given grace and limitless power of our ever-living and ever-loving God, believers paradoxically have died to sin, yet are alive in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:12; 6:4-11). Despite our sins, we no longer walk in death because we have believed and accepted our resurrection in Christ (Romans 8:10-11; Ephesians 2:3-6), a resurrection that will find its consummation at the appearing of Christ, when even our mortal bodies put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:52-53).
Nonbelievers continue to walk in death, unable to enjoy their life that is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3) until they come to faith, not because the blood of Christ does not cover their sin, but because they cannot trust Christ to raise them from the dead until they believe the good news that he is their Savior and turn to him. Nonbelievers are as redeemed as believers—Christ died for everybody (1 John 2:2)—only they don’t know it yet. Since they don’t believe what they don’t know, they continue to live in the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15) and the futile pursuit of life in all the wrong places (Ephesians 2:3).
The Holy Spirit transforms believers into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). In Christ, the power of sin is broken, and we are no longer its prisoners. Even so, we are still weak and sometimes give place to sin (Romans 7:14-29; Hebrews 12:1). Because he loves us, God cares very much about our sinful condition. He loves the world so much that he sent his eternal Son that whoever believes in him would not remain in the darkness of death that is the fruit of sin, but would have eternal life in him.
There is nothing that can separate you from his love, not even your sins. Trust him. He helps you walk in obedience, and he forgives your every sin. He is your Savior because he wants to be, and he is very good at what he does.
Author: J. Michael Feazell