What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? |Romans 6:1-2|
This is one of the most difficult and confusing, yet one of the most important, questions a Christian can ask. Should Christians continue to sin? Can we live without sin? What does it mean to be free of sin?
The Bible can seem somewhat contradictory on this topic. In 1 John, John basically says that we’re in denial if we say we’re without sin (1 John 1:8, 1:10), but then he goes on to say that whoever keeps on sinning is a child of the devil (1 John 3:8, 3:10). This can leave you scratching your head and wondering what on earth we’re supposed to think about these two supposedly contradictory ideas.
So John said no one is without sin and we must confess our sins (1 John 1:9), but then he says that real followers of Christ can’t continue sinning (1 John 3:6). So what are we supposed to take from this?
As this topic is far from straightforward, this is going to be a long post, so please bear with me. I don’t claim to be an expert on these matters, so don’t think that I’ve somehow perfected living in freedom from sin just because I’m writing about it. I’m still figuring out how to really live this out. I feel like recently God has been reteaching me what it means to really live in freedom from sin.
When looking at these seemingly contradictory verses, there’s one conclusion that has always made sense to me, and which I continue to hold to: we will always sin because we are flawed human beings and will not be perfect until we see Jesus, but we can no longer continue to purposefully live in sin once we are in Christ.
I think John is talking about sin in two different senses here: unintentional sin, and the conscious decision to live in sin. All of us will sin, but as Christians we should not live in sin. Although these sound like basically the same thing, they’re not.
You’re always going to mess up because you’re human. People often sin without meaning to. They may say a careless thing that hurts someone’s feelings, or neglect to do something that God wants them to do. Even if you sin purposefully as a believer, you should feel conviction and turn away from that sin.
All of us make mistakes, but that’s not quite the same as repeating destructive sins that become a part of your lifestyle and essentially a part of your identity. For instance, if you decide you want to get drunk or have sex before marriage and feel no remorse, then you’re not free from sin and are just using grace as a license to do whatever you want (I’m just using these sins as an example, as the same goes for any conscious and continuous sin).
You’ll never be completely without sin in this life (and if you claim to be then you are fooling yourself), but if you’re in Christ, then you shouldn’t be dominated by sin. You shouldn’t be defeated and tormented by the same repetitive, destructive sins. You shouldn’t live in condemnation, unable to overcome certain sins. Although you’ll always deal with sin to a certain extent, you shouldn’t be its slave.
I believe a lot of sin issues come from identity issues. I know this is true for myself. I often fall into sin because I believe the lie that I’m a terrible person and will never be a good Christian and true child of God. I begin to feel discouraged and even condemned, which makes it even harder to find freedom from sin. I get stuck in destructive cycles of sin, and I feel anything but free.
The other night when I was reading 1 John, I had a real epiphany. For ages I’d felt tormented over these verses because I wondered how I could be a Christ-follower yet consciously continue to sin. I felt confused and honestly quite condemned. But then God showed me something: I can’t continue to live in sin like I used to because it’s a contradiction to my new identity in Christ.
You see, non-believers who don’t have the Holy Spirit can go on sinning because they’re not going to feel the same guilt that Christians feel. They don’t have the Holy Spirit sanctifying them, so they’re not going to feel conviction like we do.
I was watching a Francis Chan sermon recently, and he said something that has really stuck with me. He said that many Christians are the most miserable people you’ll ever meet because they have the Holy Spirit but are still continuing to live in sin. They can’t enjoy sin like they used to because they always have conviction hanging over them, and their flesh is in conflict with the Spirit.
So, is John saying that if you become a Christian and then purposefully sin afterwards then you’re automatically done for and clearly don’t know God? I don’t think so. It’s not always as black and white as that. I believe what he’s saying is that you can’t live in sin like you used to because it is now a contradiction to, and an attack on, your new identity in Christ.
You can no longer sin freely like you used to because it just doesn’t feel right. When you do sin, you know deep down that you can’t continue in it because it will lead to death. Even when you struggle with sin, there is no longer this complacent acceptance of sin as “just a part of being human.” Even at your lowest points, sin brings you deep sadness because you hate disobeying God.
As Christians, we should never be content to continue in sin. When we recognize a sin in our lives, we should make a conscious effort to remove it. We should always want to change and become more like Jesus. So if something isn’t lining up with Who He is, then we simply can’t accept it. We should never accept destructive sins and bad habits because we’re “only human.”
God’s grace covers us, but it doesn’t give us license to remain in sin. If you can think of really destructive sins in your life but don’t feel the urgent need to turn away from those sins, then there’s definitely a problem. God understands our weaknesses and temptations, but He’s never okay with us remaining complacent and accepting sin.
I believe that Christians can definitely backslide and can struggle with sins that are harder to overcome, and take more time to overcome, than others. I don’t believe that once you become a Christian you no longer have the ability to sin. To believe that would be a little delusional. However, I do believe that with Christ we are free from sin because of the Holy Spirit’s work within us. Sometimes it can take us a while to actually understand and live out that freedom, and oftentimes Christians remain caught up in sins because they don’t believe that they’re really free.
You can be “stuck” in sins and be really upset and remorseful about it but just feel helpless and defeated. I believe there are many Christians who are in this position (I know I have been!). They hate their sin, but they don’t know how to find freedom from it. That’s not the same as believing in the “grace doctrine” and using God’s mercy and forgiveness as an excuse to live in sin. However, Christians don’t need to be in this position, and there are a lot of people who are experiencing unnecessary pain because they have yet to understand their true identity as a child of God.
I’m going to be honest: I struggle with this all the time. Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been under attack more than usual, and I’ve fallen back into old sins and it has really discouraged me. It’s even made me question my salvation. But I don’t think God only gives us a certain amount of chances and then says, That’s it, you’re done. God isn’t waiting around for a chance to send us to hell.
The real freedom comes when we understand that God wants us free of sin because it kills us and makes our lives miserable. And worst of all, it creates a rift in our relationship with Him. God wants us to experience as much joy, peace, and freedom as possible. And we can’t have that if we’re caught up in sin.
To really embrace our freedom from sin, we need to understand that God is more satisfying than any sin can ever be. And we need to understand that sin ruins our intimacy with God and stops us from experiencing His presence to the fullest. That’s why we need to repent. If we’re not asking God to forgive us for our sins and making a conscious decision to actually turn away from those sins, then we’ll remain complacent and we’ll continue to be slaves to sin.
Nowadays, many Christians teach that God forgave you of your sins so that you no longer have to feel guilty about them. That teaching basically just suggests that conviction is bad and sin is okay, when conviction comes from the Holy Spirit and sin comes from the devil. God isn’t trying to ruin our fun by prohibiting certain things and telling us to turn from our sins; He’s trying to show us what true joy and freedom feels like.
In this day and age, we’re told that love means accepting everything and letting people do “what makes them happy.” God’s word, on the other hand, shows us that love is saving people from what destroys their souls and not letting them stay where they are. God loves you so much that He doesn’t want to see you in bondage. He wants you to live in absolute purity, because that’s how we truly thrive.
In John 8, when Jesus stopped the men from stoning the woman who had been caught in adultery, He didn’t tell her that her sin was okay and that she could carry on. He said that He didn’t condemn her and told her to sin no more. Because that’s what Jesus’ love really looks like. He doesn’t let us stay caught up in things that kill us on the inside and destroy our souls.
So, to be really free from sin, we must understand God’s grace and His wrath. If we have too much of one or the other, our perspectives will be warped. If we think God is a merciless tyrant who is waiting to smite us, we’ll walk around in condemnation and will never find freedom. However, if we believe God’s grace gives us license to live in sin and do whatever we want, then we’ll remain slaves to our sin and flesh. We must understand God’s holiness, but we must also understand His incredible grace. Those things are not in opposition to each other.
It’s also essential that we understand our new identities in Christ. My problem lately has been that I’ve been living as if I’m still the person I used to be. The Bible says that when we accept Christ, we die to our old selves and are given a brand new identity in Christ. So if you’re believing the lie that you’re the same person you used to be, it’s like you’re dragging around a corpse with you and then wondering why you feel burdened. That’s what I’ve been doing lately, and it’s wreaked havoc in my life.
We have to understand that Jesus’ blood washes us clean. His grace isn’t cheap; it’s so costly. I was reading this amazing blog post the other day that talked about understanding that our sins were what held Jesus to the cross, and how we won’t hate our sin like we should until we reach that awareness. I think most of us forget how much God hates sin, and some of us even live as if Jesus died to permit our sins rather than to free us from them.
Having said all this, it’s essential that we remember that we can never overcome sin on our own or make God love us more through our actions. That’s what the Galatians tried to do, and Paul reminded them that the law couldn’t save them, but only faith in Jesus Christ could (Galatians 2:16). It’s the cross that frees us, not our own effort. But that doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for our own lives and don’t have a responsibility to pursue righteousness and holiness.
It’s important to mention that I believe it’s essential to accept Christ, to be baptized, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to find real freedom. But a lot of us unfortunately don’t get the privilege of having an ideal and uncomplicated salvation experience, so things can get a little messy. For instance, I got baptized when I was twelve and walked away from the faith for years, and I didn’t fully surrender my life to Christ and receive the Holy Spirit until after high school. So my all-over-the-place testimony has made my walk with God a little confusing to say the least, and it’s made it more difficult to determine when exactly I believe I really received my new identity in Christ.
Not all of us accepted Christ, got baptized immediately, and then received the Holy Spirit all on the same day. But that doesn’t mean we have to walk around in defeat and confusion, wracking our brains to figure out exactly when everything changed. If you haven’t done those three things, then I believe you should if you want to experience true freedom. But it’s important to remember that when we make Jesus the Lord of our lives (i.e. completely surrender everything to Him), we are washed clean and become brand new people who are free of sin and shame.
There should be a huge difference between the person you used to be without Jesus, and the new person you are in Christ. If you don’t see a tangible difference, then you should probably ask yourself if you really gave your life to Christ (by the way, just saying a sinner’s prayer one time might not cut it).
When I look back at the person I was before I surrendered my life to Jesus, there’s definitely a difference. For one thing, I accepted and tolerated things that I can’t anymore, because I didn’t have the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and my conscience had not yet been renewed. If you’re not being changed from the inside out, you might need to ask yourself if you’ve really received the Holy Spirit.
So I’m not here to condemn you or make you feel hopeless. I’m here to say that you don’t have to be in bondage, and that with Jesus there is freedom. The cross set you free from sin, and the Holy Spirit enables us to live out lives of purity and holiness.
The main points I want you to take away from this post are these: If you are truly in Christ, you are free from sin and washed by the blood of Jesus. Sin is an attack on your true identity in Christ, and you can’t consciously live in it any longer. You will mess up because you are human, but that isn’t an excuse to be complacent and accept sin. Sin is constantly waging war against your soul, and you need to submit to the Spirit every day so that you do not become its slave again. Sin pushes you away from God and stifles your spiritual growth, and you must fix your eyes on Jesus so that you’re not led astray by your flesh. God is more satisfying than any sin can ever be, and true freedom is found in obeying Him in every area of your life.
Bible verses about freedom from sin:
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. |Acts 13:38-39|
For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. |Romans 6:5-7|
count yourselves as dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law but under grace. |Romans 6:11-14|
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! |Romans 6:15|
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. |Romans 6:22-23|
there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. |Romans 8:1-4|
those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. |Romans 8:5-6|
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. |Romans 8:13|
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. |2 Corinthians 5:17-19|
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. |Galatians 5:13|
walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. |Galatians 5:16-18|
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. |Galatians 5:24-25|
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. |Galatians 6:8|
You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. |Ephesians 4:22-24|
When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of the flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. |Colossians 2:13-14|
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good. |Titus 2:11-14|
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. |Titus 3:4-7|
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. |Hebrews 12:1-2|
abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such godly lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. |1 Peter 2:11-12|
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. |1 Peter 2:16|
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. |1 Peter 2:24|
God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 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, purifies us from all sin. |1 John 1:5-7|
But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. |1 John 3:5-6|
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. |1 John 3:8-9|
Here are some videos about this topic that I found really helpful: