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In much of evangelical Christianity, believers are given considerable leeway to sin against God. Most pastors of course would agree that it is better not to sin then to sin and then to ask for God’s forgiveness afterwards. However, if we do sin, all is not lost. Scripture teaches:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
(1 John 1:8-9)
From these two popular verses, it is taught in some circles that believers cannot help but sin everyday or at least often. But if we just confess our sins, we will be forgiven and all will be forgotten. But this might not be quite the case. If we examine the context of those two verses by looking at the remaining chapters of John’s first epistle, we see a different story. Please click on The curious case of 1 John 1:9 for an elaboration on this.
If we look at the New Testament as a whole, we see little leeway for believers to sin. In fact, we are urged by the Lord Jesus Christ to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The writers of the various epistles and books urge us to “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:10-12)
This is in fact the overwhelming theme of the New Testament. Christ died on the cross not only to bear our sins, but to sanctify us by his blood through the Holy Spirit that we might become like Him, being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The “freedom” to sin is hardly supported, except for the often-misunderstood and misapplied verse from 1 John 1:8.
Yes, Paul of course did declare that he was not yet perfect.
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I am pressing on, if I may lay hold of that for which I also was taken hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12)
But Paul also declared that he was pressing on to lay hold of that for which he was taken hold of by Christ Jesus. He did not give room for sin. Peter in his writings also did not give allowance for sin.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-11)
Peter warns us that if we are not growing in faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, we are essentially forgetting that we have been cleansed from our past sins. Forgetting that our sins have been cleansed can be risky for a believer. It is necessary that believers grow in holiness. If we do not, it means that we are nearsighted and blind. And that is obviously dangerous for a believer.
It is of course by God’s grace that we can in fact obey Peter’s admonition and grow in those desirable qualities. This is the true grace of God. God’s grace is therefore far more than simply our sins being forgiven—something which Peter says is possible for a believer to forget when we allow sin to remain or to creep back in by not growing in holiness.
In an effort not to “minister condemnation”, preachers bend over backwards to allow for sin and the forgiveness of sin through confession. There is some risk in doing this. To read more, please click on “The Ministry of Condemnation”.