What happens to Christians who sin?
The first thing we need to consider in this discussion is our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ.
Only those who have trusted Jesus as their Lord and Savior and experienced the second birth by faith in Him are truly Christians. There are many who claim to be Christians, but their only claim to Christianity may be church membership, giving money to a church or charitable organization, doing good works or just being a “good” person. Without Jesus they are lost.
Also, true Christianity requires more than just an intellectual assent to the fact of a Man named Jesus walking the earth doing miracles and the like. It involves a personal relationship with Jesus as your Lord and Savior and with God as your heavenly Father.
You can’t buy or earn your way into this relationship by giving money, doing good works, being a church member or anything else apart from Jesus. You must, by an act of your will, acknowledge that Jesus is Who He said He is, the Son of the living God and invite him to be a part of your life, to take up residence in your heart, your inner-man.
That being said, God deals with us in much the same manner as an earthly father deals with his children. When we obey, He rewards us. When we disobey, He chastises or disciplines us with the objective of correcting us and teaching us to obey. In a sense of the word, He gives us a spanking. See Hebrews 10. But we are still His children and He will never disown us.
Also we are to Jesus as sheep are to a shepherd. A shepherd’s job is to watch over his sheep, to protect them, to take them to pasture and bring them back safely to the sheepfold. If a particular sheep keeps running away, the shepherd may break its leg as a warning, but he does not abandon or disown it, but bandages the leg and nurses that sheep back to health. And so it is with us.
Jesus goes into this in considerable detail about this in John chapter 10, and gives us this promise:
“My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me, and I give to them eternal life and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father who gave them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from His hand. I and my Father are one.” (John 10:27-30, emphasis mine).
It would be good to read that entire chapter.
In view of the foregoing, what does happen when a Christian sins? Some believe he loses his salvation. Some believe if one sins willfully he forfeits his salvation. Some believe if you backslide you become lost. And there are various shades of belief in between. But what does God the Father say? That’s what matters.
We just looked at what Jesus said. “They shall never perish…” That sounds pretty unconditional to me. Some will dispute this, using passages from the Old Testament or passages from the New Testament that could be taken as meaning you can lose your salvation.
One of the cardinal rules of Bible interpretation is that you never use a passage of weak or uncertain meaning to overrule or contradict another on the same topic whose meaning is obvious. Another is we take everything in its context, that is, read what goes before and what follows the passage you are using. Much false doctrine comes from taking Scripture out of context and mixing it with human logic.
Another mistake is failing to separate the old and new covenants. Under the old covenant, the Jews lived under the law given by Moses, which required strict obedience and had strict penalties including being stoned to death for disobedience. But keeping the law today will not save you, the apostle Paul makes that amply clear all through his writings.
“By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His [God’s] sight” (Romans 3:20a).
The law only shows us we are sinners; it does nothing to save us.
“Those who depend on the works of the law are under the curse, as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to practice everything written in the book of the law.’ But that no man is justified by the law is evident, for it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith’” (Galatians 3:10-11).
Today we’re under a new covenant with better promises. Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the law on our behalf, then gave himself as the ultimate Sacrifice, bearing God’s just wrath for our sins. When we receive Him as our Lord and Savior, He sees all our sins already punished and paid for in Him, thus we are eligible for eternal life on that basis and that basis alone.
Some use passages from Hebrews chapter 6 and chapter 10 to “prove” you can forfeit your salvation, but if you examine these passages with an open mind, in its context, you will see this is not the case. This was written to Jews still trying to live under the old covenant, under the law, which has no provision for salvation. Further if you read it carefully, it indicates that if they fall away from God’s offer of unconditional grace and go back to keeping the law, Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins no longer is effective for them.
But for Christians, Jesus has already done everything necessary for our salvation, and when we receive Jesus into our life God sees all our sins, past, present and future, already punished in Jesus. Thus we are released from the penalty for our sin which is eternity in the lake of fire.
But does this give us a license to sin? Absolutely not! First of all, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 tells us:
“If any man be in Christ, he has become a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.”
We become new creatures with new interests, new tastes, new loyalties, and a new desire to follow Jesus and not the world. God gives us the Holy Spirit to live in us and abide with us and guide our lives, if only we will listen to Him and follow His leading.
Paul asks the rhetorical question in Romans 6:1:
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! [May it never be!] How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer in it?”
It is not God’s will for us to sin, but we do sin because we still have that Adamic sin nature in our bodies. In the natural it’s still in our nature to sin. But we don’t live in sin; we don’t intentionally make a practice of sinning. And it is never God’s will for us to sin.
If we could lose our salvation by sinning, how much sin would it take for us to lose our salvation? James 2:10 says if we keep the whole law and yet offend in only one point, we are guilty of all. One sin would be all it would take to cancel our salvation. But Jesus has already kept the law perfectly for us, and has already paid God’s just penalty for all our sins by His sacrifice of Himself on the cross.
When we are saved, God imputes His righteousness to us. We are saved by His righteousness, not our own, once we have received Him as our Lord and Savior, and our human unrighteousness has no effect on Jesus’ righteousness in us. Nevertheless, there are consequences for us in this life and the next when we do sin.
When we sin…
We break fellowship with God, but not the relationship we have with Him. We can lose out on the earthly benefits of salvation, love, joy, peace, God’s protection, and the comfort of knowing we can take all our problems to our Heavenly Father. Like as Adam did and hid himself from God when he ate the forbidden fruit, so we do when we sin.
We open ourselves up to Satan’s deception, and can end up walking into his trap. We walk out from under the umbrella of God’s protection, and things happen to us that we might otherwise have been protected from.
We grieve the Holy Spirit. Whatever we do in our body, we are subjecting the Holy Spirit to.
If we continue in sin, we can quench the Holy Spirit and we will no longer have His guidance and protection. God gives us free will, we can choose to obey Him and reap the benefits of that obedience, or we can choose to disobey God and go our own way, and suffer the consequences.
We risk God’s discipline, which can become quite severe if we refuse to heed.
We bring reproach on the name of God, turn others away from Him and become useless to Him.
If we continue living in sin after God has given us warning after warning and we refuse to heed His warnings and discipline He may bring us to an early grave. The apostle John speaks of a sin unto death, and says we need not to pray for such.
We may lose our rewards in heaven. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 uses the illustration of our works being tested by fire. Our works on earth are building either gold, silver and precious stones (won’t burn), or wood, hay and stubble (will be burned up). Works done to glorify God and done with the right motive are building gold silver and precious stones.
Works done for one self or done for the wrong motive (to glorify self among other things) and sinning are building wood hay and stubble. Fire is put to the stack, the wood hay and stubble are burned up, and what is left determines our reward. If a Christian has lived all his life for self, there will be nothing left and he will suffer loss of his reward, but Paul says nevertheless he will be saved, but as if he had escaped from a burning house with nothing but his life. I recommend you read the whole chapter.
So we conclude that there can be severe consequences for those Christians who choose to sin and don’t repent. But these consequences lie mostly in this earthly life and do not break our relationship with God. We are His adopted children and He will never disown us. But He will not tolerate continued sin and we will end up living a miserable, useless life on earth and have no reward waiting for us in heaven if we do.
What should you do if you fall into sin? Try to hide it from God? You can’t. Adam tried it in the garden and failed. So will you.
How do you get out of this? Confess your sin to God. Do it quickly and you may avoid His discipline. In 1 John 1:9 it says if we confess our sin He (Jesus) is faithful to forgive us of our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Confess your sin, stop sinning, turn away from it and don’t do it anymore. That’s what repentance is, a change of mind and a change of direction. If you’re having a battle with a particular sin, confess it, ask God’s help to deliver you from it, and don’t do it anymore.
Obey God, let the Holy Spirit guide you, stay away from sin and you will enjoy the many benefits of your salvation here on earth, and have a good reward when you get to heaven. Choose to live in sin, and you will live a miserable, unproductive life here and have no reward when you get to heaven
Now as I said in starting out this discussion assumes you are a born-again Christian. If you can live in sin and it doesn’t bother you, and you don’t experience God’s discipline.
Hebrews 12:8 warns: “But if you are without discipline of which all [Christians] have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (NAS).
God disciplines those He loves. If you can live in sin and God doesn’t discipline you, you are lost, and if you die in that state you will go to hell and burn in the lake of fire forever. If you don’t want that, get on your knees, confess your sin to God, invite Jesus into your life to be your Lord and Savior, and you will become a new creature in Christ, and He will give you eternal life that will never be taken away from you.
Don’t worry about having to clean yourself up to make you worthy of salvation. Just come to Jesus, He has already done everything necessary for your salvation. Just invite Him into your life to be your Lord and Savior, and He will take care of the cleaning up.
Go with God.