Can We Do No Wrong?
One of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of being a Christian concerns the attitude that we should have towards wrongdoing – or ‘sin’, as it is commonly called.
Some would argue that it is completely unacceptable – even impossible – for a true Christian to sin. At the other extreme, some have argued that to be a Christian is to be ‘under grace’ to such an extent that it no longer matters whether you sin or not – even claiming that to indulge in sin is a practical demonstration of the total love and forgiveness of God. Still others see the Christian life as a incessant battle for self-improvement, constantly alternating between success (accompanied by the risk of pride) and failure (leading to the misery of self-condemnation).
But what did Jesus and his disciples really have to say on this matter?
N.B. This page does not yet have a “Simplified English” version. Automated translations are based on the original English text. They may include significant errors.
What is Sin?
The word ‘sin’ in the original Greek is, ‘hamartano;’ and its meaning is defined as, “properly to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), that is, (figuratively) to err, especially (morally) to sin: – for your faults, offend, sin, trespass.” (Strongs Analytical Concordance). (In old English, the term, ‘synner,’ could be used to describe an archer whose arrow fell short of its target.) So the picture we get of sin is that it describes that all-too-common human failure to live up to the standard of behaviour that is expected of us.
(When used as a noun, ‘sin’ can mean either a specific wrong act, such as a theft, or else a tendency towards wrongdoing. In English usage, we normally say, ‘a sin’ or ‘the sin,’ to describe the former and ‘sin’ for the latter. And when discussing sin as a universal tendency to do wrong it is often capitalised as a proper name, ‘Sin.’ But Greek has no indefinite article, ‘a,’ and only used capital letters in Bible times; so these distinctions have to be inferred from the context.)
These pages take an in-depth look at biblical teaching on this subject. It is unlikely that all aspects of this teaching will be of equal concern to you; so on this particular page we have briefly summarised the areas covered, with links that will enable you to focus on those topics that are of most interest.
The material is arranged under the following broad headings:
- What Jesus Expects of Us
- Far too often we find ourselves failing even to live up to the standard that we expect of ourselves. But what is the standard that God expects of a Christian? This is where Jesus makes things really difficult …
- How It All Went Wrong
- To really understand the central importance of Jesus’ message about repentance and freedom we need to go right back to the beginning of the Bible’s account of God’s dealings with the human race – from the book of Genesis to the present day. This explains how mankind, originally destined to rule the earth, ended up trapped by our own sins with God’s enemy, Satan, in effective control.
- God’s Masterplan
- But God had foreseen all this; and had a rescue plan in place – one requiring such an astonishing degree of love and forbearance on his part that, to Satan, it was utterly unthinkable. God would come to earth as a man and suffer all the punishment that should have been our penalty. Then he would offer us the chance to be joined to Himself, placing his Spirit within each person who accepts, and cancelling Satan’s claim on our lives. Now we are inspired and empowered so we can freely choose to do God’s will.
- The Practical Outworking
- How God’s remedy for sin works out in practice, as described by the early apostles. Instead of being dominated by sin and failure, we can live with a clear conscience, peace and right behaviour.
- How Does This Work?
- This section takes a closer look at the spiritual principles on which we depend for victory over temptation: recognizing that (a) we cannot conquer sin by our own strength or determination, (b) that forgiveness is a miracle of God’s grace – not just overlooking our sin but choosing to endure the consequences that should have fallen on us – and (c) that it is the further miracle of His Spirit living in us that gives us the power to conquer sin.
- The Need for Continuous Choosing
- God never overrides our freewill; because true love is impossible without it. So there is no ‘master switch’ that forever after makes us immune from temptation. Even Jesus was tempted: but always chose to do what pleased God. This process of constantly seeking the guidance and empowerment of God’s Spirit is variously described as ‘walking in (or by) the spirit’ and ‘walking in the light’. It is very different from the common religious practice of keeping God at a distance and living by a set of religious laws.
Followers of Jesus can enjoy a life of freedom from the guilt of past failures, full of confidence in God’s unconditional forgiveness and acceptance. We still have much to learn; and serious trials may lie ahead. But our confidence in God outweighs any fear and we look to the future with joyful expectation. As Paul puts it…
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. … I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. … Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Php 3:7-14)