A Question I Was Asked:

What is the Difference Between 'Wilful Sin,' and Common Human Weakness?

The Question:

What is the difference between 'wilful sin,' and common human weakness, which is technically sin nevertheless?

UK Apologetics Reply:

I guess that when we say, 'wilful sin,' we refer to stubborn, hard-necked sin, the refusal to repent of, or even acknowledge the existence of sin. We need to consider this matter in relation to nominal believers, true believers and non-believers.

* Nominal Believers.

Many of those going by the name of 'Christian' in this world are nominal believers; they are Christian by tradition or habit, they are nominal believers. They do not have an active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ but they feel generally supportive of Christianity as a religion. Many such people will be found in liberal churches. Some of these people have a dangerous level of knowledge.

Again and again the Bible warns that with knowledge also comes responsibility.

The Book of Hebrews states,

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29).

Now that refers, as a most serious warning, to those who know the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - they should be prepared to act on that knowledge and, most certainly, should never sin "wilfully." For such people, that is most dangerous. It says "wilfully," so this does not refer to the 'law of sin and death' (as Paul called it) which continues to operate within the bodies of believers and non-believers alike. This refers to purposely, willingly and deliberately flying in the face of the spiritual knowledge which they have received.

* True Believers.

The true believer, covered by God's grace, will of course also be subject to 'the law of sin and death.' We all remain sin-prone, although usually not at a serious, or high level, yet sin remains within us as long as we inhabit our present physical bodies. Both John and Paul are clear about this in their writings. See, for instance, Romans 7:14-25; 1 John 1:8-10.

New believers often find that several sinful traits disappear completely at full profession of Christ and baptism - but not usually all of them. The Lord gave Paul the Apostle the reason for this:

...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. " Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10).

Contradictory though it may appear, it is actually spiritually good for us to have 'thorns in the flesh' to wrestle with. But "wilful sin," that is the willingness to go out - whilst not under temptation at all - and purposely commit serious sin is a most dangerous thing for any who know and comprehend the truth of the Gospel. So we must separate wilful, rebellious sin from 'the law of sin and death' (which, as already pointed out, even Christian believers remain subject to).

However, we believe that the truly called and saved cannot be snatched out of the Father's hand; there are many biblical assurances on this point. Some might want to consult Once Saved - Always Saved? and/or What is the Unpardonable Sin?

* Unbelievers.

Unbelievers too can wilfully sin. How so? Because God has given every single human being upon this planet a conscience and a sense of right and wrong. This is what Catholics refer to as 'natural law,' all - to one degree or another - are aware of it. People should not go against their consciences. People who hold no concept of God can be troubled in conscience if they do something wrong. They probably - in many cases - reject any such thing as "sin," yet they will be disturbed in their consciences if they do serious wrong or witness serious wrong being done to others. To reject the inner voice of the conscience is to wilfully sin. God will bring such people to account.

There are many people in the world who are not believers but are naturally decent people; they obey their consciences; they were not unduly rebellious children, often had good parental examples set before them and continue on as pretty decent people overall. We have all met such people. Oftentimes we think, 'Bill, or Judy, would make a really great Christian if the Lord called them,' but - for some reason, the Lord does not call them, at least for the present time. Technically, of course, they remain sinners without the Lord, or even any acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus in their lives, yet one feels that - should the Lord reveal Himself to such people - they would quickly repent.

A Few Conclusions...

One of the first things I had to learn was that God is not calling all the good people, He is calling, in many cases, the real sinners! He also often calls the weak of this world. Let us look at those two groups:

As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:14-17).

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

So that is a bit of a blow for our egos! Most of the time the Lord calls sinners, and the weak and generally unsuccessful of this world. Also see Luke 15:11-32. Truth is: you and I cannot decide whom the Lord will call, or when.

Okay, I am probably digressing a bit here, but my point is this: wilful sin can be evidenced both in those who have some knowledge of the truth of the Gospel (please note that I was careful not to say, 'true believers'), and in those who are somewhat rebellious by nature. All without Christ remain sinners, but we do note a difference; most people are not like Adolf Hitler, they do not actively go out of their way to harm others.

So I think that is my answer to the question, "What is the difference between 'wilful sin,' and common human weakness, which is technically sin nevertheless?"

Robin A. Brace. August 8th, 2012.