A Question I Was Asked:

We Know we Have to Become Sin-Free to Inherit Eternal Life, Yet Even the Apostles Don't Seem to Have Achieved That, So What is the Point in Striving?

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We Know we Have to Become Sin-Free to Inherit Eternal Life, Yet Even the Apostles Don't Seem to Have Achieved That, So What is the Point in Striving?

UK Apologetics Reply:

No, your argument is too negative and you fail to take a number of things into account. Okay, let us consider your argument in more depth:

The Scripture certainly dogmatically states:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23).

Moreover, Galatians 5:19-21 states this:

19. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20. idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21. and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So we know that we need to strive to be free of sin, yet we also know that none are without sin; what is the solution here?

When it says 'the wages of sin,' "the wages," this refer to the inevitable result, or 'remuneration' which the sinner may expect. Men and women may sin but God will eventually require the life of that person. Death awaits us all.

How is Christ's Righteousness Imputed To Us?

The apostle Paul writes, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21–22). Through our faith in Christ, the righteousness of God is given to us. This is called "imputed" righteousness. To impute something is to ascribe or attribute something to someone. When we place our faith in Christ, God ascribes the perfect righteousness of Christ to our account so that we become perfect in His sight. 'For or our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.' (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is all about faith, belief, culpability and responsibility. We could not stand but for Jesus Who now 'covers' us with His grace.

Not only is Christ's righteousness imputed to us through faith, but our sin is imputed to Christ. An exchange occurs. He took responsibilty for this on the cross - This is the best deal which any of us will ever receive! This scriptural insight of Protestantism is vastly different to the teaching of Catholicism in which one is "infused" with righteousness and become really 'holy,' even being freely depicted in Catholic art with haloes etc.

The Old Covenant

Under the Old Covenant we know that the people of Israel were given ten specific commandments to obey (plus numerous other laws/statues etc., which were not in 'commandment' form), if we are keen students of the Old Testament we will also know that obedient people were not promised Eternal Life at that stage, but these laws were to be their rule of life, obedience to these laws would tend to lead in the path of decency and a form of 'godliness,' but - again - no specific promise of salvation was included back then. Obedience is fine, but something else, something extra is needed. For our first clue regarding what this additional need was, look again at Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23).

A Special, Divine Gift for the Believer

So there is a gift on offer here, a possible pathway out of sin! So maybe our human position is not so hopeless after all. It is all about an unmerited special gift which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ - This is what the Gospel is all about. This is about faith and belief in Him. From numerous Scriptures we may learn that we need to cling to that special gift, something which He has made available to us, as we respond to Him. This special gift is not simply about us resisting sin a whole lot better (which could never be enough), rather, He - our Saviour - promises us Eternal Life beyond this present world and beyond this present life. Please read that section again to ensure you have complete understanding here because I feel that some Christians never completely understand this.

So let us be utterly clear about this: humanly - under our own steam - we cannot be free of sin; it is the stain of human life, Adam chose this path for all of his children; some humans are affected more grievously than others in this matter, some suffer because of the uncontrolled sins and passions of others. But Jesus came to offer us this most precious gift - Eternal Life, which is entirely sin-free!

Let us just remind ourselves how Paul the Apostle explains this mighty gospel message to the Christians at Ephesus:

1. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God's holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5. he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - 6. to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8. that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9. he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10. to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment - to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12. in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14. who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession - to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:1-14).

Please notice in the verses which we just read that when we came to truly believe in Jesus Christ - from that point - we were marked with a seal, which is the Holy Spirit (verse 13), this is a little bit of the very mind of God, we start to think differently, we find that we begin to reason differently - does this now make us perfect? Absolutely not! Typically certain problems and weaknesses may now leave us, but not all of them - we are left with other problems because God's strength is made perfect in weakness:

14. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. 20. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23. but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25).

We must not expect a charmed life because of our beliefs, no, we will often suffer more because of them. Look at these words of Paul:

6. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7. or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9. 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. 10. 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 12:6-10).

So this is about a life direction here and now (based upon our acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ), and with spiritual perfection in the life to come.

The most wonderful gift does not, however, lead to us being free from sin in this present life; if we think otherwise we are kidding ourselves. Look at this:

8. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10).

And bear in mind that John was referring to himself and to his fellow believers; They too could not claim to be free of sin!

"Holiness" - Here and Now?

For sure, there are one or two Scriptures which might initially appear to be saying that all true believers should - right now - be entirely sin-free (that is, until these are studied at more depth), but they are not saying that at all. Let us consider one or two of these:

1. 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 3:9).

Yet in this very same epistle (as we noted earlier), John had made it clear that the reality is that Christians are not sin-free, moreover, if any claim otherwise they are lying! (1 John 1:8-10). So what precisely is John saying here? John is simply pointing out that Christians will reject sin and sinfulness - as a way of life - moreover, Christ's righteousness is now imputed to us, so - as far as Heaven is concerned - we are now sin-free. This is the only explanation since John has already stated that a Christian is not sin-free, and if we state otherwise we are liars! But 1 John 3:9 is stating the matter at a deeper, more philosophical/theological level. We now choose not to be sinners and we strive to go in a different direction but we can never be entirely sin-free whilst in the flesh; if we say we are "sinless" we are kidding ourselves!

2. How about 1 John 5:18?

It's the same basic explanation. Look at it:

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. (1 John 5:18).

Explanation? Once again we must remind ourselves of what John has already stated (in this very same epistle), in 1 John 1: 8-10, but now John is discussing the matter of sin in a slightly different manner. If we are elect Christians, we are kept safe from all the sin that can do eternal damage to us, yet we are never entirely sin-free (as John has made clear in his first chapter of this same epistle). This is simply another way of stating that if we now belong to Christ, nothing and nobody can snatch us out of His hand! See John 10:28-30. Our guilt and culpability for sin has been lifted off our shoulders, replaced by Christ's righteousness which is now imputed to us. Protestantism has always recognised this correctly because of its careful evaluation of Holy Scripture, it is Catholicism - with saints walking around covered by haloes in its art - plus certain of the cults and sects and the "holiness" movement who have over-stressed the level of the perfection of believers. 'Perfectionism' is not a biblical teaching. Yes, we grow, we move forward, but true holiness is for the life to come.

3. Third possible scriptural objection:

1 Peter 1:16:

For it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

Explanation; this really is saying that we need to be holy as God is holy, but literally, according to the best manuscripts, it is future imperative: 'you shall be holy.' The words occur five times in the Book of Leviticus (1 Peter 1:16 is a quote), God had called the Israelites to be his peculiar people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). He has called us Christians to be "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people." (1 Peter 2:9). So the best way to understand this is to think of 'be holy' as 'be fully separate.' We all know that Christians should always strive to be good and decent in behaviour. Christians should feel themselves to be 'set apart,' to not be at one with this world, the sense here is that true believers should be 'separate,' not conforming to sinfulness. But this is not saying that God now expects us to be 'spiritually spotless,' a point backed up by other scriptures! So we need to be 'separate,' a people of conscience who have their eyes firmly set on the Kingdom of God.

Robin A. Brace. September 4th-7th, 2019.