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Sin and the Christian Life: Why do Christians Sin?

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(By Mark Fontecchio)

A Christian father struggles not to be angry with his son. A grandmother hates that she tends to give in to the pressure to gossip at her prayer group. A young Christian couple battles temptations before their marriage. It is these types of situations that are played out on a daily basis wherever Christians are found. Shockingly enough, the question is seldom asked of why Christians sin.

Many Christians are quick to place the blame for their sin on the externals that surround us. Certainly the Devil is on everyone’s short list of excuses. The pressures of living in a fallen world definitely have a direct impact on us. However, does either of these influences actually cause us to sin? We are reminded of the words of Paul when he testified, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). The Apostle Paul believed that we are not powerless against the temptations that we face.

Satan hits Christians where we are weak and have a tendency to give in because of a lack of faith. Still, this does not mean that Satan can actually cause us to sin. This is why James instructed, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Let it not be said that the unredeemed world in which we live is the cause of our sin. Again, we observe from the book of James, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). We are told:

The source of temptation is from within a person; it is his own evil desire, lust, or inner craving. He is dragged away and enticed. This inner craving draws a person out (exelkomenos) like a fish drawn from its hiding place, and then entices him (deleazomenos, from the verb deleazō “to bait, to catch a fish with bait, or hunt with snares”). So a person both builds and baits his own trap (Walvoord 1983, 822).

The teaching of Scripture is that sin comes from within. This redirects the discussion of sin towards focusing on the reasons that Christians give in to the desire to sin.

As Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia he told them, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:16-17). This passage is foundational for understanding the present battle against sin. Robert Gromacki explains:

The “flesh” refers to the sin principle which operates through man’s human nature. It functions through the mind, the will, the emotions, and the physical organs. The “lust of the flesh,” then, incorporates all of the evil desires that originate within fallen human nature. They must be distinguished from those allurements which stem from Satan and the world, although these two make their appeal to man’s baser self (Gromacki 2002, 162-63).

As we walk by faith, moment by moment submitting ourselves to the Spirit of God, we can achieve victory over the desire to sin. The minute we fail to yield to the Spirit we are opening the door for our old nature to rekindle the desire to sin. This ongoing battle will continue to be ever present while we dwell in these earthly tents, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53). It is for this reason that the doctrine of sinless perfection for believers in this present age stands in complete opposition to the Scriptures.

The Apostle Paul made it clear regarding the flesh and the Spirit that, “these are contrary to one another” (Gal. 5:17). Despite this teaching from Scripture, Christians continue to sin because they listen to the lies of the world. Sin has been redefined to be a weakness, a disorder, or any number of terms that shift the blame off of us. Despite man’s attempts to come up with creative terminology to explain away their guilt before God, the Bible’s consistent testimony stands strong. Romans 7:5 refers to the, “sinful passions” of the flesh. Colossians 2:11 likewise testifies of the, “sins of the flesh.” Calling sin by any other name is simply an attempt to justify our rebellion against God.

It is altogether too easy for Christians to gloss over the reality of sin. This feeds into a second reason that Christians continue to sin. The works of the flesh are clearly listed for us in the Word of God:

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like (Gal. 5:19-21).

The reality is that sin is ugly. The descriptions of sin within the Word of God are blunt, accurately portraying the revolting nature of sin. Our sin impacts the way we treat our fellow man and the way we interact with God. Being confronted with our sin is not comfortable for anyone. This makes it altogether too easy to marginalize the descriptions of sin found within the Word of God.

Third, we as Christians sin because we have a tendency to trivialize the temporal dangers of sin. It is the teaching of Scripture that sin can kill you, but this is not often taught in churches today. Consider the instruction from the Word of God:

  • As righteousness leads to life, so he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death (Prov. 11:19).
  • Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom. 6:16).
  • For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13).
  • Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (James 1:15).
  • There is sin leading to death (1 John 5:16a).

God’s Word consistently teaches that believers are not immune to the reality that sin kills. What happened to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) could happen to any believer in Christ living in sin. Henry Ironside reminds us:

As we read the record I am sure nobody is struck with the horror of it on the surface. Nobody feels that Ananias and Sapphira were very much worse than many people we meet with every day. And some of us, if our consciences are active, looked apparently far worse than these two when we last surveyed ourselves in the looking-glass.

What was the offense of Ananias and Sapphira? They pretended to a greater degree of Christian devotedness than they really possessed! That was all; but it was a tremendously evil thing in the sight of God (Ironside 1943, 122-123).

Let the Word of God be a warning to believers who think too lightly of the sin within their own lives.

This takes us directly to a fourth reason that Christians sin. We fail to recognize the true nature or disposition of sin. The unredeemed only have a sin nature. This old nature is what leads believers to sin. Our new nature in Christ is incapable of leading us to sin. Therefore, believers who cater to the sin nature are acting like the lost. In both Galatians 5:19-23 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 the Apostle Paul taught that unbelievers will not inherit the Kingdom of God. So why would believers in Christ want to live like lost people by catering to their old sin nature? The solution is to abide in Christ. The Apostle John reminds us, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin” (1 John 3:6a). Our failure to abide in Christ leads us to catering to our old nature.

Christians also have a tendency to misunderstand or mischaracterize the demands of Scripture to not sin. The fruit of the Spirit is listed in Galatians 5:22-26. Believers often think that the fruit of the Spirit is automatic in the life of the Christian. The truth is that we have a responsibility before God to submit to Him. As a result:

Paul exhorts the Galatians to walk in the Spirit because they are already living in the Spirit. Such an action should be natural, but unfortunately we are at war with the flesh. Walk in the Spirit means to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit. A believer following the Spirit’s lead (v. 16) will not become conceited, provoke others, or envy others (Radmacher 1999, Gal. 5:25–26).

As believers in Christ, we should want the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. The sins of the flesh should repulse us. Likewise, the fruit that comes from abiding in Christ should motivate us to submit ourselves to God. Let us put off the old man by following the example of the psalmist when he testified, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).

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The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Gromacki, Robert, Dr. Stand Fast in Liberty: An Exposition of Galatians. The Gromacki Expository Series. The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian Publications, 2002.

Ironside, H. A. Lectures on the Book of Acts. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1943.

Radmacher, Earl D., Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999.

Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.


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