Can A Christian Walk In Sin?


Nan has asked me to continue sharing some thoughts this month about The Kingdom, Power and Glory: The Overcomer’s Handbook from a pastoral point of view. This month, we are looking more closely at sin in the Christian life.

We have had a variety of responses, the vast majority being positive, since publishing The Kingdom, Power & Glory. However, one theme in the negative responses has been of particular interest to me. Some people, including a few pastors, have been concerned about the topic of sin.

Their comments have raised the question, “Can a Christian walk in sin?” One person put it this way: “Can a believer continue in sin such as drunkenness, homosexuality, adultery, etc., show no fruit, and yet still be counted among those who are truly saved?”

This kind of question is behind some of the great theological debates that have boiled up over the years. Today, it is common to hear it framed as a Calvinist vs. Arminian argument. One side accuses the other of ignoring sin and having “cheap grace” while the other side charges that their opponent is legalistic and ignorant of God’s love. They fight with each other repeatedly about this issue.

So, I have to ask, “Why is this issue coming up in regards to The Kingdom, Power, and Glory?” The major theme of the book is that we have the ability to choose to do God’s will instead of sinning, and that God will richly reward those who love Him and do His will. Both camps would probably agree with that.

The Issue

Evidently, it is bothersome for the critics to think that a born-again believer in Christ could approach Him, either now or after the Rapture, if they have continued sinning. I saw a reaction to this idea when I was part of a home group that was studying 1 John 1:6-10. Here is the beginning of the passage:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:6-7

When I said to the group that we all need to be careful to walk in the light and not in the darkness, there were some people who were surprised. They explained that they had never thought about Christians walking in darkness. In fact, when they had read those verses in the past, they thought it was unbelievers who were being described as walking in the darkness.

When we looked at some verses in the next chapter any doubts they might have had were resolved.

We saw that in 1 John 2:7-11, John addresses the believers as “brothers” and then discusses how brothers might treat one another. He gives examples of being in the light, and being in the darkness in verses 9-11:

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

1 John 2:9-11

These verses (including the passage in the first chapter) lead us to understand several important things:

  1. A believer can sin.
  2. Even though he sins and is walking in darkness, he is still a “brother.”
  3. God wants that brother to confess his sin and be forgiven, to be cleansed and to walk in the light.

Let’s go back to the earlier comment. Does this mean that a believer could be a drunkard? That’s an ugly thought, but the answer is yes, according to 1 John. Could a believer commit sexual sin, even unnatural sin? Again, the answer is yes, even though it makes us cringe. Walking in darkness is not where a believer should be, and even thinking about it is very uncomfortable.

Turning to 1 John 2, we find John’s response to this in the first verse:

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

1 John 2:1

God does not want His people sinning. He doesn’t want them to follow after the first Adam; He wants them to follow Christ. God wants to hear these words of Jesus repeated when we feel tempted, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Carnal vs. Spiritual

Once we realize that some believers can be described as “walking in darkness,” or as “carnal” (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-4), it makes sense that God has to deal with them differently than with those who are “walking in the light,” or “spiritual.” The fact is that a carnal Christian is not as useful to the Lord as a spiritual Christian.

In The Kingdom, Power, and Glory the difference between the two comes into sharp relief when the Millennium is discussed in the first seven chapters. The Millennium is when Jesus will physically reign over the earth for a thousand years. Those who will be closest to Him during that time are the ones who have learned to do God’s will here and now.

These are the ones described in Revelation 19 as being clothed in “fine linen, clean and bright… the righteous acts of the saints.” They have responded to His invitation to draw near and know Him well. They have been proven trustworthy in the smaller things, and are ready for the greater ones. These are the spiritual Christians.

It may be a strange thought, but there will be Christians who will be raptured even though they have been walking in darkness. These are the carnal Christians. Paul gives us some important information in 1 Corinthians 3 about the judgment that follows the Rapture:

Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15

To, “suffer loss” is not just a setback for these unprepared saints. They will be undone when they realize what they have lost. However, they are still part of God’s people and He has not stopped loving them. He has predestined them to become like Jesus (Romans 8:29). God knows that these are the ones who were doing evil in His eyes, but He has claimed them as His own. He will complete the work that He has begun in their lives.

What This Means for Today

Knowing what’s ahead, how should we deal with sin today?

Let’s start by agreeing to “make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). It does not please God for us to fight with each other over topics like this. We can reason together without giving place to the carnal mind. Did you know that in 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul describes carnal Christians as those who have divisions among them? Divisions happen when the fighting grows so bad that people take sides against each other. We should stop fighting.

Now, what if we find a believer in sin? Some people would rebuke them, while others would gossip about what they’ve done. There may even be a few who would start a discussion about whether they are saved or not.

Those who are spiritual know that we are to “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). “Gentleness” does not mean weakness; this is a gentleness that is firm. If they persist in their sin, there is a process for the church’s response outlined in Matthew 18. God will grant you the wisdom you need along the way.

Sin is not to be tolerated or coddled, but we need to walk in the Spirit as we deal with fellow believers. We must remember that even if we have all wisdom in these situations, if our actions are not done with Agape, God’s unconditional love, it amounts to nothing in God’s eyes (1 Corinthians 13).

Let us agree on these things:

  1. Anyone walking in darkness needs to turn around. None of us wants a believer to tolerate sin in their walk with God.
  2. They need to confess their sin and be forgiven in order to walk in the light.
  3. All who walk in the light will follow the New Commandment that Jesus gave to us: to love one another as He has loved us. This is especially true when we deal with sin among us.

When the church is walking in the light, a wonderful thing happens. As 1 John 1:7 states: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” This is the kind of rich, inspiring fellowship that makes us strong in Christ. Jesus has the last word on this. He gave us a somber warning in Matthew 6:23 when He said, “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”