THE REAL REASON CHRISTIANS SHOULD STRIVE TO AVOID SIN (And no it’s not hell or God’s wrath!)
This is a sequel to the two part article on whether or not grace is a license to sin. Having examined the context of which “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound" (Romans 6:1) in part 1 and Paul’s approach to dealing with sin and why believers do not sin in part 2, this article focuses on the real reason Christians should strive to avoid sin.
There is need to rethink the reason for striving to avoid sin because the popular Christian narrative of “If you sin you go to hell or you make God angry with you" is (apart from being ineffective for the purposes of preventing the believer from sinning) simply not true. That goes against everything the gospel stands for and completely negates the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross. Christ died for sin in satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin and if that is the case it means God is as satisfied with me as He is with Christ’s death on the cross. That will never change. The writer of Hebrews says, Christ appeared once at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (He 9:26). Do you understand what this means? It means as far as God is concerned, there is no such thing as sin between Him and the believer, it has been put away by Christ. It is in this light John writes that in Christ there is no sin and that whoever is born again (I e. The Christian) does not and cannot sin because God’s seed dwells in Him (1 Jn 3:5,9 ). So we see that sin is not and will never be the problem between God and the believer.
Note however the reason John gives for the believer’s inability to sin against God. It is not because the believer always does the right things but rather because he is born of God, i.e. it is a spiritual reality that the believer cannot sin against God. However, that is not true practically speaking because the believer does fall short time and again. The believer will never be perfect on this side of eternity, however there is still a biblical mandate for believers to strive to as much as lies within them not to sin and to live a life fitting of their calling. If the believer knows that as a spiritual reality, he can never sin against God then why strive to avoid sin and live right?
An overarching point to be made in this respect is that God’s admonition to the believer to avoid sin is actually for the believer’s benefit. Often times we tend to see this admonition as God being sadistic and limiting truth is it has nothing to do with God at all. As Elihu rightly notes, whether we do good or bad, it does not affect God in any way (Job 35:6–7), it is for the believer’s sake God says this. Jesus told the lame man He healed, “Do not sin so that a worse thing does not come upon you" (John 5: 14). It is really about the person avoiding the sinning, not God, especially because despite Jesus' death, sin still has very real consequences.
First, even though sin will never be an issue between God and the believer, it would always be an issue between the believer and men. Men are not as gracious and forgiving as God is. Concerning an adulterous man, Solomon writes, “his reproach will not be wiped away" (Proverbs 6:33). Take the great king David for an example, his record in the book of the king’s reads,
“David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” (1kings 15:5)
The writer never forgot what David did. Even though in the New Testament nothing of David’s sins are mentioned due to God’s grace, that one indiscretion of David with Bathsheba lives on strong in our memories. The reputational damage of sin is reason enough to strive to avoid it.
Secondly, sin produces in the believer a sense of guilt and an identity crisis. This is because the believer knows what he is doing is what he ought not to be doing. So there is a conflict between the spiritual reality of who the believer is and the physical reality of what he is doing. The believer begins to feel like a hypocrite living a double life and with this comes a reluctance to approach God or pray or even mention the name of Jesus Christ to anybody else, they feel unworthy. There is a sense of disconnect from God. This is something that hampers the believer’s walk and deprives him from the pleasure of fellowship with God. Notice that God does not withdraw fellowship from the believer, God’s love remains the same, God’s heart remains the same but the believer’s sin blurs his own vision and skews his own perspective in this regard.
Third, the believer is called to be different. Called out from the world (to be in the world but not of the world as Jesus says), called out from darkness into marvellous light as Peter says, translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son as Paul says. What then marks the believer out as different from the world and darkness he has been saved from if he continues to indulge in the same things the dark world indulges in. As Andrew Wommack says, there ought to be enough evidence to convict you if he you were arrested for being a believer. It is to the believer’s discredit if there is not a stark noticeable difference between him and the world in terms of conduct, thinking and speech.
Fourth and most importantly, Jesus made this statement,
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 5:19)
This means our conduct and adherence to God’s admonition in respect of sin affects our ranking (I.e. level of reward) in heaven. This ought to be the single most important factor in the believer’s mind with regard to sin. It is in this light the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to lay aside every weight and sin that easily besets us and run the race set before us with patience (Hebrews 12:1). The prize at the end of our sojourn on earth ought to be uppermost in our hearts and we stand a much better chance of completing our course as well as fulfilling our godly purpose in Christ Jesus when we are free from the reputational damage, guilt/self-condemnation and baggage that comes with sin.
In conclusion, the believer’s sins do not send him to hell or make God angry, however they do hinder his spiritual well-being, effectiveness for God and the kingdom which ultimately jeopardises his ultimate rewards in the kingdom of heaven. This is the real reason we strive to avoid sin, not fear of eternal punishment but maximisation of eternal rewards.