Choosing to sin
I know that you are extremely busy maintaining websites, etc., but I've been
searching your website for an answer to settle a debate that is ongoing
within our Adult Sunday School group. I pulled up David Wilkerson's article
"Two of Me - The Struggle with Sin." It was informative and did help some,
but I feel, not conclusively.
We are currently studying "The Enemy Within" by Kris Lundgaard. Today the
following debate ensued: Our instructor (Assoc. Pastor) made the statement
that a mature believer can "fall into sin without choosing to do so."
Conversely, I maintained that because of Christ's defeat of sin at Calvary,
the consequent power that is given the believer, and since we've "been set
free of the power of sin," then "all sin committed by a believer is by
choice." In other words, if a believer sins, it is because he/she chooses to
If you have the time, would you please settle this issue for us. I understand
if you do not, and it is not my intent to use you or your valuable website as
a "Bible Answer Man!"
I'll share this with my email team, the Paraclete Forum, and it is
likely one of more of them will write you as well.
Before we were Christians we were all "dead in trespasses and
sins..." as explained in Ephesians 2.
After we come to know the Lord we have only two basic choices: We can
choose one of two masters, and the consequences will follow. (There
is no third option).
Rom. 6:13 "Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of
wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought
from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of
There are two broad classes of sin: inadvertent sin, and deliberate
sin. In the former category are our slip ups when we are caught off
guard, self-deceived, or ignorant of the consequences of something we
are doing that seems right but isn't.
Deliberate sin, (In the OT, "sinning with a high hand") is the more serious.
One definition of sin is "all have sinned and FALL SHORT of the glory
of God." I think this says something about our desperate daily
situation--we need lots of grace and mercy every day.
I think we can sin when our intentions were otherwise, that is, sin
by accident. Our hearts are deceitful. We may not have a clear view
of the right ands wrong in a situation, and so on.
Various aspects of our struggle with sin are discussed in 1 John (see
http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/1john), for example:
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that
God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have
fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live
according to 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
his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our
sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse
us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make
him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 John 1:5-10)
So I don't think all sin is necessarily the result of a conscious
choice. One positive note to end on is the great statement in Romans
6:14 "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not
under law but under grace."
Let's see what my colleagues can add to this.
I'm one of the email team Lambert mentions, and I thought I'd respond to
your inquiry. I'm not sure if any of us can "resolve" this issue for you; I
think you may have to resolve it for yourself. But, here are one person's
thoughts. It may be a good idea to step back and ask what some of the
issues really are. I find it helpful at times to sort of play along with
the ideas to see where they might lead, follow them to their logical
extremes, so to speak.
So, (a) all sin is committed consciously and (b) not all sin is conscious.
For example, regarding (b), some may fall into sin inadvertently,
unconsciously, or by way of deception. Granted, we have the power not to
sin and we have been set free from the power of sin. I like to view it as
follows: I have been saved from the penalty of sin (by grace, forgiven, and
righteousness credited to my account); I am saved from the power of sin (via
the indwelling of the Holy Spirit); and I will be saved from the judgment of
God and His wrath to come.
Lets look at (b) first. I'm instructed by Proverbs 24:15, 16: "Do not lie
in wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; Do not plunder
his resting place; For a righteous man may fall seven times [emphasis mine]
And rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity." I can't really even
claim to be a righteous man, because my attempts at righteousness are a
stench to God (Isaiah 64:6).
I assume the number "seven" is some kind of figure of speech. It's quite
common within the culture of the scriptures, and even Jesus used such a
device for how many times we should forgive our brother ("seventy times
seven" Matt 18:22). Do we only forgive our brother when he offends us
deliberately, or should we forgive him no matter what, the way we wish to be
forgiven? I think it's pretty clear that forgiveness is an ongoing process,
and not a one-time product. It is something we are to be, not just do once
and forget about it.
2 Timothy 3:6-7 states: "For of this sort are those who creep into
households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led
away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the
knowledge of the truth." This is referring to men who are "lovers of
themselves" (2 Tim 1-5) who lead away gullible women. Well, I hasten to add
that it is not just women who are "led away away by various lusts." Not
only are we as human beings basically self-focused and self-centered, we are
influenced by our respective cultures in various ways. How many times have
you seen a man glance at a women with lust in his heart (live, in print, on
TV, the internet)? How many times have you become angry or impatient with a
brother? The sinful nature/old man/the flesh, whatever you want to call it
is there in each of us, male and female, Jew and Greek. As forgiveness is a
process, so is sanctification.
The worst kind of deception is self-deception, in my opinion. As the
self-focused person that I am, I often overlook not only sins of commission,
but those of omission. I fail to love God with all my heart and soul;
sometimes I do, and sometimes I'm so wrapped up in my personal world that I
simply forget. And, I'm consistently inconsistent regarding loving the
brethren as myself. Even though I'm trying to learn to by kind and patient
all the time, sometimes I let a person get under my skin--especially on the
I don't always forgive, and I don't always visit the widows and orphans. I
do go into prisons as often as I can, but I'm not always giving food to the
hungry or drink to the thirsty. Sin is not merely a negative act that a
person commits, nor the conscious breaking of a law (the Sabbath?) or
precept; it is also not doing the right thing. Read Matthew 25: 31-46. We
are to be doing the right thing so unconsciously that we don't even know it.
This is the righteousness of Christ, to me. It is something that I learn,
acquire, and practice. It does not come all at once; I didn't become
perfect the day I accepted Jesus. Are we not to resist the devil (James
4:7)? It seems like we need to keep going and not stop.
2 Peter concludes with these two verses: "You therefore, beloved, since you
know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own
steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the
grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the
glory both now and forever. Amen" We are to beware, and to grow. Once
again, ongoing process.
Perhaps the opposite side of the coin is just as revealing. If (a) is true
(at least partially), then it seems to me that both success and failure are
somehow under my conscious control. Where and what is the power of God? Is
it something that I as an individual human being manipulate like the
accelerator on a car? I'm not so sure about that. So, if I succeed, then I
take the credit, right? If I fail, then what recourse do I have? I cannot
crucify Christ afresh (Hebrews 6:6)? I think God knows us a whole lot
better than we do. And, He is the one who gets the glory, as the author and
finisher of my faith.
The last little thing worth mentioning is those little temptations that we
sort of play around with. Assuming conscious control, I can accidentally
let my eyes wander as a young women walks by. As a professor on a campus of
30,000 plus students in California, there are one or two that might catch a
man's eye. If the temptation is there to indulge my senses, that's normal,
isn't it? But, how long can I look until it becomes conscious? Is it
possible that we semi-consciously put ourselves in the position to have a
little taste of temptation? I cannot speak for you, but I can say that my
view of humankind, the one I draw from my reading of the scriptures, implies
that all humans play as close to the edge as possible.
Children are great examples. They test and test their parents. My sons
constantly asked for clarification and asked "why?" they had to do things
(like clean up their rooms). If I said, "clean up your room," that was
clearly NOT ENOUGH. I could come back two days later to the same rubble.
The response would be something like, "I haven't started yet" or "did you
mean now?" I learned to say, "Stop what you're doing and clean up your room
now. I'll be back in 5 minutes to see if you've finished." When Jesus
said, "Love the Lord with all your heart...", He meant for a lifetime, not
just NOW or in five minutes.
As I deftly get off my soapbox, I hope I've helped at least state the
I want to thank you so much for your expedient response to the question I
posed. Yes, you have helped with your unquestionably well
thought-out, well-reasoned, and Scripturally researched reply.
Although I've been a born-again believer for about eight years (having been
converted from Roman Catholicism by what I can only call a "Damascus Road
Experience), I'm still constantly amazed at the love and unselfish giving
that is displayed within the Body of Christ. Of course, I'm referring to the
time and effort that have been given me by you both in so
quickly showing your desire to help me with my question.
After my conversion, I left my business career so as to be able to devote my
life to seeking Truth in His Word. I place no small emphasis in this search.
That is the reason for my question. Again, I thank you.