What is a Christian? What If a Christian Sins?
The word “Christian” is not defined in the Bible. In the most narrow sense, it means one who follows Jesus. In a broad sense, today it is applied to any who claim to be followers of Christ, or who simply claim to be Christian, whether they are actually followers of Christ, or not. Acts 11:26 connects being a Christian with being a disciple of Jesus. Thus, if we compare the word “Christian”, with the words of Jesus (Acts 11:26), then we can get a better, more scriptural, picture.
Jesus tells us what it means to be his followers, his disciples, in Matthew 10:24-40; 16:24-28; Mark 8:27-38; Luke 6:40-49; 9:22-23; 14:26-33.
Of course, when one first becomes a disciple of Jesus, he must have faith in the sacrificial blood of Jesus to obtain reckoned, imputed, justification (Romans 3:28; 5:1; Galatians 2:16), but he will not be immediately found meeting the all terms of his discipleship. Although the disciple of Jesus, in consecrating himself to God through Jesus, has given his all to God, his agreement to give his all does not mean that he is immediately carrying out the full terms of discipleship. In many points, he will need discipline. (Luke 12:47,48) His initial consecration (sanctification) is just the beginning of his walk in Christ. Jesus’ parable shows that a building work is to be carried out. (Luke 14:21-35) Even faith and belief has to be disciplined, shaped into firmness. Thus Paul prays for the perfecting of the faith of the Christians at Thessalonica. (1 Thessalonians 3:10) Hebrews 6:1 tells us: “Let us press on to perfection.” Paul speaks of the Corinthians as being “babes” in Christ, thinking as though carnal men (1 Corinthians 3:1,3), and he exhorts them: “Watch! Stand firm in the faith! Be men! Be strong!” (1 Corinthians 16:13, World English) He speaks of their faith — a fruit of the spirit — as growing. (1 Corinthians 10:15) And he speaks to the Galatians: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19) All of these scriptures indicate that discipleship is a process that must be brought to completion.
Furthermore, the word “disciple” itself, meaning “learner, pupil, student”, implies a learning process with a behavioral goal to be reached. One could say that there are three aspects in the development of the Christian. (1) His initial call based on faith in the blood of Jesus, “that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9); (2) his development in Christ-likeness, or as the apostle Paul says: “I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12); and (3) his final goal of attainment of that for which he was called, having fully developed faith, hope and love to a perfection. To my understanding, the full development of most of the Lord’s servants will not be attained until the age to come, with only a few in this age obtaining the prize of the high calling. (Philippians 3:14) Paul himself, at the time of his writing his letter to the Philippians, felt that he had not yet obtained that goal, or mark, for the prize of the high calling.– Philippians 3:12.
That to be a disciple of Jesus does not mean that one cannot sin at all can be seen in the apostle Peter. Peter, a disciple of Jesus, sinned grieviously by lying three times, and by denying Jesus three times. (Matthew 26:34,69-75) This indicates, that, though he was a disciple, he did not have his ambitions and faith toward Jesus fully developed. Nor does being a disciple automatically mean that one will be faithful in everything, as can be seen from Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 8:27-38) And yet these eleven, including Peter, were disciples of Jesus and remained disciples.
If a Christian sins, then how are we to understand 1 John 3:6,9?
1 John 3:6 – Whoever remains in him doesn’t sin. Whoever sins hasn’t seen him, neither knows him. — World English Bible translation (WEB).
1 John 3:9 – Whoever is born [begotten] of God doesn’t commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he can’t sin, because he is born of God. (WEB)
There have been some who have quoted these verses to support a claim that once one is begotten of the holy spirit, it is impossible for him to sin.
Very evidently, John is not saying that a Christian cannot at all sin, since he mentions a Christian sinning. (1 John 2:1; 5:16)
Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament is very helpful. Regarding 1 John 3:6, Robertson writes:
Sinneth not (ouc amartanei). Linear present (linear menwn, keeps on abiding) active indicative of amartanw, “does not keep on sinning.” For menw (abide) see Hebrews 2:6; John 15:4-10. Whosoever sinneth (o amartanwn). Present (linear) active articular participle like menwn above, “the one who keeps on sinning” (lives a life of sin, not mere occasional acts of sin as amarthsa, aorist active participle, would mean). Hath not seen him (ouc ewraken auton). Perfect active indicative of oraw. The habit of sin is proof that one has not the vision or the knowledge (egnwken, perfect active also) of Christ. He means, of course, spiritual vision and spiritual knowledge, not the literal sense of oraw in John 1:18; John 20:29.
Robertson, A.T. “Commentary on 1 John 3:6”. “Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament”. [a http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pictures/1-john/1-john-3-6.html.
Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960.
He says something similar regarding 1 John 3:9:
Robertson, A.T. “Commentary on 1 John 3:9”. “Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament”.
Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960.
Thus, we can see that John is talking about one who is leading a life of sin, a habit of continuing in sin, not about committing an individual sin.
Of course, in our striving to enter the narrow door (Luke 13:24), our striving should be against all sin (Hebrews 12:4), and any sin of the flesh, and any unfaithfulness due to the flesh, should be grievous to the new creature, and the new creature should expect chastening for such. (Luke 12:47,48; Hebrews 12:7-12) But John speaks further of “a sin” that is fatal to the new creature. “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for those who sin not to death. There is a sin leading to death. I don’t say that concerning this he should make a request.” (1 John 5:16) The sin spoken of is elaborated on in Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29. Such a death would not be death in Adam, but the second death, and no sacrificial provision is given for such.
See also our study:
Building on the Right Foundation of Faith
We do not necessarily agree with all conclusions presented by the authors:
- Atonement Between God and Man, The – By Charles Taze Russell – Studies in the Scriptures related to the fact and philosophy of Christ’s atoning work; the relationship between God and Jesus, the nature of man, the divine punishment for sin, the truth about hell, the operation of the Holy Spirit, and more. * Online versions: Dawn Bible Students Association * Harvest Database
- The Creator’s Grand Design * FREE PDF download — by Dawn Bible Students Association. A lucid presentation of the Bible’s teachings concerning God’s design for man, including the hope of future life.
- The Ryrie Study Bible (Free Worldwide Shipping)
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