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What is a Christian? What If a Christian Sins?

November 1, 2014 by
Filed under: second death, Sin 

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
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

Related Books

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3 Comments on What is a Christian? What If a Christian Sins?

  1. Tom Adams on Sun, 2nd Nov 2014 5:03 am
  2. Those in whom Yahweh has placed His Name, His Spirit, only thru Christ, are New Creatures in Christ, It is not the human that is a New Creature, nor the True Christian. The thought patterns called the Mind, utilizes the brain circuitry. This creates paths thru portions of the brain devoted to math, language, history, habits, reason, etc. When the body dies, these thought-process cease – there is no more memory. Unless, these thought-process have proved faithful, and are transferred to a new spiritual body, to be with Christ and see him as he is, a divine being.
    As Christ was begotten of God’s holy spirit from the Jordan baptismal onward, so it was this begettal that led Christ into the wilderness and on to the close of his ministry, which he declared ‘finished’ in John 17:4. His begettal also led him onward to to thru the trials to the Cross to complete the sacrifice presented at Jordan. The natural mind sees Christ the man, and fails to distinguish Christ, the spirit-begotten as a New Creature, the firstborn as such, by and from the Father. Likewise, those consecrated followers of Christ, who are begotten of the Father’s spirit, which spirit is hidden in the inward “man” unseen. Sin is not charged to the New Creature, under the holy influenced. Thus, what if a Christian sins? The New Creature in Christ will scorn sin, even while acknowledging the sins of and by the old nature, and seeking forgiveness, correction, and discipline.

  3. reslight on Wed, 3rd Dec 2014 11:27 am
  4. We should note that Jesus was begotten of the holy spirit as human new creation in the womb of Mary. — Matthew 1:20.
    See our study:
    Born of the Spirit

    Thus, our conclusion is that when a person, through faith, become a new creature in Christ, that person is first accounted as having an earthly, fleshly body. Once the new creature has proven his incorruptibility, then the new creature is assigned the celestial, spiritual body.

    See our studies:
    With What Kind of Body Will We Be Raised?
    The Manner of the Resurrection

    However, the present human body that is being dissolved is not the new creature.

  5. Bill Nippel on Tue, 23rd Dec 2014 11:01 am
  6. Question to Res … could you further define “once the new creature has proven his incorruptibility” in your Dec 3/14 comment?

    Does this imply reaching absolute sinless perfection while still in this tent?

    And for a follow-up question… can a saint commit a grievious enough sin which while forgiveable – puts him/her out of the running for the immortal crown and being part of Christ’s bride?

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