Q: Why Do Christians Still Sin if We Are “Freed from Sin”?

By Adam Lloyd Johnson, Ph.D.

That is a great question. I remember the first time I heard that question; I was in high school in a youth group meeting when another fellow student asked the leader this question. I honestly don’t remember the answer given at the time, but I just remember thinking it was very insightful to ask that.

I mean, it’s true. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). We know He’s talking about freedom from sin because just before that in John 8:34 He says that everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. So, if we are free from sin, why do we still do it?

I often explain the process in terms of a superhero. There are so many superhero movies out nowadays that I don’t know which one to choose. But in all of them, when the hero first acquires their super powers, whether it is shooting and swinging by webs (Spiderman) or flying through the sky (Ironman), there is a little bit of awkwardness and failure as they learn how to effectively use their powers. I can picture Tobey McQuire swinging from building to building and running into all sorts of stuff in the first Spiderman movie. They’re so used to living a normal life that it takes awhile to learn how to live and use their newfound abilities.

The Christian life is similar. We are so used to living in the desires of our flesh that now, even though we have the power to live absolutely perfect lives, it takes some getting used to that power and understanding how to use it. There is no doubt that God’s “divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). Read 2 Pet. 1:1-10 where it says we are partakers of the divine nature. Our power to say “no” to sin comes from the fact that He is in us. It’s a matter of learning to walk by the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16 says, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” I used to think of “walking by the Spirit” like proximity, as in walking “close by” or “next to” the Spirit. I guess there is a truth to that, but I now think it’s more about living by the Spirit, as in an ability, sort of like someone with a broken leg walks by their crutches; that is the only way they can walk like they should. Without the crutches, they couldn’t move forward at all. The only way we can live like we should is if we do it by God’s power. It’s a matter of learning how to trust Him and depend upon His ability rather than our own. Again, it easy to say but hard to do. It doesn’t happen overnight but is a process we learn.

Galatians 5 goes on to explain how our flesh and the Spirit are at war with each other. Even though our flesh has been crucified with Jesus if we indeed have trusted Him as our Savior, it can still rear its ugly head in our life. Now, God certainly could just force us to be perfect, but I think that would defeat the purpose. He wants us to learn how to choose the good and reject the evil because we love Him, not because we have to. He doesn’t want robots who must do the right thing because they are programmed to. There is no love if we don’t have any choice in the matter.

Heaven is a different matter, though. Then, our perfection in Christ will be actualized, and we will be unable to sin. I long for that day as I’m sure you do too. So why doesn’t God do that now? I don’t always know why God does things a certain way, but here’s a go at it: Learning to walk by the Spirit means learning how to draw closer to Him. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), that is a good place to be because it means we want more of Him, that we are seeking Him. That whole verse says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Take heart, you are in a good place if you hunger for God and His righteousness, you will be satisfied. Keep seeking Him and asking Him to show you and help you understand what it means to walk by the Spirit so that you don’t carry out the desire of the flesh.

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