ďWHAT SHOULD A CHRISTIAN DO WHEN HE SINS?Ē
I find it amazing that there are preachers who never address this issue in the lives of their people, just as they never address the issue of assurance of salvation, or what is needed to be a good spouse, or guidance for folks who want to be good fathers or good mothers. After all, faithful involvement in every church service, diligence in reading your Bible every day, and praying without ceasing is not the solution to every problem the Christian faces. Just as extended passages in Godís Word were written to provide insight for Christians to function in their roles as husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers, and as employees and church members, so were extended passages incorporated in Godís Word to provide assurance of salvation to new believers, as well as instructions to Christians who had committed sins.
What do preachers do who do not preach from time to time about such matters as assurance of salvation and what Christians ought to do when they sin? Do they limit their preaching to gospel sermons? That may sound well-intentioned and pious, but how effective can a Christian be who does not know how to deal with sin in his own life? When he sins and is too ignorant or inexperienced to address his besetting sin problems, and he thereby quenches or grieves the indwelling Holy Spirit, how effective and useful can he possibly be (no matter how much he gives or how hard he works) in his efforts to bear spiritual fruit? ďHe should seek his pastorís counsel.Ē Really? For every sin? Remember, pastors are not Roman priests, people. We Baptists believe in the priesthood of the believer, remember? Are we not all agreed that you need to learn some of this stuff yourself? Much more effective, in my opinion, is the preacher who patterns his ministry after the Apostle Paulís, who said to the Ephesian elders the last time he saw them, in Acts 20.26-27,
26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.
27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
A preacher once persuaded me, many years ago, that once care was taken to make sure a person was genuinely converted the pastorís counseling load would greatly diminish. I think his advice has been shown to be correct, for two reasons: First, much pastoral counseling these days is devoted to addressing problems in the lives of professing Christians who are not real believers. Second, once someone is genuinely converted and indwelt by the Spirit of God, the renewing of the believerís mind begins, so that he may learn to ďprove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,Ē Romans 12.2. However, this is accomplished as he is taught Godís Word and learns to implement what he has learned. Therefore, included in every gospel preacherís repertoire of practical doctrinal sermons should be those that are devoted to training Christians in what is rightly understood to be the art of addressing and effectively dealing with the sins we commit in a way that is satisfactory and pleasing to God. Notice that I am focused on explaining to the Christian what to do when he sins, and not the unbeliever. This is because the unsaved person, without the only remedy in existence for the remission of his sins, can do nothing with respect to God about the specific sins he commits. Recognizing that the greatest evil is that which deprives you of the greatest good, and even the least of an unbelieverís sins are counted by God as the greatest of evils, it must be admitted that the unsaved person can do nothing about his sin when he sins to remedy the damage that has been done with respect to God. After all, he is spiritually dead, pathetically weak, thoroughly corrupt, and completely disinclined.
Turning then to the Christian, let me disabuse you of the false notion that you should ask Godís forgiveness when you sin. I warn you that serious consideration of what I am about to say is required, because of the almost universal belief that Christians are supposed to ask Godís forgiveness when they sin. This despite the fact that nowhere in Godís Word are believers instructed, directed, exhorted or encouraged to ask Godís forgiveness after they have sinned. Consider the major figures in the Old Testament who sinned. Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Samson, Eli, Saul, David, Bathsheba, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and the prophet Jonah. Can you think of a single place where any one of those individuals was instructed, directed, exhorted or in any way encouraged to ask Godís forgiveness after he had committed a serious sin?
How about in the New Testament? Can you think of a single instance in which a disciple in the gospels or a believer in the book of Acts, or any of the epistles, was instructed, directed, exhorted or encouraged to ask Godís forgiveness after committing a sin? Though some might consider the Lordís model prayer as a prompting to ask for forgiveness (ďAnd forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.Ē), Matthew 6.12, I am in agreement with Walvoord and Zuck in understanding that such is not the case. They write, ďJesusí words in Matthew 6:14-15 explain His statement about forgiveness in verse 12. Though Godís forgiveness of sin is not based on oneís forgiving others, a Christianís forgiveness is based on realizing he has been forgiven (cf. Eph. 4:32).Ē (Emphasis in the original). Also consider Simon Peter. Having already been previously summoned to follow the Savior, we see his reaction when the Lord Jesus approached him again, recorded in Luke 5.1-11. Doubtless overcome with a guilty conscience for not having responded to an earlier call from the Lord, verse 8 records his reaction when he is overcome with guilt and remorse and finally yields to Christís will: ďWhen Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesusí knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.Ē Strange to some, there is no record in this passage of Simon Peter asking for Christís forgiveness. How about three and a half years later, during that night and early morning before Christ was crucified, after having said he would never deny the Lord, when Simon Peter then denied Him three times? Read Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 18. Though three of the gospel accounts record that Peter wept bitterly after denying his Lord, none of the gospel accounts give any indication that he ever asked forgiveness for what he had done.
In Acts chapter 8, we come the closest to seeing someone directed to ask for forgiveness when the man who had a false hope, Simon the magician, was discovered by the Apostle Peter to be an unsaved man by his attempt to purchase the Holy Spirit with money. Even with this lost man, the apostleís directive does not explicitly advise him to ask Godís forgiveness, with my own understanding of this reinforced by every commentator whose opinion I have access to. Read Acts 8.20-23 with me:
20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Thus, even if you do insist on stretching the words to interpret this as a directive to ask for Godís forgiveness, keep three things in mind: First, this is a directive that was issued to a lost man and not a Christian. Second, this was actually the second directive issued to him, the first being that he repent. And third, the phrase ďpray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee,Ē carries with it nothing of the guarantee so many professing Christians assume exists when they confidently ask Godís forgiveness, knowing He will always forgive them. Really? Such a guarantee is not found in the words Peter directed to Simon. Where is such a guarantee for Christians to be found? After correcting flagrant sins in the Corinthian congregation, we find no such directive to ask for forgiveness in First Corinthians. The Galatians had succumbed to error concerning the gospel, yet Paul nowhere urged them to ask God for forgiveness.
If sin is really as serious a matter as the Bible shows it to be, why is there not so much as one clear declaration to be found providing the Christian instruction, direction, exhortation, or encouragement of some kind to ask Godís forgiveness as a way of dealing with a sin that has been committed? Could it possibly be that asking Godís forgiveness for having committed a sin against Him is not His will for the Christian who has sinned against Him? Asking Godís forgiveness is nowhere called for in the Law of Moses, so it is understandable that a Jewish believerís (and even a Samaritan unbeliever such as Simon the magician) would not think of asking Godís forgiveness. Even more reason, one would think, why Gentile Christians would be strongly urged to do such a thing if it was Godís will. Yet the New Testament is silent in this regard. Why so? Because Godís plan for the Christian who has sinned is not to seek forgiveness, but something altogether different.
Consider three undeniable certainties regarding the Christian who has sinned:
First, THE CHRISTIAN SINS
The person who denies he sins cannot be a Christian. First John 1.8 and 10 are certainly the most familiar verses in the Bible concerning this matter of a Christianís sins:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Therefore, it is established that the Christian life is a life that contains a sinful nature and also personal sins, and anyone who denies that he commits sins cannot be a Christian. So much for those who believe in Christian Perfectionism, such as the Church of the Nazarene denomination and certain Pentecostal groups. The Apostle Paul provides more detailed insight into the Christianís relationship with sin in Romans chapters 6 and 7, which I will leave to you to study on your own for now. However, I point out Romans 7.20, where Paul admits his own, and therefore every, believerís relationship with sin: ďNow if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.Ē Thus, sins are committed as a result of a sinful nature, even by Christians.
As well, it must be acknowledged that even the Christianís sin is always a sin against God. David admitted as much in Psalm 51.4, when he wrote in this great psalm of sorrow for sin, ďAgainst thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.Ē Had David not sinned against Uriah? Yes. Had he not sinned against Bathsheba? Again, yes. Had he not sinned against the nation he ruled? A third time, yes. However, in comparison to the heinous nature of those same deeds as sins against Almighty God, Davidís words show there was no comparison. Even when the believer commits a grievous sin against another person, it is still most profoundly a sin against God, Himself. Are sins committed by Christians in the New Testament era also sins that are primarily sins committed against God? Absolutely. When a Christian commits a sin, that sin is very much a sin against God, as evidenced by the fact that Christianís sins grieve and quench the indwelling Holy Spirit.
That fact established, let me hasten to remind you once more that a Christianís sin may also be a sin committed against another individual. There can be no doubt that stealing from someone is not only a sin against God, but also a sin committed that harms the person whose property has been stolen. Adultery is a sin against not only God, but also against the spouse, the partner in the sexual sin, and also against any children in the marriage. What happens when a sin is committed against another person? That sin should be admitted to the person sinned against, after which forgiveness should be asked and restitution should be offered. However, this message has to do with oneís dealings with God concerning sins, so I will save any consideration of oneís dealings with other people sinned against for another time. So crucial is this admission that we sin even as Christians that First John 1.9 shows how integral this admission is to becoming and then to being a Christian: ďIf we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.Ē The Christian life is very much an ongoing recognition and acknowledgment of sinfulness and personal sins.
Next, THE CHRISTIANíS SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN
The reality of the Christianís forgiveness is certain. We should be mindful that the Lord Jesus Christ came to forgive sins. Remember Mark 2.5, where our Lord said to the man sick of the palsy who had been lowered through the roof to gain access to Him, ďSon, thy sins be forgiven thee.Ē Then, when His adversaries accused Him of blasphemy because only God can forgive sins, He responded, as recorded in Matthew 9.4-7,
4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
7 And he arose, and departed to his house.
The Savior can forgive sins, that much is very clear. However, how much of that potential to forgive sins is actually realized in the Christianís life? Consider four passages:
Acts 13.38: ďBe it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.Ē
Acts 26.18: ďTo open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.Ē
Ephesians 1.7: ďIn whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.Ē
Colossians 1.14: ďIn whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.Ē
Preaching to a Jewish audience in a synagogue (Acts 13.38), relating to King Agrippa the words of the glorified Savior to him on the Damascus road (Acts 26.18), and writing to primarily Gentile Christian congregations in both Ephesus and Colosse, we see that every Christianís sins are forgiven, and that the forgiveness of sins is integral to every believerís relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no such thing as a Christian who needs to be forgiven, since Christians already are forgiven.
The result of the Christianís forgiveness is declared. To a Christian wondering how this is possible, I would answer in two ways: First, the salvation of a sinner is properly seen as not being time-bound, but encompassing his past justification, as well as his ongoing sanctification, and also his future glorification, with none of these things possible apart from the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, the believerís past sins have been forgiven, his present sins are being forgiven, and his future sins will be forgiven. Second, this is possible only because of the ongoing efficacy of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, First John 1.7:
ďBut if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.Ē
Thus, although the Lord Jesus Christ shed His precious blood for the forgiveness of our sins in time and space, the result is ongoing and permanent for the believer. Again, I read four verses which speak directly to the fact that Christians are forgiven, despite the fact that we have already acknowledged that Christians do commit sins:
Romans 4.7: ďSaying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.Ē
Ephesians 4.32: ďAnd be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christís sake hath forgiven you.Ē
Colossians 2.13: ďAnd you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.Ē
First John 2.12: ďI write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his nameís sake.Ē
Please note, and confirm by your own reading of Godís Word when you get home, that there is no indication in scripture that the forgiveness of which the Apostles Paul and John wrote about were in any way contingent upon Christians seeking Godís forgiveness subsequent to their conversion. In other words, if you are a Christian you are already forgiven!
The Christianís sins already forgiven, notice that the response of God toward a Christianís sin is decreed, declared, determined and done. First, because the believerís sins are already forgiven those who are in Christ, because of the ongoing efficacy of Christís blood shed on their behalf, how does God view the Christianís sins and iniquities with respect to His righteousness and holiness? The writer to the Hebrews addressed that very issue in Hebrews 8.12, where he wrote Godís words:
ďFor I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.Ē
Several chapters later in the letter to the Hebrews, he writes once more, in Hebrews 10.16-17, referring to the fact that Law of Moses ordinances and sacrifices are no longer needed:
16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
This only makes sense. Why would God remember sins and iniquities that have not merely been covered by the blood of Christ, but have been completely washed away by the blood of Christ, remitted being the word that is used to explain why there is no longer any need for sacrifices and ordinances prescribed by the Law of Moses, verse 18:
ďNow where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.Ē
In Romans 11.27, the Apostle Paul sums it up in just a few words:
ďFor this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.Ē
This is why we sing, ďGone, gone, gone, gone, gone, my sins are gone.Ē Does this mean God just overlooks wrongdoing in the life of a child of God? Not at all. Hebrews 12.5-17 explains Godís dealings with His children as our heavenly Father, chastening us to correct our sinful behavior. However, that is another message entirely.
Finally, THE CHRISTIANíS RESPONSIBILITY REGARDING HIS SINS
From the Word of God, we see that we are not directed, taught, encouraged or exhorted to ask God for something we already have . . . forgiveness. Why should we ask for forgiveness, since in the mind and heart of God our sins and iniquities are simply gone, because of Christís precious cleansing blood? Therefore, to avoid insult to God and to stay away from anything approaching despising the efficacy of Christís precious blood, Christians should not ask for Godís forgiveness after sinning.
Instead, there should first be a recognition of sinning. By this, I mean a genuine recognition of the sinfulness of sinning, not the nonsense seen so often in churches. Someone is challenged to come to the front of the auditorium, do a bit of praying and quiet weeping at a hand rail or at steps that are frequently called ďan old fashioned altar,Ē and then go back to committing the same sins once more. Where is that called for in scripture? The writer to the Hebrews asserted, ďWe have an altar,Ē in Hebrews 13.10, and I promise you that it is nothing like handrails or steps at the front of the auditorium, which physical locations should never be referred to as ďan old fashioned altar,Ē because Bible Christianity has never known such a thing. Such is a relic of Romanism.
Once there is a real recognition of sin by the Christian, there should follow repentance for sinning. Repentance is the flip side of the coin of faith when a sinner comes to Christ. However, it should be noted that repentance is not only a gift that God initially gives to His children, but it is an ongoing way of life for the believer. There should always be repentance in the Christianís life. This is especially the case on those occasions when we are made particularly aware of our sins. I refer, for example, to being on the receiving end of Galatians 6.1:
ďBrethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted,Ē
or Matthew 18.15:
ďMoreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.Ē
However, it may be that awareness of sin is most frequently heightened during the preaching of Godís Word, with both resentment and stubbornness the result, or the more desirable reaction which is repentance. Certainly the fullest explanation of what happens to someone who has sinned and been confronted about his sin, is found in Second Corinthians 7.8-11, where Paul notes the genuine repentance exhibited by the Corinthians in response to the rebukes in his first Corinthian letter:
8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.
9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
Consider verse 11, where Paul makes mention of the Corinthianís reaction to sinning that was prompted by their repentance. What is he referring to? He is congratulating their diligent response to Christian sinning, having responded the way Christians are supposed to respond. Why ask for forgiveness when you are already forgiven? Why ask God to forgive sins He has not only forgiven but also forgotten? Why pray some blubbery prayer that accomplishes nothing, so that you can feel good about yourself and then promptly commit the same sin again? That is precisely what happens in too many churches. Godís plan for Christians who sin is to recognize the deed as sin, to then repent of the deed as sin, and to then react to the sin in a scriptural manner with steps taken to bring about real change and conduct that does not repeat the sin. Is it difficult? Yes. Does it take a real fight to accomplish? Absolutely, because sinful habits are profoundly difficult to remedy. However, that is what God wants, real repentance and steps that lead to real change. Turn to Psalm 119.9:
ďWherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.Ē
What should you do? I can tell you what Godís Word does not tell you to do; ask for forgiveness. What you should do is seek a scriptural remedy for cleaning up the mess you made by committing that sin. Turn to Ephesians 4.28 for Paulís passing reference to just one example of the correct response to sinning by a Christian:
ďLet him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.Ē
Here Paul jumps in after the recognition of sin and repentance have taken place, to the scriptural remedy of changed conduct and real restitution. This is Spirit-filled conduct pleasing to God.
So you see, I am not suggesting that either God or you treat any sin lightly. Instead, I direct your attention to the scriptural remedy the child of God should employ to treat sin with the seriousness it deserves.
Do not ask God for forgiveness as a Christian, since every Christian is already forgiven. Perhaps you should instead thank God you are already forgiven every time you sin, instead of insulting Him by asking again for what He has repeatedly indicated He has already given to you.
Henceforth, I suggest that when the Holy Spirit brings a personal sin to your attention, by means of preaching, by means of reading Godís Word, or through the ministry of a caring brother or sister in Christ, you recognize the sin committed as a real sin and not trivialize it by calling it a mistake. Next, repent of the sin, and what usually accompanies repentance is the Christianís cry of genuine sorrow, acknowledging to God that what you did was wrong and that you are heartbroken and sorrowful for sinning against Him in such a way. However, remember that there is no warrant in scripture for asking for forgiveness if you are a Christian.
What you then need to do is wash your face, blow your nose, sit down at the kitchen table or your desk with your Bible and a notepad and pen, and begin your study of Godís Word for the scriptural remedy for the sin you have repented of. Just remember, if you are not willing to do the work of finding out how to stop the pattern of sinning and then implementing your plan, the repentance (no matter how much crying there was) was not real.
That is what a Christian should do when he has sinned.
 Ephesians 2.1
 Romans 5.6
 Isaiah 64.6
 Romans 3.11
 John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1983), page 32.
 Matthew 4.18-22; Mark 1.16-20; John 1.35-51
 Darrell L. Bock, Acts - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), page 335.
 Ephesians 4.30; 1 Thessalonians 5.19
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