Why Do Christians Sometimes Sin?
In the Bible we read, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God"
(I John 3:9). Why
then, you might wonder, do many Christians
still struggle with the bondage of sin
? To fully understand the answer to this important question, we must first grasp the biblical concept of the old man
and the new man
When people receive Jesus Christ as Savior through repentance and faith, God forgives their sins, places them "in Christ," and gives them the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new"
(II Corinthians 5:17). What exactly has passed away, and what has become new? It is the old man
that passes away and the new man
that is created anew in Christ, for "ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him"
The Old Man
The old man
is patterned after Adam
, the common ancestor of all mankind. Since the old man is bound by the "law of sin and death"
(Romans 8:2), he cannot please God.
More biblical truths concerning the old man can be found below:
- The old man includes a corruptible, mortal body (flesh). Your flesh is your physical, human body and all its lusts, appetites, and habits. "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God"
(Romans 8:8). "The first man [Adam] is of the earth, earthy: the second man [Jesus] is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly" (I Corinthians 15:47-48).
- The old man has an unregenerate (darkened) spirit. Your spirit includes your mind and heart. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14). "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:18).
- The old man is carnally minded and cannot receive the things of God. "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" (John 3:12). "For to be carnally minded is death ... because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:6-8).
As you can see from the examples above, the old man is simply no good.
The New Man
The new man
is patterned after Christ
. Since the new man is free in the "law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus"
(Romans 8:2), it is impossible for him to sin. Why? Because the spiritual seed of the Father takes on His sinless characteristics
(I Peter 1:16; I John 3:5,9).
More biblical truths concerning the new man can be found below:
- The new man includes an immortal, incorruptible body. This body will be like Jesus' glorified, resurrected body, which had immortal flesh and bones, not mortal flesh and blood. "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:39). "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [Jesus] was made a quickening spirit ... and as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption" (I Corinthians 15:45,49-50).
- The new man has a spirit that is quickened (made alive) by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Once again, your spirit includes your mind and heart, now enlightened to the truth and renewed through the process of sanctification. "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints"
(Ephesians 1:18). "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).
- The new man is spiritually minded and feasts on the things of God. He also communes with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. "But to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). "But as it is written, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.' But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God ... Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (I Corinthians 2:9-10,12).
The old man
, then, is patterned after Adam and is "bent" toward sin, while the new man
is patterned after Christ and can never
sin. Since those who are "in Christ" can sometimes sin, there must be some of the old man
That's right, when you were spiritually baptized into Jesus Christ, your darkened spirit was enlightened to the truth of the Gospel, your heart was washed clean by the blood of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit began a process of changing you from the inside out. However, your flesh
, which is your physical body (earthsuit) with all its programmed habits and lusts, did not change — not yet, that is. You still await a new, glorified body to completely put on the new man
! "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself"
(Philippians 3:20-21). But
until then, you are called to walk by faith in the Spirit
of the new man
while bringing your flesh under subjection to the Lordship of Christ, "as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance"
(I Peter 1:14). Only then will the old man
be "as good as dead."
If you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit dwells within your spirit, conforming you to the image of Christ and renewing your mind day by day through the truth of the Word. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God"
(II Corinthians 7:1). The more you submit to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit
, the less power your flesh will have over you.
Crucified and Risen with Christ
By faith, our old man
is crucified with Christ, while our new man
is raised up with Christ by a "new and living way"
(Hebrews 10:20), which is through His Holy Spirit. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord"
Paul proclaimed, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me"
(Galatians 2:20). Paul knew that by faith
, his old man
was crucified with Christ and his
was alive in Christ. Therefore, Paul died daily to his flesh
(leftover from the old man) so that the life of Christ could live through him. This does not necessarily mean that Paul struggled with sin; rather, Paul dealt with the natural weaknesses of the flesh (fatigue, illness, pain, grief, desires, etc.) which had the potential
to drag him down into sin. Even Jesus faced the weaknesses of the flesh in His humanity, yet He overcame all of those weaknesses through the power of the Holy Spirit, just as Paul experienced later in life.
So, is it possible for those who are new creations in Jesus Christ to sin? Yes, if they choose to walk according to their
(flesh and carnal mind) rather than walking as who they are in Christ
. This is known as double mindedness
, and the Bible tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8, 4:8). Paul said, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your [bodily] members which are upon the earth"
(Colossians 3:1-5). Brothers and sisters in Christ, our outer man is just a shell which will one day wear out and be sown in death like a seed. However, our inner man is spirit which will one day be raised up by God's power into an immortal, glorified body (see I Corinthians 15:42-44).
As long as we are on earth, dying to our selfish ways and flesh patterns must be a daily process. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me"
(Luke 9:23; also see I Corinthians 15:31). Therefore, taking up your cross means bearing the instrument of your death. This indicates total commitment
to Jesus, because in dying to ourselves we exchange our fleshly desires, selfish pursuits, and earthly comforts for the life of Jesus. His life becomes our life, His desires become our desires. We partake in His persecution, His suffering, and His power. Paul explained this truth further when he said, "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body"
(I Corinthians 4:10). Paul rejoiced in having a
cross to bear. He said, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world"
Many believers live as though taking up one's cross and dying to self is optional. But Jesus said, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it"
(Matthew 10:37-39). Taking up your cross, dying to self, and walking the narrow path of faith and obedience is, in fact, what identifies you as a true disciple of Jesus.
This is a lonely walk, for few will walk it with you (see Matthew 7:14). Yet, it is also a walk of deep fellowship and intimacy with the Savior (Philippians 3:10). "For which cause we faint not; but
though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day"
(I Corinthians 4:16).