Man Does NOT Have a "Sin Problem"
That is a scandalous statement and one that contradicts everything you have probably heard in church your whole life. It would seem to be a logical conclusion that the Bible teaches that man’s problem is sin, but let us reconsider two primary assumptions:
The Bible teaches that there are only two kinds of people in this world; those who are “under law” and those who are “under grace”. To be “under law” means to be subject to the Law’s condemnation, which is death, and ultimately the Lake of Fire. Every person ever born into this word is “under law” and is therefore condemned because at some point in his life he has broken the Law in one way or another.
Even if a person has no knowledge of God’s Law from scripture, the Bible tells us that every man has the Law of God written on his heart, which is the conscience (Romans 2:14-15). The conscience is what gives man knowledge of right and wrong. One day, every person “under law” will be judged by God according to the Law, whether that be God’s law as recorded in scripture or by his own conscience. So clearly, man does indeed have a problem.
What about Sin?
The Bible describes Sin as an entity which seeks to wield control over others. (Genesis 4:7) Sin’s desire for control is manifest in man’s subsequent desire to wield control over others. Ironically, Sin obtains its power of control over others through the Law (1 Corinthians 15:56). Sin uses the Law to control others by provoking man through desires to break the Law. Once there is a law that governs some behavior, Sin uses that same law to provoke a desire to rebel against what that law requires (Romans 7:7-8).
Without the Law, Sin has no power. Therefore, where there is no Law, there is no Sin. Any person who is “under law” is not only provoked by Sin to break the Law, but he is condemned if he does.
So the problem then is not with Sin, rather it is the reality that any man “under law” is under condemnation. The solution then is that man needs a way to get out from under the Law’s condemnation. Man needs a new relationship to the Law.
Man’s New Relationship to the Law
When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas how to be saved, their response was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…” Belief means faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. A person is born again (literally “born from above”) when he hears about Jesus and believes what he hears. Hearing implies a cognitive process of allowing oneself to be persuaded by a reasonable argument. So we understand then that “faith” is more than just an assenting to the facts, but it has to do with being thoroughly convinced in your mind that something is true.
God made it possible for man to get out from under the Law’s condemnation through the New Birth. When a person believes in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the “old man” who was “under law” dies. Laws have no jurisdiction over dead people. Dead people cannot be condemned.
When the “old man” dies, a new creature is reborn in his place. This new creature is born of God. He is the literal offspring of the Father. This new creature is not born “under law”. The Law has no jurisdiction over him. This means the Law CANNOT condemn him. And since there is no Law to condemn this born again new creature, there is no Sin. The one who is born of God CANNOT sin!
“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.”
~ 1 John 3:9
Notice, the apostle John does not say the believer “won’t sin” or “chooses not to sin”. He says he CANNOT sin. He is not ABLE to sin. Why is the one who is born again not able sin? Because sin has to do with Law. You cannot condemn one of sin when there is no Law under which to accuse him. Think about it; if there was no 55 mph speed limit on the highway, and you were driving 56, would a patrol officer be able to write you a citation for speeding? Of course not. Why not? What law could he use of which to accuse you? There would be none. So it is with the one who is born again. The believer is no longer “under law,” therefore there is no Law that can be used to condemn. The believer has a new relationship to the Law.
Since the Law can no longer condemn, the Law’s original intent can now be realized: to show love to God and to others!
This is why believers strive to obey. It is not a means to merit some right standing with God. The believer is already righteous because he is God’s offspring. The believer obeys because he wants to show love to God and love to others. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. In fact, the Bible teaches that those who love God have a natural love for the Law as well.
"O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day." ~ Psalms 119:97
"I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love." ~ Psalms 119:113
"I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love." ~ Psalms 119:163
"Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them." ~ Psalms 119:165
Even if there was no speed limit on the highway, would you still drive as fast as you possibly wanted? Hopefully not, because you would recognize the inherent danger, not only to yourself by driving recklessly, but also to the other drivers on the road. You would drive in such a way as to preserve your own life and the lives of others. You would be functioning according to the Law of Love.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
~ Romans 8:2
This new relationship to the Law through the New Birth is offered as a free gift to any who believe on Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins.
How does Jesus’ death on the cross forgive sin?
In Old Testament times, when God codified the Law for Israel with Moses, the Law took Old Testament saints into protective custody. During this time, believers were preserved from condemnation upon their death because sin was imputed to the Law. This was the “covering” aspect of the Law, and the ceremonial observation of the “Day of Atonement” was a recognition of Israel being under the Law’s protective custody. (Galatians 3:22-24)
This protective custody was in effect up until the time of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of a promise made to Abraham. When Jesus died, He ended the need for the Law’s protective custody. When the Law ended, all sins that had been imputed to the Law were taken away with it.
The picture of the “scapegoat” in Leviticus 16:21-22 describes what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplishes. The priest would lay his hands upon a live goat, a symbol of sins being imputed to the Law. That goat would then be delivered into the hands of a strong man who take that goat into the wilderness and release it. Jesus is that “strong man” who took away the sins imputed to the “scapegoat” of the Law.
“…Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” ~ John 1:29
In essence, Jesus is both the “Lamb” and the “strong man”. He is the Testator of the Old Covenant, the One of whom the Law speaks, the One to whom sin is imputed. The death of the Testator brings an end (fulfillment) to that covenant, thereby taking with Him all sins which had been imputed to Him. (Hebrews 9:15-17)
Since the Promise of Christ has come, there is no longer a need for a guardian. The “covering” aspect of the Law is no longer needed. (Galatians 3:25-26) This is true for every person who believes in Jesus Christ for salvation. The New Birth puts the old man to death. All those past sins are forgiven. They were taken away when the Law was ended for him upon his New Birth. There is no ongoing need of forgiveness for “present” or “future” sins because the believer CANNOT sin. There is no Law to condemn him, therefore there is no sin.
Why do Christians still “sin”?
Man is and always will be a free-will agent. His behaviors are governed by choices that are the logical conclusions of assumptions. Man was created by God to be a rational, thinking, creature. It is how man is made is God’s image. In this way, man is good. To say that man is “good” means to be good existentially, or that which is intrinsic to the nature of his existence. It means man has the capacity to act in accordance to the purpose for which he was created; to think, to reason, to live, to BE.
Because a man may make a choice to do evil does not mean that he IS evil. Conversely, that man may make a choice to good is not what MAKES him good. Man’s ability to even make a choice is what makes him “good”. He is functioning according to how God designed him to be. Do not misunderstand - “goodness” should not be conflated with “righteousness”.
It is not man’s choosing to do evil deeds (or lack of good deeds) which condemns him, no more than it is a believer’s choosing to do good deeds (or lack of evil deeds) which saves him. Unregenerate man is condemned because he is “under law”. A believer is saved because he is born again and NOT “under law”. Therefore, because one who is born again is not “under law”, there is no such thing as “sin” for the believer.
Nevertheless, this does not preclude the fact that a believer can still choose to not obey the Law. At the same time, this does not give a believer license to ignore the Law. While failure to obey the Law no longer condemns the believer, it is still a failure to show love. One who is the offspring of the Heavenly Father ought to behave in a manner that is consistent with his righteous state of being.
The Bible says the flesh is “weak”. Weakness does not mean evil. The apostle Paul said that the treasure of our righteous new creature-hood is contained in “clay pots”. So even though a believer is righteous, Sin still seeks to control him through the weakness of his flesh. And because man is a moral agent capable of free-will decisions, a believer can still choose to give in to fleshly desires provoked by Sin. But it is important to understand the distinction; such an action does not condemn! It is a failure to show love.
Perfection is not the issue here. This is why it is so important to understand that righteousness has nothing to do with law-keeping. There is a reason Paul and the other apostles bent over backwards to make this case throughout the New Testament. Righteousness is apart from the Law. (Romans 3:21, 28) Believers are righteous because they have been born again and are no longer “under law”. Whether or not a believer obeys the law “perfectly” is irrelevant because there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1)
This reality is incredibly freeing, because now a believer can aggressively pursue love without fear!
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear:” ~ 1 John 4:18
A believer no longer has to worry about what laws he has kept or hasn’t kept because the threat of condemnation has been removed. That possibility is no longer hanging over his head like some impending doom. Now he is free to focus on just loving God and loving others, and the way he shows love is by striving to obey the Law.
“'Master, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said unto him, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'” ~ Matthew 22:36-40
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” ~ Romans 13:8
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” ~ Galatians 5:14
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” ~ John 14:15
A false gospel has only one perspective on the Law, which leads to a misunderstanding of the Law's purpose.