There is something fundamentally different between a Christian, and a non-Christian. Something that goes deep to the core of the person and changes them.
Everyone is born a sinner (Romans 3:23), which is someone who “transgresses against divine law” (Oxford Dictionary). This is the spiritual state that we are all born into. We are slaves to sin, spiritually dead. In this state we are only concerned with things of this world, the things of the flesh, and we are enemies of God.
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” – Romans 8:7 ESV
While we are still sinners, while still being enemies of God, we are offered this wonderful gift of salvation. But do we really know what that means?
We have many in our culture who call themselves Christians because they go to church, give tithes, and try to live a good life, according to our cultural standards. But is that all there is to being a Christian? Is it nothing but us trying to live a good life, and to live up to some religious obligations and moral code?
A Christian is more than that. At that moment of forgiveness we are not simply forgiven of our sins but that dead, and rotting sin nature within us is made alive and set free from sin. This is a very real change that makes a Christian something new from that moment on.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV
This change within us completely changes our relationship to sin. No longer are we slaves to sin, but we are set free from that sinful nature. Instead of being proud of our sin and eager to hold onto and justify those sins that we enjoy, now we are disgusted by sin. We see it for what it truly is and we try our best to get rid of it from our life. Not out of some moral obligation but because we truly want nothing to do with it.
It is this relationship to sin that sets Christians apart from sinners.
“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” – 1 John 3:5-6 ESV
No, this isn’t saying that a Christian doesn’t ever sin. Pay close attention to the phrasing, particularly the words “abides” and “keeps on”. “Keeps on” in reference to sin, and “abides”, which has a similar but deeper meaning, in reference to following God. (We will be discussing this deeper in an upcoming article.) 1 John says the same thing but using a different word. Can you pick it out?
“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” – 1 John 3:7-10 ESV
In this passage the word Practice stands out and it is an important part of what is being said.
1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.
2. repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.
1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.
To practice something, is to “keep on” doing it. Habitually, regularly, repeatedly.
“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – John 8:34 ESV
Before we are a Christian we are a slave to sin and we continue to do it. Usually we have a moral code that we come up with where the things we enjoy doing are seen as okay, and the things we don’t like are seen as the line that nobody should cross. We do have a few things we see within ourselves that we try to change to make us better people, according to some cultural standard, but we have this whole list of things that God says is a sin that we justify and try to make ourselves happy to live with. We practice those sins, not realizing that we are a slave to it. Trapped in a way that makes it impossible to escape, if we even wanted to.
And then we became a Christian, and all of that changed.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” – Titus 3:3-5 ESV
Not only have we been regenerated, changed to the core, but we have the Holy Spirit within us. These things are not just some fanciful wishful thinking to sound spiritual and religious. These are very real changes.
“How can we who died to sin still live in it? … We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” – Romans 6:2, 6, 11-13 ESV
A Christian is someone who has been awakened to the war that we have with sin and we no longer want to hide it or justify it, we want to get rid of it!
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” – Romans 8:9-10 ESV
This is the battle. Flesh versus spirit. Paul shows this struggle in Romans 7.
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” – Romans 7:14-19 ESV
This is the process of justification, the process of God working in us to get rid of the sin within us to make us holy, as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). This is the struggle. We are not perfect and will never be perfect while in these bodies, but by the grace of God we do have a real chance against the flesh nature of our bodies so that the life of a Christian is no longer marked by a practice of sin, but by a practice of righteousness and holiness. We may stumble from time to time, but our walk is one of righteousness.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – 1 John 1:5-10 ESV
This passage sums up the struggle well, going back and forth to say that we are not perfect, but we have been cleansed, forgiven, made new. We no longer walk in darkness.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:1-6 ESV
This is the life of the Christian. Not one of boasting and bragging about how good we are, because we know that on our own we are filthy sin filled creatures. But we boast in Jesus Christ, because by His mercy and grace, we have been cleansed and made new. Not by our own works, but entirely by His work within us.
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” – Galatians 6:14 ESV
This is why Christians try our best to live righteously. Not out of some religious obligation, but because sin disgusts us and we want nothing to do with it. Because God is holy and we want fellowship with Him.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2 ESV
When a Christian tells a non-Christian that they are a sinner and need repentance, it isn’t because Christians think they are better than others. It is because we truly care about people and want them to know this freedom from being a slave to sin. We want them to know God and His loving kindness and forgiveness.
A Christian doesn’t walk around in shiny white robes, pointing out every spot and blemish on others clothing and telling them they had better clean themselves up. A Christian is someone who knows how dirty and awful their own sin is, and wants to share about the God who, despite our filth, gave us new clothes and washed us and called us sons and daughters. We just want to share with you that you too can be washed clean and set free. Not because of me, or anything I can do, or because I’m better than you, because I’m not. But because of God. He is the one to be praised for this awesome gift.
Sinner, I beg you, let go of those shackles you are holding on to trying to justify and accept your sin. It’s killing you, weighing you down, and you can never free yourself. But the one with the key stands ready to help any who lift up their hands and ask for forgiveness.
He died to get that key that will free you.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1 ESV
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23 ESV