One of the greatest problems in Christianity centers around the relationship of Christians to sin.  The disputation over this point has been so heated that it is probably the cause of more divisions in Christianity and more denominations being founded than any other. 

Can a Christian sin or is a Christian not able to sin?  Is a Christian a hapless and defenseless weakling who is manipulated by the forces of sin without any power to resist?  Is it necessary to continue on in the same sins everyday with the only recourse being to receive forgiveness of sin?  If so, how is it that forgiveness received---by something the sinning Christian does or by something the church and some clergyman does for him?  Is there victory over sin?  If so, how is victory obtained?  Do we obtain victory by the eradication of the sinful nature in our flesh or by mortification of the sinful nature in our flesh through the power of God?  We will seek our answer in the Word of God.   


The Scripture is clear that when a person is saved, he or she receives a new nature internally, but that God does not do one thing to the old fleshly nature.  It is the same fallen, sinful, fleshly nature that it has always been.  Paul wrote, “For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwells no good thing…”  Romans 7:18.    Although some people would say this refers to Paul in his unsaved state, it is clear that Paul was speaking of his spiritual condition over 20 years after he was saved for he is writing in the present (or linear) tense.  He also said in verse 22, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.”  This is something only a saved person can do. 

The Apostle John, who was known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” wrote in 1st John 1:18, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  This was written about 90 AD and so John is saying that even after being an apostle for over fifty years that he would be deceiving himself if he said he had no sin.  The Christian does possess a sin nature in his flesh that does sin. 


Propitiation is a big Bible word that all Christians need to learn and understand.  It means that Christ received the punishment for our sins in our place and forever separated our sins from us as far as condemnation is concerned. 

Propitiation is illustrated for us by the Old Testament Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). On the tenth day of the seventh month each year the Jewish High Priest would first make a sacrifice for his sins so that he could serve as high priest in making sacrifice for the sins of the people.  He would take two goats and cast lots over them.  He would take one goat, lay his hands on its head and confess the sins of the people on this goat and thus transfer the sins of the people to this goat.  He would then cut the throat of this goat, catch its blood in a bucket and burn the carcass on the altar of brass.  He would then walk into the tabernacle, put live coals and incense on the altar of incense.  This would create a sweet smelling smoke which would filter through the veil into the Holy of Holies.  Inside the Holy of Holies was where God dwelt in glory covered with a cloud.  There was also the ark of the covenant which contained the Ten Commandments.  These commandments demanded absolute perfection in order for people to be accepted by God.  On top of the ark was the mercy seat covering it like a lid.  The High Priest sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat which evidenced that the death penalty for sin had been carried out on an innocent substitute.  God symbolically indicated by the cloud and smoke that He was looking at that goat’s blood with obscured vision and accepting it until the blood of His Son would be shed as the genuine sacrifice for sin.  The High Priest would then go out of the Tabernacle into the court and take the other goat.  He would place his hands on the head of this goat and confess the sins of the people over the head of this goat.  A young man would then lead this goat so far into the wilderness it could never find its way back into the camp again.  These two goats pictured the work of Christ on the cross.  He received the punishment for our sins and then separated our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. (Psalm 103:12). 

With these thoughts in mind read 1st John 2:1-2.  In the first place we are commanded, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin…”  God never encourages us to sin but commands us not to sin.  The verse continues, “And if anyone sins”, what then?    According to the teaching of some people it would have to say “he is lost and needs to get saved again.”  But that is not what it says.  It continues, “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”  The wonderful truth here is that when a Christian sins he can still praise God that Christ has (1) received the punishment for all of his sins, and (2) separated his sins from him so that God never identifies him and his sins together at the same time.  The word advocate is best understood by Americans with the word attorney or lawyer.  The Greek work is “”paraclete” which means “one called along beside”.  This is what a lawyer does.  He is called alongside of the defendant to plead his case.  It is wonderful that Christians have a Lawyer to representing them in Heaven.  His name is Jesus.  The prosecutor is Satan.  We read of his work in Revelation12:10, “……for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night…” We then read with triumphant joy, “…And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”  (Revelation 12:11.) 

When we sin the devil points an accusing finger at us and says, “Look at that hypocrite.  He has committed a sin for which he ought to be damned to Hell.”  Our Lawyer steps forward and says, “Yes, it is awful.  He has sinned.  It has hurt my fellowship with him and he will have to be severely chastised for it, but Father, here are five wounds in my body and there on the mercy seat is my blood.  These are evidence that I suffered the death penalty for all the sins that this Christian has committed and ever will commit.  On this basis I plead that this sin not appear on his court record.”  Praise God, Jesus Christ has never lost a case. 

The Christian gains victory over the condemnation of sin by the propitiation (or sacrifice) of Christ.  When the publican prayed in Luke 18:13, “…God be merciful to me a sinner”…-the word “merciful” is basically the same word that is translated “propitiation” in 1st John 2:2.  He was literally praying, “God be propitiated (or mercy-seated) to me a sinner.  He was actually asking God to forgive his sins on the basis that the death penalty for his sins had fallen on an innocent substitute and the evidence was the blood on the mercy-seat.  Jesus then said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified…”  (Luke 18:14a). 

Next we will discuss how the Christian gains victory over the power of sin in his body.  Copyright © 2005 Thomas              
Copyright © 2005 Thomas E Berry
Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted

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