Can a Christian Live in Sin?

Caught in Sin

In John 8, the apostle shares a unique encounter between Jesus and a woman caught in adultery. A group of scribes and Pharisees bring the woman to Jesus and set her amid a crowd gathered to hear Jesus teach. 

“Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?”

John reveals this was a test. The woman was caught in adultery, as they said. But the Scribes and Pharisees used the woman and her sin to entrap Jesus.

Jesus Responds to Sin

Jesus does something curious: “(He) stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.” Unsatisfied with His response, the Scribes and Pharisees continued to press Him for an answer. Jesus stands up and, with a few words, defeats their attempt to trap Him: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” John reports,

“Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

Finding no accusers, Jesus spares the woman with the words, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Facts to Remember

We should bear in mind a few key facts about this case.

  1. The Scribes and Pharisees failed to follow Leviticus 20:10 by charging both the woman and the man caught in adultery.
  2. Jesus was not a member of the Jewish judicial system and therefore was not in a position of authority.
  3. Jesus knew the Scribes and Pharisees used the woman to entrap him, so He acted in a way that exposed their motives.
  4. Jesus clarifies His mission in other passages: He was sent to save, not to judge.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)

“And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

These facts have some bearing on why Jesus responded in the way He did.

Neither Do I Condemn You

Nevertheless, the words, “Neither do I condemn you,” catch our attention. Rather than condemn the guilty party, Jesus lets her go her way.

His words ring in our ears as the ultimate example of mercy and grace. And they are beautiful words, to be sure, the sorts of words all guilty sinners want to hear from our Lord and future Judge.

Go and Sin No More

But notice the second statement: “go and sin no more.”

Though Jesus did not condemn her for all of the previously stated reasons, He also did not condone this woman’s adultery. Instead, he releases her with a warning: change your ways; do not repeat this sin; repent. While we love this story because it displays the mercy of Jesus, we dare not overlook another core message from the Savior: it is NOT okay for one to continue in sin.

Sin is Lawlessness

John, the apostle who recorded this encounter between Jesus and the woman, says some intense things about living in sin in 1 John 3:4-7, 

“Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. [5] And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. [6] Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. [7] Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”

To sin means to break the commandments of God; John describes sin as lawlessness. 

It’s the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 7:23. Jesus condemned those who prophesied in His name, cast out demons in His name, and did many wonders in His name. “Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness,” Jesus says.

John echoes the message of Jesus: one cannot serve God and practice or commit lawlessness. “Whoever abides in (Jesus),” John says, “does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen him nor known Him.”

Purify our Lives

Jesus became a man to take away our sins; he resisted temptation and remained sinless.Part of maintaining our relationship with Jesus depends on purifying our lives – because Jesus died for our sins, we should purify our lives. 

If a Christian “lives in sin,” John questions whether or not we know Jesus. “[L]et no one deceive you,” he warns in verse 7, “He who practices righteousness is righteous just as He is righteous.” We can easily fall into the trap of sin by rationalizing sin; we convince ourselves that sinful conduct is okay.

Do You “Practice” Sin?

John challenges us to consider what we “practice.” In the NKJV, the English word “commits” in verse 4 and “practice” in verse 7 come from the same Greek word.

  • Do we repeat righteous acts over and over?
  • Or do we repeat sin over and over?
  • If we practice sin – or live in sin – are we Christians?

Based on what John teaches, a Christian cannot live in sin.


Jesus Died for Our Sins

Peter agrees with John’s assessment; in 1 Peter 4:1-3, the apostle says, 

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. [3] For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”

Like John, Peter reminds us that Jesus died for our sins: “Christ suffered for us in the flesh,” says Peter. While in the flesh, Jesus faced all sorts of temptations and resisted. When He died, He died for our sins and not His own.

Cease from Sin

“Arm yourselves also with the same mind,” says Peter, “for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Because Jesus died and God raised from the dead, Jesus is no longer subject to temptation and death.

Peter urges us to adopt this same mentality. While we live in the flesh, sin tempts us. We move beyond sinful living when we consider ourselves dead to sin through Jesus Christ. The key lies in adopting the right mentality, or, as Peter says, “arm yourselves also with the same mind.”

Peter’s message could not be any clearer: when we become Christians, we leave sinful lifestyles in the past. If I have died with Christ, I should “cease from sin.”

Fulfill the Will of God

Christians no longer live to fulfill the lusts of the flesh; we live to fulfill the will of God. Fulfilling the lusts of the flesh is living in the past: 

“For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”

So, according to Peter, can a Christian live in sin? Yes, a Christian can choose to live in sin. But if they do so, are they Christians?

Shall We Continue in Sin?

Romans 6:1-4, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? [3] Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? [4] Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Some folks believed that sin increased God’s grace. It is undoubtedly true that God increases grace to compensate for the proliferation of sin. But we are in dangerous territory when we think, “Well, it’s okay that I sinned because God will just increase His grace.” Such an attitude enables sin; it does not ennoble us to better living.

Christians “Died with Christ”

Paul fundamentally disagrees with this attitude along the same lines as John and Peter: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” He explains that we are “baptized into (the death of Jesus).”

  • Jesus died on the cross for my sins.
  • When baptized into Jesus, God unites with His death; I die with Him.
  • If Jesus died and I die with Him in baptism, how can I live in sin any longer?

Sin no longer tempts Jesus and death has no dominion over Him. And through Jesus, sin no longer has dominion over me. I have died to the old ways of sin.

Newness of Life

But Paul goes on: not only have I died to sin with Jesus, but also I have been raised with Him to “walk in newness of life.” In baptism, I am united with the death AND resurrection of Jesus. God gave the body of Jesus life when He raised Him from the dead. In like manner, God unites me with the resurrection of Jesus in baptism and gives me life. 

Thus, I live in the old ways when I live in sin. But in baptism, Jesus gave me a new way to live, so I should leave the old ways behind.

So can a Christian live in sin?

Considering the example of the woman caught in adultery, we should remember Jesus’s final command, “go and sin no more.” Jesus forgives us, so we will not repeat the same wrong behavior in the future. When He forgives, He expects us to turn away from sin.

  • The apostle John recorded the account of the woman caught in adultery; he says in his first epistle, “Whoever abides in (Jesus) does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.”
  • Peter tells us to adopt the mind of Jesus, to cease sinning, and to fulfill the will of God.
  • Paul warns us against taking advantage of the grace of God, reminding us that we die to sin when baptized, and God gives us a new life.
  • The Bible’s message could not be more explicit: a Christian SHOULD NOT live in sin.

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