Introduction

When we look around us, we wonder if many professing Christians care what God’s view of sin is. Though Scripture says it is a sin to divorce for any reason except adultery, divorce rates are higher among professing Christians than among atheists. Viewing pornography – the private, sexual sin accessible on the internet – is said to be prevalent among professing Christians and even pastors. Viewing pornography almost certainly causes the sin of lust that Jesus said was the same as adultery. Almost everyone seems to think it is acceptable to watch TV programs and movies that display homosexual life-styles, fornication and adultery. In the business area, corporate America has been rocked by scandals as greed-obsessed corporate executives have stolen huge sums from their companies.

Though we have a world immersed in sin, the Christian church rarely acts as salt and light, but instead is being culturized by the world – conforming more and more to the standards of the world instead of being conformed to the likeness of our Lord Jesus.

Because the above seems to be undisputed truth, perhaps it will be beneficial to review God’s view of sin to see whether what we are doing could affect our standing before God, our salvation and our hope of eternal life.

Sin Defined

Scripture defines sin in three different ways. Let’s look at each of them.

  1. The Apostle John defined sin in this way: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).[1]
  1. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
  1. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins
    (James 4:17). James shows us that we see that we can sin through both our actions and our omissions.

Sin Is Lawlessness

From my youth, where I grew up in a Presbyterian church, I recall the definition of sin taught in the Westminster Catechism: “Sin is any transgression of the law of God.”

We see the catechism definition is very similar to John’s definition of sin: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), except that John’s definition includes other laws than the law of God we find in Scripture. To disobey the laws of our country would also be sin, assuming such laws are not in direct conflict with the teachings of Scripture.  

The Scripture is filled with laws and commands about what we should not do and what we should do if we are followers and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We break these laws at our peril. We shall see there are certain sins, if not forgiven by God, that Scripture says will prevent our entry into heaven; there are many lifestyles that will preclude any inheritance in the kingdom of God.

We shall also examine which law we are to obey. Obviously it will be of no help to obey the wrong laws.

Sin If Not From Faith

Paul taught us that everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Very simply we know that if we evaluate doing something and have faith that it is not displeasing to God and it is not contrary to his word, we can do this and it is not sin.

The context in which Paul taught this was the problem they had in the early church with meat being offered to idols and then sold in the marketplace or perhaps served in a feast. The Christian had to decide if it was sinful to eat such meat or if it was all right. Paul said that the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith.

Is the Christian who refuses to eat certain meat the one who has strong faith? No, sadly, he is the one with weak faith. Consider what Paul said:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him (Romans 14:1-3).

Jesus says it is the man whose faith is weak who eats only vegetables. But both classes of persons – those who eat everything and those who do not – should be kind and loving toward their brothers who think differently.

We don’t have meat offered to idols in most of the western world today (at least that we know about). But we do have another, similar difficulty. It has to do with consuming alcohol. There are denominations that decry use of any alcohol. They claim that if they were to use alcohol it might cause some brother to sin. They emphasize Paul’s teaching, “Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Romans 14:13). They are likely using the same argument the person used who ate only vegetables. Paul said that person’s faith was weak. Such persons seem to forget that Jesus’ first miracle (as recorded in the Gospel of John) was to turn water into wine and that Paul instructed Timothy to have some wine for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23). The only prohibition in Scripture regarding alcohol is not to get drunk. I’ve personally heard a preacher claim that those occasions referred to non-fermented grape juice. That argument doesn’t stand. Again God explained the truth in his word. When Jesus created the wine out of water, it was taken to the supervisor of the wedding to taste. He asked why the best wine was being served at the last (the wine Jesus had made), as it was usual to serve the best wine first. This was an expert who knew the quality of wine. (See John 2:1-10).

Suppose that you had friends over for dinner and offered wine. Unbeknownst to you, your friends did not drink wine because they believed it wrong or did not have the confidence that they could drink wine as Christians. Suppose, because you offered it and because they didn’t want to seem different, they accepted and drank the wine.  According to the lesson Paul taught, such people are condemned for doing something they believe is wrong (or are not convinced is alright). In such a case, you have caused a brother to be condemned because of your actions.

What is the correct way to handle such circumstances? How can your behavior not be ruled by those whose faith is weak, yet be loving toward them and not cause them to be condemned? I believe it is to be open (as I believe we always should be) and to ask directly, “Do you drink wine?” (if that is what you’re planning to serve). Do this before you appear with wine bottle in hand. If they say no, then don’t serve wine and don’t ask them if they’d like to have some “this time.” If they say they do drink wine, then you are free to have some as well, assuming you are confident the Lord would approve.

Dar and I have been fortunate to participate in cultures in different countries. In New Zealand we found that almost all our friends served wine with their meals. Even there, however, the Salvation Army members would not drink wine and likely others would refuse as well. In America there are some who do not drink wine, still a holdover from denominations with a legalistic view. The Lord Jesus (through Paul) commands us to be gracious to one another, not to cause others to sin and be condemned, but to accept what our brother can do in faith or understand what a brother with weak faith does not feel free to do.

Not Doing the Good He Knows

James taught us about the sin of omission: Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (James 4:17). 

If we are beginning to correctly understand how serious it is to sin, then we must look at this teaching of James with raised eyebrows. How could we be violating this command? Do we seek to avoid the command by refusing to let anything enter our mind about what we “ought to do”?

Perhaps this command relates to the little known verse that follows Ephesians 2:8-9. Let’s see if you know it:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The above is the very familiar passage that says we are saved by grace. The little known verse that follows speaks to what we are to do:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Can you see how it would be sin not to do something that God had prepared in advance for us to do? If we don’t do what God has prepared for us to do, we are being disobedient to him, aren’t we? And isn’t disobedience to our God always sin? It surely is. If we are God’s workmanship, then God has prepared good works for us to do. If we don’t do them, perhaps because we block our ears or are too busily involved in our own affairs, or because we don’t want to be bothered, we sin before God. Maybe no one else will know, but we should know unless our hearts are hardened and calloused.

Which Law?

If sin results from breaking the law, we need to know the law so we will not break it.

Most people familiar with the Bible know that the teaching in the Old Testament contains the law (sometimes shown with a capital L). This is the Law given to Moses, not only the Ten Commandments, but also as given in the book of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (parts of the Pentateuch). This Law taught the children of Israel rules about cleanliness, eating – what they could eat and what they couldn’t, how their food must be cooked, and numerous other detailed rules and regulations.

Are Christians of today to obey the Law – the rules and regulations given to Israel through Moses? The simple but ambiguous answer is yes and no.

The complete answer is that we are to obey everything the Lord Jesus Christ taught and commanded. Jesus affirmed some commands from the Old Testament Law. Sometimes he changed certain of the Old Testament Laws to something different, and sometimes he interpreted them in a stricter fashion. Sometimes he did away with them altogether. For a much more complete discussion of the law the Christian is to obey, see www.bereanpublishers.com | Important Issues | Which Law Does the Christian Obey?

We know what the Christian is to obey from Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples, just before he ascended into heaven:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  

Jesus gave us the law that pertains to his disciples; it is recorded in the Gospels. He is the King. We are his subjects and are to obey the laws of his kingdom. Paul affirmed this for us when he said, “To those not having the law [speaking of the law of Moses] I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law [again referring to the law given to Moses] (1 Corinthians 9:21). He reaffirmed this when he said, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Paul said he was under Christ’s law and so is each and every true Christian. Christ’s law are all the teachings and commands of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and the first three chapters of Revelation.

But shouldn’t we be under the Old Testament Law as well? If you observe carefully, you will see that in his word, God anticipates false doctrines and provides answers to counter them. In this case, it is a false doctrine that claims Christians must follow Old Testament Law. In the book of Galatians, Paul forcefully attacks the Judaizers who are attempting to force the Galatian Christians to follow Old Testament Law. They wanted the men to be circumcised, the people to obey the rules and regulations of the Sabbath and other feast days set up by God for the Jews. Paul spoke some of the most forceful language in Scripture about these men:

Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:7-8).

Paul claimed that by trying to add to the Gospel of Christ the Judaizers were perverting the Gospel of Christ. He said they should be eternally condemned. Clear enough? Strong enough? That should be convincing for us. Old Testament Law was for the Jews before the coming of Jesus. The followers of the Lord Jesus are under “Christ’s Law.”

The Lordship of Jesus

Accepting the teachings and commands of Jesus as Christ’s law arises directly from the Lordship of Jesus. In our age, it is hard to understand what Lordship means.  In democratic nations, we have leaders who have great authority, but not arbitrary life or death decisions over those they represent.

Jesus told us of his power and authority before he ascended into heaven, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me” (Matthew 28:18). How much authority? ALL authority. Where and over whom? In heaven and on earth – over men and angels. Is there any higher authority? None except God the Father himself who gave the Lord Jesus authority over heaven and earth (1 Corinthians 15:27).

A popular false teaching today is that Jesus need not be one’s Lord. That false doctrine claims that people who want a deeper walk (or experience) may receive Jesus as Lord, but that it is not necessary for salvation. Is this true? Of course not! ALL who would be saved must receive Jesus as Lord (see Romans 10:9-10, 13, 14:9; Acts 16:31, Acts 20:21; 1 Corinthians 6:ll; 2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 2:6-7; Acts 10:36, 5:14, 9:42, 11:21, 16:15, 18:8). See www.bereanpublishers.com | Book: Saving Faith | Chapter 2: Jesus is Lord.

If Jesus is Lord – King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14, 19:16) – then it is natural, necessary, and essential that his subjects (all true Christians) obey him. That is what Scripture teaches (see Matthew 7:21, Romans 1:5, 16:26, 1 John 5:3, Luke 6:46, John 14:15, 21, 23, 1 Corinthians 7:19, Hebrews 5:9, and Matthew 28:20). For a more complete discussion, see www.bereanpublishers.com | Book: Saving Faith | Chapter 8. Obedience: Evidence of a Saving Faith.

Because Jesus is Lord of all true Christians, those Christians will obey his teachings and his commands because he is their master and because they love him (John 14:15). For them, the teachings and commands of Jesus are the law they must obey.

The Will of God

There is still another approach that reinforces that what the Lord Jesus taught and commanded is the “law” true Christians are to follow and obey. This is a salvation issue that arises out of Matthew 7:21 where Jesus warned:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

This is a clear salvation requirement. No one will be saved who does not do the will of God. But what is the will of God? Where do we find it? Is the will of God the “Law” of the Old Testament?

Once again we find that the Lord Jesus gave us, through his teachings and commands, the will of God for all Christians. We know this because Jesus said that everything he did and said while on earth was what his Father told him to do and say (John 8:28, 12:49-50, 14:10, 14:24, 14:31). Thus everything Jesus said and did was the will of God including his command to teach new disciples to obey all that he (Jesus) commanded them. That command says to teach new disciples the will of God as Jesus taught it to his disciples.

Isn’t it obvious that if God intended Christians to obey the Old Testament Law, God would have told Jesus?

Is it any wonder the Lord Jesus is the source of salvation for all who obey him? (Hebrews 5:9).  Or that he ended his great commission to his followers with the command to make new disciples and to teach them to obey all that he commanded them? (Matthew 28:20).  

The Cost of Sin

As we look at the cost of sin, we get a clearer glimpse of God’s view of sin. Paul described it this way: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21). Our sin separated and alienated us from God.

What Our Sinning Cost God!

Recognizing that we were separated from God and alienated from him because of our sin, God himself provided a way for us to be reconciled to him. Paul continued, “But now he [God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22). Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son (John 3:16).

We learn from the book of Hebrews that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). Our sin cost God the death of his only begotten Son. God had to have a spotless “lamb” to die so that his blood could redeem mankind. But this “lamb” had to be human, a kinsman-redeemer who would pay the price with his own life and blood to redeem mankind from their slavery to sin. When John the Baptist saw Jesus pass by he exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Later the Apostle John saw the angels sing a song of praise to the Lamb, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Peter explained:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:18-19).

As you see, the sacrifice of God and the Lord Jesus are somewhat merged. God caused his only begotten son to die for our sins, but the suffering and death to provide forgiveness through his shed blood were suffered by Jesus.

What Our Sinning Cost Jesus!

Before Jesus became the only begotten son of God (John 3:16), he was God the Word (see John 1:1).  He came to earth to be born of a virgin (begotten by God through the Holy Spirit) to demonstrate to us in a physical, human body the character and person of God and to die for us a hideous death on a cross to atone for our sins, to redeem us from the penalty of sin, and to free us from slavery to sin.

Paul gives us a glimpse of what our sin cost Jesus:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8).

We cannot comprehend what God the Word enjoyed as God. He voluntarily left all the privileges, honor, and glory of his godhood to come to earth where he was mocked, reviled, hated, beaten, and ultimately killed. It was not enough that Jesus should die for our sins. The method by which he was to die – public crucifixion – was invented by the Romans to act as a deterrent to crime and rebellion. It was intended to be the most painful, agonizing, and humiliating way to die they could devise. God used crucifixion to have his son shed his blood and die to redeem you and me from the penalty for sin and to free us from slavery to sin.

What Our Sinning Can Cost Us!

Knowing that his purpose on earth was to redeem mankind from their sins, Jesus was aware of the punishment in hell for those who sin. He warned:

 “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

What a dreadful illustration! In the civilized world, we think of gouging out our eye or cutting off our hand as beyond contemplation. The world has recently been made aware, however, that strict followers of Islam still cut off the hands of thieves and kill people for a variety of offenses.

Why did Jesus use such a terrible example? Two reasons come readily to mind. Likely he did it to get our attention and to make us realize that sinning will cause us to go to hell! That isn’t a popular notion these days, is it? After all, aren’t we able to simply ask God to forgive us and we’ll be cleansed from our sin and on our way to heaven? Though that is a popular teaching in the church, perhaps it isn’t as simple as that. Let’s consider additional Scriptures on that issue about the consequences of sinning and what is required for the forgiveness of sin.

The Apostle John exhorted his readers: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:8-2:2). John wrote so that his readers would not sin.

Is Sin Easily Forgiven?

Some say that all anyone has to do is simply ask and God will forgive the sin for which they are seeking forgiveness. That makes life very easy, doesn’t it? Perhaps we can live anyway we wish, but after we have enjoyed our life of sin just ask God for forgiveness and we will be cleansed from our sin. Perhaps that is a gross over simplification. Perhaps it is not true at all.

Qualified Forgiveness

John qualified the right to be purified (forgiven) from sin when he said, “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, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7. See also Colossians 1:22 and 1 Peter 1:18-19). The condition is that we are to walk in the light as Jesus is in the light, an exhortation to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Then the blood of Jesus will purify us from all sin. By this teaching, John is correcting the mistaken notion that one can simply ask to be forgiven and then continue in sin. To do that is not walking in the light. To repent of our sins means to turn from our sins and to turn to God. If we do not turn from our sins, we are not repenting. If we do not turn to God we are neither repenting nor walking in the light, and our sins will not be forgiven.

Notwithstanding that we are not to sin, John warns, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. . . If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8, 10). In both of these instances, such persons claim they need no forgiveness because they have not sinned. They deny their need for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The result? The truth is not in them. Jesus is being called a liar; his word has no place in their lives.

For those who rightfully recognize that each of us does sin even if rarely, no matter how much we seek to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus and to live without sin, John assures us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Being Forgiven Requires Forgiving Others

Another condition to being forgiven is that we forgive others. This is first expressed by Jesus as he taught us how to pray. As part of the Lord’s Prayer, he said we should pray conditionally for forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). We are not to ask for unconditional forgiveness by God, but rather that he forgives us as we have already forgiven others.

Some may think that is a mistaken interpretation. As usual, God made sure we would not misunderstand. Jesus continued: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

To make sure we would get the point and not misunderstand the link to loss of salvation for failing or refusing to forgive, Jesus told a parable. Jesus’ parable was an illustration about the kingdom of heaven:

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents (equal to millions of dollars) was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii (equivalent to a few dollars). He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:23-35).   

Jesus described to us a man forgiven a huge sum but who would not forgive another man a very small debt. Does that sound familiar? When God forgives us, he forgives us a debt that would cost us eternal punishment if it were not forgiven. In the parable, the King absorbed the millions of dollars of debt when he forgave the servant. Likewise, to forgive us our sins, God provided the cost himself in the person of his only begotten son, our Lord Jesus, who had to die and shed his blood so we could be forgiven. Anything anyone does to us costs us far less to forgive than what it cost God to forgive us of our sins which were deserving God’s wrath and punishment. Perhaps that is why God is so strict about this point.

Verse 35 sums up the point of the parable. Our heavenly Father will turn us over to the jailers [demons] to be tortured forever (remember, the man couldn’t repay the debt when he was out of prison. He certainly couldn’t repay it in prison while being tortured.). So God will do to us – we will be tortured in hell forever – if we fail and/or refuse to forgive those who have done anything to us that we should forgive.

Some like to argue that we only need to forgive those who ask for forgiveness. Is that what Matthew 6:15 said? Is that what the conditional phrase in the Lord’s prayer asks for? Would you risk eternity in hell so you can hold on to unforgiveness toward someone? I hope not! There is nothing anyone could do to us that would exceed what we have done to God. God would be doubly offended if we failed to forgive, as he provided a way for us to be forgiven, but that way cost the life of his only begotten son. Forgive everyone easily and quickly. Do it in loving obedience to your Lord!

Forgiveness by God is not automatic nor easy. Forgiveness is given to those who walk in the light as Jesus walked, sincerely repent of their sins, and forgive others.

Specific Unforgiven Sins Will Cost Salvation

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that all we need do is ask God to forgive us and all will be well. We’ll be forgiven and be off to heaven when we die (or before, if raptured). We’ve asked this same question before, “Is it that simple?” We’ve learned that forgiveness requires more. It requires repentance that requires each of us turn away from the sin for which we are asking forgiveness and turn instead to God. We are to learn to view our sin as God views it – God abhors it.

Let’s see what God’s word says about various sins. We’ll start with what Paul taught several of the churches. To the Galatian church he wrote:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

There are several specifics we should note. First, this was not the first time Paul told the Galatians about this. He said, “as I did before.” Second, the result he is warning about is that people will not have salvation if they continue in these sins – they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Third, he is NOT speaking about the person who is guilty of violating one or more of those sins but has repented and turned away from those sins. He is speaking of those “who live like this.”

It is the latter part that should concern all of us. Are we being daily more and more conformed to the likeness of Jesus, or do we have fits of rage or selfish ambition? Are we jealous? Are we guilty of sexual immorality – particularly the new, modern, secret kind – lusting while watching pornography over the internet? Ask those questions about each of the sins Paul recites. Many, many professing Christians are guilty of these – they live like this. If they die without repenting – turning from their sin and turning to God – they will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The Ephesians also heard from Paul on this subject. Likely this warning was necessary as the Gentiles did not have the history of being subject to the Law of Moses and were morally and spiritually undisciplined when they came to the Lord. First Paul emphasized, as he did to the Romans, that they should be conformed to the likeness of God and of Christ Jesus:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Having told them what they should do, Paul now emphasizes what they must not do:

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure:  No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them (Ephesians 5:3-7).

Notice how strict the standard Paul sets forth. “Not even a hint” of sexual immorality. Impurity and greed are improper. Obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking are out of place. Those sentiments seem rarely heard these days. Wouldn’t the person who echoes those instructions be thought of as stuffy, not with it, or politically incorrect?

But Paul gets even more stern in his language. Again, referring to those who are immoral, impure, or greedy (he characterizes this as idolatry), he states categorically that they have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Apparently, just as happens today, there were people in his day who were saying that the conduct of the professing Christians would not affect their salvation. Paul assures them that it is because of such things that God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

How interesting that Paul would use the word “disobedient” to characterize those who are immoral, impure, and greedy. Paul’s statement agrees with Jesus’ warning and condition of salvation that we’ve seen before: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does [is obedient to] the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

Just as Paul spoke of those “who live like this,” he made the same distinction to the Ephesians, saying, “No immoral, impure or greedy person.” A person is known to be immoral or impure or greedy because they live as an immoral or impure or greedy person. Such people will not be found in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus or of God unless they sincerely repent, turning from their sin and turning to God.

Paul also warned the Corinthians:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The two main points are reiterated. Paul characterizes the people as either wicked (a general term) or guilty of specific sins. In each case they are still wicked or sexually immoral or idolaters or adulterers, etc. They have not repented and turned from the sin. They “live like this.” The result of wickedness and those sins is emphasized twice: such people will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Note the addition of specific behavior that is making news these days – homosexual offenders. Today there are homosexual Christian churches. Does anyone see a problem with that? Isn’t that an oxymoron based on what Paul has just said? Don’t we expect that people who belong to a Christian church are those who will inherit the kingdom of God? How then can there be members of a “Christian” church where the Bible specifically says that people who “live like that” will not inherit the kingdom of God? Either one accepts the politically correct approach that we are to accept those who differ from us in their specific understanding and beliefs as fellow Christians, or we recognize and proclaim that unrepentant homosexuals are calling God’s wrath down upon themselves and that the word of God says they will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Salvation is only promised for those who seek salvation according to God’s word, as proclaimed through his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus’ apostles and followers, as handed down to us in the New Testament.

The Colossians did not escape Paul’s pointed instructions:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5-6).

Just as he warned the Ephesians, Paul says that the wrath of God is coming upon those who practice sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. This time, however, Paul did not link this to the person, but only recited the sins, saying that because of these sins, the wrath of God is coming. Christians MUST NOT be guilty of such sins if they hope to be saved. God’s requirement is purity, righteousness, and holiness. No one who practices these sins will inherit the kingdom of God. Instead they will be subject to the wrath of God.

While Paul said the wicked (those guilty of one or more of the above-recited sins) would face the wrath of God and would not inherit the kingdom of God, Jesus went much further. Jesus told us what will happen to those guilty of such sins:

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Jesus spoke of the people, not the sin. Paul never mentioned being cowardly as causing one to be condemned, but Jesus did. Jesus also specifically named those who would not believe and then added the category of liars. A liar can be a gossip, someone who spreads intimate and personal information. Unless something told about another is exactly true, it is a lie and the person telling it is a liar. How often can we be certain that something we would say is the exact truth? There’s another way we can be a liar. John said, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4). That could include all those who profess to be Christians but do not obey the teachings and commands of Jesus.

Is this serious? The King of the universe, the Lord Jesus Christ, said that all liars will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

False Doctrines Within the Church

“Let no one deceive you with empty words,” Paul said. Are there people today deceiving with empty words? Indeed there are and they seem to be in a huge majority and they are within the church. There are false doctrines that necessarily quarrel with Paul’s warnings. One is Calvinism; another is the doctrine of unconditional eternal security, commonly referred to as “once saved, always saved.” It takes only a modicum of reflection to recognize the truth that both these false doctrines assure certain people of salvation.

Calvinism

Calvinism says that only those who before the foundations of the earth were predestined to be saved will be saved (the false Doctrine of Predestination). That necessarily means that however those people predestined to salvation live during their lives can have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they will be saved. For a thorough review of this subject, see www.bereanpublishers.com | False Doctrines | Calvinism | “Foreknowledge or Predestination” and “The Doctrine of Predestination.”

Unconditional Eternal Security

The eternal security advocates claim that if one has once made a sincere confession of faith that person is saved and will always be saved and will one day be in heaven with God. How he lives after his sincere confession of faith, based on their stated doctrine, cannot affect whether or not he will continue to be saved.

Yes, I am aware that many advocating that doctrine have difficulty with that. Some say that if a person lives in a sinful manner (such as those Paul described) he was never saved in the first place. Unfortunately, Dr. Charles Stanley, one of the foremost proponents of this false doctrine, claims that nothing you can do after you have once had a moment of faith can deprive you of salvation. He claims a person can even apostatize from the faith after a one-time confession of faith and will still be guaranteed heaven. Has there been an uproar in Christendom because of Dr. Stanley’s claims? No, just the opposite. His book, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?, in which he makes these claims, is found in Christian bookstores throughout the world. Though I hope there are many, I am personally unaware of any Christian leaders taking issue with his claims.

Because this false doctrine has permeated so much of 20th and 21st century Christianity, I’ve taken a lot of time to write about it. See www.bereanpublishers.com | False Doctrines | The Doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security | “Proofs of Conditional Salvation,” “Is the Believer Eternally Secure,” and “Can Sinning Cost Salvation.”

Backsliding

To accommodate the obvious falling away of many who have once confessed faith, those who claim the false doctrine of unconditional eternal security often say that people who have fallen away are simply backslidden. They claim such people are still saved, but simply on a wrong path and need to come back into proper fellowship. Again we ask, is this the truth? What does Scripture say?

As usual, we must use Scripture to explain Scripture. We find the definition of backslider and backsliding in the book of Jeremiah. God is speaking through Jeremiah:

“Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty (Jeremiah 2:19).

See how God describes those who backslide. They have forsaken the Lord their God. They are wicked and will be punished. They are evil and bitter.

God then speaks about what will happen to them:

“Therefore a lion from the forest will attack them, a wolf from the desert will ravage them, a leopard will lie in wait near their towns to tear to pieces any who venture out, for their rebellion is great and their backslidings many. (Jeremiah 5:6).

God says that such people are no longer under his protection. Instead, they are subject to his wrath and punishment because of their rebellion and backsliding.

Can these people possibly still be considered saved? What does God say? “You have rejected me,” declares the LORD. “You keep on backsliding. So I will lay hands on you and destroy you; I can no longer show compassion” (Jeremiah 15:6).

Are backslidden people saved? No, they have rejected God. They can only look forward to the wrath of God, exactly as Paul is telling the churches about those who “live like this” in various forms of wickedness, unless they sincerely repent of their sins and are restored to fellowship with God.

Antinomianism

This is the false doctrine of the Antinomians, a doctrine going back to the days of the Apostles and the early church. Antinomianism means lawlessness. It simply means that how you live and what you do cannot and will not affect whether or not you will be saved. Isn’t it strange that there can be such a doctrine when one of the ways sin is described is lawlessness?

Some eternal security advocates seek to get around this conundrum by claiming that once a person’s sins were forgiven, they were forgiven not only for past sins but for all prospective sins as well. Thus, all future sins are already forgiven, according to them, and cannot affect the person’s salvation.

One of my saddest days recently in a church was hearing a pastor conclude his sermon that had discussed adultery and homosexuality say that these sins would not affect the person’s salvation. He said their sin would affect only the abundant life God intended for them but their salvation was secure. He went on to call such people who were in the church Christian adulterers and Christian homosexuals. If that had been said in a church with 50 people in attendance, perhaps the damage would have been less. This church has thousands of people attending several services.

The message of Scripture is quite the opposite. Paul never qualifies his warnings by saying they only apply to those who have not yet expressed their faith in Christ Jesus. No, he is writing to the church itself. For example when writing to the Ephesians he directed his letter “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” It is to the church members he is directing his warnings.

Prospective Forgiveness of Sins

God’s word preempts false doctrines by providing the truth ahead of time. Because the Bible is one consistent message-system from God, the entire Bible can be used to explain itself. In the case of prospective forgiveness of sins, God spoke to this issue through Peter when he wrote, “But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (2 Peter 1:9). Yes, when we repent, we are cleansed from our past sins, from the very sin(s) we are repenting of.

Further corroboration can be seen in the Lord Jesus’ letters to the seven churches. To the church at Ephesus Jesus said, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:5). If all prospective sins had already been forgiven, why would the church be commanded to repent?

To the church at Pergamum, Jesus spoke of those advocating sexual immorality and those who “hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:15-16).

Why should they repent if their future sins have already been forgiven? Because those sins have not been forgiven, of course. We are to repent each time we sin, as quickly as we can, after realizing that we have sinned.

As a final example, let’s look at what Jesus said to the church at Thyatira: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds” (Revelation 2:20-23). In this passage Jesus makes plain he will punish those who continue in sin and will repay each according to their deeds.

Necessity of Repentance

We saw that Paul taught the Corinthians that continuing in various sins would deny them entrance to the kingdom of God. When he was writing them about an upcoming visit, note his surprising language:

I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.  I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged (2 Corinthians 12:20-21).

Paul has previously told them that the people who engage in such sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. Even though they claim to be Christians, it is clear to Paul that they are not heaven-bound.

All of us may have been guilty of one or more, or even all of the above sins. The critical question is whether we have repented.

Repentance is defined by the Greek word metanoeoµ (3340)), lit., to perceive afterwards (meta, after, implying change, noeoµ, to perceive; nous, the mind, the seat of moral reflection), in contrast to pronoeoµ, to perceive beforehand, hence signifies to change one’s mind or purpose, always, in the N.T., involving a change for the better. . .  In the N.T. the subject chiefly has reference to repentance from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God. The parable of the prodigal son is an outstanding illustration of this. Christ began His ministry with a call to repentance, Matt. 4:17, but the call is addressed, not as in the O.T. to the nation, but to the individual. In the Gospel of John, as distinct from the Synoptic Gospels, referred to above, repentance is not mentioned, even in connection with John the Baptist’s preaching; in John’s Gospel and 1st Epistle the effects are stressed, e.g., in the new birth, and, generally, in the active turning from sin to God by the exercise of faith (John 3:3; 9:38; 1 John 1:9), as in the N.T. in general.[2]

The definition above stresses turning from sin. So does the Apostle John. He wrote,

“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). Again he said, “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin” (1 John 5:18).

John’s statements should be shocking to many of today’s professing Christians. Many years ago, one of my friends at brunch following church responded to my question about being righteous by saying, “We can’t be righteous. We sin hundreds of times every day. All we have to do is ask God to forgive us.” Was he right? Wasn’t he really saying that he continued in sin, hundreds of times every day? The Apostle John said that such a person has no saving relationship with God and that he is not born again.

The Call to Perfection

A salvation condition, that we’ve referred to before, requires us to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Peter said, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:21-22 from Isaiah 53:9). If our Lord and Master did not sin, and if we are to be like him – conformed to his likeness – then we also should not sin.

John insisted, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). How did Jesus walk? John answered that as well: “But you know that he [Jesus] appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin” (1 John 3:5). The author of Hebrews agreed: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

I do not say that we can achieve a sinless state. I say that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29) and I believe that means always seeking to be without sin as Jesus was without sin.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Paul confirms this as he told the Corinthians, “Our prayer is for your perfection”
(2 Corinthians 13:9). He concluded his second letter to them, saying “Aim for perfection”
(2 Corinthians 13:11). Paul told his purpose: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

Nothing Unclean Will Enter Heaven

An angel told John, “Nothing impure will ever enter it [heaven], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).

Jesus taught us, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean'” (Mark 7:20-23).

If we are unclean we are also impure. Now perhaps we can get the connection between what Jesus teaches and what Paul repeated over and over to the churches, that those who live like that (those sins listed by Jesus that makes a man unclean) will have no inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.

Learn From the Past

Paul taught that everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Let’s do that. We’ll look at a very limited example in the Old Testament to learn how God treated the nation of Israel when it sinned against him.

The history of the Old Testament, after Israel’s supernatural release from slavery in Egypt, could be characterized as a repetitive lapse into sin followed by punishment by God, then another lapse into sin, followed by still another punishment, and on and on.

After one of those lapses occurred Nebuchadnezzer conquered Israel, just as prophesied by the prophets. In an amazing conversation, the pagan Nebuzaradan, commander of the imperial guard, spoke to Jeremiah after releasing him from his chains:

The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD after Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had released him at Ramah. He had found Jeremiah bound in chains among all the captives from Jerusalem and Judah who were being carried into exile to Babylon. 2 When the commander of the guard found Jeremiah, he said to him, “The LORD your God decreed this disaster for this place. 3 And now the LORD has brought it about; he has done just as he said he would. All this happened because you people sinned against the LORD and did not obey him (Jeremiah 40:1-3).

Amazingly this pagan understood that God was using him, and the armies of Nebuchadnezzer, to punish the nation of Israel because they had sinned against God, and he related that to Jeremiah, God’s prophet.

God explained to Jeremiah, “Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, ‘Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers.’ But you have not paid attention or listened to me” (Jeremiah 35:15).

God still seemed hopeful of repentance when he said, “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3).

Does God see the church in the same way he saw the children of Israel? Are we also rebellious, refusing to obey him? I fear in far too many cases he does. The response to continuing sin will never be a welcome into a heavenly home but instead will be the wrath of God poured out against such sin and those who sin.

Conclusion

Consider the false doctrines that abound today that seem to either excuse sin or, if not excuse it, say that sinning has nothing whatsoever to do with salvation. Scripture says that continuing in sin will prevent salvation. We need only recall again Matthew 7:21 where Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” According to Scripture, it is the will of God the Father that our lives be free from sin.

We cannot be saved without confessing our sin and repenting from our sin. Repentance is not prospective. Each time we sin we must repent as quickly as possible and with utter sincerity. We must learn to hate sin as much as God does. We must remember, as God does, that our sin cost the suffering and death of his Son, our Lord Jesus.

We must also remember that the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus set all true believers free from slavery to sin. We must no longer be wallowing in the pit of depravity of sin. We have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. God reconciled us by Christ’s physical body to present us holy in his sight, blameless, and free from accusation – if we continue in the faith, steadfast and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel (Colossians 1:21-23).


Footnotes


[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (1 Jn 3:4). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words