Is it Possible to NOT Sin?

A buddy of mine recently posed this question on my Facebook, which I think is a very good question. I wanted to post it, and my response, here. Would love to hear YOUR thoughts on the issue as well.

QUESTION: Mr. Seminary Student, I have a question. Is it possible not to sin? Not to have NEVER sinned. But to not sin moving forward. Isn’t it possible? If so, for how long? 5 minutes? 10 days? A year?

RESPONSE: Hey Mark. Interesting question. As a seminary student, I can certainly give a high and lofty answer that makes me sound really smart, while throwing in unnecessarily long words for effect. But I’d probably just be making stuff up to sound good.

Instead, I offer a response (which is slightly different than an “answer”). A response generates dialogue, whereas an answer comes across as definitive and final. Besides, I don’t even know the “answer” to this question.

First, I would probably suggest we create a working definition for ‘sin.’ I suggest we think of ‘sin’ as missing the mark (which is what the greek word literally means) with regards to the best that God has for us. I also suggest we shy away from thinking of sin as making “bad moral/ethical decisions,” although it may include that at times.

I start there because I think it helps us move forward in thinking more critically about your question. If you’re asking, “Is it possible to move forward in life and avoid making bad ethical decisions (such as: not lying, not cheating, not swearing at people, not lusting, etc)” then I think the best response I could offer might be: well, sure, for a while I suppose that’s possible. But sustaining that for any length of time would require intense discipline and years and years of practice. For the average person, this is highly unrealistic, and might not even be an advisable way to live.” (Pause: why would I say “might not be an advisable way to live?” Because life can get very negative when we become focused on NOT doing thing A or B or C or D… we become obsessed with avoidance, and eventually we’re goverened by fear and guilt and shame. Not an advisable way to live, in my opinion.)

But, if instead the question is: “is it possible to move forward in life living out the best kind of life God has created me for” (which would be another way to say “not sinning… not missing the mark on God’s best for my life”) then NOW I think we are on to something. Because now I would respond by saying: absolutely I believe that type of life is available NOW! For both the brand new follower of Jesus as WELL as the disciplined veteran (and it would most likely look very different for these two types of people).
This is a life lived from a place of love, from a place of trust. This is a life lived in pursuit of the things God’s heart pursues: beauty, truth, justice, peace. This is life lived not from fear and guilt and shame, but from freedom and joy and honesty. This is a life dependent on God as the source of everything, believing in his goodness and mercy and grace, not a life requiring that we must behave a certain way or else face the smiting hand of the Creator. This is a life modeled after the Way of Jesus, knowing and experiencing God through love, faith and hope. This is finding out who we really are, who God made us to be, and living that out, being everything we are. This is a life empowered by the Spirit to be agents of change in the world, not a life consumed by avoiding the world and what is in it.

One of the greatest things a follower of Jesus can do, I believe, is to discover this life for themselves. Discover who they are in light of who God made them to be. And to LIVE that life in the pattern of Jesus. And when they do that, when you and I do this, we are living IN the Kingdom of God and we are living OUT the Kingdom of God. We are experiencing abundant life and knowing what it is to know God’s best for us. We have found the mark, not missed it, with regards to God’s best for us.

We have, in a sense, found a way to live not in sin.

So that’s how I might respond to your (very good) question. It is, admittedly, a very “scratching-the-surface-of-the-issue” type of response. Much more could (and should) be said about ‘sin.’ What is is. What it looks like. How it affects the life of the believer and the person who does not yet believe. Etc…

How might YOU respond to this question?

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4 thoughts on “Is it Possible to NOT Sin?

  1. Thanks Colby!

    For years I’ve heard that it’s impossible not to sin. That seems like a defeatist attitude. If that is the case, why try to not sin.

    Understand, I’m not talking about having never to have sinned. But in 1 John 2 the author says that he is writing so that “you will not sin.” In the next chapter he says that “no one who is born of God will continue to sin…”

    To some extent as the Spirit reveals Himself to us, sin may be different for each of us. For me, not returning my shopping cart to the cart corral is sin because I view it as placing myself in a self important position (other people will serve me by returning it for me). The new Christian may have never thought of it that way.

    Whether or not anyone has lived for a significant period of time without sinning is unknown to me. Just as it’s impossible to have never sinned (in the past) I can’t believe it’s impossible to not sin (in the future). That’s the theory anyway.

  2. Mark, I think you’re on to something. Especially with regards to what the author of 1 John is saying. It reminds me of how John told the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, where he says to her “then neither do I condemn you, go and SIN NO MORE” (Jn 8:11, emphasis mine).

    And I think “sin,” as it relates to your third paragraph, definitely moves and evolves with us as we grow and mature. This is part of Paul’s point in Romans 14: for some of you eating meat sacrificed to altar is a sin (these are the “weak” ones), for others it is not (these he calls “strong”). Whatever their conviction is (return the friggin’ shopping cart!) helps to create and define “sin” for them (sin as it relates to the ethical/moral definition, at least).

    (This does not take in to account the conversation about if there are actions that are always wrong… different blog, perhaps)

  3. I agree with both of you. I went through a period of focusing on sin with black and white glasses. Always asking the question “Is it a sin to ________.” Fortunately, there are some very strong examples in the the Word of what not to do. For the more day to day things if we simply live love and our heart is with God, our actions will reflect that.

    If something I do insults, angers or harms someone else and I don’t realize it, is that a sin? I don’t think so. If they tell me how my actions or words effected them and I didn’t have the heart to talk with them, communicate my intentions and alter my behavior in the future – that’s where I would be missing the mark.

    It’s also important to me to be more aware of how my actions, words and delivery of those words might effect others. I don’t believe in total censorship and eggshell-walking, but an awareness and loving heart prevent a lot of negativity.

    The more we understand God’s heart, the better the tools to live as Jesus. Jesus didn’t sin.

  4. Colby, what a refreshing response you gave. Anytime I make my focus ‘what not to do’ as opposed to ‘what I will do’ I bait the hook, so to speak, for what Dallas Willard referred to as ‘sin management’. Jesus apparently believed we could live as you described above…first of all because He did it and secondly because He called us to follow HIM.

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