Why Do So Many Christians Still Sin?

Why do so many Christians still sin?

Okay, first of all, I’m going to assume the person who asked this question is primarily concerned about sin in his or her own life. Dealing with sin in someone else’s life is a whole different issue, and will not be addressed here (see Matthew 7:1-5).

Secondly, I think we need to expand the question, because in truth it’s not just “some” Christians who sin, so let’s be honest and acknowledge that all Christians have a horrible tendency to commit sins.

Let’s begin with some definitions:

Christian: Focus on the Family defines a Christian as “anyone, man, woman, or child, who trusts in Jesus Christ as his or her Savior and Lord and who strives to follow Him in every area of life.[1] Another writer describes a Christian as “one who is a Christ-follower, a disciple of Jesus,… NOT someone who has ascribed to a particular set of religious beliefs or practices, joined a church, prayed a prayer, or participated in certain sacraments or rituals.”[2]

Along those lines, in this article I am using the word Christian to mean those who are Christ-followers—those who have recognized their own sinfulness, and have reached out to Jesus for His gift of salvation, and are trusting themselves and their eternal future to Him.


Sin: The late Rev. Billy Graham defines sin as “any thought or action that falls short of God’s will. God is perfect, and anything we do that falls short of His perfection is sin.”[3] Another definition: “‘Sin’ is any thought, word, or action that is contrary to the character or law of God.”[4]

So sin includes the things we do that break God’s laws. Then, as Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount, we can also sin in our thought life (for example, Matthew 5:27-28). A third category would be things we know we ought to do, but don’t do.

We also know that as those who have been born again, we have a new nature. God has put new desires in our hearts. That’s all well and good, but those old habits, desires, and behaviors can still leap up and knock us off the “straight and narrow” way.

Don’t deny that you continue to sin

We read in 1 John 1:8-10: “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.” So God tells us not to deny that we sin. If we do, we are calling Him a liar. On the other hand, notice that in verse 9 He also tells what to do when (not if) we sin—confess it! Own up to it! Repent! And He promises to forgive and cleanse us.

So, regardless of what you may think, or regardless of what you may have been told, even true Christians can and do sin.

But what about 1 John 3:9? “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.” Doesn’t this contradict what the apostle John said in the verses quoted above? Well, no. John Piper explains,

The idea of the Greek present tense [ἁμαρτάνει / ἁμαρτάνειν] which is being used is that those who are born again, and have the Spirit of God in them, cannot ever make peace with sin, settle in with sin, make sin a friend, be okay with sinning, just go on sinning as though no war needs to be made against it, and nothing will come of it if we do. The present tense says: No, you can’t do that, you can’t make a practice of sinning like that.[5]

So a true Christ follower will continue to sin throughout his or her life, but he will never be comfortable with it. It will always make him uneasy, and that will drive him back to the cross to confess and repent of his sin. (For some this may take a while, because we become comfortable in our sin, and ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting to deal with it.)

Why do we continue to sin?

Unfortunately, even though we have been given a new nature in Jesus Christ, we still have to deal with the old nature. We still have to deal with the world around us, with all of its temptations. The apostle Paul recounts his own struggle with this in Romans 7 (I’m quoting from The Message):

I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

So the situation, although a lifelong struggle, is not hopeless. We know that Jesus Christ HAS defeated sin, and one day we will be free from the power of it.

In the meantime, though, we have to deal with that struggle every day. But at the same time God is working in us to conform us into His image (2 Corinthains 3:18). How? God has given us (at least) four things to help us deal with our sinful desires on a day-to-day basis.[6]

First, the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit (Comforter, Advocate) in John 14:26 when He told His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit will prompt us in our spirits to choose right when faced with temptation. Also, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The power of the Holy Spirit provides that way of escape.

Another powerful tool in our arsenal against sin and temptation is the Bible. In the Bible we will find the information we need to learn what is right and wrong, understand how our minds can lead us astray, and how to keep on the right path. Don’t neglect this powerful tool! Memorize key verses so you can call them to mind when temptations seem too powerful to resist.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119:9)

The next tool in our arsenal is prayer. By that I don’t mean the “Dear God, please heal Aunt Sadie’s toe” kind of prayer, or even the “Our Father,…” kind of prayer (a meaningless repetition of the familiar). Instead, prayer can be a time when we deeply connect to our Father, letting Him know what is in our heart (yes, both the good and the bad – He can take it!), but also listening. When we listen, we will often “hear” Him giving us comfort and even direction in decisions we need to make. This takes practice, but it’s well worth the effort.

In Matthew 26:41 Jesus explains to His disciples how important prayer is for believers in their daily struggle against sin: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

And finally, the Church – the body of believers around the world. Our fellow Christians can offer encouragement, advice and support when we struggle against temptation, and guide us back to the right path when we fall away. A member of your church or small group can act as an accountability partner, helping hold you to the truth. This is not easy. We don’t like exposing ourselves to others. But having someone who will speak truth to you when you most need it is important.

Okay, this is a seriously bad analogy, and I’ll acknowledge that up front. Like any analogy, don’t try to push it too far.

Think of it as if when we become believers, we are given a wedding gown (or robe of righteousness, if you want to use a biblical phrase). Because we still have that sin nature waging war in us, though, the robe/gown is not a comfortable fit. So, in essence we go immediately on a wedding diet that lasts the rest of our earthly life. Each time we successfully conquer a temptation, each time we chose God’s way rather than our own way, we, in essence, “say yes to the dress.”[7] One day, by God’s grace and through His strength, we will wear that robe/dress comfortably and proudly as the Bride of the Lamb!  In the meantime, we have the Holy Spirit, the Bible, prayer and fellow believers to help us in our lifelong journey.

Go Deeper

[1] https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/definition-of-a-christian

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/do-Christians-sin.html

[3] https://billygraham.org/story/billy-grahams-answer-what-is-sin-are-all-sins-equal-in-gods-eyes/

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/do-Christians-sin.html

[5] https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-the-bible-say-true-christians-never-sin

[6] The following material is taken in part from an article, “How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?” found at https://www.gotquestions.org/victory-over-sin.html

[7] I have never watched the program by that name, and this should not be considered an endorsement of it or of any opinion expressed on it!

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