Some of the readers of this blog may have seen a few references in some of my posts to my being “born-again.” Most Christians know what that means. When a person comes to believe in Jesus Christ and knows enough about Jesus to say He came to this earth to save me, and I want to be one of His children that is when a person is “born-again.” The Holy Spirit gives that person new life, a new desire to serve God and a new desire to do God’s will. I came to Jesus in October of 1998. It may be hard to pinpoint an exact moment when surrender to God occurs but for me it was during a men’s retreat that was dedicated to educating prospective Christians. The retreat began on October 8 and continued until October 11 and I knew God had me there for a reason. During this retreat I went to the altar and declared that I believed in Jesus and I sought forgiveness from God for my many sins. I felt a special lightness as I confessed my shortcomings, a feeling that my “slate had been wiped clean.”
I was elated. Words could not express the new love I had for Jesus Christ. The whole weekend was dedicated to explaining the basics of Christianity to people who needed the information. I needed to find a new way to live. My old way was not working for me at all. I have been in love two times in my life. One time I fell madly in love with my girlfriend [my spouse today]. The other time was that weekend when I fell in love with Jesus.
What happens when a moment like this occurs?
The elation can continue for some time, but eventually “the concerns of the world” will invade a baby Christian’s life and that is what happened to me. It happens to every new Christian. You may have changed but the people in the world around you have not changed. Temptations are still there that existed before you were born-again. Your old way of living may not seem appropriate anymore but old habits are almost impossible to break instantly. It is impossible to emerge from a born-again experience with no complications arising from your past.
I had a lot of questions about my new life. How could I navigate in the world with my new perspective? I want to share some of my concerns with readers because I have written three posts on sin: September 16th on Christian awareness of sin, September 23rd on human sin nature and September 30th on the nature of sin. What worried me about sinning after I gave my life to Christ?**
First of all, can a born-again Christian still fall into sin? God would rather we not sin, but God knows that human beings cannot live lives of sinless perfection. He tells us not to sin but He knows we will. First John 1: 10 says “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” The Apostle Paul speaks of “dying to self” which means that he wanted to be less concerned about his own selfish needs and more concerned with serving Jesus Christ. Born-again Christians fall into sin, for they are human.
Are there different degrees of sin? The most common answer I hear from Christians is no; they are all bad. Technically the answer should be yes. Jesus said that the ones who delivered Him to Pilate had greater sin than Pilate even though the Roman Prefect allowed Jesus to be crucified. Also the Old Testament recognizes the difference between murder and manslaughter. Murder is premeditated and intentional. Beyond that, the answer is not clear, but it is not a solid “no.” In the last judgement, the unsaved will stand before God and He will open the Lamb’s Book of Life. If a person’s name is in the book, they will go to heaven. If their name is not in that book, the book of works will be opened and God will determine an individual’s punishment in hell depending on the record of a person’s works. It is not at all clear how that determination is made.
Is some sin so bad that a born-again Christian can lose their salvation? The Bible is full of people who commit grievous sins. David committed adultery and murder. Samson was a serial adulterer. Peter denied Jesus three times. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. If a person is truly born-again, they will repent of their sins and return to their belief in God and God will forgive them. The answer to this question revolves around a person’s “persistent and continual sin.” If the practice of sin becomes so pervasive that a believer dies a spiritual death, they may indeed lose their salvation. They have no desire to ever do the will of God. They see no need for asking forgiveness. They only want to satisfy their sinful desires.
Do some Christians feel that their born-again declaration can “cover” all that they do on this earth? In essence, do they have eternal security which can give a person a license to sin? This question seems to overlap with the previous one but it is a little different regarding man’s understanding of God’s grace. I have always felt that some people practice “grace abuse.” When one declares their dedication of their life to Jesus that is enough for them; from that point on, all their sins are ok. One can quit worrying about salvation. In fact, a born-again person will not be perfectly sinless but they will have a desire to do the will of God which means they will have less and less desire to sin. Elmer Towns writes that “a Christian should not plan on sinning, nor use any doctrine as an excuse to sin, but should plan to keep the words of Jesus: “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5: 48].
Lastly, is it normal to have doubts about your salvation? The short answer is yes. I have always felt that the devil uses our doubts against us to steal our motivation to do better in our Christian lives. But the Lord says if you receive Him, He will receive you. If you accept Jesus Christ into your life, He will make you one of His children and He will be true to you. For many they are waiting for some sort of miracle regarding their salvation. Life gives us up and downs, joy and guilt but God is always there for us in the good times and the bad times. Towns says that God is interested in our “sincerity.” Giving your life to Christ is not an act that you can perform to manipulate God into giving you eternal life because God knows our hearts. Once you have made a sincere commitment, Christians can feel assurance, a freedom from doubt. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit will confirm that we have been made right with God.
It is normal to have questions about our faith; maybe that is just our nature. We would like to have definitive answers but we won’t have those until the time when “Each one’s work will become clear” [First Corinthians 3: 13-15]. We’re talking about final judgement when we quote this scripture.
I don’t have all the answers as one can tell from my questions above, but I have faith that I am moving in the right direction. That weekend in October 1998 was a turning point for me, a weekend that resulted in me finding a new way to live, a better way to live. It all started with a trip to the altar and declaration that I believed in Jesus and an effort to seek forgiveness from God for my many sins.
I am far from perfect but to quote the evangelist Joyce Meyer “I may not be where I want to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.”
Yes… we must thank God.
*Content in this post was centered on my own questions, answers from John Stott’s Basic Christianity, Elmer Town’s Bible Answers for Almost All Your Questions and various other sources.
**This is post number four of a series of posts concerning sin in the life of the Christian. This post was inspired by part two of John Stott’s book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”