How long can a person sin and still be a Christian?
The question of “How long can a person sin and still be a Christian?” misses two fundamental truths about a real Christian. Someone else might ask, “If a person lives a life of disobedience for about a year, is it certain that he or she is not a believer?” The answer to these two questions has two parts.
True Christians Grieve Their Sins
The message of the Parable of the Sower of the Seed is that the true Christian is the good soil that produces much fruit. In contrast, the other soils do not produce any fruit. They are fruitless. The point is that a Christian can be identified by their behavior, attitude and desires. However, it is important to add that a person’s behavior does not make them a Christian. A person becomes a Christian by first believing that Christ died for his or her sins and returned to life and then by giving himself or herself to live for God.
A true Christian is a person who was and is still convicted that they are a sinner or immoral and are extremely thankful that God has eternally forgiven all of his or her past and future sins. Therefore, it is illogical for a true Christian to then be comfortable sinning and not feel any guilt and sorrow (Romans 6:1-2).
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Romans 6:1-2 (NASB)
In 1 John 1:6-9 the Holy Spirit describes three types of people. In verse 6 we are told that the person who says he or she is a Christian but willfully sins is called a liar. That is, the truth is they are not a Christian.
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth . . . 1 John 1:6 (NASB)
In 1 John 1:8 we are told that the second type of person claims to be a good person and says he or she does not sin. Then in 1 John 1:9 the third type of person is the Christian who admits that they sin. They grieve their sins and confess their sin and are repentant. That is, they turn from their sins. That is, a mark of a true Christian. True Christians grieve their sins and flee from sin. Non-Christians do not care.
True Christians Will Be Sinning Less
In the Sower of the Seed parable, the unfruitful soils represent the false Christians who ultimately reject Christ. They continue to be disobedient and never return to Christ in obedience. In sharp contrast, the person who claims they are a Christian should be sinning less as they continue growing spiritually. That is the message of Romans 8:13-14.
. . . for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14 (NASB)
In this passage we are told that the proof the Holy Spirit is dwelling in a person is that they are sinning less and less. Now this is important since a few verses earlier, in Romans 8:9, we are told that the Holy Spirit dwells within every Christian. If we combine these two passages together, we discover that the proof the Holy Spirit is living inside someone (or that they are a Christian) is that they will sin less and less and not more and more. Remember from the discussion above that the person who claims to be a Christian but continues sinning is a liar (1 John 1:6).
Those Who Continue Sinning May Not Be Christians
Yet, it is possible that a Christian may be disobedient for a period of time, but it will not last long. If they continue in sin, it is proof that they were never a Christian (1 John 1:6). They are like one of the first three soils in the Parable of the Sower of the Seed. 1 John 2:19 also states that they left because they were never a Christian.
The difficulty with a sinning Christian who acts like an unbeliever is that no one can know if he or she is a sinning Christian or is just an unbeliever who is going to hell. The situation is also complicated by the fact that the person does not have any assurance they are a Christian (1 John 3:19-21).
In summary, no one can know for certain that a person who is persistently disobedient is a Christian. Even the person may not know if they are a Christian (1 John 1:6, 8). But at some point they will return in repentance if they are a real Christian. If they do not return, then they were never a Christian in the first place.
An illustration that helps make the point is a car without radiator coolant. How long can someone drive a car if they continuously do not want to, and do not, put coolant in the radiator? Once the engine overheats and the engine melts into one solid block, it is no longer a car because it cannot move. It is just junk. So the person who claims to be a Christian but does not want to stop willfully sinning is not a real Christian, because the Holy Spirit is not dwelling within them. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin!
Paul rebuked the Corinthians in 1 and 2 Corinthians in almost every chapter for many sins they had committed. Yet, he called them Christians or saints (holy ones) in the opening verses of the book. But in the last chapter of 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul wrote these words,
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5
Real Christians will be known by the fruit of their lives (Matthew 7:17-20). If they enjoy their sin, there are serious reasons to be concerned that they are going to eternal condemnation.
For those who want to know how to become a Christian, we encourage you to read the five panels at “Searching For God.” Those who would like more guidance to determine if they are a Christian, we encourage you to read “Are You A Christian?”
Suggested Links:Searching for God
Are You A Christian?
Is someone a Christian if they practice unrepentant sin?
Should Christians follow Christ?
Parable of the Sower of the Seed
Should Christians follow Christ to become like Him?
Does Hebrews 6:4-6 mean that a person cannot become a Christian again?
Must a person repent in order to go to heaven?
What does it mean to receive Christ?
How can Christians be declared righteous since they sin?