The Apostle John stated I write to you that you may not sin (1 Jn. 2:1). The statement supposes that Christians “may sin.” John was not writing to unbelievers. He was not addressing pagans and emperor worshipers. And then as now, Christians have questioned their state when they fall short. You have likely pondered these things along your way. I have. And this declaration along with its myriad explanations and examinations, if gathered together would comprise one of the largest libraries in all of history, and on but a single topic.
Without choking on a monosyllable or tripping over the simplicity of the language and without immediately running off to fetch a lexicon or an interlinear; let’s stop just long enough to recognize that the apostles flatly and simply told the folks they wrote to that even Christians may sin. There are people who don’t get that and who would repudiate it both by word and deed. But, the first fruits of the Holy Spirit have told us that we won’t likely remain perfect in every detail in Christ, and we won’t necessarily remain perfectly sinless in Christ forevermore floating a foot or two above the soiled heads of the rest. Then again, we are not granted license openly and unrepentantly to sin. And we ought to be getting better every day, hitting the mark dead center with each successive shot, as we gain knowledge and strength in the Lord. It is about dedication, practice, and application. We have to do the work. There is no Sin Free Forever account that will pay us interest in heaven and grant impunity when we choose to sin willfully, whether by pleasing our flesh, our eyes, or our arrogance.
The key phrase in the last sentence is “we choose.”
When I rationalize my behavior and go against God and his will, it is by my choice. Even if the generations prior left God, I will receive no mercy if I should unwittingly follow down the same path. When I know nothing of God, the onus is nonetheless upon me to locate him, and if I continue with not so much as a thought about what is over my head, then it is my fault and the consequences are due to me and my choices – not God’s. God does not come shaking the bushes to drive us out into the open. He’s already done his part. It is we who must seek Him.
I am the responsible party. As Nathan told David, You are the man. David, who was a man after God’s own heart, was not put into a trance and transported into Bathsheba’s bedroom; and Uriah did not put himself at the front of the battle on his own. God does not force me into sin and neither did Adam’s sin force sin upon me. It’s all about me. Through one man sin entered into the world does not imply or instruct that I am both a helpless and hopeless sinner condemned because of Adam, held without mercy under something called original sin. I am found in a world separated from God because Adam and Eve’s door was opened long enough to temptation, and it came roaring through. The first man and woman failed to follow the instructions and both missed the mark. Even if Adam and Eve hadn’t transgressed their one given commandment, it wasn’t very long before one of their immediate successors managed to violate things. We have free will and can choose who we will serve. So did they. Jesus said the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak; I believe he knew what he was talking about.
Adam and Eve’s transgression was followed by consequences for their failure to do as they had been bidden. You might suspect that The Lord God of Heaven and Earth takes transgression seriously and personally. It is wickedness to go against what God has given. And it meant that through Adam’s iniquity the imputation of sin entered into the world in full bloom. God has said that no sin would be tolerated without reciprocation. You will surely die. Adam sinned and he paid the price. Eve sinned and she paid the price. The ground itself paid the price. Moses sinned and he paid the price. I sin and I pay the price. What is so hard to understand? Sin will not come into the presence of God. The bill will be paid.
When Paul wrote, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That meant both Israel and the rest of the nations in every age had overwhelmingly rejected God. And he wasn’t writing to Israelis or to pagans. He did not necessarily mean that all were daily gorging themselves on a full diet of reckless behavior. He was stating that all had missed the set mark. No one had hit the center of the target with every shot. Most had missed it altogether. Soon there was no standard guiding them. The target was lost or it had been tossed aside. They couldn’t even draw the bow. They had rejected both standard and standard bearers.
All were alienated from God when they individually and collectively sinned; the path became obscured the more they deviated. The gentile nations were alienated when they left the way of God long before the Hebrews ever existed. The same became true later of Israel. Most of them remained where they were each getting farther away from the truth in each succeeding generation. The overwhelming majority died in that same unregenerate state. We are no different when we sin and rebel against God and do not seek him, by rejecting his commands. Unless we are in Christ there is no hope. For there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.
All have sinned; and all who sin unrepentant will die. Jesus said, repent or you will all likewise perish
How many is all?
Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Keeping the commandments of God is what matters.
(1 Corinthians 7: 19)
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself as a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
(1 Timothy 2: 5, 6)