By Clinton D. Hamilton
Questions are sometimes phrased briefly but in fact are broad, involving comprehensive implications. Such is the question that is the subject of this column. The response to it will involve stating a context within which the answer to the question will be given. Otherwise, the answer could be misunderstood and given an application far beyond its in-tended scope. Of necessity, it will be important to ascertain precisely what the question is and then to give the answer to it which Scripture from heaven supports.
Question: Do Christians “have to” sin?
Response: It is important that I set forth precisely what I understand the question so that the response to it can be interpreted accordingly. It appears to me that the querist is asking whether theoretically it is possible for a child of God to be, or to live, above sin. It would imply in the final analysis if one would “have to” sin that there is at least one commandment of God which it would be impossible for the child of God to obey. On the other hand, it would also imply that man’s nature is such that man cannot comply with what God commands in every respect.
Human accountability to God’s under girds the issue involved in the question. One would have to contemplate the situation in which God requires something and holds one accountable for one’s response to it. I f one by human nature finds it impossible to do that which is required, how could God hold one accountable since God gave man his nature by creation?
Jesus is the Son of man and in that role has shown man what ought to be in relation to God in whose image he was made. In fact, Jesus left us an example that we should follow in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21). It is obvious, therefore, that fact must be taken into consideration in response to the question posed. We are to have in us the mind of Christ as forth in the revelation of the New Testament (Phil. 2:5).
Man’s admitted sinfulness also must be taken into consideration in the response to the question. If one says he has not sinned, he makes God a liar and his word is not in him (1 In. 1:10). If one says he has no sin, one deceives himself and the truth is not in him (1 Jn. 1:18). But if one does sin, he has an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous (1 In. 2:1).
In any response to the question, one must do so within the context of what is true as set forth in the proceeding paragraphs. The response must be consistent with a comprehensive view of what God’s word says in relation to the generalizations embodied in the issue set forth in the pre-ceding three paragraphs.
The concept of possibility and probability must also be taken into consideration. There is a difference in its being possible for one to do something and its being probable that the thing will be done. If God is to hold one responsible for one’s doing something, then it follows of a certainty that one must have the capability of doing it. Otherwise God would be unjust in giving the command and holding one responsible for doing it.
Whatever response or answer one would give to the question, therefore, is circumscribed by all the parameters which have been articulated in all the preceding comments and observations. With all of them in mind, I will proceed to respond specifically to the question raised.
In the most direct response to the question, the answer would simply be that one does not “have to ” sin. Why is this answer correct? Someone might as well raise this question having seen the answer given. Being omniscient, God can state a reality about a man’s sinfulness without in any manner interfering with the freewill of the person to act as he or she might wish. The experience of man is known to God and he can see what one’s choices might be. God can do all of this independent of the free action and will of men. On the other hand, the answer can be defended on the basis that it is possible for one to do what God commands as demonstrated in the life of Jesus. He shared fully in our nature (Heb. 2:17). Also, he as tempted in all points such as we are, yet with without sin (Heb. 4:15). As a man clothed in flesh and partaking in all respects in the nature of man and in his relation to God, Jesus demonstrated that man can obey God in all respects. Were this not possible, man would be accountable for what he does not the capability of doing and Jesus would not be a model of behavior in relation to God for man.
But man’s experience from the beginning is that he sins. God’s word points this out and holds man responsible for his works. The Scriptures are especially clear on this point. Jesus states that all that are in the tombs shall come forth and “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment” (Jn. 5:29). We must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of God to receive the things done in the body whether they be good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10-12). If God holds one responsible for his deeds, then man must have had the capability of doing deeds in accord with the will of God.
One might look at the question from this point of view: if God says man has sin, has sinned, and will sin, then man would “have to” sin or otherwise God would not be reliable or truthful in talking about the sinfulness of man. Let us examine this point of view. In doing so, we must not shift premises or otherwise we would be woefully inconsistent. In the Old Testament, God predicted what Assyria would be as the rod of his anger, as an instrument of his wrath (Isa. 10:5) but God adds, “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and to cut nations not a few” (Isa. 10:7). This is a clear-cut case of God’s omniscience at work but in no wise taking control of the heart. The ruler was free to do what he willed but God knew that in what he proposed to do would serve as the rod of God’s anger, as an instrument of wrath. The ruler did not “have to” do what he proposed and in fact accomplished. But if he had not done what God predicted, then God would not have been omniscient. But the omniscience of God did not cause the Assyrian ruler to act as he did.
In conclusion, the simple answer to the question is “no.” But this answer must be understood in the context of what has been set forth in all of the comments and observations set forth in connection with it.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14, p. 5-6
July 15, 1993