Can Willful Sin Be Forgiven? Deliberate Sin? Intentional Sin?
- Summary: There is a looseness that seems to have become commonplace and even accepted in 21st-century Christianity in America. Again and again I hear of Christians deliberately, willfully sinning and excusing it with statements like, “Well, God understands and He’ll forgive me.” Then they knowingly continue practicing the same sins. This casual attitude to sin seems to have permeated large segments of Christian thought in America today. I want to point out in this message that the bible warns of catastrophic consequences for the practice of ongoing, willful, deliberate sinning after salvation.
Hebrews 10:26-30 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment…  For we know him who said…“The Lord will judge his people.”
- • Most bible scholars understand this portion of Scripture to refer to apostasy from the Christian faith after having received the truth of the Gospel. In over 40 years of Christian ministry, thankfully I have known only a handful of Christians who have abandoned their faith. However, there are warnings here that all Christians should consider carefully. Notice that the writer to Hebrew Christians says, “If we…” That is, the warning here is to “we” (to us, to believers).
- • These important questions are sometimes raised: "Does God forgive deliberate sin? Can willful sin be forgiven?" I'm hesitant to give a one-size-fits-all answer. The point I wish to emphasize is that to intentionally, “deliberately keep on sinning” is to open a door that in the most extreme circumstances can result in total apostasy from the Lord and a “fearful expectation of judgment.” Even short of complete apostasy, the Bible's law of "sowing and reaping" (Galatians 6:7-8) still applies and is reflected in the wise and true saying that "your actions have consequences."
- • That this warning is written to believers is further validated by verse 30: “The Lord shall judge his people.” Remember the apostle Peter’s warning that “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17, KJV). The bottom line? For a Christian to deliberately, knowingly, willfully choose a life of sin may start a chain of events that, if not checked and repented of, can lead to apostasy and catastrophic judgment. This brings in the topic, long debated among theologians: "Can You Lose Your Salvation?" (Click the link for Bible answers).
Deuteronomy 29:19-20b, NLT “Those who hear the warnings of this curse should not congratulate themselves, thinking, ‘I am safe, even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart.’ This would lead to utter ruin! The Lord will never pardon such people. Instead his anger and jealousy will burn against them.”
Easy-to-Read Version (ERV) “Some people might hear these curses and comfort themselves by saying, ‘I will continue doing what I want. Nothing bad will happen to me.’ But that attitude will bring total disaster. The Lord will not forgive them for that. No, the Lord will be angry and upset with them and punish them.
- • These verses spoke of an attitude in some Old Testament Israelites that I see creeping more and more into the mindset of modern Christian churchgoers. It goes like this: “I am safe [from the Lord’s judgment], even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart” (NLT). Or: “I will continue doing what I want. Nothing bad will happen to me” (ERV). Or (my paraphrase): “I know the Bible says not to do this, but I’m going to keep on doing it anyway, and God will forgive me, not judge me.”
- • God said to those Israelites who had this self-serving, “stubborn heart” attitude to sin: “This would lead to utter ruin! (NLT) … The Lord will not forgive them for that. No, the Lord will…punish them” (ERV). It is a fearful thing to knowingly, deliberately oppose the Lord!
Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.
- • Too many Christians wrongly believe that grace is a license to say “yes” to ungodliness and worldly passions because, they think, “God understands and He’ll forgive.” Will God forgive? Of course! But in what context? — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). And “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, KJV).
- • Grace is not permissiveness. No! Rather, “the grace of God…teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness…” Any understanding of grace that does not include grace motivating us towards holiness is an incorrect understanding that has no basis in Scripture.
- • An angel announced to Joseph that Mary would bear a divinely conceived child and “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The Lord’s intent is not to save us so that we may continue in sin, but to save us from our sins. Deliberate, willful sinning after salvation is directly contrary to Christ’s desire to “purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
John 5:8-9, 14 Then Jesus said to [the invalid], “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked…  Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
- • Stop sinning! That’s what Jesus said to the man whom He had healed. Yet many Christians tragically misunderstand grace as loose, permissive, and unrelated to biblical holiness. Look at what Jesus and the apostle John said about those who profess to love the Lord:
- John 14:15, NASB: [Jesus said,] If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
- 1 John 5:3, NLT Loving God means keeping his commandments.
- • I hear people who claim to love Jesus with all their hearts, yet who live in consistent violation of His teachings about holy living. I’ll say this frankly, and with support from the two verses just above: If you are walking in ongoing, deliberate, willful disobedience to the Lord’s biblical teachings, you do not love Him.
- • I’ll move on to the next verse with a reminder of Jesus’ sobering words: “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
Ephesians 4:22-24 …to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
- • We can’t come to Jesus, get saved, and just continue to live as we did before we were saved. No, we are to put off our old self … be made new in our minds … and put on the new self. And what is our now-saved, “new self” supposed to be like? As new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” There’s no room for intentional, willful, deliberate sin in that description of our Christian calling.
1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
- • How seriously does God take His command to us to stop sinning? Well, look at the verse above. If someone you know who claims to be a brother or sister is living in sexual immorality, drunkenness, or those other named things, you are to “not associate” with them. And even further, “Do not even eat with such people.”
- • How many Christians do you know that put this command of God into practice? Probably none. And yet it is clearly stated New Testament teaching. What is the point? — God does not take a tolerant attitude towards believers who knowingly choose to live in sin. So much so that He tells other believers to avoid them! (The hope, of course, is that the discipline will help them come to repentance)
1 John 1:9-2:1 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
- • Wow, is there any hope then? Certainly! The grace of God offers forgiveness to the repentant, sinning believer. If you are a Christian who has drifted back into living in sin and haven’t repented, confess your sins to the Lord. Ask His forgiveness and His strength to turn away from those sins. He will hear your sincere heart and will “forgive [your] sins and purify [you] from all unrighteousness.” Your advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ — will restore you to good standing before God.
- • However, don’t miss those two all-important words (“not sin”) right in the middle of His gracious promises of forgiveness — “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” Yes, we are weak, mortal beings born with a nature given to sin. Even as believers, that sin nature can rise up and induce us to sin. But the correct biblical response to sin is immediate, sincere repentance, confession of those sins to God, and a recognition of and agreement with God’s desire that we “not sin.”
- • To such a genuinely repentant believer, the Lord will always grant His gracious forgiveness. But to the one who willfully, deliberately keeps on sinning, that pathway if followed to its end will lead to a “fearful expectation of judgment” (Hebrews 10:26).
- • The choice is simple: choose life in Christ, choose holiness, choose to follow Him and His commands. If you do succumb to temptation, don’t let your heart become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, KJV). Rather, immediately confess that sin(s) and determine to resume a holy walk with the Lord. He will graciously forgive you, and you will walk on in His blessings!
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©2015, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.