2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
How does the normal Christian deal with sin? John gives some seemingly contradictory remarks on this subject. First, he says to Christians in 1 John 1:8, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us". Then just a few chapters later, he says "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:8). How can this be? Clearly the understanding of sin in the life of the normal Christian is something we need to further study.
John basically says that if a Christian claims he does not sin, he is a liar; but then he says that a Christian (one who has been born again) cannot sin. So which of these statements is correct? Actually both are correct, but this will be almost impossible to comprehend without a good understanding of what takes place when we are born again.
The moment that a person receives Jesus Christ as his savior, a change takes place on a spiritual level known as regeneration or "being born again". Regeneration is described in the Bible as a new birth (John 3:3-7; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23), a spiritual resurrection (Ephesians 2:1), a spiritual translation (Colossians 1:13), and the imparting of a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 1:4). Perhaps the clearest description though can be seen in the terms of the new covenant that was introduced at Calvary. This new covenant was prophesied by Jeremiah and repeated for us in Hebrews 10:16, "I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them". Paul further elaborates upon this in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 where he contrasts the old covenant being written "in tables of stone" with the new covenant written by the Holy Spirit "in fleshy tables of the heart". The moment that we get saved, God imparts to us a divine nature through the Holy Spirit. Thus John could truly write that one who has been regenerated cannot sin. It is as impossible for this new nature to commit sin as it would be for God to sin, for He has put His nature in us.
When we are born again, what happens to the old sin nature we inherited from Adam?
The Bible never says that when we are born again the old sin nature is rooted out or removed. In fact, the Bible says quite the contrary. Why would Paul say "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body" (Romans 6:12) if the old nature had been eradicated. Notice Paul's own experience in Romans 7:14-25 where he speaks of "sin that dwelleth in me" and confirms that "evil is present with me". Some theologians believe that Paul was referring to his pre-salvation experiences in Romans 7, but this would not explain Paul's teaching in Galatians 5:17. In this verse he calls the old nature the "flesh" and the new nature the "Spirit", and he says "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would".
Thus did John say in truth that a Christian who says he has no sin must be a liar. The fact is that the normal Christian has two natures dwelling within him: one that cannot sin and one that cannot but sin. We will live a life of defeat and disappointment if we think that once we have become a Christian the battle with sin is over. The change that takes place at salvation is that we now have within us a nature that not only knows what is right but also drives us to do that which is right.
Does it matter whether we sin, now that we have been born again? Part of John's purpose for writing the book of 1 John is given in the first verse of chapter 2, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not". Even though our old sin nature is still present with us, we are commanded not to sin. How are we to keep from sinning if that old nature is still hanging around to keep us from our purpose? Let us look some more at Romans 6 and the two key words there: reckon and yield.
Paul writes in Romans 6:11 to "reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin". Galatians 2:20 says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me". The normal Christian should reckon or account that their old sin nature has been destroyed and replaced with Christ's nature. We ought to count the fact that we have died to be just as true as the fact that Jesus died.
Paul uses the word "yield" 4 times in Romans 6. In verse 13, he says "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin". We are not to surrender or present our bodies over to the old nature to be used for sin (the old nature is reckoned to be dead anyway). In other words, don't give in to the old nature and serve it; surrender yourself to the new nature and obey it.
When Adam sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, he first tried to fix the problem himself by making clothing; then he tried to cover up the problem by hiding from God; and finally he tried to deny his problem by putting the blame on someone else. As descendants of Adam, we can well expect that our old nature will try these same things. Let's look at what the Bible says we should do when we sin and how this will affect our lives.
John writes in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". Confession does not mean simply repeating our deeds to God. It means to agree with God that what we have done was sin. Our solution for sin is not what Adam did. No, we need to understand that we cannot remove the guilt by fixing the problem ourselves; we cannot find peace by trying to cover up our sin; and we cannot be forgiven until we admit that we have done wrong. Does a person who confesses his sin at the altar only to knowingly repeat it the next day, really agree with God about his sin?
In the Old Testament, resolution of sin involved more than just forgiveness through atonement. It also included restitution. For example, if a man killed another man's beast, he was to "make it good; beast for beast". When we fall into sin, we need to remember that this may involve making things right as well as confession. In the New Testament, Paul practiced this in Acts 16:35-40 when he would not accept a private acquittal for a public condemnation. The leaders at Philippi had done him an injustice and Paul believed they should make it right.
When we fail to confess our sins, we should expect to receive chastisement from God (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). Chastisement is punishment with the intention of correcting and is reserved for the children of God only (Hebrews 12:5-11). We must not mistake chastisement with condemnation. Christ has already suffered for our sins and they were judged at the cross; therefore, we cannot be condemned to hell for any sin. God uses chastisement to get us to the point where we will agree with Him about our sin.
Does forgiveness of sin mean that the consequences of sin have been removed? Sowing and reaping are a fact of life and independent of forgiveness (and independent of salvation as well). Paul wrote in Galatians 6:7, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap". When we fall into sin, confession only restores our relationship with God, it does not change the law of sowing and reaping.
As Christians we must recognize that we have two contrary natures dwelling within us and struggling for dominion. We are to reckon the old nature as being dead and should no longer yield to it. However, it is normal for that old nature to win some battles and when this happens we should go straight to God and confess our sin.