Why do we still sin after dying to sin?

Christ compared his upcoming death on the cross to baptism, and then told his disciples in Mark 10:39 that they would be “baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” Paul repeats that in Romans 6:5, that we were “united with Christ in his death,” and he too compared that to baptism, verses 2-3 – we were all “baptized into Christ’s death” and “buried with him through baptism into death.” What happened to Jesus, therefore, happened to us – and it was exactly like a baptism. When Jesus went under he took us all down with him.

How much of our old life carried through with us, then? None of it, verse 6 – “our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless.” When Paul says “We died with Christ,” verse 8, he meant exactly that, that our old self is as dead as Jesus was dead, it’s gone, dead and buried, incinerated to a crisp, and it can’t come back to haunt us.

So why do we still sin if, as Paul writes, “We died to sin,” verse 2, and “anyone who has died (to sin) has been freed from sin,” verse 7? Why do we still sin? Because “evil desires,” verse 12, can still have an influence on us.

Jesus had the same problem as a flesh and blood human being too. He did no sin, but that didn’t stop evil coming at him from all directions, nor did it stop evil desires and impulses in his head. He simply never obeyed those evil desires. They never had “mastery over him” (verse 9). But neither does sin have to be OUR master either, says Paul (verse 14).

In other words, we don’t have to sin. We’re not helpless victims, or powerless cretins. We can fend off evil. How? By “counting ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” verse 11. It so much depends on how we view ourselves – as our old, weak, vulnerable selves still, or as completely NEW creations “in Christ Jesus” that “come alive to God” with all HIS resources now at our disposal.

Because that’s exactly Paul’s point in verse 14, that evil never need be our master again, “because you are not under the law, but UNDER GRACE.” We have all the power that grace provides, just as Jesus had. And it’s powerful stuff. It gave Jesus the ability to “live to God” (verse 10), or live entirely for what God desires, and never for what evil desires.

The law can’t do that. Nor can we. But God’s grace can. So the only reason we still sin, then, has to be that we’re not taking advantage of the power we’ve got.

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The deceitfulness of sin

What destroyed Israel’s relationship with God was “an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” Hebrews 3:12. But how did their heart become unbelieving? It certainly wasn’t unbelieving when they started out with God, because their response to him in Exodus 19:8 was, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” Their hearts at that point were very believing.

But something “hardened” their hearts against God, Hebrews 3:13, so that “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways,” verse 10. They quickly lost their trust and belief that what God was doing for them was for the best. And why was that? Because their hearts had been pierced by “sin’s deceitfulness,” verse 13. That’s what wrecked their relationship with God. And it can happen to any of us, it seems, because verse 13 is also warning Christians that “none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

So if Christians can be affected too, how does this deceitfulness of sin work? Well, in Genesis 4:7 God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” So it’s always there, ever-present, ready to pounce on people like Cain because humans are what it feeds on. And what does it want to do to us? My Greek-English Lexicon answers that in its description of sin’s deceitfulness as a “deceitful influence seducing (us) to sin.” It wants us to sin and it’s drawing on every seductive trick it’s got to make us sin. And by “sin” God means “not doing what is right” (Genesis 4:7).

So this is the score: we humans are constantly being seduced into not doing what is right, so that we end up angry at God like Cain, or unable to trust God like the Israelites. Anything to wreck our relationship with God. And Christians aren’t immune either. “For sin,” Paul writes in Romans 7:11, “seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” Paul wanted to obey God but instead of the commandments helping him obey, he found they “produced in me every kind of covetous desire” instead, verse 8. What God said, “Don’t do,” that’s what Paul found himself wanting to do more than anything!

He knew why, though. It was because “evil is right there with me,” verse 21. It’s ever-present. It never lets up. It crouches at the door of our minds, seeking any opportunity to seduce us into not doing what is right. And it never goes away. But there is an antidote: Cry out to God and he will answer, verses 24-25, because that’s the only power out there that can deal with the deceitfulness of sin.

How can there be an “unpardonable” sin?

If all our sins are forgiven because of Christ’s death, why is there a sin that cannot be forgiven (Luke 12:10)? And if God loves us while we are yet sinners, why is there “a sin that leads to death” that no prayer can prevent (1 John 5:16)? And if God still shines his sun on the worst sinners in the world, still pours rain on their crops, and still allows them to enjoy the good things of life, why are some sins exceptions to his boundless mercy?

Because the purpose of God extending all that mercy, love and forgiveness is to stir up repentance (Romans 2:4). If there’s no repentance then all that love, mercy and forgiveness is useless. If a drunk driver kills my child, for instance, I may be able to forgive the driver, but what is the point of forgiving him if he doesn’t STOP drinking and driving? His drinking and driving will always be an unpardonable crime and a constant danger until he repents of drinking and driving and never wants to do it again.

Unfortunately, some people abuse and exploit God’s forgiveness. It doesn’t stop them being bullies, gossips, cheats and liars. They continue lording it over their wives and children, making money at other people’s expense, stealing other people’s property, treating animals cruelly, damaging people’s reputations, and saying whatever they like no matter who it hurts. They like the power, the intimidation and the fear they create. And they have no intention of changing.

Does God still love them? Oh yes. But he sent the Holy Spirit into every human heart to clean us up. To stop us sinning. To soften our hearts toward God and each other to eradicate the ugly attitudes inside us that make life hell. But we can shut out the Spirit’s influence. We can stop listening to our conscience. We can justify our ugliness, blame others, make ridiculous accusations and deliberately resist the one source of help that enables us to grasp the enormity of God’s love and want to get rid of the junk inside our heads and hearts.

It’s like the drunk driver who has no remorse. He deliberately covers his ears to blot out the cries of the injured and hides his eyes from the horrendous results of his crime. He doesn’t care. And it’s that state of mind that makes his sin unpardonable. Does God love him? Yes. Does God forgive him? Yes. But all that endless love and forgiveness is useless until the person’s attitude and behaviour change. And the Holy Spirit will never give up helping a person to change, so that God’s amazing forgiveness fulfills its purpose eventually.