Question from C.S.:
Does God require that people not sin before they are saved?
Answer from Pastor Bob:
Sometimes people think that they must stop sinning before they can be saved, but that is not what the Bible teaches.
While God does not want us to sin, He recognizes that we do sin, and we need a Savior, because we are unable to overcome sin on our own. The answer is not to try harder. We need transformation, not just trying! As the apostle Paul says, "For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do" (Romans 7:18-19).
That is why we needed God to come down to earth in flesh, as Jesus Christ, and die on the cross as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins, paying a price that we could not pay ourselves. Read this verse carefully: "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!" (Romans 5:8). Notice that it says that Christ died for us "while we were still sinners." You see, we are saved by God's grace, not by the good deeds we do (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we could just stop sinning on our own, we wouldn't need Jesus to die for us. Galatians 2:21 says, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."
Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are forgiven of sin. "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Then we begin a growing process as a Christian, of daily growing to be more like Christ and seeking victory over sin in His strength. Romans 6:11 talks about how a Christian should "consider" or "reckon" self to be "dead to sin," and Romans 6:13 says to "offer" yourself to God. So it is a decision of the mind and will to believe God has truly forgiven us, and to daily offer ourselves to Him in faith.
We are saved from the penalty of sin when we trust in Jesus. We then daily learn to have power over sin as we live the Christian life. When we die and go to heaven, then we will finally have victory over the presence of sin in our lives.
The apostle John wrote to Christians, "My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father-- Jesus Christ the Righteous One" (1 John 2:2). This is the wonderful assurance we have as believers-- that we offer ourselves to God, desiring not to sin, but if we do sin, we do not have to live in fear of losing salvation, for Jesus Christ is our defense attorney, standing before God, the righteous judge. Satan may accuse us, but Jesus stands to plead our case, saying that He shed His blood for our sins. And God, the judge, declares us "not guilty" of sin before Him, forgiven!
Follow-up question from C.S.:
If God does not require people to not sin before they are saved, than why does God send people to hell for doing those sins that he does not require them to not do?
Answer from Pastor Bob:
Interesting follow-up question.
I think the misunderstanding comes at the point of why God we would be separated from God for eternity in hell. It is not because of sins, but because of sin. That is, it is not because we commit or don't commit certain sins, but because we have a sin condition, a sin problem.
Think of it like this: if a person has an infection that causes a cough and fever, it is not enough to treat the symptoms with Tylenol or a cough suppressant. Antibiotics are needed to get rid of the infection. Likewise, trying to just get people to not do "sins" is like treating the symptom instead of the cause of the illness.
That's why Romans 8:3-4 refers to the sin offering of Jesus on the cross as satisfying the "law's requirement" (singular), rather than "requirements" (plural).
All people are sinners, guilty before a holy God, according to Romans 3:23. So something must be done about that sin condition; if not, we will be separated from God for eternity in hell. Thus, God does require us to remove the guilt of sin to go to heaven. Since we cannot do this in our own power, we need the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Once we trust in Jesus to save us by his grace, that grace that we receive from God motivates us to begin winning victory over sin. Titus 2:11 says, "For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness."
So to say God "does not require them not to do" sins is a misunderstanding of what God requires. God requires us to trust in His solution to our sin problem, trusting His salvation by the cross of Christ. And when we make Jesus Lord, then God's Spirit will require a change in our lives, giving us a new desire, drawing us away from sin. But God does it by treating the root cause of our sin, not just the symptoms.
Another follow-up question from CS:
Bob how than can Jesus die for sins in my stead. if I don't go to hell for committing sins but for being born guilty and born a sinner? This means I would be going to hell for being born separated from God because of Adam, and Jesus would be dying not for my sins but for what I would be going to hell for, how could Jesus be punished for something I can't be punished for?
Answer from Pastor Bob:
I did not say that I am responsible for Adam's sin. In fact, I am not. I'm responsible for my own sin. Romans 5:12 says that sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death came to all people as a result, but the verse also says, "because all sinned." In other words, Adam brought sin into the world, but each of us are responsible for our own sin.