How Do We Not “Live in Sin” and How Is It Measured?
Question from a reader:
I was reading your section on what EPM believes and I came across the section on salvation. I get a bit confused concerning this part:
“It is the privilege of believers to rejoice in the assurance of their salvation, but the Word clearly teaches the incompatibility of professing faith while living in sin (1 John 3:9), and forbids any spiritual presumption that minimizes the importance of the holy works God has called us to do (Eph. 2:8-10).”
How do we not “live in sin” and how is it measured? I guess I have the same question about works. If these are salvation issues, then how can we ever know if we are saved?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
The statement you cite is preceded by this, which gives the context: “We believe salvation is the gift of God, given to man by grace (not earned by man’s efforts) and received by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 2:8-10; John 1:12; Eph. 1:7). Believers can know they are saved and kept by God’s power and are thus secure in Christ (John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39; I John 5:13).”
The statement that follows, which you quoted, is intended to be read in that context and is simply an attempt to clarify that while we believe in a salvation that is secure, bought and paid for by Christ alone and not by our works, we do not subscribe to the fire insurance/cheap grace/easy believism notion that all who raise a hand or repeat a prayer at one moment in their lives are automatically truly born again. Nor do I believe that being born again is all that matters, and choosing a life of sin is a valid option for Christians.
Look at 1 John 3:9 and I think you’ll see why we cited it to back up the statement—”No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” All believers sin—I John 1:8 says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But that is very different from “continue to sin” and “go on sinning” which speaks of a continuous ongoing choice to embrace sin without repenting. I think John is saying that those who choose such a path are suggesting by their life/fruit that they are not truly saved. (Not a matter of losing salvation—simply of never having had it and that now being made clear.)
Ephesians 2:8-10 says that though we’re not saved by works, we were created to do them, and God has specific works he appointed for us to do. Some evangelical Christians minimize the importance of works, failing to distinguish between the self-righteous works that can’t earn salvation and the Christ-empowered works after salvation that God calls us to and rewards us for.
As to your question of how we can know we’re saved, I John 5:10-13 says, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.... And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Assurance of salvation is offered the flawed, stumbling Christian who confesses and repents of sin, but not the person who willfully chooses a life displeasing to God. Only God knows, but based on the absence of fruit and the lack of any fruits or signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence, that person is right to doubt his salvation. Hopefully that doubt will bring him to repentance and either renewal of faith in Christ, or faith in Christ for the first time.