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How is sinning judged after accepting Christ?

Are there classifications?

Are we clear of every sin?

What about repetitive sin of the same type?

(All assumed after accepting Christ.)

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Generally speaking, a sin is a sin, is a sin, whether or not the individual is a believer. The difference is that believers are forgiven and are accepted by God because they have Christ's righteousness "imputed" to them by faith. (See "Sola Fide," "Salvation by Grace through Faith").

Romans 3:23 is one text often offered as proof that, from a biblical perspective, all people are guilty of sin. Many denominations also teach that Christians necessarily continue to sin, even after they are saved (see Mat 5:21-30). (A notable exception to this is found in the Methodist doctrines of "Christian Perfection," taught by the Wesley brothers in the eighteenth century). Romans 7:13-25 is another text often offered as proof that believers continue to sin -- it is frequently interpreted as teaching that Paul recognized sin in himself, post-conversion. See also Romans 6.

The basic notion of forgiveness in Christianity is that all human beings are guilty of sin, and there is no way that we can earn our way into heaven by doing good deeds; once we've committed one sin, we're as guilty as if we had broken every law in the book (see James 2:10). In order to glorify himself, God has chosen to have mercy on some sinners and save them, but since he is perfectly just, someone had to be punished for the sins that had been committed by the people he chose to save, and that person could only be one that had not first incurred his own debt of sin. So, God punished sinless Christ, and -- without getting into doctrines like election, free will, universalism, monergism vs synergism, etc. -- he applied that atonement to believers, who are then seen "in Christ" as sinless and so are accepted by God.

One common point of confusion is the notion that "all sins are equal." There is a wide consensus that such is not the case, though there are those who will argue the point. A simple Google search on "are all sins equal" will return a wealth of results, so I won't elaborate further here, except to clarify the basic idea. (BTW, remember to consult only credible, verifiable sources, whichever perspective they advocate). While some sins are, in God's sight, worse than others, as soon as a person has committed one sin of any sort, they have become "unclean," and are permanently barred from heaven. God takes sin so seriously that all sin must be punished, and the punishment associated with any one sin is such that it could only be paid by Christ. That being said, it is possible for one person to incur a greater "sin debt" compared with another, but in any case, all sin is forgiven when one receives Christ. (Note that there is reference in the NT to something called the "unforgivable sin," which is a weighty and contentious doctrinal issue in and of itself).

See the Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 150 - 153.

Some denominations teach that a saved person can "backslide" and become involved in sin, and that such a person needs to be "restored." Other denominations teach that the presence of "significant," or ongoing, repetitive sin in one's life is a potential indication that one was not truly saved in the first place, since regeneration places the love of God in one's heart, and sin both angers & grieves God. Some teach that once a person is truly saved, he can never become "unsaved" (see "Perseverance of the Saints," "T.U.L.I.P."); others believe that it is possible for a person to "fall away" and "be restored" many times.

It is also commonly taught that the rewards that individual believers receive in heaven will be commensurate with the righteousness of the life they lived on earth. The most commonly referenced reward that I have heard about relates to the "number of cities" that one will rule over in heaven. Some also teach that there are varying degrees of punishment in hell. Some examples of passages that are offered by those who support such teachings are the parables at Luke 19:11-27 and Luke 12:47-48.


Addendum: I thought about this topic some more, and it brought to mind something called the "Lordship Salvation Controversy." It's been some time since I looked into this area of soteriology, but one thing that hasn't changed in the intervening years is the caustic nature of most of the internet discussions on the topic. (Btw, for times like these, it can be useful to bear in mind Paul's exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22-26).

"Lordship salvation" refers to one doctrine that claims to describe specifically what God requires of his followers. The alternative doctrine is sometimes called "Non-Lordship Salvation," or, disparagingly, "easy believism." I don't feel qualified to attempt a concise summary of the issues, but here are some links that I've tried to vet for you. I encourage you to use caution in consulting the links that result from a "lordship salvation" internet search, as many of them seem to be filled with invective.

Some useful links:

  1. I'm very familiar with the ministries of John Piper (Desiring God) and RC Sproul (Ligonier) . Both are well educated, compassionate men, with strong understandings of Reformed theology.

  2. Here's a site called "Monergism." Monergism is actually the name of a doctrine, and the site staunchly advocates in favor of their viewpoint, but does so in an intelligent way. In reviewing their extensive list of links on Lordship Salvation I recognized some credible names with historic significance.

  3. I'm not particularly familiar with Theopedia. A quick look over their pages on Lordship Salvation and Non-Lordship Salvation throws up no immediate red flags. It looks like they link almost exclusively to contemporary teachers for their references, at least for this topic.

  4. And here's a link to a discussion from a few months ago (early 2012) that includes what looks like some intelligent comments on the issue:

Hope this doesn't seem overwhelming. There's probably enough resources in this post to get started on a dissertation! The teachings of RC Sproul and John Piper are normally very accessible, and a great place to start if you're new to a topic and like a Reformed perspective. Cheers.

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amazing answer, thank you, I will have to go back and check out each of these links. –  Greg McNulty Jul 23 '12 at 1:24
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@GregM: Thanks! I just added some additional content on a related topic, with several more links which should prove useful for anyone who would like to consider the matter in-depth. –  Philip Schaff Jul 23 '12 at 3:41
    
wow! thank you very much! –  Greg McNulty Jul 24 '12 at 0:46
    
@GregM: You're welcome. If your research leads to any additional questions, I hope you'll post them. Cheers. –  Philip Schaff Jul 27 '12 at 22:35
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Salvation

"Accepting Christ" is not the end of the "salvation story", and does not protect a person from judgment. (I'll cover this more in my blog post later this month.)

After our conversion experience, there is an expectation that we will follow Jesus' example and follow God in loving communion and partnership with Him. This is what we were made for, this is what was broken when man departed from God's ways in the Garden, and this is what God has been calling us back into since that time.

Protection from Judgment

If a person is a follower of Christ, he is protected from God's judgment. This protection covers all sins "equally"; every sin, even repetitive sins. The blood of Jesus is powerful!

However, if a person chooses not to follow God, they will be judged. This includes people who have "accepted Christ" but later decide they don't want to follow Him anymore. If a person is in this state, it's almost irrelevant what sins have been committed, because they all end up resulting in eternal torment due to the biggest sin of all: rejecting God.

The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Weak

Now, the big question for a lot of Christians is: "What if I stumble? What if I make a mistake? What if I am caught in a sinful habit that I have been unable to break free of?" This can be a heavy weight to bear. This can leave a Christian feeling like a disappointment to God; a man so weak in faith he is unable to "tap into" God's freeing power.

Let me assure you, you are not alone! Every follower of Christ experiences this feeling at some point. Why? Because we love God and want to follow Him! The struggle comes from our inability to live a perfect life as we would like.

If your deepest desire is to follow God in love, worry not. You are doing good. Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus. Yes, even that one! Press on, repent, and do what God has desired all along: try.

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I'll come back and add references after I'm through with my July blog post. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 23 '12 at 1:22
    
nice.............. –  Greg McNulty Jul 23 '12 at 1:28
    
+1 I agree with you and it's a nice answer. Unfortunately Christianity today is more geared towards the "feel good" Christianity and it's a very common teaching that Salvation cannot be lost. That those who accepted the teachings of the Christ get a free pass on judgement day. –  user1054 Jul 23 '12 at 14:11
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