On Sin in Believers

By B.J. Funk-B.J.Funk

“I do not suppose that any man who is justified is a slave to sin: Yet I do suppose that sin remains (at least for a time) in all that are justified.”

– John Wesley

The serious Christian asks, “If I am a Christian, then does sin still dwell in me?” John Wesley says, “Yes,” and ponders his answer.

Is a justified man freed from all sin as soon as he is justified? Is there then no sin in his heart, or ever after unless he fall from grace? Wesley looks to Paul who said, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17).

Paul repeats this when he writes to the believers at Corinth. He calls them “sanctified in Christ” in 1 Corinthians 1:2 and then moves just two chapters over to write that those whom he recently called sanctified are also worldly, showing jealousy and envy (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul exhorts believers to “cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit.”  With those words, he makes it clear that those who are believers are not yet fully cleansed.

Wesley asks his reader, “What if a man reviles me, and I feel resentment? That resentment is ‘filthiness of spirit.’ I may refrain from saying anything, but that does not cleanse me from that filthiness of spirit.”

Wesley continues to explain that believers know they have a tendency to evil and a proneness to depart from God. Yet, at the same time they know they are of God and they feel His Spirit clearly. They are equally assured that sin is in them and that “Christ is in them, the hope of glory.”

I personally love this next statement from Wesley. “Can Christ be in the same heart where sin is? Undoubtedly He can; otherwise it never could be saved therefrom. Where the sickness is, there is the Physician” (italics mine).

It seems clear from this text that John Wesley fully believed that a saved soul still has the remnant of the old man inside. The wonderful news is, however, that, though sin remain, sin does not dominate the sanctified believer. A man may walk after the Spirit though he still feels the flesh lusting against the Spirit. Sin remains, but the difference is we are not a slave to sin.

Having sin in my life does not forfeit the favor of God. Giving way to sin does. Wesley sums up his teaching on sin with these words: “There are in every person, even after he is justified, two contrary principles, nature and grace, termed by St. Paul as the flesh and the Spirit. Although babes in Christ are sanctified, it is only in part. According to the measure of their faith, they are spiritual.  Yet, in a degree, they are carnal. Believers know that they are in Christ, yet they also know that their heart is sometime ready to depart from Him.”

These next words of Wesley give clear meaning to this teaching. “It (feeling that a sanctified believer has no sin at all) cuts off all watching against our evil nature, against the Delilah which we are told is gone, though she is still lying in our bosom. It tears away the shield of weak believers, deprives them of their faith and so leaves them exposed to all the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil.”

Wesley’s parting words in this sermon summarize his thoughts.

1) We are indeed renewed, cleansed, purified, sanctified the moment we truly believe in Christ.

2) Yet, we are not renewed, cleansed and purified altogether.

3) The flesh remains, though subdued, while it wars against the Spirit.

4) We must fight the good fight of faith, watch and pray, and put on the whole armor of God.

5) Even though we wrestle with principalities and powers and wicked spirits in high places, we seek to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

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