As a new Christian, I was surprised and confused by an elderly man who insisted that he no longer sinned. He said that would be an insult against the salvation of God. Even as a newby, I realized that Christians do sin. In fact, John wrote this:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:7–10)
God forgives and cleanses, yet I still sin. It would be a lie to say otherwise. Instead, I must be quick to confess it and ask God to forgive me and remove that from my life. Otherwise I will be guilty of spiritual pride and be as blind as a doorknob.
In the above verses, John focuses on the need to confess sin as part of the way I can overcome it. However, in the following verses Paul wrote about the need of Christians to overcome sin by recognizing what Christ has done and how I am identified with Him in redemption:
But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:17–21)
Yes, Jesus gives new life, yet a major part of that incredible reality is death to the old life. While most of us think of death as physical, this death is a different king of separation. Spiritual death is separation from God because of sin. The Law of God plays a part in that it spells out the sin that I am guilty of and thus declares me a sinner.
But Christ came into my life and redeemed me. God now identifies my by the relationship I have with His Son. That is, in Christ I have been crucified and raised to new life. In that new life, the old me still rattles around and tries to rule things, but is actually dead, forever separated from God.
On the other hand, the gift of new life is a life of faith and the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This new life is His life and is not from anything I have done or could do.
The elderly man who said he didn’t sin was right but only in that new life of Christ. The old life, even though crucified with Christ is still there.
I’m always excited by the realities of Galatians 2:20. My new life in Christ, the life lived by faith, is set free from sin, but the old life of the flesh is like the devil’s tool; it continues to pull at me, trying to convince me that it is worth listening to. I cannot deny that. As Paul says, what I can do is remember that I am now separated from that life; I have died to it. The life I now live is a life of faith, of trusting Jesus Christ who has saved me from that dead thing.
To be practical about this reality, I am responsible to read of it, memorize it, meditate on it, hear about it, sing the songs of it — and at the same time realize that I cannot save myself by these activities; my Savior is always and has always been Jesus Christ.