Question: Pastors tell us to repent, but then they also say that we all sin. So, which is it – repent or sin?
Answer: That is a very good question! Notice what the apostle John says:
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. (1 John 3:9, NIV)
Our relationship with sin
When a person is born again, the evidence of their new life will be seen, not only in the pursuit of righteousness, but also in turning from sin. If sin is your friend, God is your enemy. If God is your friend, sin is your enemy.
James says “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). If sin is your friend—if it’s welcome in your life, if you want to hang onto it—then God is your enemy. When God becomes your friend, sin becomes your enemy.
Bishop Ryle describes the change that regeneration brings in a man’s life. Before the man was converted, there was…
…no quarrel between him and sin—they were friends. [The man is comfortable with his sin. But, now that he’s converted], he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence and longs to be delivered from it altogether.
The Christian is never wholly free from sin in this life. Indeed anyone—including any Christian—who says or even thinks he is without sin, deceives himself (1 John 1:8).
Notice that John says “The person born of God will not continue to sin. The person born of God cannot go on sinning.” Jesus came to destroy the work of Satan (I John 3:8), so how can you continue in it?
The reason why the Christian will not and cannot continue in sin is because he is born of God, and God’s seed remains in him. The new birth makes continuing in sin impossible.
A remarkable illustration of this can be seen in the amazing change that takes place in the birth of a child:
When a child is in the womb for months, that life is surrounded by water. The child lives in the water. But as soon as the child’s first breath is taken, the nature of its life is changed. From the moment of birth, the child can no longer live in the water. The child has a new life that has to be lived in the air.
The child can go in water, swim though water, and even go under the water. You can hold your breath and stay under water for 30 seconds or a minute, or even more. But you cannot continue under the water after you’ve been born.
What once was your life is no longer possible for you. You cannot go back to it. Being born has changed the nature of your life. What used to be natural has now become not just difficult, but impossible. You cannot do it. You cannot live under water.
That’s what it is like when you are born again. You cannot continue in sin. There will be times when you fail, but you cannot live there.
The sinner is comfortable with sin. It doesn’t bother him. But when you are born again, your conscience is activated. You can’t settle with something that you know is wrong in your life. You can’t sleep. You can’t rest. Holding onto a sin, for a Christian, is like holding your breath under water. It takes a great effort and you can’t do it for long.
In the new birth God becomes your friend, and sin becomes your enemy. You can’t live with sin like you did when sin was your friend. You turn from it. And when you fall into it you turn from it again.
Repentance is a life long process. Here is a helpful definition of repentance:
Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself, to as much as you know of God.
That is a lifetime pursuit! And it begins with the new birth.