Is a sin always a sin? How about forgiven sins?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Can there be an instance where a sin isn't considered a sin?

Answer: A thousand years before Christ came to earth, God told us what he had already done with our sins. Because he loved us, he had removed our sins from us — as far as the east is from the west!

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8–12, NIV)

Note, however, that God did not “manage” the problem of sin by taking our sins and changing them to non-sins. He removed them from us. But those sins didn’t just “go away.” Someone else had to pay the price of these transgressions. But the only person qualified to do so was God’s own Son, Jesus Christ... and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NIV)

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36, NIV)

(See also Isaiah 53:4-6,10; Romans 3:23, 25; 5:9; Galatians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Hebrews 2:17; 1 Peter 3:18)

Despite his love for us — and the removal of our transgressions notwithstanding — there is no instance in which God doesn’t consider a sin a sin. There are, however, many instances where God does not count sin as sin... billions, in fact. This is the state of all who have been redeemed.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9, NIV)

The book of Revelation is loaded with imagery — so we should be cautious exegetes — but most Christians identify the people in white robes who are holding palm branches as people who are redeemed. “The Redeemed” are people whose sins are real — but whose sins don’t count. This is because Jesus gave himself to make us positionally holy. The result is that countless sinners like us will wind up in heaven.

But we shouldn’t think too much of ourselves here; positional holiness is not actual holiness. We still sin! Yet Christ’s sacrifice purified us... and it made us his people. How great is that!

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11–14, NIV, emphasis mine)

The best we can say of ourselves is that we are sinners, saved by grace — and who still sin... but whose positional holiness satisfies God. This is why he “seals” us with the Holy Spirit. When we first believed, God put us in an envelope (if you will) ... one that is addressed to heaven (Ephesians 1:13-14). Furthermore, he has put this envelope in the outgoing mail!

But — and this is a big “but” — that mail hasn’t been delivered yet. It’s still in the system. As such, we are fully children of God; we are just children who haven’t arrived home yet. But since we’re earth-bound humans, we still sin. So, what happens to our “holiness” when we sin? It depends on which holiness we are talking about. There are two.

Our positional holiness remains unchanged — which is good: our eternal destiny is linked to that holiness. The other kind of holiness is experiential holiness — lifestyle holiness. This is often called our sanctification, and this is the one that takes a ding when we sin.

Fortunately, our lifestyle sanctification is not tied to our eternal destiny. Nevertheless, we should still work at not sinning — at living holy lives! It’s just that after salvation, the sins we commit are not salvific deal-breakers (Romans 8:1). They are life-breakers, however... and their threat is very real.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV, emphasis mine)

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1–2, NIV, emphasis mine)

My point here is the same kind of sins that Adam sinned will be with us until Jesus returns. And although God effectively “forgets” our sins (Isaiah 43:25), he never considers them to be non-sins... nor should we.

I wish I could say that after Jesus returns for us that we wouldn’t have to deal with sin anymore... but Scripture tells a different story. Judgment will be one of Jesus’ chief activities after his return — and judgment is all about sin! So, there’s more at stake with sin than just our salvation: there will be some settling-up for us to do in heaven... some “accounting” for — and discussion about — sin.

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10, NIV)

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

“The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small— and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:18, NIV)

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” (Revelation 20:12–13, NIV)

Don’t get nervous with all these judgment verses, though. There’s no risk that we will forfeit heaven. But something’s at stake... I mean... sin is still part of the discussion! If not, then what’s all the judgment about?

The thing is, we will be many years in heaven before sin is finally dispatched. I wish I could report that when we are done here, we will be done with sin. But the verses above show that even we who belong to Christ will be judged! This is usually explained away by saying that believers will only be judged for rewards. But if that’s true, why do we have to account for every idle word? (Matthew 12:36).

Just because we cannot lose our salvation does not mean that we won’t get a stern talking to... and that conversation will include a section on sin. And since Jesus’ victory over sin cost him his mortal life... I think that sin will be a meaningful topic for discussion far into the eschaton.

My final comment for this answer is that theologians are divided about the final disposition of sin as it relates to our natures. After Christ has dispatched death, sin, the devil, hell, etc. — and we are established in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1) — will we still be able to sin? The question is not will we sin? But, would we be able to?

Since I believe that the free will of humankind is a necessary part of what makes us human — and that our volitional natures are unique things in creation (... and are what make us precious to God!) — I say, yes... we will be able to sin. But I’m just guessing. Scripture is not that specific. But with a “yes,” the potential for sin stays with us. The difference is we won’t have to sin once we have our glorified bodies. We’ll see, though... and I can’t wait!

All I’ve done in this answer is talk about if God could ever see sin as non-sin — and not if human beings might legitimately do so. But I’m sure this response has been long enough! However, a ministry called in Australia has some good perspectives on this. So I’ll close by giving a link on what they say about this in case you’re interested. Thank you again for this query. God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200803 Does sin ever become non-sin?).

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