by Jeff Heslop
– The Bible teaches us as followers of Christ to be holy because our God is holy, Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16. We are to be like Him. But often we are not. When we commit sins we are not being like God. Yet when we commit sins, we do not lose our right standing before God. God promised us that when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as the one who paid the penalty we owe because of our offenses against God, He will forgive our sins. But God promises more than forgiveness. God promises eternal life to those who believe in Christ, Jn 3:16. God also promises to credit to believers the very righteousness of His Son, Rom 4:5! Wow, what wonderful promises – forgiveness, eternal life, counted by God to have Christ’s own divine righteousness- and there are many more.
However, our experiences in our Christian walk often fail to match our right standing before God. Christians don’t have to sin but we often do. So what happens when we sin?
The author of Hebrews teaches us that the gifts and sacrifices offered by the Levitical priests under the Law were not able to make the worshiper perfect in conscience, Heb 9:9-10. The idea is that the worshipers under the Levitical order were aware of their constant need for purification from sins and, therefore, their consciences were not yet perfect. One reason the worshiper would not have a perfect conscience before God was that, as long as the holy place and the inner holiest place were still standing, the worshipers were reminded that their way to God’s very presence was blocked, Heb 9:8. Another reason was that the continual offering of gifts and sacrifices on their behalf continually reminded them of their need of continual forgiveness. What is so harmful about an imperfect conscience towards God is that it harms our closeness with God.
But Christ, after His perfect obedience, even to death on a cross, through His own blood, entered the true holiest place in heaven, once for all (Greek ephapaz, once and never again) having obtained eternal redemption, Heb 9:12. Now sins are no longer simply covered over and over again through gifts and sacrifices, they are actually taken away (Greek airo, to remove, lift up, carry away, to destroy, to do away with. See Jn 1:29). The author of Hebrews concludes that if gifts and sacrifices can cover sins, how much more will the blood of Christ cleanse the believer’s conscience from works that can never lead to eternal life to serve the living God, Heb 9:13-14. The believer’s sins will not just be covered, they will be taken away.
So we as believers can be perfect in conscience towards God. We can be aware that our sins are finally dealt with. There is no reason for believers to be afraid of approaching God and expecting closeness with Him. Even when we sin we are told to boldly approach the throne of grace to find mercy and grace to help in time of need, Heb 4:16. See also Heb 10:19; 13:6.
Now back to the question of what happens when Christian’s sin. When we sin we damage our fellowship or closeness with God. As Christians we do not lose our righteous standing before God. Our sins are still forgiven. We still have eternal life. But our closeness with God is damaged. We often react like Adam and Eve who hid from God in the garden after their disobedience.
In various ways our consciences tell us that we are no longer worthy to be called God’s child. We say in our hearts like the prodigal son, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired hands,” Lk 15:18-19. Like the prodigal, we believe our close relationship with God our Father is forfeited.
Note that it was the son who felt the loss of closeness with his father. The father never stopped feeling close to his son. It is just the same with our Father in heaven. Our sins cause us to feel the loss of closeness with our Father, but He never loses His love for us. We leave Him for a time. He never leaves us.
Another consequence of our sins as believers is the damage done to our works of ministry. The prodigal had a high calling as an heir and as a son yet thought it necessary to accept a lower calling by comparison as a hired hand in order to return to his father. In just this same way, because of personal sins, Christians can come to believe that God can’t use them in great works of ministry and become reluctant to attempt great things for God.
But God can make the conscience perfect. First, Christ has once for all obtained eternal redemption for those who trust in Him. We can boldly come to Him in time of need. Second, God has provided a simple way to restore a damaged conscience. This way is not once for all but continual. It is called confession. The Apostle John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” 1 Jn 1:9.
So what happens when Christians sin? Our closeness with God is damaged, we become reluctant to approach Him, and we believe we are unworthy to serve in His works of ministry. But as sins abound grace abounds more. God’s remedies are sure. We are to think upon the work of Christ as our great high priest. Christ offered Himself on our behalf once and for all to cleanse our consciences from dead works in order to serve the living God. And we are to continually confess our sins to God who is continually ready both to hear and forgive. In these ways God has provide the means for us to maintain a perfect conscience before Him.
With a perfect conscience, let us boldly come to God and seek the closest relationship with Him. If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us, James 4:8.. And, as William Carey once exhorted a small band of missions supporters, let us attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.