Earlier in my IT career, there was a push by businesses to go paperless. Some mistakenly thought that meant eliminating paper and going 100% digital. But that was a pipe dream. Paperless doesn’t mean paper-none but less paper. For instance, even though I’m paperless with my credit card vendor, they still send me paper, such as the annual privacy notice. There’s a similar “less” in our walk with Jesus.
Folks of good faith hold varying views on purity and living a sinless life. Consider this my take on this sometimes-controversial topic. For Christ, sinless does mean a life without sin and blemish. But for us, sinless is more along the lines of less sin. My experience has been that those who claim (either passively or actively) to be pure without sin are actually blind to their sin. They have narrowed their vision to a subset of their life but fail to see their pride and other sinful attitudes.
Paul says, “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:11–14, NASB95) I like to think of this as striving for less and for more.
A believer in Christ is still capable of sin. Turning to Christ blunts that desire, sin is no longer our master, but we still struggle with it. Paul’s language is not that of being cut off from sin but that our desires and choices change in Christ. (“Consider yourself dead to sin” not “you are dead to sin”) To put this another way, as we grow in Christ, sin will have less and less of a hold on us. The arc of our life in Jesus is more of Him and less sin. Moving us along the arc is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, but the choice to make the changes belongs to us.
Our blamelessness doesn’t come from the law but from the grace of God’s righteousness covering our lives. We can’t ever achieve a sinless state this side of heaven. There’s always more to grow into and more to grow away from. God neither rewards us based on our purity nor punishes us based on our stumbles. God’s answers to prayer are grace, always grace.
This doesn’t mean we give up our struggle with sin, but it changes our motive. We don’t clean up to get stuff; we clean up because of our growing love of God. But even if we do the best job possible, even to the point of giving all our time, energy, bodies, and wealth for the sake of the Gospel, we are still not sinless.
Consider John the Apostle. He walked with Jesus, was filled with the Holy Spirit, spent a lifetime preaching God’s love and forgiveness. Yet near the end of his life, when he was probably as close to sinless as possible, he had a vision. Christ appeared in all of His glory (Revelation 1:12-16). John’s reaction wasn’t one of meeting a friend. He didn’t run to Jesus and give him a bear hug. John records, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17, NASB95) Jesus didn’t comment on their relationship or mention John’s labor or say that John was his favorite. Jesus instead said, “fear not” and covered John with His grace.
It is important to balance love and holiness as we continue to grow in Christ and away from sin. This all requires a blatant honesty with ourselves and with God. God knows our sins, even the ones we are blind to. The expectation is not an impossible sinless perfection nor an easy grace that ignores our failures. The expectation is a walk with Jesus where sin’s mastery over us continues to decline and Christ’s mastery in us continues to increase. More of Him, less of everything else, is the call of walking with Jesus. The result is more love, more holiness, more grace, and much more humility.