I used to carpool with a good churchgoing man, and he told me his wife asked a question in Sunday school that floored the teacher. She asked if all this was true about Jesus making us righteous, then why bother doing right things at all?
This woman only asked what many think, and what many actually live. A better question might have been, “Why do so many claim to be Christians, but their lives don’t seem much different from anyone else’s?”
Even though our deeds may not give us right standing with God, our justification with Him ought to produce righteous lives. The Apostle James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (2:17).
If we truly have faith in Christ, we should want to do the things that please Him. Real faith must produce a new life. We cannot truly encounter one like Jesus and simply continue on our way unchanged.
The Apostle John wrote that those who are born of God “practice righteousness” and are unable to practice sin (I John 3:9), or that’s how the New American Standard translates the verse. Some English versions simply read that “no one who is born of God sins,” but that doesn’t seem to make as much sense because everyone sins, and we can come to the same conclusion as my carpool buddy’s wife: What’s the difference whether we sin or not?
The difference is that no one who has truly come to know Christ can be a good sinner anymore. We cannot abide in Christ and sin (I John 3:6), and knowing Jesus simply ruins us for wickedness. It gets harder and harder for us to deliberately pursue what we know to be sin.
That’s not to say we don’t lapse and fall short, for even James the hardnosed apostle admitted, “We all stumble in many ways” (3:2). But we Christians are always falling face down, Christ-ward, asking forgiveness, brushing ourselves off, and moving on in God’s will.
Sinners are running their own show, and while sin eventually catches up with them, they are often the last to admit they’ve done anything wrong.
Faith and sin are like the two sides of an American coin. On one side is the motto “In God We Trust.” We’ll call that faith. On the other side is a Latin motto, and, nothing against Latin, but we’ll call that sin. One side or another is going to be up; it’s never both at the same time.
Paul wrote that “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), and this is sin’s biggest danger: it replaces faith, and only those who walk in faith can know God and please Him.