Can a Christian live in sin and still go to Heaven? Some believe it is possible; let’s see what the Bible has to say.
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
A very popular belief in certain Christian circles is that of “once saved, always saved”. It is based in the truth, but unfortunately takes that truth and extrapolates an additional meaning that is out of balance with the total witness of scripture.
Essentially, this doctrine states that when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as payment for the penalty of our sin, the matter of our salvation is settled. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, never to be erased, no matter what we do.
While it is true that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice provides complete payment for our sins, with nothing we can do to add to His work, saying “I accept” to Jesus is not the end of the story (Hebrews 10:11-14).
And when we ask the question of can a Christian live in sin, if we believe in once saved, always saved, we have to answer yes. Yet even those who believe this doctrine understand that habitual sin must be accounted for.
What Does it Mean for a Christian to Live in Sin?
When we ask can a Christian live in sin, we first need to define what that phrase means.
For a Christian to “live in sin”, they would have to, after having accepted Christ into their lives, at some point return to living for their own human desires and pleasures with no desire or inclination towards repentance or holiness. We aren’t talking about a momentary lapse. This would be a willful, deliberate choice to engage in sin repeatedly, and can even mean complete apostasy. In other words, choosing to recant a profession of faith in Christ.
Essentially, a Christian “living in sin” lives a life that is indistinguishable from a person who does not claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Can a Christian Live in Sin – the Once Saved Always Saved View
If one believes in once saved always saved (also called Eternal Security), one has to contextualize what sin looks like after we accept Christ. Because repentance in the once saves always saved context is a one-time act that covers all of our sins – past, present, and future.
Passages that tell us that God forgives a repentant heart (such as 1 John 1:9) only has valid meaning for the act of salvation in this theological position.
If all our sins are covered when we accept Christ, there is no real penalty for sin post-salvation. It can be said that it impacts our fellowship with Christ, but since we already have the question of eternity sealed for all time, where’s the incentive to live in obedience to Christ in the first place?
So, someone who believes in the doctrine of Eternal Security only has two real options to answer for a professed Christian who lives in sin.
The Pharisee’s Answer to Sin in a Christian’s Life
The first possible answer to the question of can a Christian live in sin is to take a Pharisaical approach. And that is to say how a person lives once saved does matter. Not for salvation, but to be a “good Christian”.
It’s a very weak argument, because we cannot be “good” ourselves; the Bible testifies to this (Romans 3:10-12). Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t ask us to be good enough; He asks us to accept His perfect love.
Even if one were to conclude that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we please God after we are saved, we are still left with a list of things we must do or not do to please God for no real purpose. And if we are saved by grace alone, which we are (Ephesians 2:8-9), this is a non-sequitur. If once saved always saved is true, in the grand scheme of things it makes no difference whether we please God or not.
And since this is obvious, there is a second answer that the Eternal Security crowd use to answer sin after salvation. It sounds airtight, but actually has just as many – if not more – problems.
The Scoffer’s Answer to Sin in a Christian’s Life
Since the answer to can a Christian live in sin seems self-evident, most people with the once saved always saved view take the second route to answer the question. And that is this: if a person who professes Christ continues to live in sin, then they never were a Christian to begin with.
This would seem to make more sense than the logic of the Pharisaical option. However, we soon realize that in the context of once saved always saved, that means nobody can know if they are a Christian or not. Because when someone accepts Christ, all the same events take place for each person. Renouncement of sin, public confession, and baptism.
Where this becomes a real problem is you put the Holy Spirit on the hook for playing hide and seek with our salvation. If a professing Christian who lives in sin was never a Christian to begin with, then that means the Holy Spirit never indwelt that person.
That leaves two additional roads to go down. It must mean that person wasn’t sincere or didn’t understand what they were doing.
While either of these may be true, the chances of that being the case with every professing Christian who lives in sin is a mathematic impossibility. Either that, or we have extremely incompetent spiritual leaders everywhere, across generations, as it comes to presenting the gospel.
While I don’t find either of these responses to be compelling, these are the most common answers from a once saved always saved position. But if we believe that isn’t a valid position, where does that leave us?
Can a Christian Live in Sin and Still be a Christian?
So is it possible for a Christian to live in sin and still call themselves a Christian? I think the answer is no. But let’s reiterate that “living in sin” is a degenerate state.
It is possible to be caught up in sin – even an extended period of sin – and then return in repentance to Christ. Keeping in mind biblical repentance is not just saying that one is sorry for their sin, but renouncing sin and turning towards Christ, seeking to live in holiness.
In fact, such is the incredible mercy of God, that even if this were to happen more than once in the life of a believer, as long as we sincerely return in repentance, we can be given another chance.
That’s not some game to be played with God, however. First of all, we do not know when we will die. If we were to fall into a degenerative sinful state and die in those sins, I don’t know that person can hope to inherit the promise of salvation.
Also consider, that the snare of sin is such that it can become more difficult to have your spiritual hunger for God aroused if you keep allowing yourself to fall into sin. And that’s the real danger; that in our sin, we can become so numb to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, that we completely ignore His calls to repentance. When we do this, the Bible tells us we are only storing up punishment for ourselves (Romans 2:5-6).
And yes, it is possible to renounce Christ completely, to the point that one commits the sin that leads to death. This is a state of such unrepentance that we openly reject Christ and declare His path of salvation is invalid. So, we need to take sin in the life of a believer extremely seriously. It is literally a life-or-death question.
Can a Christian Live in Sin and Still Go to Heaven?
When someone who wishes to follow Christ comes to understand that their behavior just might matter in some way, we must understand how. Because the Bible clearly teaches that we are not capable of purchasing our own salvation.
The Bible teaches – repeatedly – that while Christ’s sacrifice guarantees us a promise of salvation, Jesus Christ does put conditions upon our inheriting that promise. That sounds so close to earning one’s salvation that it drives people running towards the Eternal Security position.
If our good deeds could do anything to add to Christ’s work on the cross, that would indeed be teaching a works-based salvation, which is not the case.
Let’s be very careful here. To say that salvation is a free gift, means that we can’t purchase it. But it is not free in the sense that all we have to do is say yes to Christ and that’s the end of it. That’s actually an insult to the absolute torture Christ went through to obtain our salvation. Not to mention running counter to repeated passages of scripture that teach us the Christian life requires endurance to the end.
Jesus tells us that any can come and follow Him. But He also tells us to count the cost for following Him (Luke 14:25-33). Why would Jesus use that language if it weren’t necessary for us to pay attention?
Christ’s offer of salvation is free, but it is not cheap. The New Covenant comes with clear expectations from Christ as to who can be counted as authentic followers.
Jesus tells us that there will be a time when people will be absolutely convinced they are Christ’s followers, when He will tell them “I don’t know you at all”. It’s at the worst possible time – the final judgement (Matthew 7:21-23).
What Do I Do if I am Living in Sin?
This advice can be applied to Christian or non-Christian alike. If you are caught in the snare of sin, the best thing you can do is repent, turn to Jesus Christ, and surrender your life to Him. Meaning, you make Him the first priority in your life and commit to abiding with Christ daily so He can transform your heart.
As you commit to walking with Christ daily and obeying His commands, He will produce through you the fruits of the spirit. He will prepare you to do good works in His name, not for earning your salvation, but for storing treasure in Heaven.
If you are a Christian who finds themselves today in a state of willful sin, and you believe you just happened to stumble upon this article, please take this as a warning – perhaps even a final warning – from the Holy Spirit that you need to repent of your sin and turn back to Christ. Don’t hesitate! Do it today.
More Bible verses answering the question “can a Christian live in sin?”
Genesis 4:4-7; Psalm 119:25-29; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 5:19-21; Titus 2:11-12; 1 John 2:1-5