“Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”
Romans 6:1

In the first century some were “turning the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4) by teaching that God’s grace would cover the sins of a person who just kept on living a life of sin. To combat this error Paul asks: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). His reply is unequivocal, “By no means. How shall we, who are dead to sin, live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2).

This false doctrine is also refuted by John in his first letter, and he clarifies the difference between the saved and the lost with regard to sin.

Everyone sins.

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ... If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10).

If we say that we ‘have no sin’ or that we ‘have not sinned’, we are contradicting the word of God.

At the dedication of the temple, when Solomon prayed that God would forgive the people if they repented, he interjected, “For there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46).

To establish that everyone needs God’s forgiveness, Paul states: “There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22b, 23). As in 1 John 1:8, 10 both the past and the present are included. All have sinned in the past and all fall short in the present. Thus if we say that we have not sinned or that we have no sin, we are contradicting God’s word, which is the same as calling Him a liar.

Of himself, Paul writes: “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good” (Romans 7:21). “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19).

The sinfulness of man includes both bad things that are done and good things that are left undone (sins of commission and sins of omission). Anyone who evaluates himself honestly must confess that he is a sinner. That is why John writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8).

One woman told me that she did not recall that she had ever sinned. She thought only things like murder and adultery were sin.

In the Scriptures God designates many things as sin, such as love of the world, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," carnal mindedness, hatred, arrogance, conceit, pride, prejudice, partiality, love of self, selfish ambition, love of money, envy, slander, outbursts of wrath, dissension, contentiousness, divisiveness, heresy, complaining and unthankfulness [Matthew 5:28; Romans 8:6, 7; 16:17; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 2:3, 14; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 3:2-4; Titus 3:9, 10; James 2:9; 3:16; 1 John 2:15, 16].

In addition to deeds, there are also thoughts and attitudes that are sinful. The removal of such inner sins is a lifetime assignment in our “striving against sin” (as it is called in Hebrews 12:4).

What about sins of negligence: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

And what about those absolute commands such as: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Do we not fall short in this every day? Is this not something we seek, yet never fully accomplish, in our “striving against sin”?

Many other commands come to mind, such as: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31); “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33); “Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Who, without deceiving himself, can say at the close of any day, “Today I have not thought, done or said anything wrong, and I have committed no sins of omission”?

If we are honest with ourselves, and if the word of God is in us, we must humbly confess at the close of each day that we have sinned and that we fall short of the glory of God.

“The Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).

The pervasiveness of sin may not be used as an excuse to sin!

Since all have sinned, salvation is possible only by the grace of God.

Some had twisted Paul’s teaching to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). They misused Paul’s emphasis on salvation by grace to justify continuing in sin. He condemns such: “And why not say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come’? - as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just” (Romans 3:8). “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1, 2).

When one accepts the grace of God and is baptized into Christ, he dies to sin and does not continue to live in sin: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3, 4). “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Romans 6:12). “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15).

Since everyone sins, what is the difference between the saved and the lost?

In Paul’s wording, the lost “live in sin” (Romans 6:2) and the saved “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

John describes these two conditions as “walking in darkness” and “walking in light” (1 John 1:6, 7).

Paul also uses the contrast between light and darkness: “Let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

To be cleansed from sin we must walk in the light. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6, 7).

The Greek present tense as used here describes continuing action1: if we are walking in the light the blood of Jesus is cleansing us from all sin.

“Come and let us walk in the light of the LORD” (Isaiah 2:5).

If we follow Christ we walk in the light. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

All of us were in darkness before we became Christians, as Paul told the Ephesians: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

They who walk in the light do not continue in a sinful way of life. It is not possible to walk in the light and in darkness at the same time.

Walking in the light is a requirement for forgiveness.

The aim of the Christian is not to sin at all! Yet “we all stumble in many things” (James 3:2).

Walking in the light does not mean that there is never a need for forgiveness, since it is a condition for receiving forgiveness! “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

John clarifies this in chapter two: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2). Here ‘if anyone sins’ [aorist2] does not refer to a situation where someone continues to live in sin.

Being wounded in battle or even losing a battle, is not the same as fighting for the enemy. When we are on the Lord’s side in the war with Satan, Jesus provides satisfaction for our sins. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

A Christian may not continue living a life of sin.

In chapter three, John discusses the incongruity of living in sin and claiming to be in Christ.

“Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:4-6).

Here John is not referring to the same situation as in 1 John 2:1 where he says: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father.” In that case the verb does not indicate continuation2. Here ‘whoever commits sin’ means ‘the one practicing sin’. The Greek present in this passage indicates continuation in sin1, which is not possible for someone who is abiding in Christ.

The present tense in English and Greek are quite different. In English ‘if anyone sins’ refers to sinning at anytime whatever, but in Greek, ‘if anyone sins’ communicates a continuing action: ‘if anyone keeps on sinning’.

“Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). This seems obvious, but false teachers were claiming that one could be declared righteous by the grace of God even though he continued living an unrighteous lifestyle!

“He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). Here again, the meaning in Greek is “the one who is practicing sin” referring to a way of life.

“Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). This refers to a continuing action: “does not practice sin” and “he is not able to be sinning.”

“In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God” (1 John 3:10).

Something wonderful about the fellowship among those who walk in the light is that we can pray for each other’s sins to be forgiven! But there is a limit. It does not apply for someone whose sin is such that he is walking in darkness.

“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death” (1 John 5:16, 17).

“We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:18, 19). The form of the verb ‘does not sin’ means ‘does not keep on sinning’.

What does it mean to walk in the light?

In his first letter, John mentions various things that are associated with walking in the light3. Briefly summarized, this requires being in fellowship with the Father and the Son through the teaching of the apostles. Not only must we believe in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, but we must confess His name and walk as He walked by obeying His commandments. We must know the truth and have the word of God dwelling in us. We must practice righteousness. The love of God must dwell within us and we must love the children of God. We may not love the world. We must confess our sins and purify ourselves. We may not continue in a life of sin.

What have we learned from the Scriptures ?

“Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? By no means. How shall we, who are dead to sin, live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1, 2). Everyone sins. But the prevalence of sin may not be used as an excuse to keep on sinning. Since everyone sins, salvation is only possible by grace. The difference between the saved and the lost is that the lost “live in sin” (Romans 6:2) whereas the saved “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The lost, walk in darkness. The saved, walk in the light. One must walk in the light to receive God’s forgiveness.

When a Christian sins he has “an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” who is the propitiation for his sins. But a Christian may not continue living a life of sin. To be forgiven he must walk in the light which involves being an obedient child of God who follows Christ. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.


1 Unless modified by the meaning of the word or the context, the present tense in Greek describes an action that is continuing. See the following explanation by Jeff Smelser, included with permission and downloaded from http://www.ntgreek.net/present.htm on March 31, 2012:
Aktionsart & the Present Tense

2 The aorist in Greek simply states the action without providing any information about its duration. See Robertson, ‘Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the light of historical research’, pp. 831- 833.

3 What does it mean to walk in the light according to John’s first letter?
1. Having fellowship with the apostles and thereby with the Father and the Son (1:3).
2. Believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (5:1, 5, 10).
3. Believing in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ (3:23; 5:13).
4. Believing the testimony that God has given of His Son (5:10).
5. Believing that God has given us eternal life in His Son (5:11).
6. Having confidence in Christ that God hears us when we pray according to the will of God (5:14).
7. Confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2).
8. Confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (2:23; 4:15).
9. Being born of God (2:29; 5:1).
10. Being children of God (3:1).
11. Having an anointing from the Holy One (2:20, 27).
12. Having the Spirit who has been given to us (3:24; 4:13).
13. Knowing Christ (2:3, 4, 13, 14).
14. Abiding in Christ (2:5, 6, 24).
15. Knowing the Father (2:13).
16. Abiding in the Father (2:24, 27, 28; 4:12, 13, 15, 16).
17. Knowing the truth and having it in us (1:8; 2:4, 21).
18. Having God’s word abiding in us (1:10; 2:14, 24).
19. Being of the truth (3:19).
20. Practicing the truth (1:6).
21. Keeping the word of Christ (2:5).
22. Walking as Jesus walked (2:6).
23. Practicing righteousness (2:29).
24. Keeping the commandments of Jesus (2:3, 4).
25. Keeping the commandments of God and doing what is pleasing in His sight (3:22; 5:3).
26. Doing the will of God (2:17).
27. Loving God (4:19, 21).
28. Having the love of God abiding in us (2:5; 3:17).
29. Knowing and believing the love that God has for us (4:16).
30. Loving the children of God (5:1, 2).
31. Loving our brethren (2:10; 3:14, 23; 4:11, 12, 16).
32. Loving in deed and in truth (3:18).
33. Having fellowship with one another (1:7).
34. Having overcome the wicked one and the world (2:13, 14; 5:4).
35. Not loving the world or the things in the world (2:15).
36. Confessing our sins (1:9).
37. Purifying ourselves (3:3).
38. Not continuing in a life of sin (3:6; 5:18).

Published in The Old Paths Archive