New Believer's Series #6
If Anyone Sins
By Watchman Nee
Scripture Reading: John 5:14; 8:11; Rom. 6:1-2; Num. 19:1-10, 12-13, 17-19; I John 1:7, 2:2
After we are saved, we should sin no more. John 5 records the incident of the Lord Jesus healing one who had been sick for thirty-eight years near the pool in Bethesda. After the man was healed the Lord met him in the temple and said to him, "Behold, you have become well; sin no more so that nothing worse happens to you" (v. 14). John 8 speaks of the Lord Jesus forgiving a woman who had committed adultery. He said to her then and there, "From now on sin no more" (v. II). Once we are saved, we are charged by the Lord to sin no more! As saved ones, we surely should not continue in sin.
I. SINNING AFTER BEING SAVED
Since a Christian should not sin and should not continue in sins, is it then possible for a Christian not to sin? The answer is yes! It is possible for Christians not to sin because we have God's life within us. This life does not sin. It cannot tolerate any trace of sin. This life is as holy as God is holy. The life within us makes us very sensitive to sin. If we walk according to the sense of this life and if we live by this life, we will not sin.
However, it is possible for Christians to sin. We are still in the flesh. If we do not walk according to the Spirit and live in life, we can sin at any time. Galatians 6:1 says, "Brothers, even if a man is overtaken in some offense..." First John 2:1 says, "My little children... if anyone sins..." It is possible for Christians to be overtaken by sins. There is still the possibility of sinning. First John 1:8 says, "If we say that we do not have sin, we are deceiving ourselves." Verse 10 says, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar." Hence, our experience shows us that it is possible for Christians to fall accidentally into sin.
Will a saved person who has fallen accidentally into sin still perish? No! The Lord said, "And I give to them eternal life, and they shall by no means perish forever, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28). In other words, once a person is saved, he is saved forever. "They shall by no means perish forever." Nothing can be surer than this! First Corinthians 5 speaks of a brother who had committed fornication. Paul said, "To deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (v. 5). Even though the flesh of a believer who sins may be destroyed, his spirit will still be saved.
Does this therefore mean that after a person is saved, it does not matter whether he sins? No! If a person sins after he is saved, there will be two terrible consequences. First, he will suffer in this life. If you sin after you are saved, you will suffer the consequence of your sin. The person in I Corinthians 5 was delivered to Satan. This is a great suffering. After a person has repented and confessed to the Lord, God will forgive him and the blood will cleanse him. With some sins, however, there are further consequences that one must face. Although Jehovah removed David's sin of taking Uriah's wife, the sword never departed from his house forever (2 Sam. 12:9-13). Brothers and sisters, sin is like a venomous serpent; it is not an amusing plaything. If you are bitten by it, you will suffer.
Second, if a man sins he will be punished in the coming age. If a Christian sins and does not deal with it properly in this age, he will have to deal with it in the coming age. When the Lord comes again, "He will repay each man according to his doings" (Matt. 16:27). Paul said, "For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done through the body according to what he has practiced, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
Besides these two terrible consequences, there is another immediate result of sin the breaking down of fellowship with God. To a Christian, fellowship with God is a most glorious privilege. Such fellowship is the greatest blessing he can have. However, if he sins, he will immediately lose his fellowship with God. The Holy Spirit within him will grieve for him, and the life in him will feel uncomfortable about his sin. He will lose his joy as well as his fellowship with God. Formerly, when he saw God's children, he was warmly attracted to them, but now he no longer feels that warmth; there seems to be a barrier between him and them. Formerly, prayer and Bible reading were sweet. But now they have lost their sweetness; he can no longer touch God. Formerly, he treasured the church meetings very much; when he missed one meeting, he felt that he had suffered a great loss. But now the meetings are tasteless to him; it no longer makes a difference whether or not he goes. When he sees God's children, he wants to run away instead of meeting them. Everything has changed.
It is a serious thing for a person to sin after he is saved! We must never be loose in our conduct. We must never tolerate sin and must never give ground to it.
But what do we do "if anyone sins"? If a Christian becomes careless and sins by mistake, if he is overtaken by sins, what should he do? How can he come back to the Lord? How can he recover his fellowship with God? This is a very important subject, and we have to study it carefully.
II. THE LORD HAVING BORNE ALL OUR SIN
To take care of this matter, we must first realize that the Lord Jesus has borne all our sins on the cross. All the sins which we have committed, as well as those we are committing and will commit during our whole life, were borne by the Lord on the cross.
However, on the day we believed in the Lord, under God's light we only saw the sins that we had committed before we had believed. A man can only be conscious of the sins which God shines His light upon; he cannot feel the sins which he has not yet committed. Therefore, the actual sins the Lord Jesus bore on the cross are more than the sins that we see. The Lord Jesus bore all of our sins on the cross, but we see only the sins which we have committed.
You may have been saved at the age of sixteen, or you may have been saved at the age of thirty-two. All the sins you committed before your salvation are absolutely and totally forgiven by the Lord. However, at the time of your forgiveness, the number of sins that you were conscious of was actually much less than the actual number of sins which the Lord bore for you. Your experience of the Lord's grace went only so far as your personal experience of your sin. But the Lord's work on our behalf was based on His knowledge of our sins. We must realize that even the sins that we are not conscious of are included in the Lord Jesus' redemption.
Perhaps you were saved at the age of sixteen. Suppose you had committed a thousand sins during the first sixteen years of your life. You might have said at the time you believed in the Lord, "I thank You. My sins have been forgiven because You have taken away all my sins." In saying that the Lord had taken your sins away, you meant that the Lord had dealt with your one thousand sins. What would have happened if you had been saved at the age of thirty-two instead? Proportionally, you probably would have committed two thousand sins by the age of thirty-two. You might have said the same thing: "0 Lord, You have borne all my sins." If you were saved at sixty-four years of age, you would have said the same thing: "0 Lord, You have borne all my sins." It is quite clear then that the Lord has dealt with the sins that were committed during the first sixteen years of your life as well as the sins that were committed from age sixteen to age sixty-four. The Lord dealt with all of your sins on the cross. The criminal on the cross did not believe in the Lord until just before he died, but the Lord took away all his sins (Luke 23:39-43). In other words, the Lord took away the sins of our whole life on the cross. Although, when we first believed in the Lord, we only felt the forgiveness of our past sins, in actuality, the Lord took away all our sins, even those we commit after we are saved. We must understand this fact before we can understand how to recover our fellowship with God.
III. THE TYPE OF THE ASHES OF THE RED HEIFER
We have a picture of the Lord's vicarious death for our sins in the type of the ashes of the red heifer.
Numbers 19 is a very special chapter in the Old Testament. A heifer was used, which speaks of something special. This heifer was used not to meet a need at that moment but to meet a need in the future. This, too, is very significant.
In verse 2 God told Moses and Aaron, "Tell the sons of Israel to bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect, and upon which a yoke has never come." A heifer, not a bull, was offered here. In the Bible gender is very meaningful. Male signifies everything related to the testimony of the truth, while female signifies everything related to the experience of life. This is a principle we should be familiar with in reading our Bible. Abraham speaks of justification by faith, while Sarah speaks of obedience. Justification by faith is objective; it has to do with truth and testimony. Obedience is subjective; it has to do with life and experience. Throughout the Bible the church is symbolized by females, because the church is subjective, being related to the Lord's work in man. A heifer is used here instead of a bull because it represents another aspect of the Lord's work His work toward man. The red heifer signifies a work that is subjective rather than objective.
What happened to the heifer? It was slaughtered, and its blood was taken and sprinkled seven times directly in front of the tent of meeting. In other words, the blood was offered to God because the work of the blood is always for God. The heifer's blood was sprinkled seven times in front of the tent of meeting, signifying that it was for God and for the redemption of sin.
After the red heifer was killed, it was burned. The skin, the flesh, the blood, and the dung were all burned. The whole red heifer was burned. As it was being burned, the priest cast cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet into the midst of the fire. What do cedar wood and hyssop signify? First Kings 4:33 said that Solomon discoursed about trees, from the cedar to the hyssop. Cedar wood and hyssop therefore signify all the trees. In other words, they signify the whole world. What does scarlet signify? This word is also translated scarlet in Isaiah 1:18, which says, "Though your sins are like scarlet, / They will be as white as snow." Scarlet, therefore, signifies our sins. For the cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet to be burned together means that the sins of the whole world were gathered together with the red heifer when it was offered up to God; they were all burned together. Here, we see a picture of the cross. The Lord Jesus offered Himself up to God. He embraced all our sins. The gross sins were there as well as the lesser sins. The sins of the past, the present, and the future were also there. The sins for which man feels the need of forgiveness, as well as the sins for which man does not feel the need of forgiveness, were there. All sins were upon the heifer, and they were all burned with it.
After they were burned, what was done next? Numbers 19:9 says, "A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and place them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the assembly of the sons of Israel for the water for impurity; it is a purification of sin." What does this mean? This is what makes the red heifer so distinct. After the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the scarlet were burned with the heifer, the ashes were gathered up and kept in a clean place. Thereafter, if any of the Israelites touched something unclean and became unclean before God, another clean person could mix the water for impurity with the ashes and sprinkle it on the unclean person. This would remove the person's uncleanness. In other words, the ashes were used to remove uncleanness. They were prepared for the future. They would be used when uncleanness was detected at a later time.
In the Old Testament, sinners needed to offer up sacrifices to the Lord. If a person had offered up a sacrifice and then touched something unclean, he would become unclean again before God and could no longer fellowship with Him. What did he have to do? Another person would take some ashes of the red heifer on this person's behalf, put them in a vessel, pour in living water, mix it into the water for impurity, and sprinkle it on his body. The man's uncleanness would then be removed and his sin forgiven. When an Israelite brought a bull or a lamb to the Lord and offered it up as a sin offering, he did it because of some known sin. But the red heifer was related to another matter. The burning of the red heifer was not for known sins which had been committed in the past, but for future uncleanness. The burning of the red heifer was not for past sins but for future transgressions.
This shows us another aspect of the Lord Jesus' work. One aspect of the Lord's work is like that of the ashes of the red heifer. The efficacy of redemption is signified by the ashes. The sins of the whole world are in it, and the blood is also in it. Whenever a man becomes unclean or has touched some unclean things, he does not need to kill another red heifer and offer it to God. He only needs to take the ashes of the red heifer that was offered once and mix them with water and sprinkle them on the body. In other words, there is no need for the Lord to do anything a second time. His redemption accomplished everything. He made provision for all of our future uncleanness and future sins. Everything has been fully accomplished by His redemption.
What do the ashes signify? In the Bible, ashes signify something in its final form. Whether a bull or a lamb, its final form after being burned is ashes. Ashes are very stable; they do not corrupt into something else. We cannot corrupt or destroy ashes. Ashes signify something in its final form.
The ashes of the red heifer signify the eternal and unchanging efficacy of the Lord's redemption. The redemption which our Lord accomplished for us is most stable. Do not think that rocks on mountains are stable. Even rocks can be burned into ashes. Ashes are more stable than rocks. The ashes of the red heifer signify the Lord's redemption which He has prepared for us. It is forever unchanging and incorruptible. We may apply it any time. If a Christian touches something unclean by accident and there is uncleanness in him, he does not have to ask the Lord to die for him again. He only needs to trust in the eternal and incorruptible efficacy of the ashes and to sprinkle his body with the water of life, and he will be clean. In other words, the ashes of the red heifer tell us that the past work of the cross is applicable for our use today. We also can say that the effectiveness of the cross covers all the needs we will ever have in the future. These ashes are specifically for the future. Only one red heifer needs to be burned, and it only needs to be burned once. Its ashes are enough to cover one's whole life. Thank the Lord that His redemption is sufficient for our whole life. His death has taken away all our sins.
IV. THE NEED FOR CONFESSION
We have covered the side of the Lord's work, which is redemption and the removal of our sins. What should we do on our side?
First John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." In this verse the word we refers to believers, not to sinners. When a believer sins, he must confess his sins. Only after he has confessed his sins will he be forgiven. When a believer sins, he should not ignore it or cover it up. Proverbs 28:13 says, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: / but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." When a believer sins, he must confess his sin. Do not give sin a nice name. Do not excuse yourself. Lying is a sin. When you lie, you should confess that you have sinned. You should not say, "I have said a little more (or less) than I should have." You should say, "I have sinned." You should not explain it away or cover it up. You should confess that you have committed the sin of lying. You must condemn lying as sin.
Confession means to stand on God's side and judge sin as sin. There are three things here: God, ourselves, and sins. God and sins are at the two ends, and we are in the middle. What does it mean to commit a sin? It means that we stand on the side of sin and that we are away from God. Once we sin, we are away from God. Once we join ourselves to sins, we cannot be together with God. As soon as Adam sinned, he hid from God and dared not meet Him (Gen. 3:8). Colossians 1:21 says, "And you, though once alienated and enemies in your mind because of your evil works." Sin alienates us from God. What does it mean to confess our sins? It means to come back to God's side and to acknowledge that what we have done is sin. We have come back to God. We are no longer with sin. We are standing opposite of sin and calling sin a sin. This is confession. Only those who walk in the light and who have deep feelings and a repulsion for sin can have genuine confession. Those who are callous to sin, who consider it natural to sin, are not making any confession when they merely acknowledge something with their lips in a heartless way.
Believers are the children of light (Eph. 5:8) and the children of God (I John 3:1). They are no longer outsiders but members of God's family. In a family one should behave in a way that is worthy of the family. You are a child of God, and you should know sin. You should have the same attitude towards sin as your Father. The way the Father considers sin should be the way you consider sin. Confession in God's house comes when His children take the same attitude as their Father towards sin. They condemn sin in the same way that their Father condemns sin. They take the same attitude as their Father with regard to sin. When a child of God sins, he should condemn sin as sin just as the Father does.
If we confess our sins this way, God "is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." When we sin and when we know our sin and acknowledge it as sin, God will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God is "faithful," which means that He must honor and fulfill His own words and promises. He is also "righteous," which means He must be satisfied with His Son's redemptive work on the cross and must recognize it. Based on His promise and based on His redemption, He has to forgive us. He is faithful, and He is righteous. He must forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We have to pay attention to the words every and all in I John 1:7 and 9. "Every sin" and "all unrighteousness" are fully forgiven and cleansed. The Lord has done this. When the Lord says "all," He means all. We should never change it to something else. When He says every sin, He means every sin, not just every sin committed before we believed or every sin committed in the past. He has forgiven us of all sins.
V. AN ADVOCATE WITH THE FATHER
First John 2:1 says, "My little children, these things I write to you that you may not sin." These things refer to the forgiveness and cleansing from our sins through God's promise and work. John wrote these things to us so that we may not sin. It shows us that the Lord has forgiven our many sins and that, as a result, we do not sin. When we find out that we are forgiven, we do not become free to sin; rather, we will not sin.
Following this it says, "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous." "With the Father"this is a family affair; it is something that happens after we are saved. We have already believed and have become one of God's many children. Now we have an Advocate with the Father, who is Jesus Christ the Righteous; "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins." Through the Lord Jesus' death and by His becoming the propitiation for our sins, He has become our Advocate with the Father. These words are spoken to Christians.
The propitiation spoken of here is the reality of the type of the ashes of the red heifer in Numbers 19. It speaks of God's forgiveness of our future sins according to the accomplished work of the cross. There is no need to have a new cross. We only need the work of the cross once and it is sufficient. With the eternal redemption of the cross, our sins are forgiven. That sacrifice was not an ordinary sacrifice. It was a sacrifice whose efficacy could be applied at all times. It was ashes; therefore, it was applicable all the time. Based on His blood, the Lord Jesus Christ has become our Advocate. He has accomplished redemption on the cross. Based on His accomplished work, we can be cleansed. If we sin by accident, we should not be disheartened by our sin; we should not wallow in it or remain in it. When we sin, the first thing we should do is confess our sin to the Lord. God says that it is a sin, and we should acknowledge it as a sin. God says that this is wrong, and we also should say that it is wrong. When we ask God to forgive our sin, He forgives our sin, and our fellowship with Him is restored immediately.
In the eyes of God, no brother or sister should sin. However, if anyone sins by accident, the first thing to do is deal with it immediately before God. He or she should take care of the problem of sin immediately. Never delay. Deal with it as soon as possible. You must confess immediately. Tell God, "I have sinned!" Our confession is our judgment of ourselves. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
When a child of God sins and does not confess his sin but instead remains in his sin, he loses his fellowship with God. There will be no further fellowship between him and God. There is a leak in his conscience, and he will not be able to stand up before God. He may still have a little fellowship with God, but that fellowship will not be pleasant. Indeed, he will suffer. When a child who has done something wrong comes home, he will feel that something is not right because his father will not speak to him. He cannot have an intimate fellowship with his father. He knows that there is a barrier between him and his father. This is the pain that results from a loss of fellowship.
There is only one way to recovery--it is to go to God and confess our sins. We have to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has become our Advocate and has borne all our sins. We have to confess our failures and shortcomings before God in a humble way. We have to look to Him so that we will no longer be proud or loose when we set out on our journey again. We have to realize that we are no better than anyone else, and that it is possible for us to fall at any time. We have to ask God for mercy and strength to go on step by step. Once we confess this way, we will immediately recover our fellowship with God, and the joy and peace that were lost will come back.
Finally, we should point out once more that Christians should not sin. Sin results in suffering and loss. May God have mercy upon us, keep us, preserve us, and lead us on in the way of unceasing fellowship with Him!