Can Christians Live Above Sin?


Question: Can Christians live above sin?

Let me divide my answer into four parts.

What Do We Mean By ‘Sin’?

When we say “Christians can live above sin,” we are talking about living above “willful” sin. Willful sin is any consciously-chosen desire, attitude, word, or action that violates either the word of God (Jam. 4:17; 1 John 3:4; 5:17) or our conscience (Rom. 14:23).

We are not talking about violations of God’s word that are done either ignorantly or inadvertently. Since John Wesley’s day, men have vigorously debated whether to call ignorant or inadvertent violations of God’s word “sin.”

Personally, I am convinced that these transgressions should be regarded as sin, though there are men I respect who would strongly disagree with me.

When Wesleyan-Arminians talk about “living above sin,” we are always talking about living above willful sin.

Having said that, however, I want to emphasize what I said before: when Wesleyan-Arminians talk about “living above sin,” we are always talking about living above willful sin. When you discuss this topic, make sure others understand that you mean willful sin.

Do People Have to Sin?

The Bible answers this question plainly. All unsaved men are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:20-22; Eph. 2:1) and cannot stop sinning (Rom. 7:15-23). Sinners have to sin. In stark contrast to the bondage of the sinner, all men who trust in Christ are free from sin’s control over them (Rom. 6:6-10).

As Paul says, “being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (Rom. 6:22). In addition to freedom from sin’s control, 1 Cor. 10:13 promises that God never allows a Christian to be tempted beyond his capacity to resist the temptation through God’s grace.

No Christian ever has to sin willfully.

Therefore, no Christian ever has to sin willfully. If a Christian does sin willfully when tempted, it is because he did not make use of God’s grace.

What Does It Mean to Live Above Willful Sin?

First, it does not mean that a Christian cannot be tempted. There is no level of Christlikeness or spiritual maturity that frees us from temptation, for Christ himself was tempted (Mat. 4). Therefore, it also does not mean that a Christian cannot sin willfully. No orthodox theologian, Wesleyan or otherwise, has ever claimed that we can reach a level where we are unable to sin willfully.

The writer of Hebrews explicitly urges us to exhort one another daily to beware of the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). We are still able to sin willfully (Heb. 10:26).

Second, it does mean Christians do not have to sin willfully. At every decision point in life a Christian can, by God’s grace, choose to do right. It means that Christians can live lives characterized by obedience to all the truth of God’s word that they know. We can walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7).

At every decision point in life a Christian can, by God’s grace, choose to do right.

We can live lives that are holy, just, and blameless (1 Thess. 2:10). The Bible directly affirms that Zacharias and Elizabeth lived above willful sin (Luke 1:6). Paul testifies that this is the way he lived his life (2 Cor. 1:12).

How Does One Live Above Willful Sin?

Living above willful sin is the result of grace-enabled and grace-dependent:

  1. loving God totally, for love keeps His commands
  2. walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16)
  3. not making provision for the lusts of the flesh (Rom. 13:14)
  4. resisting the devil’s temptations (James 4:7; Jude 1:9)
  5. fleeing youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2:22a)
  6. pursuing “righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22b)

A life free from willful sin is the blood-bought privilege of every child of God. Praise the Lord! Let’s be diligent to live up to our privileges in grace!

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).