The Consequences of Willful Sin

By John Ruiz-Bueno

Many people struggle with habitual and addictive sins. There are five main concerns when it comes to these willful and deliberate sins by people who profess to be believers:
1. Practical consequences;

2. Sin presents a hindrance to our ability to carry out our mission for God and might possibly affect God's receptivity of our prayers;

3. The concept of "grieving the Holy Spirit";

4. A "fearful expectation of judgment" mentioned in Hebrews 10:26-31, which may or may not be tied to the unpardonable sin; and

5. The unpardonable sin.
1. Practical Consequences of Sin

If you lie, people won't trust you. If you murder someone, you will go to jail or be executed. The sin on this level doesn't necessarily have an impact on salvation, but it does have practical consequences on one's life on earth. Paul says this fairly clearly in 1 Corinthians 10:23 and 6:12, where he says, "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial."

2. Hindrance to Mission and Prayer

Jesus says in Matthew 6:24 that "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other." If you are living in willful and deliberate sin, and thereby serving as a slave to sin (John 8:34), you cannot serve as a slave to the good works that God has prepared in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). Of course, there is a difference between acting out of the flesh and acting out of our spirit/heart/mind. Paul says in Romans 7:25, "I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." So, there is some room for the idea that God does not allow our flesh to negate His ability to use us for His purposes, though we don't want to present an intentional hindrance — and when the sin is willful, conscious, and deliberate, then there is greater trouble.

With respect to prayer, Psalm 66:18 says, "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear." This is coming from David, who was already "saved" or "of God" at the time of this writing. Other passages hint at this notion, such as Isaiah 59:2, James 4:3, and John 9:31. Of course, many people will counter that these references to people in sin are not to Christians, but non-Christians, and that the implications of David's words are not about any evil, but it is to say that "if wickedness was in my heart instead of God, then God would not hear." So, it's up for debate whether or not your prayers will be hindered; but it is certain that sin will present a hindrance to one's ability to carry out God's mission for his or her life.

3. Grieving the Holy Spirit

There is only one real passage that talks about this concept, and that is Ephesians 4:30. There are two main interpretations of this concept:
a. Our sin causes the Holy Spirit emotional pain or grief;
b. Our sin frustrates/"grieves" the purposes of the Holy Spirit
The Greek word for "grieve" does literally mean "sadden," which would lend its support to the first view. But the overarching tone of Scripture lends better to the second view. That is...
· We know that God does not change (Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17), and thus it would be unusual to say that God's temperament toward us is constantly changing based on how we live and act, which would be akin to the very thing James 1:17 says God does not do: "change like shifting shadows," which are never stable in one state.

· The concept of God being grieved by our sin after salvation seems to negate the purpose of the cross. Specifically, our sin was on Jesus on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), and therefore it would be unusual to think that God would be impacted by a sin that has already been put to death with Christ.

· Alternatively from the last view, one would have to take the presumption that God can be grieved because the sin isn't put on the cross until we put it there. But this presents interpretive problems with passages like 1 Peter 3:18 and other theological problems with Christians who die with unconfessed sin, including sins they didn't know about.

· Hebrews 8:12 and Isaiah 43:25 also says that God will "remember their sins no more." Why would God be grieved by something he doesn't remember?

· It's also noteworthy to point out that God is the one who must empower us not to sin. We are so utterly sinful ourselves that nothing we do can get out of it. So, it would be weird to think that God would be emotionally wounded by us doing something that He already knows we're bound to do and that only He can stop us from doing. It would be like putting a six-month old child in the middle of some stairs and then being saddened by its choice to move and fall down the stairs rather than climbing up them safely. Any parent would not be saddened at the child's choice to move because they know what it inevitable; instead, they are potentially saddened at the child's helplessness and do something to save the child to protect them from their inevitable and harmful choices.
In any case, it seems more probable to me that the Holy Spirit is not emotionally wounded by our sins; rather, his purposes are "grieved" or "frustrated" by our sins because of the fact that God allows our choices to have an impact on his world (unless you're a believer in hyper-Calvinism, in which case there are other more glaring theological problems you have to deal with).

4. Fearful Expectation of Judgment

Hebrews 10:26-31 starts with "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins." Because of that last line, many tie it to Hebrews 6:4-6 ("For it is impossible [for the saved]...[who] have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt"), which is often also correlated with the unforgiveable sin. Jesus isn't going to die twice. So, if you're in a position where you have potentially had your salvation "negated" somehow, if such a thing is even possible, then your willful and deliberate sin prevents you from ever being restored to repentance. If you are capable of repenting, then you are in the clear with respect to that aspect of it.

More to the point of this passage, regardless of whether or not it is a reference to the unforgiveable sin, there is certainly a "fearful expectation of judgment" that we must be wary of if we "go on sinning deliberately." But what is meant by that phrase is disputed. There are two main camps:
· It means any known, willful, and intentional sin that is done regularly, regardless of our heart-state or efforts toward repentance.

· It means any known, willful, and intentional sin that is done regularly, but only counts when we are not repentant and doing the sin as an active and intentional act of defiance against God.
Second Timothy 2:12-13 clarifies between these two. It says, "If we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself." The concept here is that someone who has a repentant heart, but is faithless in their efforts to live in light of their salvation, God will remain faithful and they will remain secure in their status before him. However, if someone makes an intentional effort to disown/deny God, then God will respect that choice and allow that relationship to be severed (or in the "eternal security" view, to remain severed forever), which ushers in the judgment referenced in Hebrews 10. Accordingly, I side with the second view of the two listed above.

To be clear, a "fearful expectation of judgment" almost certainly means "hell." First John 4:18 specifically says that fear is connected with punishment and the one who fears is not made perfect in love. That is, a genuinely saved person has no basis for fear. So, if Paul is saying one should "fear" judgment, then he is presuming that the person is not saved. However, it's also pretty clear that Paul is talking about Christians. Some would argue that "after receiving the knowledge of the truth" only means people who have intellectually had the opportunity to hear and understand the Gospel, but have not necessarily accepted it at a heart-level. However, Paul says in verse 26, "If we go on sinning," thus including himself as someone who would potentially be subject to this risk of judgment if he were to go on sinning as well. It is unlikely that Paul would have accepted the possibility that his salvation was in question, as he often speaks authoritatively as one who is secure in his status before God. As a result, the "fearful expectation of judgment" can only mean that the person has either (a) lost their salvation, or (b) was misguided in their basis for believing they were saved, and were really never saved to begin with. Regardless, a person's salvation is in question if they "go on sinning deliberately."

Although I may be conscious of sins as I am committing them from time to time, and yet proceed anyway, because I am acting in weakness as Paul did in Romans 7 and not out of a willful defiance, I am not at risk of the "fearful expectation of judgment." But test this reassurance against the Spirit, for I do not want anyone to have a false reassurance based on something I have said that you have not prayed about and discerned in the Spirit for yourself.

5. Unforgivable Sin

The unforgivable sin is found in Mark 3:22-30 and Matthew 12:22-32, where it is described as "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit." There are many interpretations on this:
· It is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit as being evil;

· It is telling lies about the Holy Spirit or claiming something is of the Spirit when it is not;

· It is dying without ever having responded to the Holy Spirit's call on your life toward salvation;

· It is hardening your heart to the point where it is so callous that repentance no longer becomes possible.
There is a wide debate among these possibilities (and other less common views). I side with the last of these, as I believe this is most supported by the story of Moses and Pharaoh, as affirmed in Romans 9, as well as the overarching concepts of hardening that we see throughout Scripture and the many declarations that any individual sin can be forgiven.

The most common viewpoint on the unforgiveable sin, which I also hold, is that if you are concerned that you have committed it, then there is likely enough room in your heart for future repentance, and thus you are not so callous that you cannot repent. Someone who has become that callous enough to be prohibited from forgiveness would be so stubborn and hard-hearted against God that they would not care if they are saved or not.


Sinning is bad. Don't do it — especially not intentionally. But even at that, bear in mind that there are more important things God has in mind for us than simply avoiding sin, and doing those things is often the best way to avoid sin anyway.

Published 6-20-16