by Matt Slick
When answering this question "must we first turn from sin in order to be saved," we have to understand that there are different senses in which we can answer the question.
First of all, we must affirm that we must turn from sin. We cannot live in a relationship with Christ and also purposely, and willingly live in sin. Being saved means that we have been delivered from the righteous judgment of God. It means we have turned from our sin and seek not to live in them. Of course, this does not mean that we Christians don't sin. But it does mean that we try and do what is right before God. When we fail in sin, we go to the cross and we are forgiven. But, our battle against sin is lifelong and complete victory happens only after we have gone to be with the Lord.
On the other hand, it is not turning from sin that saves us. To turn from sin means to comply with the law of God for God tells us not to lie, not to steal, etc. (Exodus 20:1-17). So if we say that we must first stop sinning in order to be saved, then we risk the error of saying that we must comply with the law in order to be saved. But this is false doctrine because the Bible says that we are saved by faith alone, without compliance with the law.
- "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law," (Romans 3:28).
- "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness," (Romans 4:5).
- "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified," (Galatians 2:16).
Scripture clearly tells us that we are justified by faith. Justification is being declared legally righteous before God according to the law. This proper legal standing was accomplished by Christ, who never sinned (1 Peter 2:22). When we put our trust in Christ, his righteousness is credited to our account. In other words, God sees us with the righteousness that is Christ's, not ours (Philippians 3:9).
This is important because as we are justified by faith, we are also changed. We are regenerated (2 Corinthians 5:17); we are born again (John 3:3-8). Because we are changed by God, we then have the ability to turn from our sin. If we do not turn from our sin that is an indication that were not regenerated.
So, turning from sin is the result of God working in us. Turning from sin is not what brings us salvation. So when someone asks if we must turn from sin to be saved, generally we tell them that we must confess that we are sinners and seek to no longer do those things that offend God. In the process, we appeal to Christ, by faith alone, and trust in his sacrifice that cleanses us from our sins. Upon being born again, we are then enabled to truly resist our sin.