Why Do Believers Still Sin?

Sin is greatly confusing for believers. The apostle captures this in Romans 7 when he says “the things that I will not, these I do.” How could the apostle seem to speak in such a defeated manner with regard to sin in a believer who has been given the Spirit and the grace of repentance? And if such a double-minded “believer” could be conceived of in this in life, is assurance of salvation possible?

To answer these questions, some have tried to explain Romans 7 as speaking of a man before conversion since a “defeatist” view of sin in the believer seems entirely out of accord with the New Testament teaching on regeneration and holiness. This answer would seem to take away any notion that a believer might so willingly enter into sin as a new creation.

… In his great work Speculum Christianum or The Christian Survey of Conscience, Girolamo Zanchi addressed at length the Reformed view of Romans 7 as the regenerate man’s struggle against sin, a view he assures was held by all the learned divines. He makes a crucial distinction that in the regenerate is a double-man. The Christian, he says, has a fundamental quality that is different from that of the unbeliever. When a regenerate man sins, “he sins only in the flesh and not with the whole will and the whole heart.” Read More»

Christopher Gordon | “Girolamo Zanchi on Sin in the Life of the Believer” | November 19, 2022



    Post authored by:

  • Heidelblog
    Author Image

    The Heidelblog has been in publication since 2007. It is devoted to recovering the Reformed confession and to helping others discover Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    More by Heidelblog ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. As a guy with staggering amounts of besetting sin in his life, I find a whole lot more comfort from Westminster Confession 13.3 than I do this article. I certainly do not pass all of its tests nor does my behavior always fit neatly into the ‘believer’ category when the guy is contrasting the different experiences that a believer vs a non-believer have around committing various sins.

  2. I prefer “remains of the fallen nature,” (love Van Til’s dot diagram) over a division in the heart.
    v. 20 tells us what the law is ‘sin that dwells in me.’ We are dealing with the word law, as synonymous with inward, urging principle (rom 8.2) No division just a reality–a power still working in us. As John Owen says: “It is not an outward, written, commanding, directing law, but an inbred, working, impelling, urging law. A law proposed to us is not to be compared for efficacy to a law inbred in us.” By the power of divine grace we are set free from the dominion but but not from the annoyance of sin. As we learned in Seminary, Al Capone was more dangerous in jail than out of jail.
    I agree WC 13.3 nails it and reminds us that Rom 7 is dealing with Sanctification “a law or power in believers, but it is not a law unto them. ” (Owen). Christians do not approve of this law and there was a time we were fully under its dominion; but that is now broken. This trial is always in our hearts (Van Til’s dots) so long as our sanctification is incomplete. The term to divide the heart is somewhat enigmatic and can strain the reality of Ro 7 and the Christians daily battle against sins power, presence and remaining annoyance.
    I praise the Lord for Girolamo Zanchi!

    The headstone of Zanchius’ grave:

    Here Zanchius rests, whom love of truth constrained
    to quit his own and seek a foreign land.
    How good and great he was, how formed to shine,
    How fraught with science human and divine;
    Sufficient proof his numerous writings give,
    And those who heard him teach and saw him live.
    Earth still enjoys him, though his soul has fled:
    His name is deathless, though his dust is dead.

  3. This was, I believe, Paul’s thorn in the flesh. He pleaded with God to take away some besetting sin, but God found it more useful that such sin remain for a time at least.

  4. That is incorrect, Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not a besetting sin that God overlooked. (Heb 8.12) This hardship is either an ongoing trial or infirmity God allows to glorify Christ. “most gladly therefore,” Paul says, “will I rather glory in my infirmities than seek deliverance.” We don’t glory in sin and Christians never come to a point where they accept sin. If the Apostles infirmity was to be the circumstance of the manifestation of Christ’s glory he will rejoice in the sufferings. “be of good cheer I have overcome the world.”

    • Some commentators have conjectured that Paul may have suffered from poor eyesight, possibly due to the temporary blindness incurred on the road to Damascus. Others have wondered whether Paul, given his position in the Judah hierarchy, would normally have been married at the time of his conversion and his wife, possibly wanting nothing to do with “those Christians,” left him, therefore feeling lonely and forced to live a life of unexpected celibacy. In any case, it’s all pure speculation and we simply don’t know what the “thorn in the flesh” was all about.

    • What on earth does Heb. 8:12 have to do with anything and did I say God “overlooked” the sin? All I said is “I believe” and there are plenty of commentators which concur with my “belief”. Who are you to say I am incorrect?

  5. “He pleaded with God to take away some besetting sin, but God found it more useful that such sin remain for a time at least.” These are your words and they are incorrect.
    Whatever the thorn was, it was not sin. The thorn was to prevent the sin. “pride comes before the fall,” even for Paul!
    Hence, Heb. 8:12; God is merciful to the unrighteous, and their sins and their iniquities He will remember no more.
    As for me I am a saved sinner who has known the trial of thorns.

    PS. the context – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

    • Michael,

      I don’t see how you can say that “it cannot be sin.” You may be correct, that the thorn is not sin, but that is a matter for argument and inference not for a priori pronouncement.

  6. I believe it’s in the context: Paul is not glorying in his sin (12:5). He was not given a particular sin to keep him from pride (12:7). And three times; did he ask the Lord to remove his sin?–No no; it was the thorn, the pain–the genuine suffering he endured, which brought glory to God (12:8). Again in verse 8 does he say he would rather boast in his sins? No, it was the thorn–pain–trial (whatever that may have been). Lastly, does the Apostle seek to boast–glory in his sins in order that the power of Christ rest upon him? (12:9)
    For these reasons I believe that the thorn–a messenger from Satan, that was given to Paul to keep him from becoming proud-conceited was not sin. And their is nothing sinful in the heart or conduct that can be ascribed to God.

    PS Adam, Job, James

Comments are closed.