Could We Sin Once We’re In?

I received a form of this great question via email again this past week so I thought it was time I address it in its own post.

Christians who are carefully thinking through how we, as the human race, got to where we are today, quite naturally arrive at this question – “Can we fall from faith entirely (i.e. or sin in general) once we get to heaven?”

The thought process runs as follows…God created spirit beings with free will.  We know from the Bible that Satan is an angel who, in his pride, rebelled against God, led many other angels astray, and was banished from God’s presence  (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Luke 10:18; and portions of Revelation are probably the clearest, while many would point to Ezek. 28 and Isa. 14 as well).  Satan then proceeded to tempt mankind away from God in the same way that he himself fell – through pride (Gen. 3). This fallen condition of mankind subsequently gets passed down from generation to generation (John 3:6; Psalm 51:5; Gen. 5:3).

The story arc of the Bible then reads as Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration.  The concern, however, is that if we fell once after creation, what would prevent us from falling again?  Why wouldn’t that be possible?  Don’t humans repeatedly make the same mistakes?  For the Christian who’s thinking about this carefully, their gut instinct properly suggests to them “No, that doesn’t seem right.  Heaven is heaven and there’s no turning back.”  For some, that’s enough.  But for others, who anticipate this question coming from a thoughtful child or an antagonistic skeptic, they want something more concrete.  I hope to help with that a bit here.

In short, the Bible is clear that there will be no sin in heaven (Rev. 21-22, esp. 21:4 & 22:3).  It does not, however, suggest that humans are cut off from any idea of individuality or volition.  And for reasons I’ll further explain, I think it’s okay to operate with the assumption that volition will still remain.

(please keep in mind that this question, while worth pursuing, is based largely upon speculation of that which admittedly remains a bit unknown/unknowable)

Points for consideration:

1) Volition Must Persist According to Our Human Understanding of Love

Some suggest that upon entrance into heaven, we are locked in such a way that it’d be impossible for us to choose to sin (i.e. resist God’s perfect will).  The problem with us speaking that way is that it would seem to suggest that loving obedience to God in heaven is forced and mechanical.  And so the argument goes….If you have no option NOT to love God, how could you suggest that love for God would be sincere?  Furthermore, if God desired to simply lock his people in a state of obedience, it appears it’d have made sense to do that with Adam and Eve and avoid the mess of sin.  I’d assume that step was necessary.  I’d assume that love which is locked or forced, by definition, is not true love.

(Is it possible that we, in heaven, could love without having actual volition?  I suppose it could be possible since many things could be possible in heaven.  However, that wouldn’t seem to reconcile particularly well with our current human experience of love, for the reason stated in the above paragraph.)

2) Improved Vision

I believe a better way to look at our condition in heaven is what medieval theologians referred to as the Beatific Vision.  This concept is largely based on Paul’s words to the Corinthians from 1 Cor. 13:11-12 “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  Paul is suggesting here that the way we perceive truth right now, even for the Christian, is a bit tarnished by sin.  However, once we enter heaven and see Jesus face to face, we’ll finally know true reality.  And we’ll have no desire to go back to untruth.

Consider this: say I placed a test in front of someone with a doctorate degree in Mathematics from MIT.  The test had one problem on it, 2+2.  What are the odds that this individual would get the problem incorrect?  He/she wouldn’t.  You’d say it was impossible.  With the information they have regarding the truths of math in their head, it’s not just that it’s unlikely.  If they saw the question clearly, they would not get it wrong.  Now, the truth is, there was a time in their life when they did not know the answer to that question.  When they were one year old, they may have failed this test.  And the difference between them at that age and now, the difference that allows them to pass the test, is……a greater understanding of truth regarding mathematics.

Now, apply that logic to when we behold Jesus face to face in heaven.  He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).  Our ability to grasp truth is directly proportional to the clarity with which we see Jesus.  When we see Jesus clearly, now without our sinful nature, we won’t want sin anymore than the MIT-level mathematician will want to put the number 5 down as the answer to 2+2.  It just won’t make any sense to us.

3) The initial Fall lacked experiential knowledge of what the Fall would be like

“So,” you say, “that’s great that we’ll see more clearly in heaven.  But couldn’t the devil see clearly before his fall?  Couldn’t Adam and Eve see clearly before their fall?”

The question about the devil is a little more difficult to answer in that he seemingly had no shot at redemption.  All we can say is that God deemed his time for choice of relationship with God or apart from God over (similar to our human “time of grace” on earth).  God’s track record of mercy and deliverance leads us to give him the benefit of the doubt on his judgment upon Satan.

When it comes to Adam and Eve though, it’s a slightly different situation.  Upon discovering what sin was, don’t you think they would have wished that they could go back to life without sin?  Of course!  But the problem was they’d already contracted the sickness.  They couldn’t undo the sinful condition.  In heaven, the old sinful condition we have will be gone, yet as far as I can tell, we’ll still possess the knowledge of how we’d never want to go back to a life of sin. (Again, think of the mathematician who’d have no desire to go back to the stupidity of 2+2=5.)  So, in heaven, believers will once again be without a sinful nature, like in the Garden of Eden, with free will, like in the Garden of Eden, but now possessing experiential knowledge of the foolishness of life apart from God, UNlike the Garden of Eden.  Make sense?

Conclusion

It seems like it’d be easier if God just gave us a verse in the Bible that said, “Once you get to heaven, you won’t sin and here’s why…..”  But God, in his infinite wisdom, deemed that verse unnecessary.

I wanted to be careful here to not contort Scripture to say something it doesn’t, but at the same time, demonstrate that the idea that believers cannot fall from faith in heaven is not illogical, as some may espouse.  I hope these thoughts helped.

NOTE: to avoid the theological and philosophical baggage that comes along with the term “free will,” I’ve removed any usages from what I’d originally posted.  In the Luther “Bondage of the Will” thought, man, in a sense, truly has no “free” will in that he’s either hell bent on carrying out sin or, by God’s Spirit living in him, he is carrying out the Lord’s will.  But neither of those is by open choice.  I, however, was using the term in the post-conversion, new man/old man tension sense.   So, for instance…..as a result of God’s grace, we are able to agree with the statement of Paul in 1 Cor. 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  By the power of God’s Spirit, I am able/should every day make godly decisions out of loving obedience for my Lord.

I’m speculating in the above article that the difference from “posse non peccare” (“able not to sin” – i.e. the state Adam and Eve were created in) to “non posse peccare” (“not able to sin” – i.e. the state we will experience in heaven) is based at least somewhat on the experiential knowledge of sin that all redeemed children of God will have undoubtedly had once they reach heaven.  In other words, now that we’ve tasted how bad sin is, and when we no longer have a sinful nature in heaven and can see the truth and beauty that exists in Jesus, we will have no possible desire to return to sin.

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2 thoughts on “Could We Sin Once We’re In?

  1. Nick says:

    In Revelation 22, John describes heaven as a city. In the city there is a tree of life. Is this the same tree of life from the garden of Eden? If so, I notice that there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since that tree was the only opportunity to sin in Eden, it being missing from Heaven would indicate the lack of opportunity for sin?

    Given your statement about knowledge above, the tree of knowledge would serve no purpose in Heaven since the believers are already aware of the difference between good and evil. Hope this didn’t muddy the waters even more.

    • My thoughts exactly, Nick. The Tree of Life imagery in Rev. 22: 2,14,19 is a bit complex but brings the biblical narrative back around, beginning and ending in paradise. And yes, my understanding is that no Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is necessary because evil has already been known to the believers there, but through attachment to Jesus, will be chosen no longer.

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