What happens when Christians sin? Certainly we know that there is nothing that can separate us from the work of Christ through the gospel. Once we are declared to be children of God, there can be no change in that status. At the same time, there is something that happens when Christians get caught up in sin. This, it appears, is what 1 John 1 talks about.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:5–10
There is sonship with God, but there is also fellowship with God. Jesus came, not simply to restore our soul, but also to restore our life. The difference here is not just that Jesus has redeemed us in the next life, but through our relationship with Him our present sinful lives are in a constant state of being restored. Charles Spurgeon has this to say on the subject;
“Fellowship with God was one of the richest privileges of unfallen man. The Lord God walked in the garden and talked with Adam as a man talketh with his friend. So long as he was willing and obedient, Adam ate the fat of the land, and among the rich dainties and ‘wines on the lees well refined,’ of which his soul was a partaker, we must number first and foremost, unbroken communion with God, his Father and his Friend. Sin, as it banished man from Eden, banished man from God, and from that time our face has been turned from the Most High, and his face has been turned from us;—we have hated God, and God has been angry with us every day. Christ came into the world to restore to us our lost patrimony.”
Spurgeon communicates two separate things. Firstly, there is a communion with God. Secondly, we have a patrimony. In other words, it is one thing to be related to someone, it is another thing to know them. I recall a great many family reunions that I attended as a young boy. My family on my father’s side was incredibly large, and as many family reunions as I went to, I can easily say that I still have no idea who all the people are that tend to show up to them. I am related to them. There is an immutable part of who I am that is connected with them, but I probably wouldn’t even recognize some of them if I saw them in passing. There is a great difference between relation and intimacy. Our faith in Christ gives us status as God’s children, but it is our walk with Christ that gives us a true knowledge and relationship with God. If we are walking away from God, it is as if we are prodigal children. We are still our father’s child, but we lose the greatest part of our sonship, that is, our relationship with our father. This is what happens when we stumble in sin. To experience the fullness of life, we must not simply be adopted as God’s sons and daughters, but we must also live as adopted sons and daughters. It is often too easy to be an estranged relative in the family of God.