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Can God force us to sin? This is quite a serious question to ask, and we’d all like to think the answer is “no.” However, anytime we set out to define the limits of God’s abilities, we will end up forced to conclude that no such limits exist. God most certainly can force us to sin. Even more disturbing is the fact that He does.
There are many ways to force someone to do something. Some are aggressive—like grabbing hold of a child’s hand and forcing it away from a hot burner. Then there are more passive means—like riding alongside a herd of cattle and making noises so as to discourage them from moving in certain directions. Without making physical contact with each animal, you can still get them to go where you want them to go.
When it comes to guiding us in life, God uses both aggressive and passive means. The apostle Paul experienced God using a more passive technique to force him into unrighteous acts. Though he pleaded for the strength to resist sin, Paul found God withholding the internal resources he needed in order to rein in his flesh. So even though Paul knows that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) when Christ refuses to strengthen him, then Paul’s flesh wins the day and he ends up groaning, “For what I will to do I do not do, but what I hate, that I do” (Rom. 7:19).
During the ten plagues in Egypt, we get a sample of God’s more aggressive methods. Over and over He boasts of hardening Pharaoh’s heart in order to prevent the ruler from obeying God’s command to release the Israelite slaves. When we consider the incredible devastation that God unleashed on that nation, it is totally nonsensical that any ruler in his right mind would insist on keeping a bunch of troublesome slaves around. But because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the man made many choices that were against his own best interests.
All throughout the Bible, God speaks of forcing people to do what He wants, and often what He wants is a form of sin. In 2 Samuel 24:1, we’re told that God entices King David to take a census of Israel’s fighting man—an act He later declares is a great sin. He then punishes David for committing this sin (which God made him do) by inflicting a terrible plague on Israel which kills many people.
In order to discipline Israel for her willful rebellion, God raised up many nations and people groups to attack her mercilessly. These people murdered, raped, and tortured the Israelites—all of these things are quite obviously sins, and yet they were all explicitly desired by God. Over and over again through the mouths of His prophets He speaks of raising up bloodthirsty armies to come and ravage His people, and He gets quite descriptive about the kinds of ravaging that will be done. In 2 Chronicles 33:11 we find one of many examples of Him coercing other people to carry out His Divine will:
“So the Lord brought against [Judah] the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took [King] Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.”
Putting a metal hook in a man’s nose was a cruel way to lead him about and torture him all at the same time. Notice how God is the One bringing in the army commanders of Assyria to assault Judah’s King Manasseh in this way. Is it a sin to grab a man and haul him away in such an inhumane fashion? Of course it is, yet this is exactly what God led the Assyrians to do because it suited His purposes.
In Romans 1, we find a description of God giving up those who rebel against Him.
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…” (Rom. 1:28)
We are all born with flesh which craves evil and God is the only One who can give us the strength to resist the temptation to sin. In this passage, we find it repeatedly said that God gives certain people over to their lusts—abandoning them to their own carnality. This is a passive form of God forcing us into sin. It’s as if we are out in a deep lake, unable to swim, and God is keeping us afloat. Without His strong arms holding us up, we would surely drown. Yet for some idiotic reason, we decide to fight against God’s lifesaving grip. We kick and scream and swing our fists. What we find in Romans 1 is a description of God letting us go. What happens? We drown of course. In the swimming metaphor, we would sink beneath the water and choke to death. In Romans 1, the people God gives up are described as drowning in their lust for evil. Once God lets us go, He knows we’ll have no option but to sink. So is His withdrawal a form of forcing us into sin? Of course.
Addictions are a perfect modern day example of how God forces us into sin. If temptation was always possible to resist, there would be no such thing as an addiction. Addicts are people who find themselves tormented by temptations which completely overwhelm them. Why is it one man can take or leave a glass of wine, while another man becomes chained to the bottle? Why is one man able to push a pornographic image out of his mind while another man can’t rest until he sees more? The answer is God. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and each one of us experiences a different level of it in each situation that we’re in. I might successfully resist 1,000 temptations only to find myself totally conquered by the next one that comes along. It’s so easy to judge those who get hooked on things we’re not personally tempted by, but the reality is that God is the only reason any of us can avoid sinning.
If you honestly examine your own life, you’ll find copious examples of God shoving you into sin by refusing to give you what you needed to resist it. And let’s remember it was God who cursed the world in the first place and He was the One who decided how sin would affect us. It was God who saddled each of us with this carnal shell which constantly lusts after evil. We can’t deny His responsibility in this for we didn’t create ourselves, He did. Babies don’t choose evil—they are born into it. Evil is what comes naturally to us, not righteousness. No one has to teach us how to lie or steal or be selfish and demanding. But we must be disciplined in order to learn how to be kind, patient, and polite. Righteousness is a struggle while evil is automatic—this is God’s doing, not ours. This is how He wants it to be.
So what can we conclude from this? If we have no hope of escaping sin on our own, and if God will even force us into it in order to suit His own purposes, then where does this leave us on Judgment Day? This is where mercy comes in. God has fixed it so that we are all utterly depraved. None of us can find even one kernel of pure righteousness within ourselves. Everything we do that is right, we do for self-serving motives. Even our best behavior is poisoned by evil intentions. This is why Jesus is our only hope. His holy Blood is the only thing that can fully atone for our sins and save our souls from an eternal death. The righteousness we gain through Christ is something we can take no credit for, nor can we add to it in any way. Without Him, we are nothing, but with Him we are forgiven and called the children of God.
In the end, God will judge us not by the perfection of our fallen flesh, but by how our souls responded to Him. Did we submit to His Authority? Did we recognize the hopelessness of our position and our inability to save ourselves? Did we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf or did we scorn it? Did we desire for God to have His way in our lives? These are the only questions that will matter in the end. If we align our wills with God’s in these things, He will be pleased with us, as nonsensical as this is. Why should He be pleased? After all, He sees how self-serving our submission to Him really is. We ask Jesus to save us because we’re afraid to go to Hell or because we’re completely miserable in life and we’re hoping for a better experience. We obey God on earth so He will reward us in eternity. We don’t care about Him so much as we care about getting to go to Heaven. Always our reasons for doing the things we do are selfish. When it comes to giving God a pure offering, we have nothing to offer. And yet the amazing part is that He doesn’t demand purity from us. He knows we are tainted beings who can only ever give Him tainted gifts, yet He receives those gifts as if they were pure and perfect. God loves us not because we’re so lovable, but because we are His. Yes, He involves us with sin on this earth because He uses evil to grow us and mature us into the creatures He wants us to be. But when we groan in the midst of it, wishing we could be better even as we fall headlong into temptation, God is pleased with us. It is the fact that we want to please Him which matters most to Him. And if we ask Him to have His way in our lives, then He promises that He will. His way won’t look like the perfect thing we expected—His way will even involve sin. Yet if our hearts choose to be aligned with Him even as our flesh keeps slipping out of control, God will be pleased.
God forces us all into sin at many points in our lives. Other times, we will choose to embrace it even though He is giving us the resources we need to resist. Those who hate God in their hearts will be eternally punished for everything they did on earth. Those who are covered by Jesus have been completely forgiven, and their sins will be forgotten in Heaven. Do we need to be upset by the idea of God forcing us into sin? Not if we understand His Character. God is good, He loves us, and He always has our best interests in mind. When we are putting our trust in Him, we don’t need to be concerned about how many sins we committed in a day. Instead, we need to be open to the lessons the Holy Spirit is teaching us through our experience with sin. To God, sin is a valuable teaching tool and He will use it on us throughout our earthly lives. When we are aligned with God in our hearts, sin will end up benefiting us as we let Him use it to accomplish His refining work in our lives.