What Is “Willful Sin” According To The Bible

There is quite a bit of confusion when it comes to the term “willful sin” and how it is used in the Bible. Some people just brush over it and simply say they don’t understand its meaning, but know they are saved by grace through faith. Other look at it as pertaining to sins of a greater degree of severity or wrongness.

An even harsher and more devastating way “willful sin” is used is to condemn believers to hell because they do wrong things and knew they were doing it. This post is meant to give the true biblical meaning of “willful sin.”

I want to first start off with defining who are the righteous people according to the Bible. Let’s start with Luke 18.

[Luke 18:9-14 KJV] 9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
The righteous man is the man that beat his chest. He knew he was not righteous in himself. He knew, believed, and put his faith in Jesus Christ for his righteousness.

What does Jesus mean when he says “this man went down to his house justified…?” Why did he need to be justified? Romans 3 tells us why and how we are justifed.
[Rom 3:19-24 KJV] 19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…

Everyone of us who walk this earth have sinned. And everyone of us needs Jesus as our savior to justify us. And this is done by believing in Jesus.

Now some may rebut that statement. Some may say, “Well, you may have said a prayer or two asking God to forgive you; asking Jesus into your heart, but you didn’t really believe. I saw you smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and things like that.”

My reply would be, as the scriptures says, you are that Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. The one that lifted himself up and despised others. The publican was the man who went away justified because he was humble and trusted not in his flesh, but in the blood of Jesus. You have become a judge and the words out of your own mouth will judge you.

You see, the heart of the matter is pride. Yes, there are wrong things on this earth that we should not indulge in and the Spirit of God calls believers to abstain from. If you steal, are drunk all the time, fornicate, and such, there will be earthly consequences. You can end up in jail, dead, sick, or have a myriad of other problems. Your testimony can be stippled. So, yes, God didn’t create us to do all of those things, nor does he want use to do those things. But, if he were judging us on those things, we would all be guilty everyday, all the time, forever.

Here’s the issue, you live in this flesh. You are sold under sin.

[Rom 7:14 KJV] 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
[Rom 7:21-25 KJV] 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

The man who thinks he keeps the righteous requirements of the law of God through his works will always go away unrighteous. For there is only one that is righteous, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And by grace through faith Jesus imparts his righteousness to all who believe in him.

[Rom 4:4-5 KJV] 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Now, there are some who love to harp on the words “willful sin.” In particular they quote
[Heb 10:26-29 KJV] 26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

And they like to make references to passages such as in Galatians 5.
[Gal 5:19-21 KJV] 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told [you] in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But what they fail to tell you is Galatians 5:19-21 is describing the law and those that are under it. And as we have already seen the Bible says you can’t be righteous by the works of the law. What they don’t understand is these passages are describing them, the self righteous, the one with his hand lifted up against God. They have made themselves judges and placed themselves under the law. Listen to what James 5 says.

[Jas 2:8-13 KJV] 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

Paul also declares in Romans 6 that the believer is no longer a servant of sin, but of righteousness.

[Rom 6:15-18 KJV] 15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. 16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

This last passage is where the deceiver will say, “Aha! I’ve got you.” They will say the passage says, “obedience to righteousness.” They will tell you this means you have to keep a set of standards, rules, laws or what ever you want to call them. They will give you a list usually made up of the items found in Galatians 5 or Ephesians 5.

But, if you read the passage correctly and take into account everything the Bible says about being saved by grace through faith, you would understand that keeping any list of behaviors is the same as attempting to be made righteous by the works of the law. The passage in Romans 6 says in verse 18 “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” This says believers were made free from sin and then became the servants of righteousness. It doesn’t say that believers were first servants of righteousness and then were made free from sin. So, the phrase “obedience unto righteousness” means that obedience unto something leads to righteousness. Romans 6:17, the verse in between these two verses tells us what that something is that leads to righteousness, “ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”

What is the doctrine Paul is talking about? The answer is in verse 15, [Rom 6:15 KJV] 15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. His discussion here is about believers not being “under the law, but under grace”, which is the Gospel. The doctrine a believer believes from the heart is the Gospel.

Philippians 3 calls these deceivers dogs. They teach self-righteousness, the Gospel teaches Jesus is our righteousness.
[Phl 3:2-3 KJV] 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. 3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Then it continues further down,
[Phl 3:9 KJV] 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

And then from verse
[Phl 3:18-21 KJV] 18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 Whose end [is] destruction, whose God [is their] belly, and [whose] glory [is] in their shame, who mind earthly things.) 20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

See, what these liars don’t tell you is that Galatians 5:18 says
[Gal 5:18 KJV] 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
The lie they preach is you have to be led of the Spirit so you won’t break the law and then you will be righteous. But the truth of the gospel says you have been set free from the law and been made righteous by the blood of Jesus. The liar rejects the word of the Spirit of God.

Why do they do this? Because the are self willed, presumptuous. As 2 Peter 2 says
[2Pe 2:1 KJV] 1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

And then further,
[2Pe 2:10 KJV] 10 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous [are they], selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.

And then in
[2Pe 2:14-16 KJV] 14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: 15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam [the son] of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.
Here again we see that word adultery. Here, the apostle Paul qualifies it. He refers to the wicked prophet Balaam.

Balaam was a prophet of God. He was from Midian. The king of the Midians was named Balak. Balak had heard of all that God was doing for his people as they moved through the land. Instead of embracing God’s people, Balak saute to have them cursed. He sent men to Balaam to have him curse the people because he knew that Balaam heard from God and the things he said would happen. Balaam told the men that he could only say what God told him and that God would not curse Israel.

God told Balaam, if the men came back, he should go with them and say what God tells him. But Balaam rose up in the morning and went to the men before they came to him. He didn’t wait for them to come to him. This is because he was eager to get the reward from Balak. Because of his evil heart, God sent an angel to stop him, but he didn’t see the angel. His donkey saw the angel and wouldn’t go forward. Finally, Balaam sees the angel and the angel tells him he would have killed him if the donkey hadn’t stopped. The angel tells Balaam to go with the men, but only say the words God gives. Balaam listens and can only bless Israel all three times Balak asks him to curse Israel.

But we learn in Numbers 31, that Balaam caused the children of Isreal to sin against  God. [Num 31:16 KJV] 16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

Balaam was lifted up in pride against the Lord. He knew what God’s word was toward Israel, but he knew a way to get Israel cursed. He knew that Israel would be cursed if they served other gods. And. He knew that the woman of Midian could get them to serve other gods. So, he taught this to Balak so he could get all the riches Balak was offering. This is what Peter is talking about when he says Balaam loved the “wages of sin.”
Balaam didn’t care about what God wanted. He looked for a way to circumvent God’s will for Israel. He stood in the way of God bring righteousness to his people. He stood in the way of Jesus.

So we can see here that the Bible says having “eyes full of adultery” are individuals that “cannot cease from sin” which are those that are “beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam”.
We can see then that those who have “eyes full of adultery” are those who have “an heart…exercised with covetous practices.” And this, the Bible says are those that have followed “the way of Balaam.” Therefore, we can conclude that adultery in this context is to go against the will of God because you love something other than him. It basically means to “sell God out” and worship someone or something else. It is speaking about one that is married and goes to another. In this context it is talking about those that are married to Christ (they even use his word), but turn away “and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing,” Heb. 10:29.

We can see that to “willfull sin”, as stated in Hebrews 10:26-29, is to count “the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing,” Heb. 10:29.

Let’s look at further Biblical context to understand “willful sin.”
2 Peter 2 says:
[2Pe 2:10 KJV] 10 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous [are they], selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
Here, Peter refers to a group of people who are “presumptous [are they], selfwilled.”

The two words, presumptuous and selfwilled, are the words that some people are confused about and liars use to bring people into captivity through condemnation. These liars preach that “willfully” sinning talked about in Hebrews10:26 is defined as someone purposely and knowingly sinning against the commands (law) of God. The definition, in and of itself, doesn’t have any issues. Those that violate God’s commands will face the wrath of God.

The question becomes, what commands are we to keep and how do we keep them. We have already shown that the Bible declares we are made free from the law of sin and death through the faith of Jesus.
[Rom 8:2 KJV] 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

So, what are the commandments we are to keep. 1 John 3 tells us.
[1Jo 3:23-24 KJV] 23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

God tells us we “should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another,…” These are the commandments we are to keep. By believing in Jesus we are empowered to love one another.
[1Jo 4:7-12 KJV] 7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

So, then, how can we “willfully sin” against the commandments of God? It would be by not believing in His Son, Jesus.

Again, the root of this is pride. It is to be lifted up against God in your heart. It is to disbelieve him.
This is what Peter is talking about when he says they are “presumptuous, selfwilled.”
The word presumptuous comes from the Latin word praesumptuosus, variant of praesumptiosus ‘full of boldness’.

In Romans 1, the Bible juxtaposed this ‘presumptuous’ against true faith in Jesus.
[Rom 1:17-18 KJV] 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

In the Gospel, “the righteousness of God (is) revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” The last part of this verse is quoted from Habakkuk 2:4.
[Hab 2:4 KJV] 4 Behold, his soul [which] is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
If you read the whole verse you see true righteousness compared with unrighteousness. The “soul [which] is lifted up is not upright.” This person is presumptuous (lifted up). This person says their way is right and God’s way is wrong. It doesn’t matter if they attach the name of Jesus to their way. They say God’s testimony about His Son is not true. They say He doesn’t save by faith.

The righteous individual humbles himself and believes that God’s way is right and true. This person agrees with God by faith in Jesus. This person believes that “the just shall live by his faith.”

Numbers 15 is another place liars like to use to say “willful sinning” is to purposely do something wrong, anything wrong.

[Num 15:30-36 KJV] 30 But the soul that doeth [ought] presumptuously, [whether he be] born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity [shall be] upon him. 32 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. 33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. 34 And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. 35 And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. 36 And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

If you look at Numbers 15:30, you will see the word presumptously. This is the same thing that Hebrews 10:26 and 2 Peter 2 are talking about when they use the word “willful.” God is telling Israel that anyone who ignores His way and pursues their own way is “lifting their hand” toward God in pride. Those that do this will be cut off. This is the example that is given to us in the verses 32 – 36. The man they found was gathering “sticks upon the sabbath day.” The sabbath day was a physical day of rest under the law. No one could work on that day. This man decided to do his own will and work on that day. Therefore, he was put to death according to the law. The picture here is that you must enter God’s rest to be righteous. You cannot create your own righteousness by working. This man was presumptuous because he blatantly ignored God and did his own will.