The End of Sin’s Power?

The self improvement message behind a certain brand of Bible teaching today is work harder and stop doing the bad stuff.  Try harder and stop doing the bad stuff.  Strive harder and quit the bad stuff.  It’s on you to clean up your life.

The message of the New Testament is believe who you really are in Christ.  Embrace who you are in Christ.  Live according to who you are in Christ.  Christ has cleaned up your life already through His death, burial, and resurrection.  You were created – in your new identity – for so much more than the bad stuff.  And by the way, stop doing the bad stuff.

The first message is essentially sin management; trying to manage our sinful tugs by the power of the will.  We do this by adhering to some kind of New Testament form of keeping the Law.  Or we set up a list and focus on the externals of keeping the law.  We fall into legalism and we are constantly on the lookout for failures in ourselves and others.

The second message is sin victory, the power of The Exchanged Life.  Turn your back on those sinful tugs because to the new identity believer, sin is not natural.  It doesn’t feel right.  It doesn’t taste right.  And you have the power to spit it out!  So, in regard to the bad stuff, just stop it.

Now in view of our internal conflict with  sin, the frailty of the human condition, the baggage we carry from our past, and the designs of Satan our enemy, can we really approach sin with a “just stop it” attitude?  As incredible as it sounds, this seems to be the message of the New Testament writers.

Look with me at Paul’s logic in Romans 6 where he declares us free from sin’s power on the basis of our old self being crucified with Christ and our new self being resurrected with Christ.  Paul writes, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?  May it never be!  How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom 6:1-7).

Because your sin nature died with Christ, it is not only morally wrong, but it makes no sense to continue in sin.  It is insanity.  “He who has died is freed from sin.”  The alternative Paul offers is “to walk in newness of life.”

Peter continues this message, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered death in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he (talking about you now) who has suffered death in the flesh (old nature died with Christ) has ceased from sin” (I Pet 4:1).

Does Peter’s “he who has died has ceased from sin” sound eerily similar to Paul’s “he who has died is freed from sin”?  Could these authors be carried along by the same Divine Author?  Could this message of freedom from sin be one of the main themes of the New Testament; the New Covenant; the New Arrangement between God and man?

Peter goes on to emphasize what changed in your relationship to sin in this passage as he continues, “So as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” (I Pet 4:2-3).

The time for sin is past.  The time for sin is in the rear view mirror.  Sin is no longer your natural affection, attraction, and action.  It would be insane to continue in sin when your sin nature died with Christ.

The apostle John comes to the same conclusion through a slightly different path.  Rather than focus on the death of our sin nature, John emphasizes our freedom from sin based on our new birth as children of God.  John concludes that as those who carry the very seed of God inside, we now have a moral resemblance to Christ; a moral resemblance that is incompatible with the practice of sin.

John writes, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  Every one who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.  And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.  Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.  The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.  No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in Him; and he cannot sin, because He is born of God.  By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious:  any one who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (I Jn 4:2-10).

John’s logic is that to continue in sin as a believer is insane because of our new birth as a child of God.  It makes no sense to continue in sin when the seed of God dwells inside.  It doesn’t fit who we are.  Starting at verse two, the essence of this passage is:  as children of God in this world, we do not yet appear as we fully will appear, but one way we do look like God now is in our practice of righteousness.  In fact, to create in us a righteous person is one of the reasons Christ came.  “He appeared in order to take away sins” and “He appeared to destroy the works of the devil”.  Satan’s primary work is to take us down the path of sin, since it is his essential nature having “sinned from the beginning.”  Satan’s work is to empower sin.  Christ’s work is to destroy sin.

The message of these New Testament writers is consistent.  Our sin nature “died” “suffered death” “was destroyed”.  As a result we, filled with resurrection power, have what it takes to “walk in newness of life”.  Go in grace and embrace this gift and enjoy all that God has in store for you in your new life.  You, by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, have the power!

Faith is the Means

The power to live the victorious Christian life is “Christ in me, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).  The power of the Exchanged Life, the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God is the fuel that frees us from the power of sin.  And the means or vehicle to lay hold of this power is faith.

God has promised that our old self, our sin nature, died with Christ.  I believe this by faith.  God has promised to take up residence inside us by His Holy Spirit.  I can’t always feel this, but I believe it by faith.  God has promised Christ’s resurrection power to all believers.  I believe this by faith.  God has promised that sin will not be our master.  I need constant clarity on how this works in practice, but I believe this by faith.

Three times in the New Testament – Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38 – God succinctly states, “The righteous man will live by faith.”  Paul summarized the role of faith in experiencing the power of the exchanged life in Galatians 2:20.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

The power to live the Christian life comes by faith, not by human effort or self-righteousness.  Listen to the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians,  “That I may be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9).  We often view these kinds of verses in the past tense.  That is, we were not justified in our initial salvation by keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ.  But I believe this encouragement applies to our ongoing salvation, our sanctification, our growth in acts of righteousness, as well.

Twice in Philippians 3:9 we are reminded of the role of faith in our righteousness; “righteousness which is through faith in Christ” and “righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”  Our present righteousness does not come from a self-righteous effort to keep “the Law”.  (We often form a New Testament version of what keeping the Law looks like.)  Our righteousness, our present righteous actions, come through faith in Christ.  Faith is the power.

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (I Jn 5:4).  In our conflict with sin, fueled by our enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil – we are the overcomers by faith.  Let’s learn to believe God’s words in our every day experience and thinking rather than search for excuses for our weakness.  You have the power!