Sin in Remission

Last post I suggested that there is a “cure” for ongoing sin in the life of the believer.  I want to make sure we do not confuse “cure” with “eradicate”.  Cure, in the biblical sense, is more like sin that is in remission, not sin that has been totally eliminated.  Sin will only be completely abolished in that glorious future when we are free of sin’s influence forever!

In the world of cancer treatment, we generally use the word cure to identify the remission of cancer, not necessarily its complete extermination.  Under the cure, we are now free of cancer’s rule.  We are now free from the rapid growth of malignant cells.  But even in remission, some cancer cells may still be making their home in our body.

It is a similar scenario for the child of God.  The power of sin – the power of cancer cells to ruin our lives – has been defeated.  Sin is still bothersome – some malicious cells remain – but it is not ruling the day.  Anyone in cancer treatment knows that in its aggressive growing stages, cancer is in charge.  It is threatening your body’s very existence; ruling your days, your thoughts, your health, your schedule, your plans.  And it is running roughshod over your hopes and dreams.  But in remission, the focus on cancer diminishes and takes a back seat to your returning health and your moving on with your “life after cancer”.

So in the spiritual world, free from sin’s power, do we see our lives as “life after sin”?  Yes and no.  On the “yes” side, our sin is in remission due to the reality (whether we feel it or not) that our sin nature has been put to death with Christ on the cross.  And our Christian life should be the experience of sin in remission, the experience of more and more victory and growth over the annoyance of sin.

But there is a “no” side as well.  I hesitate to embrace the finality of the phrase “life after sin” somehow suggesting that sin has been eradicated.  It is simply not true.  Sin is still present in us.  It is still awakened (even from the dead) by our enemies; the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Sin still nips at our heels.

But thanks be to God that those malignant sin cells are not attaching themselves to each other, rapidly growing, and ruling over us.  No, sin has been stripped of its power, and may “sin in remission” describe your victorious walk with the Lord today.

Is There a “Cure” for Sin?

It is easy to get all excited about the theology of the New Covenant.  But what does it do for us in practice?  Does it really make a difference in how we live?  If you have been reading these posts for some time, you know the answer is a spectacular YES!!!  I believe the provisions of the New Covenant as described in Scripture are literally a “cure” for sin.  C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “God’s love for us does not come and go.  It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.”

My pointed question to you is, “Do you really want to be cured?”  I have to ask because in my interaction with fellow believers I sometimes wonder if we really want to be cured.  When we marry our own disappointing experience with sin’s power with our misinterpretation of Romans 7 believing there is a biblical basis for being overwhelmed by sin, we get dragged down to a place where a cure seems out of reach.  When I think of the word power in the lives of believers, I feel like discussions of a woe-is-me acceptance of sin’s power is much more common than expressions of our experience of the Spirit’s power to influence our lives; even though the New Testament is clear in its teaching that the power of the Holy Spirit is far superior to the power of sin in the life of the believer.  It makes me wonder, “Do we really want to be cured?”

In our flesh mode, sin is comfortable.  The apostle Paul called various sins by the term “deeds of the flesh.”  Sin fits our fleshly desires.  But in a breakthrough of supernatural dimensions, God says we no longer have to live according to the flesh.  For the believer there is a “cure” for sin.

The cure is the new identity.  The cure is walking in your new identity.  The cure is walking in the Spirit’s power.  “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).  Sin is “crouching at your door” as it has been since the time of Cain and Abel.  But you do not need to answer the door.  You do not need to open the door.  You do not need to invite him in.  For the believer, sin cannot crash the door down.  He must be invited in, and you have the power to say to the crouching sin, “No thanks, just move along, there is no one here that you would be compatible with; you are no longer my master.”

Sin is not an incurable disease for God’s children.  May you experience His cure in your life today.

The Relationship Between Your New Nature and Sin

One of the over-arching messages of the New Testament is that a sinful lifestyle is not compatible with being a child of God.  The apostles’ teaching in this regard starts with this foundational truth:  people who have embraced the gospel message become a member of God’s family and are given a brand new identity.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (II Cor 5:17).

The new identity is indwelt by God Himself through His own Spirit and carries a moral resemblance to God.  How is this possible?  Earlier in II Corinthians 5, Paul attributes our entrance into God’s kingdom and His indwelling as based on Christ’s death in our place (II Cor 5:14-17).  Our old sin nature died with Christ on the cross.  Christ’s death – and our acceptance of His sacrifice for us – brought us to our place of a new person, indwelt with a new identity.  And it only makes sense that God’s nature that now indwells us and sin (moral trespass against God) are incompatible.

Then why do we struggle with sin?  The short answer is because we don’t always live into our God-compatible new identity.  There is a fine, but important, distinction between being a sinner and looking like a sinner.  Being a sinner means never becoming a member of God’s family.  It means never accepting His gospel, His message of good news.  Believers cannot be labeled sinners in that regard because our sin nature was crucified with Christ on the cross (Rom 6:6-7) and we have been joined with Christ (Rom 7:3-4).  Now stick with me if you think I am suggesting that believers never sin.

Believers have a choice that sinners do not have.  We can choose to “walk in the Spirit”; living into our new nature and exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit who indwells us.  But we also have the choice to “walk in the flesh.”  In the second case – walking in the flesh – we do commit sins.  These sins do not label us as sinners by nature, but to the world and to all who are watching, these sins make us look like sinners.  They make us look no different than the sinner by nature.

That is why in Paul’s walking by the Spirit vs walking by the flesh discussion in Galatians chapter 5, he lays out an explicit list of “deeds of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21).  Paul’s point is that, yes, believers can carry out these acts of sin, but when done on a regular basis, they are the hallmark of a lost person; a person who “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).  These acts, practiced on a regular basis, are simply not compatible with your new Spirit-infused nature.

So what is the remedy for the temptation to carry out the deeds of the flesh?  “Walk in the Spirit [walk in who you really are, act like the person that in some ways you have already become] and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).  For a longer, expository, thoroughly biblical explanation of this idea see our article, Your Moral Resemblance to Christ.

John Stott was a great Bible teacher of the late twentieth century.  He recently passed away at age 90.  Among his many well known quotes is:  “Sin and the child of God are incompatible.  They may occasionally meet; they cannot live together in harmony.”  He understood the message of a life set free from sin’s power.  He understood the incompatibility of a sinful lifestyle and living the Christian life.  May we understand and put it into practice as well.