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.

Back to Our Two Issues: Is Jesus the Only Way and Is Sin Compatible with the Child of God?

Our tour through the gospel of John, chapters 5 through 7, has been a long answer to a single question:  Is Jesus the only way to heaven?  And our conclusion, based on Jesus’ own words, is an emphatic “Yes” many times over.  The reason I went into so much detail on this topic is because Jesus’ divinity claims followed by His death, burial, and resurrection (His resurrection being God’s stamp of approval) are what make Christianity CHRISTianity.

The reason this is so important is because we have a confused generation coming up that has been raised on salad bar religion.  They have been taught to pick and choose their truth from a variety of religious traditions.  And in this setting, the idea that Jesus is the only way comes across as too narrow, too intolerant, and too divisive.  While criticism about our generational issues is something we need to honestly consider, we cannot bow to any criticism of this core truth:  Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Now let’s get back to the other issues that got us started down this path several weeks ago.  I understand and join believers who see the church as too rigidly conservative on topics like politics, evolution, creation care, social justice, legalism, and asking honest questions.  There is room in Scripture for a variety of voices and understanding on these issues.

But a troubling issue that often gets thrown into this mix is the trending call for the church to be more accepting of a gay lifestyle.  Just as in the idea that Jesus is the only way to heaven, here we run into our second non-negotiable biblical principle:  A sinful lifestyle is not compatible with being a believer, a child of God.  And this is not to single out homosexual practice as the only sin this principle applies to.  But the acceptance and celebration of the gay lifestyle seems to be the issue of the moment.

And while opinions may vary on just how complicated this issue is, our zeal for truth must always be seasoned with understanding, kindness, and open discussion on the personal level.  But the core principle remains:  the message of Scripture, when we let the Bible speak for itself, is that the consistent practice of sin is not compatible with living the Christian life.

I am not so sure that this idea is always understood, believed, and embraced in our churches.  Because the believer’s relationship with sin is so crucial to addressing what we accept in the church, we will take our time developing from Scripture the concept that a sinful lifestyle is not compatible with the Christian life.  Won’t you join us on the journey?

“Is This the Christ?” – John 7:37-52

John 7:37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ “ 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

40 Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, (Jesus’ proclamation regarding His identity as the living water) were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” 41 Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” (Remember, we understand now that the Prophet and the Christ are one in the same.  The Jews of that day did not necessarily make that connection.  At any rate, the question keeps coming up, “Who is this man?”)

Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (The crowd identifies Jesus as a Galilean which to them disqualifies Him from being the Christ.  Maybe they were unaware of the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of the house of David as the Scriptures foretold.) 43 So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. (“A division occurred” is a recurring theme as Jesus explains more and more about who He is.) 44 Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him.

45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, (They were sent to arrest Jesus in John 7:32 and now have returned empty-handed.) and they said to them [the officers], “Why did you not bring Him?” 46 The officers answered, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” (As we mentioned last time, even the temple police recognized the unique teaching authority that Jesus possessed and refused to arrest Him.)

47 The Pharisees then answered them, “You have not also been led astray, have you? 48 No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” (The Pharisees respond to the soldiers failure to bring Jesus in with an exasperation that surely you soldiers have not joined this naive crowd in their belief.  They make the pointed comment to the officers that none of us experts are believing in Him.  Of course, we know that some of the Pharisees are believing in Him or at least moving in that direction.)

49 “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” (The Pharisees had a very dim view of the “crowd” who could easily be misled by any plausible teacher because of their ignorance of the true interpretation of the Law.  The Pharisees also had a general disdain for the common people who had given up long ago any interest in keeping the minutia of the Law that the Pharisees were so proud of.)

50 Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, 51 “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” (Speaking of the Law, Nicodemus points out the Law requirement to let Jesus speak for Himself before the group jumps to any conclusions about His guilt or innocence.) 52 They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” (There is really no point in debating this any further.  Look at our history.  No prophet comes out of Galilee.  This is not referring to a specific prediction of Scripture; it is more of a history lesson and maybe a comment of prejudice.  Basically, it never happens.  A Galilean cannot be the Christ.)

The debate stops here for the time being, but is not finished.  In fact, the confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders over His identity continue to escalate until, “The Jews answered him [Pilate], ‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God’ ” (Jn 19:7).  And Jesus is put to death.

For our purposes, we will stop here; having completed our exposition of John chapters 5 through 7.  I hope the thoroughness of our discussion has driven home the point that Jesus was very clear about who He is.  Jesus was very clear that He, the true Son of God, is the only way to eternal life.  This claim, put forth by Jesus’ own words and confirmed by the Jew’s reaction, is critical to lay hold of as we evaluate the message of the gospel.  We will discuss why next time.