Last time, we talked about the continuum regarding sin found in Hebrews chapter 12. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). On one end of the scale is the encouragement and expectation to “lay sin aside”. At the other is the acknowledgement that “sin so easily entangles us”.
In light of the New Testament promise that our sin nature was destroyed at the cross and that we are now indwelt by the sin-crushing power of the resurrected Christ, how is it that sin still manages to gum up the works? Let’s start by looking at what did – and what did not – change about sin at our new birth.
When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, your interaction with sin was radically changed. What did not change was the presence of sin in your soul. It remains inside, and it is still sin. What did change so dramatically was sin’s status (it no longer reigns) and our relationship to it (we are no longer its slaves). This change in status and relationship is a glorious deliverance for you and I. Sin not longer holds us in bondage, outside of God’s presence. Instead, this deliverance changes completely our interaction with sin.
We can now deal with sin in our lives from a perspective of promised victory rather than hopeless despair. Let those words “promised victory rather than hopeless despair” sink in. You need to hear them. Because, quite frankly, they are too often missing from much of our Bible teaching today. We hear too much about a civil war within as if we still have an equal powered sin nature and God nature battling it out in our lives.
Here is good news straight from God’s Word. The battle is over. Victory over sin was won at the cross. The civil war does not exist. Your fight with sin is from a stance of victory. Our battles are skirmishes and mop up duty as we learn to live into the power over sin that Christ provides. As Sinclair Ferguson writes in The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, “Not only has our relationship to sin changed, but God has planted within us His divine seed, and in this sense has “added” to our powers as well as “subtracting” from sin’s status! We have good reason to enter the conflict with the enemy of sin in an optimistic mood!”
The enemy called sin referred to by Dr. Ferguson is often summarized as a conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. One passage of Scripture that alludes to these three enemies is Ephesians 2:1-3. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world [the enemy of the world], according to the prince of the power of the air [the enemy of the devil], of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh [the enemy of the flesh], indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:1-3).
This specific passage clearly identifies these enemies as having held sway over us prior to our salvation, when we “were dead in our trespasses and sins.” But it does give us a good picture of sin’s manifestations in the world, the flesh, and the devil. And what we learn from the rest of the New Testament is that they are enemies still.
But never ever ever forget that on this side of our conversion their powers have been greatly diminished. Their power is gone, but their presence remains. Their mastery over us is gone, but their temptations remain. And they still can entangle us.
So how do we overcome these entanglements of sin, empowered as we are by the Christ within? We will tackle some specifics of all three of these enemies and our response to them next time.