Now that my book project for my church is complete, I will return–Lord willing–to more active blogging. Today, I return to my series on spiritual warfare. Specifically, I return to the topic of killing sin.
World War 2 officially ended with Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945. But, it didn’t end neatly. At its height, the Japanese Empire was more than 20 million square miles of land and sea. And, some soldiers who were in isolated regions fought on for years after the surrender of Japan. Some were unaware the war had ended, others simply refused to believe. Some hid in the jungles alone, others fought in groups and continued to make attacks and conduct guerrilla warfare.
The victory Christ won on the cross was final and complete, but do not make the mistake of believing that sin is completely gone. In fact, just the opposite is true. Although the war against sin has been won on the cross, the battle still goes on until Christ returns and does away with sin as he creates a new heaven and a new earth. Until then, Christians still deal with sin. For although the guilt and power of sin have been dealt with, the pollution of sin still remains. Though God’s people are forgiven of their sins and have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them so that they may live in right relationship to God, their sin natures have not yet been wiped out.
Thus, the Bible talks about a process of sanctification. It’s the continual process of having actual sin removed from our lives, becoming more and more holy before God. And, this isn’t easy. Not only is the pull of sin in our hearts strong, but frankly, we don’t much like to talk about sin today. One famous pastor of a large church out west made a very specific point of saying that they just don’t talk about sin. But that doesn’t make sense when the New Testament constantly describes the Christian life as a war against sin.
The Christian has a new heart (Ezek 36:26), a new mind, (Rom 7:25; 8:26; 1 Cor 2:16), and new desires for the things of God (Rom 7:18; 2 Cor 5:2; Heb 12:18). But God’s work in this renewed heart is not finished (1 John 3:2). The mind cannot see as clearly as it will one day should (1 Cor 13:9,12), the desires can be entangled (Gal 2:11-13), and the will can’t fully do God’s will (Gal 5:17). The flesh in the believer remains unsearchable and deceitful. And so our experience can sound a lot like the apostle’s Paul’s experience in Romans 7 –
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (7:15-23).
This then is the life of war for the believer – working to continually put to death more and more indwelling sin in our hearts. And if we fight against, the Bible promises we will take ground. We will make progress in holiness. We will grow in the image of Christ. So for the new two posts, we want to understand how we are to fight against sin and pursue sanctification.
Romans 8:12-13 says, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Here we learn how to fight against indwelling sin. First, we see that we need to,
Pursue Sanctification by Remembering the Gospel
In verse 12, Paul says, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” Knowing, understanding, and living this verse is essential to defeating sin your life. You can try to do it apart from this verse, but you will fail and you will be miserable. So what is this verse all about? Simply this–the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here, Paul is building upon the argument he’s been making for two and half chapters now. In chapters 3-5, he has shown that Christians are saved by God’s grace, acquired through faith in Christ. It’s not anything we do that saves us, it’s what God has done for us. And it’s been that way since the beginning, with Abraham himself–the great patriarch of Jewish people–who was not made right with God because of his own righteousness, but because of that which was credited it to him by God.
Then in chapter 6, Paul begins anticipating objections in the minds of his readers. He knows how people think. They think, ‘Okay since my salvation doesn’t depend on what I do, what difference does it make how I live my life?’ So, Paul asks in 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” His answer to that question is a resounding, ‘Not on your life!’ He says, “By no means!” and his rationale is, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (6:2). In other words, Paul is saying because Christians have been united to Christ, sin has lost its power over us. We have been set free from its guilt and its dominating power over us–we have died to sin.
Since we have died to sin, we shouldn’t live in it any longer. Remember that those apart from Christ–all of humanity who has yet to turn to Christ in faith–they remain enslaved to sin, and condemned by God. But as God’s people, we have been set free from sin. We have new life by his Spirit. So we owe nothing to the flesh. What’s the flesh? The flesh is our inherent sinfulness. From birth, our hearts have been sinful and corrupt and the result is that we commit sin. And, even though we struggle with sin after coming to Christ, our sinful nature is not wiped out; it is dethroned.
Paul says, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” As Christians we are not in debt to the flesh, to follow it or obey it. It’s the work of God that has given us this new life, and, therefore, we ought not to live for the flesh or for its goals.
Imagine working as a slave. From morning to night, whatever the master desired, you did. He owned you and ruled over you. He was the master, you were slave, and you obeyed his will. But then one day, someone came and bought you from that master and freed you. Then months, maybe years, later you see your old master. And he begins telling you what to do, ordering you around like you’re still his slave. Do you obey? Absolutely not! Why should you? You have been set free from him. You have no obligation to follow him or obey; he’s no longer you’re master.
Paul is reminding us that this is exactly what’s happened to us. As one of God’s people in Christ, you have been set free from the rule of sin. You are under no obligation to serve the flesh. Remembering this fact–remembering the gospel–is what gives us basis for pursuing righteousness. We remember the gospel because it keeps us from getting things in the wrong order. Our standing with God is resolved in Christ. We don’t pursue sanctification to earn justification. God has given us life and legal righteousness in Christ, and on that basis we can now pursue actual righteousness. Just as we are saved by grace, so also we pursue holiness by grace.