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The Christian's Struggle With Sin


The following passage describes the apostle Paul's struggle with sin. It also describes the personal experience of every Christian that I know. The Spirit and the flesh are at war with each other. But not permanently. When we receive our resurrection bodies that struggle will cease. It is temporary struggle that the overcoming enduring Christian will one day win.

(Romans 7:14-8:4 NKJV) For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. {15} For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. {16} If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. {17} But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

{18} For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. {19} For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

{20} Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. {21} I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. {22} For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. {23} But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. {24} O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? {25} I thank God; through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

( 8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. {2} For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. {3} For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, {4} that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

What is Paul's main point in this? - THOUGH WE STRUGGLE WITH SIN GOD DOES NOT CONDEMN US BECAUSE WE ARE IN CHRIST JESUS. If you think I am shouting at you -then you are right and I am shouting Hallelujah! "Sin in the flesh" is condemned and will pass away but all who are in Christ Jesus will become glorious eternal beings with imperishable and magnificent bodies (1 Corinthians 15:25-55). Our sin will be far behind us then, it will have vanished like smoke on a windy day. You see for the Christian our sin is not part of us though it is closely associated with us and affects us as Paul twice says above{verses 17&20} Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.. Sin is only a part of us if we actively consent to it. Paul goes so far as to say "it is no longer I who do it". What a cop out! Not at all! Its the truth. All that is truly us is under the control of the Christian's will. This sin is a compulsion apart from Paul's will. It did not proceed from Paul's will therefore it was not Paul's deed. The sin was committed by Paul's body but it was not committed by Paul the person.

{22} For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. {23} But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. {24} O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? {25} I thank God; through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

Paul thus makes a clear division between what his mind and will want and what his flesh/body wants. He also sees his flesh as temporal, earthbound and sin-indwelt while his mind and will are in willing subjection to God.

{18} For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. {19} For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

This struggle between his flesh and his mind and will is so intense and so humiliating that the apostle cries out: {24} O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

It is body that holds him back from being the Christian he wants to be. How does it hold us back? By being the dwelling place of sin. The mind is capable of renewal but the body is not, it needs to die and be resurrected. It has been fatally affected by the Fall. In some way it stores sin like a mighty dam stores water. The biblical image is vivid -sin dwells, it abides, it is perfectly at home in the human body. Why is this so? I can think of a few reasons.

Firstly, the body was primarily designed for living on earth and interacting with the material world around us. It was not made to grasp hold of eternity - for instance our five senses and all our organs operate without any knowledge of the eternal. They know only this world. Therefore sin can operate through our bodies more easily than through our spirits we are attuned to God (for the Christian).

Secondly, our bodies are creatures of habit. They learn certain ways of acting and reacting, speak with certain accents, move in certain ways all of which are hard to unlearn. Once the body learns something it takes a long while to unlearn it. The body learns the ways of sin and programs them in. It physically records them and some our habits come back to us.

Thirdly, God designed our bodies to experience physical pleasure from eating, drinking, sex and athletic activities amongst many other things. He wanted us to enjoy Eden and to be motivated to do these things. Unfortunately many sins are also very pleasurable physically and our body is strongly motivated to repeat them thus turning them into habits which are hard to unlearn.

The next question to my mind is "Why didn't God just take all this junk out of at the moment of my conversion?". He did. Its not you any more - its your body that you are stuck in until you die. After that you are rid of it. Which leads to the obvious - then why didn't God clean out my body as well as my mind at conversion? Some people seem to be marvelously delivered from sin after they are saved - they give up alcohol, smoking or drugs overnight. However no-one is freed from all sin. Purity of heart is something we have to pursue but God has given us some might help through the Holy Spirit.

(Galatians 5:16-18 NKJV) I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. {17} For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. {18} But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The desires of the flesh remain but when we walk in the Spirit we can have mastery over them. The original Greek is quite emphatic on this point "ou me telesete" which translates "not at all fulfill " "in absolutely no way fulfill". When our life is conducted according to the Spirit the flesh does not have a chance. It cannot make us do its will.

How then do we walk in the Spirit? Paul makes the statement "walk in the Spirit" as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, as if no Christian needed to be told how to do it. This is very irritating of the apostle, at least it seems that way to me. However Paul's letters do give us plenty of clues as to what he was talking about. So lets go back to Romans 8 - just after where we left off earlier. (Romans 8 is a whole chapter on walking in the Spirit.)

(Romans 8:1-6 NKJV) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. {2} For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. {3} For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, {4} that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. {5} For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. {6} For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

The first two things we find out about walking in the Spirit is that a)it frees us from the Law b) it fulfills the Law. Blessed contradictions! That are not contradictions at all. Walking in the Spirit is a law-full activity in that those who walk in the Spirit are law-abiding they dwell in God's commandments and obey them. However they are not judged by them. They are free from the laws demands and threats. Yet that do what it says. They do God's will out of the inner impulses of the Spirit rather than because of the threats and promises of the Law. They do this because of their mindset. The set of their minds is on godly things. Those who walk in the Spirit.

Habitually turn to thinking of God and godly things. Just as a miser turns to thinking of money or a young girl to thoughts of her boyfriend the Christian walking in the Spirit turns to thoughts of God. You can choose to set your mind on your appetites or on the Lord. On sex, money, and vanity or on faith, hope and love. If your mind is habitually set on God it is hard to sin. Habitual sins tend to gain control of us in our leisurely moments when our minds drift to thinking of "nothing in particular" then like a train jumping its rails it switches into the track of the flesh and the thoughts that we dread.

These fleshly musing are deceptive. Soon we are tricked, overpowered and led into sin:
(Ephesians 4:22-23 NKJV) that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, {23} and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.

James describes this process with frightening accuracy
(James 1:14-15 NKJV) But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. {15} Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

To walk in the Spirit then we must master our thoughts and much of the New Testament is devoted to this very theme - the renewing of our mind.
(Romans 12:1-2 NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. {2} And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

We need to consider how to renew our minds and the answer (surprise) is in Romans 8. In verses 9-25 Paul shows us that the renewed mind involves a renewed and hope-full identity (as sons of God), in verses 26-27 that it involves a renewed and personal relationship to God through prayer "in the Spirit", and in verses 28-39 that the Christian mind has a renewed confidence in the goodness of God which is demonstrated towards us in all of life's circumstances.

How then can we win the struggle against sin? By taking charge of what we believe and where we set our minds and how we pray. Victory in this war is costly and requires action and discipline.

(1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. {25} And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. {26} Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. {27} But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Paul writes in competitive terms here. The struggle with sin is not for the casual dabbler in righteousness. It is strenuous, "athletic", vigorous and in earnest. It involves having a definite aim (verse 26) and a lifestyle that is carefully regulated in a way calculated to bring about godliness (verses 24,25,27). Self-mastery involves being domineering towards one's body in order to "bring it into subjection". The phrase "I discipline my body" comes from the phrase "to give a black eye to" and means "I beat my body severely" or "I beat it until it is black and blue".Paul's ministry meant that he had to have little consideration for his physical comfort or security. His body could not be allowed to determine his agenda and the call of comfort must never drown out the call of God.

To sum up then we see that the struggle against sin is a struggle that God does not condemn us for having. He is aware of our anguish and His grace is sufficient for us. He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us win it. By walking in the Spirit we can stop the desires of the flesh taking control of us. In order to walk in the Spirit we need to set our mind of the things of God. This means we need to take our stand on who are in Christ Jesus praying in the Spirit at all times and being very conscious of God's destiny for us and goodness towards us in Christ. This strengthens us to undertake the pointed self-disciplines of the Christian life and the calling that God has for each of us so that we may win the imperishable crown that waits the faithful Christian.

 

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