Victory Over Sins | Part 2


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By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2000

If Christians now have a new heart, a new spiritual nature which desires to obey God, if the Holy Spirit lives in us, then why do we still experience such strong temptations? Why do we still experience sinful desires? Are we weird? Are we different from all other Chris­tians? The answer is, we are not weird, just ignorant. We don’t know all God has said on this topic, nor do we know His answer of how we can experience victory. How do I know that true Christians struggle with this problem and that there is a victorious solution to it? It’s because the Apostle Paul struggled with this same problem and wrote all about it in Romans, chapters 6 and 7.

If you read Romans 6:11-19, you will see that Paul talks about his sinful disposition, his sinful nature, and personifies it. He calls his sinful nature sin in verses 6, 7, 11, 12, 14, 17, 18 and personifies it in the form of a slave master who ruthlessly controls him and keeps him doing things he doesn’t want to do. Before Paul became a Christian, his sinful disposi­tion, like a slave master, taught him how to live selfishly and to gratify his flesh. He kept leading him in sinful ways. But then when Paul became a Christian, he came to realize what God through sending Christ to die for him on the cross had done for him.

In Romans 6:6 Paul writes, “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him (that’s Jesus) so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” God took his old self, that is, his old unregenerate man with its sinful deeds, and crucified it with Christ. The reason God did this was so that our body of sin, our sinful track record, might be done away with.

But God did something else as well “so that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Paul learned that when he believed in Christ, he was somehow united by God with Christ in Christ’s death.

Through Christ’s blood our sins were paid for. Through Christ’s body, in which He lived a perfect life, Christ broke the hold that our slave master, sin, had on all human beings who believe. Christ legally freed us from our slave master’s authority.

Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” The word condemnation here means that the believer is not condemned to a life of servi­tude to the sinful disposition. As F. F. Bruce writes in his commentary on Romans, Paul is teaching that “there is no reason why those who are in Christ Jesus should go on doing penal servitude as though they had never been pardoned and never been liberated from the prison house of sin.”

Paul, in Romans 6:18, says point-blank we have been freed from sin. But in what sense does Paul think he has been freed from sin? Is he saying that he is completely freed from sin’s temptations and desires? The answer is obviously no! In Romans 7 Paul says he still is struggling with his old master, sin. Paul is teaching that Christ freed him in the legal sense. His sinful nature has no official authority or right, no legal right to control him anymore. because Christ has legally set us free, and we are not obligated anymore to serve sin.

Paul advises, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts; and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin.”

Paul says, “Don’t present your body to this slave master [sin] when he tempts you; rather, present yourself to God as those alive from the dead and your members as instru­ments of righteousness to God.”

Because of Christ’s life and death for us, God’s Word promises, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

We need to know this and believe it. But if this is true, what’s the problem, then? If we’ve been freed from sin by the grace of God to serve the Lord, if He has given us a new heart, a new spiritual nature, given us the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our life, if we have been legally freed from our old sinful master officially ruling over us, then why do we still have problems?

In the very next chapter the Apostle Paul tells us why. He teaches that, although we are legally free not to follow our sinful nature, it still exists and tries to illegally control us. Even with our new spiritual nature that God has given us, if we try in our own strength, our own efforts to live according to our new desires and to fight against our sinful natures’ temptations and desires, we will fail. Paul tells us he himself failed in trying to live the Christian life by his own self efforts. He teaches us that the only way to live victoriously is to look to, and depend upon, the Holy Spirit to give us the power we need to conquer our old sinful nature.

Let’s look at Paul’s account of his personal struggle in this area after he became a Christian. It’s recorded in Romans 7:14-24. Remember, he is writing as one who has become a Christian, one who has a new heart from the Lord.

He tells us up front, “For that which I am doing I do not understand; for I am not practic­ing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” Paul is saying, God gave me a new heart, as He promised, and so now I desire to serve and obey God’s law. But in spite of my new heart, I still find myself doing just the opposite and committing sins.

He says in verse 19, “For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” Paul says he still practices doing evil. He sins. Why? It’s because even though he is a Christian with a new spiritual nature, his old sinful nature is still trying to illegally control him. And apparently it is no match for Paul’s good intentions. It can still trap and conquer him.

He writes: “If I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it but sin which dwells in me.”

Here Paul is not saying that he is not responsible for giving in to these sinful desires. What he is saying is that the origination of these desires is coming from his old sinful na­ture, which now that he is a new creation in Christ, is not really his true self.

He continues, “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind…. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Here Paul admits that even though he is a Christian and has a new heart that desires to serve and obey the Lord, he has discovered, “Evil is still present in me.” This evil present in him “wages war against the law of his mind. It makes him a prisoner of the law of sin.” This can be none other than Paul’s old sinful disposition that is still present within him even though it has no legal claim over him. So what is the bottom line?

Are Paul and all Christians everywhere condemned to being constantly defeated by their powerful old natures, even though they are Christians? The answer is no.

Paul indicates why he failed in his struggle with his old nature. Twenty-three times in eleven verses of Romans chapter 7 Paul uses the word “I.” But in Chapter 8, 17 times in 16 verses Paul uses the word “spirit” or “Spirit of God.” The point Paul is making is that when he depended on his own strength and power to live the Christian life, he failed. When he depended on God the Holy Spirit to give him the power he needed, he had vic­tory. So when we become Christians, God can forgive our sins and give us a new spiritual nature. But that new spiritual nature which desires to serve the Lord, does not have the power in itself to actually give us victory over our old nature. That’s why God also gave us the Holy Spirit to live within us. It’s only when we look to and depend on the power of the Holy Spirit that we will be able to follow the desires of our new heart, and conquer those things we face from within and without. It is the Holy Spirit’s power, not our own, that will bring us victory. Every believer who has the new spiritual nature that God has given him but who tries to live for God in his own self effort, in his own self generated power, will miserably fail. Is that you right now?

Even though Christ’s life and death freed us from the legal mastery of our old sinful disposition, we must understand that our old sinful nature is still within us and can over­power us if we try to overcome it in our own power. But if we turn to the Holy Spirit, we can utilize His power to live the way we should. That is what the Apostle Paul is teaching here.

In Romans 8:11 he promises, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead”—that is God—”will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you.”

In Ephesians 3:16, Paul writes, “I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” This power, God’s power, is available to every believer. What are we to do with such a gift?

Paul advises, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh [our old nature] to live according to the flesh….but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

At home I have an electric power saw, a drill and a grinder. Like my mind, will and emotions, these tools all serve different functions. Yet all three tools plug into the same power source, electricity. Electricity is their life. Without that life, without that power, all my tools are nothing but big paperweights. My mind, will and emotions also must be plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit so that God’s spiritual life can flow through me and give me victory over sinful desires and habits. If you have failed God, ask Him right now to forgive you; then tell Him from now on you will, moment by moment, be asking the Holy Spirit to help you live for Him.

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