What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity/Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. Bill Gillham; ©2005
How does the devil tempt Christians to sin? What does God want Christians to know and do in times of temptation to live victorious?

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What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity—Part 4

How does the devil tempt Christians to sin? What does God want Christians to know and do in times of temptation to live victorious?

Dr. John Ankerberg: Do you struggle with temptation? Why is it that, as Christians, we want to serve the Lord, yet we constantly see ourselves giving in to sins that we detest? What does the devil use to tempt us and what does God want us to know and do in times of temptation to conquer them? Dr. Bill Gillham starts us off by talking about how temptation comes to us.

Dr. Bill Gillham: You know, I think a lot of Christians have the idea that it’s a sin to be tempted, but it’s really not. Now, that isn’t just my opinion. I get this from the Bible because the Scriptures say that “Jesus was tempted in all ways like as we, yet without sin.” So it’s normal for a Christian to be tempted and it’s not a sin to be tempted because, obviously you can see there that Jesus was tempted but He didn’t sin. So how does Satan, then, tempt us? How is he in­volved in our sinning? We all would readily admit that he’s involved, but my question to the Lord was, “How is he involved?”

All right, let’s look in the Bible to Genesis 4:7. This is the part of the Bible where God is talk­ing to Cain and trying to talk him out of killing his brother. And verse 7 says, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door and it is desirous for you, but you must master it.”

Now, then, here is what God showed me several years ago, and that is that in the Hebrew that word “it,” that pronoun “it,” actually should carry the masculine. It is a masculine pronoun. So here is what God was literally saying: “His desire is for you, but you must master him.” So you see what God is doing for us here. He is personifying that word “sin.” Gang, this is really, really heavy stuff because this means that God says this power called sin, which was working on Cain’s mind, God portrays sin as having the ability to persuade Cain; to entice him; to tempt him; to lead Cain to take matters into his own hands; to lead Cain to rebel against God and take over and do it his way; to lead Cain to suggest that Cain actually kill his brother in order to solve his problem. Now, gang, this is not Gillham saying this. This is not Gillham’s idea. This is God’s idea. And again, I exhort you, take this to the Word of God and see what you come up with as you trust the Holy Spirit to show you what this means in Genesis 4:7. This is the first time the word “sin” is mentioned in God’s Word.

All right, now then, let’s jump over to the New Testament and we’ll pick up on that word “sin”and how it’s being used over in the New Testament. Now, I’m not going to be teaching “the devil made me do it” nonsense. That’s baloney. But God is showing us how Satan works. He is show­ing us that Satan works on our minds through this agent called “the power of sin” or “the law of sin” or simply sometimes it’s mentioned as just “sin.”

Now, the word sin occurs 41 times in Romans 5, 6, 7 and 8. Romans chapters 5 through 8 is the very heart of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the power package. That word appears there 41 times. Now, let’s take you back to 8th grade English. A noun is a person, place or thing. Right? And how about a verb? That’s an action word. How many times would you think, out of the 41 times that sin appears in Romans 5, 6, 7 and 8, that it is a verb? Answer: once. One verb, 40 nouns, in that critical portion of the power package of the Christian life. And God says that this word “sin” is often personified in the New Testament. No less an authority than W. E. Vine said that on eleven occasions the word sin is personified after the cross. I’m convinced that most English-speaking Christians, when they see that word sin in Romans 5, 6, 7 and 8, they think, “Yeah, that’s when I stole the hubcaps.” They’re thinking “verb” instead of “noun.” But, in fact, it’s often a noun.

Ankerberg: Now, the Apostle Paul personifies sin as a power in Romans 5 through 8. He doesn’t explain everything we might want to ask about what the power of sin is, but Paul wants us to think about this power of sin as a personal enemy, a power who has been defeated by Jesus Christ and legally has no jurisdiction over us, yet this enemy can still tempt us, place thoughts into our minds, even though it can’t overpower us, or force us to do its bidding. Accord­ing to Paul in Romans Chapter 7, this power of sin that we all experience is very deceitful. That’s why it is very important for each of us as Christians to know what God did to us when He saved us and how to overcome temptations brought to us by the power of sin. Dr. Gillham illustrates.

Gillham: Now, God showed this to me, gang, back in the middle 1970s. I was counseling with a precious young lady, a Christian lady about 22 or 23 years old; had the cheerleader pedigree and all that. And I’ll never forget the Monday morning that I got the telephone call that she had killed herself over the weekend. It absolutely blew me away. And I just went to the Lord and I said, “Sir, how in the world did the devil get in there and mess with her mind?”

Now, gang, I believe this is where God showed me the reality of how Satan works on the minds of Christians through this power called “sin.” Let’s go to Romans 7:15, which I call “the defeated Christian’s verse.” And I want you to count the number of actors you see in this verse. “For that which I’m doing I do not understand, for I’m not practicing what I would like to do, but I’m doing the very thing I hate.”

How many actors, gang? One.

Now, we’ll go on down to verses 17 and 20. We’ll go to 20 because it’s a little clearer and see how many actors that we see down there. We’re going to find two actors: I plus the “power” called “sin.” Here we go–Romans 7:20: “But if I’m doing the very thing I do not wish, I’m no longer doing it but sin which dwells in me.” Parenthetically is somehow involved in the sinning process.

Now, I asked the Lord, “Sir, I see that there’s only one actor in verse 15 but we’ve got two actors in verse 20. And yet I know that the power of sin is in this man in verse 15. How did sin go underground in this Christian man? And I believe that God showed me the answer and here it is.

The power of sin wars against your mind with first person, singular pronouns: I, me, my, I’ll, I’m, and so forth—serving these thoughts up in your mind as if they were your own thinking; worse, as if they were your own thinking when you were without Christ, when you were a lost man. I believe this explains why well-meaning theologians say that we weren’t literally crucified with Christ. Because it doesn’t seem that way. Our experience is that the old man is still alive and well in there; but he’s not. He’s deader than a hammer. The Scriptures are clear about that. He got crucified with Christ. But what we see Satan doing is working through this power of sin to launch thought bullets into your mind with first person, singular pronouns.

For example, “I think I’ll just give her a piece of my mind.” I….I.

That’s not being generated in the mind of the Christian. It’s coming from this power called sin.

“I’d like to take her out.” I’d like to take her out. That’s coming from the power of sin, gang, through the flesh, through the old ways.

“Oh, I hate myself. I’m such a sorry, no good, wretched Christian. I just hate myself.” Coming from that power called sin.

So, Romans 7:23 says that “sin wars against the mind and the mind against the power of sin, for these two are at enmity with one another.”

The war is thought with those first person singular pronouns and you, as a Christian, have the opportunity to either take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ or buy into them and accept them as your own. Once you buy those thoughts, they’re your thoughts and you’re now sinning in your thought life.

Ankerberg: Next, Dr. Gillham gives us some illustrations of how the power of sin tempts us, speaking to us in first person singular pronouns, so that we will think the sinful ideas are our own thoughts. Bill explains that as a Christian, you have the opportunity to take every one of those sinful thoughts captive in obedience to Christ. Sometimes the power of sin will urge you to act in the habitual manner you did before you were saved, but since you are saved, you are no longer to buy into them as being your thoughts as a Christian. They are a pattern of doing things that you are familiar with, but is no longer your true self. Once you accept that those sinful old ways are your thoughts, then you have given in to the deceitful temptations of the power of sin them and have made them your own and begin sinning in your thought life. Bill illustrates how the power of sin attacks the thought life of a couple of Christian men and how they should not listen since they are Christians. Listen:

Gillham: So let’s take a couple of Christian men. Let’s make them about 35 years old. And their cars are parked in front of the post office. And this curvy lady comes walking down the sidewalk. Now, the first Christian man is a kind of a macho guy. He’s got kind of macho flesh, and before he came to Christ, why, he seduced quite a few women. And as he did so, it made him really feel good about his masculinity. So the curvy lady, then, is coming down the sidewalk and he sees her and, obviously, he notices that and the power of sin is also on the alert. And when the curvy lady comes up on the visual screen of the brain, then the power of sin puts thoughts into this guy’s mind: “Wow! I’d like to take her out. I’d like to take her out.”

Now, gang, does he want to take her out? No. Is he tempted to take her out? Yes. He’s tempted. But he doesn’t really want to live like that anymore. He wants to be an overcomer. And so these thoughts, then, coming up to him are served to his mind by this power of sin. Now, he has the option—this is all microsecond stuff, now gang, but I’m dragging it out—he has the option of saying, “No! I’m dead to that. That’s not my thought.” And then he brings Christ on-line to overcome it for him.

“Now, Jesus, you’re my life and you’re living through me, and I thank you that you’re not going to get out of the car and chase that woman. Oh, thank you, God, for delivering me from that. How well I can remember the day as a young Christian when I would be bothered by that and I would fall and I just didn’t seem to have any power in my life. But, Lord, thank you that you’re my life. You’re my overcomer. Well, Lord, that’s interesting. Look how that guy laid those bricks under the window of the courthouse: seven and a half bricks under each window. That is amazing how those guys can do that like that. Thank you, God. Oh, Lord, thank you for deliver­ing me.”

Now, gang, that would set him free from the power of sin.

Now, then, let’s say that he didn’t understand that. Let’s say that he’s been taught by well-meaning mentors who teach that he has two natures that fight against each other in there: the good guy and the bad guy. And whichever one he feeds is going to win. Gang, that is not Bible. You cannot document that from Romans by going verse by verse. It just simply is not Bible.

So let’s say, though, that he’s been raised on that and most of us have been. So when the power of sin gives him this thought: “I’d like to take her out,” he thinks it’s himself. He thinks it’s a darker side of himself, and so he grabs that thought. Now, once he grabs it, it’s his. Now then, his emotions are going to get in on the act. Once he sets his mind on this lustful thought, then the feeler kicks in and feeler slams into will.

“Oh! I just feel like I have no power. I just feel that I’m helpless. I just can’t overcome this.”

And so he winds up getting out of the car and “doing the very thing he does not wish to do.” Do you see then how victory is instantly claiming Christ as your life and that you are dead to the power of sin and the letting Christ take over and live through you to overcome the flesh.

So what I’m saying is that you, as a person, as a Christian person, you have needs that God has given you. They’re perfectly good needs. They’re godly needs. But the power of sin is going to capitalize on these needs that you have and try to entice you to go independent, take over, and get these needs satisfied in a sinful way instead of trusting God to take care of all your needs as He has promised to do. If you “seek Him first and His righteousness, then all these things shall be added unto you.”

“My God shall supply all your needs”–how many?–“all your needs according to His riches in Christ.” So the battle, then, is against this power called sin that works through your flesh to try to get your soul to opt to do it the devil’s way instead of God’s way. And the whole thing is fought with first person, singular pronouns. So as you become more understanding, as you gain a greater understanding of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit disciples you and works with you, you’re going to begin to build a body of truth inside so that you will know that when thoughts come to you that are not of God, that are not God’s will, then you can take those thoughts cap­tive to God through the obedience of Christ and say, “No, sir. I’m dead to that. That’s not my thought. I’ll choose to let Christ live through me and press on in victory.”

Ankerberg: Now, I asked Bill to expand on his illustration of how the power of sin can place thoughts into your mind, and then, to summarize the biblical points we are trying to illustrate today. If you are a Christian struggling with sin and temptation, hopefully this will help you.

Gillham: Now, when you were lost, you built a life of independent from God. You ran that thing and you did it your way. And so you developed strong patterns, habit patterns for living on this planet. When you came to Christ, God crucified you, your old sinful, rebellious nature was crucified in Christ. The Bible calls that the “old man.” Now then, He gave you a new spirit and

He put His Spirit in you. The Scriptures say, “He who has joined himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Now, then, the number that the devil will try to work on you is to put thoughts into your mind with first person, singular pronouns to get you to think that those are your thoughts. Those thoughts will come to you through the power of sin which is in your body, and they’ll float up into your mind with the pronouns “I, me, my.” Now, as you experience those thoughts, you’re inno­cent when you first experience them. They’re just the temptation. But if you grab one of them and embrace it as your own, now you’re guilty of sinning in your thought life. Your victory lies always in saying, “No. That’s not my thought. I am dead to the power of sin (Romans 6:7, 11). I’m dead to that power. I’m alive to God in Christ and, Christ, you’re my life and I’m trusting that you’re living through me, overcoming the power of sin.” And then act like He is. And when you do that, you will see Christ living His overcoming life through you.

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