By Executive Pastor Bill Snell
The struggle Christianity has had regarding the concept of overcoming sin in the life of the believer has been ongoing and significant for hundreds of years. Many, if not most translations of the Bible have human effort as the agency in the translator’s minds for believers overcoming sin patterns and aberrant behavior. Human effort from this standpoint could be understood as denying oneself, dying to self, crucifying self, repentance, etc. Those that hold to this position see the work of sanctification as something which began with the sacrifice of Christ, but is perfected by the flesh.
It is vitally important to know that the flesh is incapable of living the Christian life. Those that try, find themselves in a repetitive sense of defeat and futility. A sense of alienation from God is the result of failed human effort. Consequently, Pastors all across the land strongly remind the body what should be done in order to live Godly. This teaching then directs the believer to spend more time in the word, pray more, serve more, give more, attend more, and most commonly, repent more. While most of these exercises can be helpful to the maturation process of the believer, if it is performed with the intent to please God, to be blessed by God, or perhaps to complete the so-called process of sanctification, the cycle of failure will only repeat itself over and over again. The result? … a struggling believer who is constantly striving to perform well enough to be accepted, loved, and blessed by God. From this immature and non-biblical vantage point, the Father is generally seen as distant, demanding, and impatiently waiting till we get our act together in hope that we will be accepted by Him.
As I said on Sunday, the Apostle Paul in Romans and Colossians was not encouraging Christian human effort as the agency to overcome sinful behavior. That simply doesn’t work – not then, not now! Instead, he was instructing the Christian to believe what God says about who they are in Christ (saved, forgiven, righteous, holy, justified, sanctified, etc.). Since we know that “truth” is what sets us free, believing is the place to start, and receiving what you believe is the actual work. This is far different from the “behavior modification” methods of religion and legalism. Once again it isn’t a matter of human discipline or effort, it is simply an act of faith and receiving that gives us the victory.
Mature Christians are great receivers!
Jesus said that He came to set the captives free, and whom the Son sets free they are free indeed. Paul explains this from a New Creation perspective; the Old Man is dead and the New Man is alive in Christ Jesus, having been set free from the law of sin and death. “Putting to death the deeds of the body which is subject to the lusts of the flesh” (Romans 6:13; 13:12) is a matter of fully identifying ourselves with Christ as His very own, thereby living from the reality of His holiness and righteousness abiding in us.
Once we acknowledge the truth about who we are in Christ, we are then advised by Paul to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). This means to live in His life and from His life through the Spirit. That is truly the key to a joyous, victorious life that overcomes the temptations and agony of sinful behavior (Romans 5:17). The Spirit leads us into all truth, and serves to equip us to know Christ intimately while empowering us to live from His life.
It’s all Him – not our attempts to be like Him. That is really good news.