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The Contents Of This Chapter
Sin is any thought, choice, word, or deed that unjustly and unnecessarily causes another to suffer — including God. It is acting in a manner that seeks our own good to the neglect of or at the expense of another’s good — including God’s good. It is doing to others — including God — what we do not want others to do to us. It is knowing the right thing to do, yet willfully choosing not to do it or carelessly neglecting to do it. Therefore, whether immediately or ultimately, directly or indirectly, obviously or inconspicuously, cruelly or gently, in the home or in the community, sin is evil because it results in unjust and unnecessary suffering by all who are adversely affected by it — including God.
Sin is the driving force behind inhumanity, brutality, genocide, the ravages of war, ruthlessness, racism, rape, murder, greed, immorality, dishonesty, alcoholism, drug addiction, unsafe neighborhoods, divorce, broken homes, unkindness, disrespect, lack of compassion, and every other kind of cruelty forced on humans by humans. It is the culprit behind every shallow, damaged, and broken relationship — be it in the home, or between friends, co-workers, fellow citizens, people groups, or nations. Truly, all sin is heinous because all sin eventually, inevitably, and cruelly harms all who are directly or indirectly affected by it.
sin is so heinous, why do so many of us sin so often? If we know the
difference between right and wrong, why do we do what we know is
wrong — repetitively, deliberately, and even
eagerly? If we don’t want others to sin against us, why do we
so casually or self-justifyingly sin against them? If we want the good
feelings and security of being loved, or at least accepted and
respected, why do we treat others in ways that make them feel
disrespected and unloved? Why are we so willing to cheapen, damage, and
even destroy important relationships for purely personal gain,
self-pleasure, or irrational fears? Why do we overlook, justify,
defend, and even cherish certain sins? And when we want to do what is
right, why do we find it so hard to do what is right and so easy to do
what is wrong? Why does a sincere effort to continually do what is
right seem like work, while doing what is wrong seems so effortless?
Why, when we hate certain sins, do we end up committing the very sins
we hate? Why, when we work and struggle to do what is right, do we
still fall short of our intentions? And why do we do well for a time
only to stumble back into our old sinful ways as if nothing had changed?
There is only one answer to all these “whys.” We are born sinners. We come out of the womb with a sinful nature which affects every fiber of our being. We enter this world self-centered, and it isn’t long thereafter that the seeds of distrust begin to sprout toward those we are dependent on to promote and protect our happiness and well-being, including and especially God. In fact, by the time we reach our late teens it is the combination of our self-centeredness and distrust of God which becomes the life-force of our sin nature.
Though this is not the explanation for human personality, it is the explanation for the universality of sin. Everyone has acted self-centeredly, and deliberately so. Everyone has looked out for his own interests, and has done so at the expense of others. Everyone has done what he knows is wrong. Everyone has broken God’s commandments by acting according to what he thinks is best for himself.
Yet there is more. To this inherent and natural propensity for sin we add the fact that we are born into a world dominated by sinners who take pride in their sinning. We are raised in a home where self-centeredness is too often favored over love, where double standards are rampant, and where relationships are disposable. We live in a community where self-centeredness is treated as normal and wrong is passed off as right. We are part of a nation which worships money and success with insufficient concern as to how they are gotten or who gets hurt in the process.
With sin in us and all around us, we grow indifferent to the evil of sin in general. And though we hate certain sins, we cherish others, especially those which we deem important or advantageous to our happiness and well-being. These are the sins we commit without a pang of conscience, a sense of guilt, or a moment of remorse. In fact, we don’t see our treasured sins as sin at all but rather the means to security and happiness when faced with the difficulties and disappointments of life. Because of all this, even the best of us grows to adulthood willfully practicing one or more things we know are wrong, and therefore, sin.
However, most of us see ourselves as generally good, genuinely
well-meaning, and therefore, hardly sinful. We accomplish this feat of
self-veneration by comparing ourselves to those we consider to be far
worse sinners than ourselves. By consistently comparing ourselves to
the worst among us, our sins seem small and insignificant, and our
sinful nature seems almost non-existent. Yet we sin for the same
reasons the most abominable sinner sins —
self-centeredness mingled with distrust of God. The harm done to others
by our sin is just as unnecessary and unjust as that done by the worst
of sinners. And though we may generally appear to be kind and loving,
we cheapen, damage, and even destroy relationships just like the most
sinful among us.
What can be done? How can we stop sinning? How can we put an end to our stupid, unloving, self-destructive, other-people-destructive, relationship-damaging choices and behavior? How can we stop undermining, and even destroying the very things that make life worth living (i.e., a shared relationship with God based on mutual love and trust, personal integrity, a loving and nurturing family, a safe, caring, and just community where everyone's good is promoted and protected, and a nation where peace and prosperity are the norm)?
To put an end to self-centeredness and its consequent sin, sinners must be delivered from sin’s controlling power and enslaving influence. But who can free us from our natural predisposition to rebel against God and go our own way? Who can liberate us from our recurring desires to do what we know is wrong? Who can take away our desire to look out for our own interests at the expense of others? Who can bring an end to our craving for the benefits and pleasures of sin? Who can unchain us from our slavery to the practice of our treasured sins? Who can protect us from the forces of evil — from Satan, his co-workers, and their relentless efforts to tempt us to sin? Who can shield us from the nagging pressure to join our peers in doing what we know is wrong? Who can deliver us from the curse of sin?
God, driven by His concern for our good and His desire for a relationship of mutual love and trust with us, has done everything necessary to deliver us from sin. Through His son, Jesus Christ, God has broken sin’s hold over us. Therefore, though born in sin, we do not have to remain subjugated to the controlling power and enslaving influence of sin. Though alienated from God because of our sin, we can be reconciled to Him, now and throughout eternity. Though self-centered by birth, we can become people of love who want good for others as much as we want good for self. Though anything but godly, we can become Christ-like. Though in this world, we need not be like the world because God will empower us to resist temptation and do what we know is right. Though condemned to eternal damnation in hell, we can be forgiven and reside in heaven with God, forever. (Note: II Corinthians 5:17-19; Romans 8:2; Colossians 1:13; John 16:7-11)
Truly, God has provided the solution to our sin problem. He has done
everything necessary to provide us with everything we could possibly
need to live a godly, Christ-like life right here and right now. And
without question, apart from His intervention, provision, and
participation in our life, we will remain enslaved to sin and damned to
eternal banishment in hell. Therefore, we desperately need
God’s plan of deliverance is a complete plan. It frees us from the power of sin. It releases us from the practice of sin. It rescues us from the penalty of sin. It enlists our voluntary, cheerful, intentional participation, because by nature we resist being changed against our will. It makes us new creatures in Christ, transforming us from self-centered sinners into godly-living, love-compelled, others-focused, servant-minded, Christ-ones. It begins at the initial point of our repentance and placement of faith in God, and continues forever. The only requirement to experience this great plan of salvation is to trust God implicitly, which we cannot do without also obeying Him explicitly. And though this saving process may not make us perfect while we yet live on this earth, we will be made perfect when we leave this world and enter God’s heavenly kingdom. (Note: Titus 2:11-14; I Thessalonians 4:3; Romans 6:4-11, 22; II Corinthians 5:14-15; II Peter 1:3-11; Philippians 1:6; Jude 24-25)
The Ten Commandments, along with the rest of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), make up the first known written word given to us by God. Since that time, God has provided additional written material containing instructions on how to live. He has done this through stories about life-experiences, stories of people He has dealt with and how He dealt with them, poetry, wisdom literature, prophetic words about the future, exhortations, four biographies of Christ, church history, letters to new churches, and information about the end of the world as we know it today. This is all found in the Christian Bible.
In studying the Bible, we discover that God’s grand purpose for us can be stated in one word: love. God wants us to love Him, first and foremost. He wants us to love one another in an emotionally healthy, intellectually rational, relationship developing way. That is, God wants us to love in a way that seeks and secures the good of everyone affected in any way by our choices and behavior. If we then study our repetitive choices and behavior, examining them in light of what God’s Word says, we see that we often prefer selfishness and the ease of sin over selflessness and the challenges of love. And too often, we know what is right, yet we deliberately do what we know is wrong.
do we explain the disparity between what we know and how we live? How
do we explain our claim to agree with God’s Word while making
choices and behaving in ways that transgress His Word? Could it be that
knowing what is right is not enough to make us, or compel us, or
motivate us, or empower us to do what is right?
We all begin life as children. Children naturally look out for their own interests, because that is all they know. They are, by nature, self-centered, because that is as far as they can think. In a small, helpless child this is neither bad nor good. It is a child’s way of surviving. But we do not remain small, helpless children. We grow up. Yet, sad to say, most of us cling to self-centeredness as if it were our only means of survival in a difficult world filled with difficult people.
However, our predisposition to self-centeredness is not the only influence driving us to sin. The influence of our parents, peers, society, and various media forms further promote and reinforce our self-centeredness.
In spite of the good our parents do, they too struggle with self-centeredness. As a result, they model selfish behavior. And just as their good ways encourage us to goodness, so their selfish ways reinforce our bent toward self-centeredness. Whatever our age, we are surrounded by peers who believe self-centeredness is the wisest principle by which to live. This constant pressure feeds our bent toward self-centeredness. Then there is our society with its moral attitudes, family values, economic beliefs, consumerism, business ethics, and social classes — all of which are shaped by people’s self-centeredness. Books, magazines, newspapers, television programs, movies, music, and most of the advertisements that accompany this media extol the wisdom of making the pursuit of personal pleasure our greatest goal, and the accumulation of things our greatest accomplishment. Over and over again, they proclaim that happiness and self-worth are the direct result of what we do for ourselves and/or what we possess. One would have to be mindless not to see that this feeds our bent toward selfishness.
Beyond the internal and the external pressures, Satan and his co-workers continually tempt us, in every way imaginable, to choose selfishness over love and sin over righteousness. This brings us to the problem of addiction.
cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, sin is addictive. Once we
experience the convenience of sin and the quick-acting, self-serving
pleasures and benefits of sin, it is hard to go back to the sometimes
hard work and delayed gratification of doing what we know is right. The
more we choose to sin, the more our choice to sin is reinforced by the
self-indulging benefits of sin. The more we enjoy the benefits of sin,
the more we are driven to sin. Then, with the addiction comes
denial — denial that we are repetitively doing what
we know is wrong, denial that we have an addiction problem, and denial
that we need help. Such is the cycle of addiction. And like any
addiction, once we are hooked, the addiction creates a sense of
dependence that drives us back to choose sin, again and again.
Therefore, in spite of what we know about right and wrong, in spite of what we know about the Ten Commandments or the entire Bible, knowledge is not enough to break sin’s hold on us. Knowledge cannot make us do what is right. In fact, we can know exactly what sins we treasure, how they destroy us, how they unnecessarily harm others, and what the right thing is to do, and still do what we know is wrong. True, we need knowledge. And often, the more the better. But just as knowledge is not enough to break the hold of alcohol in the alcoholic, or drugs in the drug addict, so it is not enough to break the power of sin in the sinner. What we need, along with knowledge, is a power greater than the power of sin to enable us, indeed empower us, to win the battle against the addictively enslaving power of sin. (Note: Romans 7:14-17)
We were not created for an atmosphere ruled by fear and hope, or the stick and carrot, or punishment and reward. The need for these methods of constraint or motivation is the direct result of sin. How do we know this is true? Fear and hope constrain us from wrong-doing and motivate us to right-doing by arousing the most formidable foe of love and love-based relationships — self-centeredness. Fear and hope attain their power to persuade by appealing to our self-interest.
see the truth of this when dealing with young children, unruly
teenagers, and unscrupulous or vile adults. Young children must be
motivated to right behavior through fear and hope because they lack the
intellectual maturity to understand the principle of love and then
regulate their behavior accordingly. They need someone to set
boundaries for them. Then they need someone to enforce those boundaries
so they do what is right. Unruly teenagers, and adults who refuse to
live according to the community good, prove by their anti-social
behavior that they have no intention of promoting and protecting the
good of everyone affected by their choices and behavior. They
don’t want to love others as they love themselves. Thus the
use of reason to appeal to their conscience and sense of community good
is of no effect. This means the only method left to protect the public
good is to use the tactics of fear and hope in an effort to constrain
their wrong-doing and motivate them to do what is right.
Now it should be clear from these three examples that fear and hope, to be effective, must appeal to our self-interest. It motivates us to right behavior by activating our concern for our own well-being. Young children do what is right, not because they understand the principle of love and wish to apply it in all their dealings with others. They do what is right because they fear punishment and/or long for the benefits of doing what their parents want. Unruly teenagers and self-centered adults respond to fear and hope, not out of concern for the good of others, but because someone has raised the cost of wrong-doing to the point of exceeding its benefits. Therefore, to accomplish God’s creative purposes, right behavior (promoting and protecting the good of everyone affected in any way by our choices and behavior) must come from a loving regard for the good of others. Consider the following line of reasoning.
Only when we willingly deny self (crucify the flesh with its passions and desires, or voluntarily choose to lose our life for the sake doing good for others) can we be motivated by the pure desire to seek the good of others (love). Only when we are motivated by love can we own (believe in, hold as our own conviction) the right and good things God commands us to do. Only when we own the right and good things God commands us to do can we do it voluntarily and cheerfully (without external coercion, of our own free-will, free of any motive related to self-centeredness) — especially in the face of harassment, rejection, torment, abuse, oppression, and torture. Only when we voluntarily and consistently seek the good of others do they feel sincerely loved by us. Only when two or more people voluntarily and consistently seek the good of each other can they enter into a relationship built on mutual love and trust. Only when a relationship is built on mutual love and trust is the good of both parties zealously protected. Therefore, such love and trust based relationships become the only possible basis for communities where the good of each individual is protected by everyone, and everyone is sincerely loved. And you say, “So what!” And I say, it is for this — being active participants in God’s love-based community — that we were created.
Do not miss this point: the motives of fear and hope can neither give birth to nor sustain loving communities or individual relationships built on mutual love and trust. Fear and hope fail to bring us to love because they use the power of self-interest to motivate us to action. This means fear and hope keep self-centeredness alive in an effort to accomplish its goals. We need release from, indeed the death of self-centeredness, if we are to move on to loving God supremely and others as ourselves. Since, therefore, fear and hope depend on self-centeredness to motivate us, you can be certain they cannot deliver us from the power and practice of sin because the power and practice of sin find their life in our self-centeredness.
Therefore, any plan, program, system, psychological method, philosophy,
or religious teaching which claims to change behavior, yet appeals to
or in any way supports self-centeredness in accomplishing its claim,
may free us from one or several specific behaviors, but never from the
all-pervasive power and practice of sin. These efforts undoubtedly can
produce localized changes in behavior, but they cannot free us from a
whole-life, life-long commitment to the good of self through the
practice of cherished sins. We need God’s comprehensive,
resurrection, bondage-breaking, redemptive power to set us free from
the power of sin. Then, we need God’s indwelling Holy Spirit,
enlightenment, promises, leading, refining, and protection from
temptation greater than our current ability to resist, to remain free
from the practice of sin.
The power of sin to affect our lives is like the power of gravity. We cannot break the power of gravity without the aid of some greater power beyond our human power. An example of a greater power would be an airplane. By making proper use of an airplane’s power, we can freely and safely break the law of gravity. In the same way, we cannot break the stranglehold of self-centeredness and the all-pervasive power of sin without the aid of some greater power beyond our human power. Certainly knowledge, and the motivating power of fear and hope, can aid us in making some changes for the better. But we cannot overcome sin’s potent influence over us, we cannot break sin’s addictive shackles, and we cannot crush self-centeredness without the power of God. Truly, what we cannot do for ourselves, God does for us. By making proper use of God’s power, we can freely and safely face each day as freedmen, as fully recovered addicts, as new creations in Christ Jesus, as people committed to the good of everyone affected in any way by our choices and behavior (especially God). (Note: Romans 7:18-25)
God knows exactly what we need to live selflessly and godly in this sin-sick, self-centered world. He has devised and developed every tool and resource necessary to make what seems impossible (dying to self and sin — living for God and others), possible. And without question, everything He provides is ours for the using. He holds nothing back.
Of course, God’s having made all the necessary provisions for godly living, and having made all those provisions available to us, implies we have a part in the process. To be set free from the power, practice, and penalty of sin, we must repent. To remain free from the practice of sin and resist the temptation to sin, we must do as God says.
other words, God has broken the power of sin. The next move is up to
us. To receive the benefit of what God has done we must want the power
of sin broken in our life. We take our first step in this direction by
repenting and placing our faith in God. We take our next step in this
direction by denying self and giving our attention to living as God
says to live. We go father in this direction by making good use of
God’s power and resources to break our well-entrenched sinful
habits and thought patterns and replace them with godly habits and
thought patterns. And we go our greatest distance in this direction as
we do our part to nurture a relationship of intimate communion and
companionship with God.
The important point here is that deliverance from the power and practice of sin is a two-sided work — God’s and ours. What we can and ought to do, God will not do. He uses no magic. He offers no miracle cure. And He never forces us against our will. Indeed, such forcing cannot produce a changed life. Think about this. We sometimes confine an alcoholic or drug addict to dry him out — get the demon brew or toxic drug out of his system. We often do this against the alcoholic’s or drug addict’s will so as to get him in a reasonably sane condition to make a decision for sobriety. Once the decision is made, he must act according to his will in working out his decision. Apart from a voluntary, purposeful decision for sobriety, he will return to his drug of choice. In this same way, we must voluntarily choose and purposefully do our part if God’s gift of freedom from the power and practice of sin is to have its intended affect.
But before examining our part, let us focus on what God has done, and will do, to free us from the power and practice of sin. Since this chapter follows the chapters on repentance and faith, we will assume the reader understands what God has done for us through the sacrifice of His son on the cross. The following scriptures speak to the work of God in the Christian’s life following repentance and conversion. Contemplate the provisions of God identified in these scriptures.
promises He will create new heavens and a new earth where all who
repent and trust in Him will one day live. This new place will be like
nothing we know here on earth. The difference will be the
atmosphere — not the air we breathe, but the people
with whom we live. Love will rule supreme. There will be no broken or
damaged relationships, no broken homes, no abused or battered children,
no mistreated spouses, no racial or gender discrimination, no hatred or
hostility or violence of any kind, no criminals, no dishonest
businessmen, no hunger or homelessness, no injustice, no sickness or
suffering, no natural disasters, no anything that is in any way harmful
to the well-being of anyone who is there. For those who repent and
begin to live as Christ lived and love as God loves, the assurance of
such a place is a powerful incentive to make use of all God provides to
free us from the power of sin and put an end to the practice of sin. It
motivates us to reject the immediate, appealing, often pleasurable,
self-gratifying benefits of self-love for the never-ending benefits of
selfless love. It enables us to rejoice that this world is not our
home, and to live as those who are only passing through. It reinforces
the fact that the rewards of doing what we know is right are eternal,
while the rewards of doing what we know is wrong are temporary, at
best. (Note: John 14:1-4)
God takes up residence within everyone who repents and puts their faith in Him. Once within, He imparts to us His nature, wisdom, power, and character qualities like a tree imparts its life to its branches, and then to the leaves and fruit those branches bear. When He is in us, we are able to make good use of His power, wisdom, and character qualities in becoming all that He saved us to be. In other words, we are not left to our own powers of intellect, self-motivation, self-discipline, natural ability, or family influence. God moves in. He joins His life to ours, making it realistic to say, “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” For those who know how sinful they are, this is not only a wonderful provision from God, it is a necessary one. (Note: John 15:1-8; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:19-22)
By His power, God reclaims our intellect and conscience. When we are living as unbelievers it is hard to see the strength of the chains that bind us to self-centered and self-deceived thinking. It is hard to see that our conscience barely functions as it ought. It is hard to see that we are as evil as the vilest of sinners. Truly, our sin-dulled intellect and our malfunctioning conscience need reclaiming. What we have destroyed through misuse, God restores through His power. Because of God’s doing, our intellect and conscience can be renewed, and therefore, effectively used for discovering, evaluating, and implementing truth about right and wrong. And beyond that, a renewed intellect and conscience enables us to discern the will of God, to see ourselves as we are, and to know when we are going off the path of godliness. (Note: Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24; Hebrews 9:14; I Timothy 1:5)
For our benefit, God has given us His Word in a readable, understandable form. We call it the Bible. The Bible teaches us about God’s character, His wisdom, His intentions for us, and the ways in which He deals with us. The Bible, through its historical accounts, teaches us about ourselves, our sinful nature, our need for God, and what we can be if we will put our faith in God. The Bible teaches us how to subdue our selfish inclinations, how to end our foolish pursuit of shallow pleasures, and how to flee self-destroying riches. It instructs us in the ways of love — love that seeks and secures the good of everyone affected by our choices and behavior. By evaluating our thoughts, words, and deeds against its message, the Bible is able to correct us when we go astray. And it is able to train us in living a mature, sensible, rational life devoted to the service of God and to loving others as we love ourselves. This is another of God’s provisions which enable us to remain free from the power and practice of sin. (Note: II Timothy 3:16-17)
By His power, God created the universe in such a way as to reveal His eternal power, His divine nature, and His invisible attributes. He created us in such a way that we are able to look at what He has made and see in it His unrivaled power, His holy nature, and the quality of His character. All that He has made testifies to His longing for meaningful relationships, His love which seeks the good of all, His kindness and mercy, His willingness to forgive, His patience with sinners, His holiness, and His justice for all. Seeing what God has done and how He operates in the natural world teaches us the wisdom of placing our lives in His hands and relying on Him for the help we need to remain free from the overwhelming power and ever-beguiling practice of sin. (Note: Romans 1:18-20)
In response to our human frailties, God gives us His Holy Spirit to educate us, empower us, and guide us. He places us in the Body of Christ so we can receive the support, encouragement, nurturing, and discipline we need to grow to maturity. He gives wisdom on request. And if we will immerse ourselves in building His kingdom and establishing His righteousness in the world around us, he will provide for all our physical needs (i.e., food, shelter, clothing). All these provisions further enable us to remain free from the power and practice of sin so we can live as God asks us to live and love as He loves. (Note: John 14:16-17,26; 16:13-14; Ephesians 4:11-16; James 1:5; Matthew 6:33)
By His power, God protects us from being tempted with any temptation stronger than our ability to resist. When we are tempted, God makes sure there is a way out so we are not only able to resist, but also able to get away from the temptation. Therefore, by the combined use of God’s Satan-restraining power and our self-discipline, we can resist the devil in the name of Jesus or through quoting Scripture and find release from the pressure of any given temptation. (Note: I Corinthians 10:13; I Peter 5:6-10)
By His unmatchable provisions and eternal power, God frees us from the overwhelming influence and addictive power of sin. He enables us to do what we desperately need to do yet cannot do for ourselves. Truly, His power and provisions make the difference between godliness and the practice of sin, love and self-centeredness, and life and death.
We know why atheists, agnostics, haters of God, and others such as these continue in their practice of sin. They want to sin. They enjoy their sin. They believe their chosen sins are not only reasonable, but wise and necessary for a full and happy life. They don’t want to be freed from the power and practice of sin. They don’t want to intentionally and eagerly make the good of others more important than the good of self. So they openly resist God’s efforts to bring them to repentance and conversion.
But what about those who consider themselves religious, believers in God, born-again Christians, or even good Christians? Why do so many of them behave as if self-centeredness is precious and vital to a happy life? Why do so many of them remain addicted to the practice of sin (though often the less obvious or more religiously accepted sins such as greed)? Why do so many of them treat others in ways they themselves do not want to be treated — especially those in their own home? Why are they oblivious to their own sin when they so accurately point out the sin in others? Why, when they know enough about right behavior to advise others, do they not advise themselves? Why does it seem God’s sin-freeing, life-changing power is ineffective in their lives?
Is God impotent? Is God incapable of conquering the depravity of our humanity? Could it be that Satan and the other forces of evil are more powerful than God? Has God claimed to be something He isn’t? Has He made promises He cannot keep? Is He lazy? Negligent? Unconcerned? Preoccupied? A dismal failure?
For those of us who claim to be born-again Christians, the problem is not God. He is everything He claims to be. His power is sufficient, and His provisions are abundant. He is able and He is eager to free us from the power, the practice, and the penalty of sin. Truly, He is not the problem. We are.
We are at fault for continuing to do what we know is wrong. We are at fault for doing to others what we do not want others to do to us. We are at fault because we want to enjoy the benefits of Christianity and the benefits of the ungodly world. We are at fault because we want the best of God and the best of sin. We are at fault because we want to be freed from the penalty and possibly the power of sin, but not from the practice of our most useful sins. We want God to love us enough to free us from the fires of hell while disliking our neighbors enough to overlook our continued participation in a few sins that make their lives unhappy, unpleasant, and even miserable. We want to do what we know is right, but we also want to do a few of those life-enhancing, happiness-ensuring, self-interest-serving things we know are wrong. The truth is, we want to worship two contradictory, paradoxical adversaries — God Jehovah and self-interest. Therefore, if we are born-again Christians, God is not at fault for our ongoing sinful condition, we are. Being unwilling to forsake the practice of our most treasured sins, we resist God’s efforts to free us from the practice of sin.
But how do we resist God’s freeing work? What does it look like? Consider the following five common ways Christians resist God in this matter.
one factor affecting all resistance to God’s freeing work is
distrust. Any distrust of God’s goodness —
of His willingness and ability to adequately protect us or provide for
us — leads to self-centered efforts to do for
ourselves what we fear God won’t or can’t do for
us. This is especially obvious in the way we treat people whose
behavior directly affects us.
When we think God is not giving us adequate protection from those whose behavior unnecessarily hurts us, or when we think He is not promoting our interests in comparison to others, we take matters into our own hands and do what we believe is best for self. In other words, distrust of God becomes a powerful motive for self-centeredness. Therefore, Christians who distrust God are as prone to use controlling anger, manipulative behavior, sarcasm, stubbornness, avoidance, withdrawal, returning unkindness for unkindness, public denigration of the wrong-doer, and revenge against people who mistreat them as are avowed non-Christians. And for this same reason, when we dig below the religious-coated surface, we find, too often, that relationships between Christian husbands and wives, parents and children, church members, and business partners is hardly better than that found in many non-Christian settings.
Without a doubt, distrust of God motivates us to deliberately resist God’s efforts to deliver us from the practice of sin. And we resist God’s deliverance work wherever we think His participation and His ways fall short of meeting our perceived needs for happiness and security. By holding on to what we believe to be “necessary sins,” we fill the gaps left by our mostly, but not completely, trustworthy God.
The second common way in which we resist God’s efforts to free us from the practice of sin is self-deception. We often lie to ourselves about ourselves so we can think better of ourselves than we ought. Hiding from the ugly truth about ourselves allows us to continue in our sinful ways as if we are not sinful.
And what lies do we tell ourselves? We tell ourselves we are good Christians. We reinforce this lie by closing our eyes to those areas where we deliberately live contrary to what we know God’s Word says about how to live. We tell ourselves our good intentions are proof enough that we are doing what is right. We reinforce this lie by ignoring the hurtful and relationship-damaging effects on others of our presumed good intentions. We tell ourselves we should be the one who decides how our behavior affects others (thus making it easy to decide we are innocent). Yet we never challenge this lie with the fact that we demand the right to decide how other people’s behavior affects us. We tell ourselves we are doing God’s will. We reinforce this lie by ignoring the fact that we do His will only when it allows us to maintain a comfortable level of self-rule. We speak often of the Christian, benevolent, kind, and generous things we do while ignoring, denying, justifying, or excusing the times when we shamelessly and repeatedly do what we know is wrong. Our self-deception enables us to maintain an exaggerated sense of godliness which enables us to continue in the practice of our cherished sins with an almost indistinguishable sense of guilt.
There is another angle to this problem of self-deception. We like to tell ourselves that knowing (to grasp something with the mind and recognize it as true) is the same as believing (to place trust in something so as to order our choices and behavior according to what we believe). It is true that knowing and believing are intricately related. Believing is directly dependent on what we know, for it is impossible to place trust in someone or something we have no knowledge of. But knowing and believing are not one and the same. Knowing something to be true does not automatically result in placing trust in that truth so as to live accordingly. We may know all there is to know about God, but if what we know is not accompanied by trust, we will not live according to our knowledge. Therefore, knowing what is right is not enough. To be enough, knowing must be accompanied by doing if it is to be an expression of our faith.
The third common way in which we resist God’s efforts to free us from the practice of sin is our unwillingness to accept responsibility for our choices and behavior. We are quick to take responsibility for those choices and behaviors which garner us approval. But too often, we are just as quick to disavow responsibility for those choices and behaviors which result in criticism and condemnation, such as our mistakes, failures, or obviously sinful acts.
We often deny personal responsibility by shifting the blame away from ourselves. We shift the blame by saying other people or the related circumstances drove us to do what we did. We claim that if certain people hadn’t done what they did, or certain circumstances had been different, we wouldn’t have done what we did. Sometimes we even blame God, as if something He has or hasn’t done drove us to do the wrong we have done. In other words, by saying they drove us do what we did, we shift responsibility for our choices and behavior to other people, circumstances, and sometimes even God. In shifting the blame, we free ourselves from having to take responsibility for what we have done.
Sometimes we deny the right of others to hold us responsible for our sinful choices and behavior by appealing to the “everyone’s doing it” measurement of right and wrong. We use this measurement to imply two things. First, if many or most of the people are doing it, it must be okay. In other words, if the numbers are right, the deed must be right. Second, if it is wrong, we ought not be held responsible for what others are doing and getting away with. In other words, if they can get away with it, we ought to be able to get away with it too.
Shifting the blame for our wrong choices and behavior allows us to think we are good people, even good Christians, when we aren’t. Thinking of ourselves as good allows us to ignore known practices of sin from which we need to be freed. Therefore, we remain uncooperative with God’s efforts to free us from the practice of all sin.
The fourth common way in which we resist God’s efforts to free us from the practice of sin comes from a subtle twist on the truth. Because it has the look of deep spirituality, it is far less obvious than the other forms of resistance. This subtle form of resistance comes from the “only God can change me” approach to Christian living.
In one sense, only God can change us from heinous sinners to people of love. Yet without our cooperation, without us doing our part (i.e., fleeing youthful lusts, making no provision for the flesh, reckoning ourselves dead to sin, thinking on right things, resisting the devil, putting on the armor of God, walking by the Spirit), no transformation will take place. (Note: II Timothy 2:22; Romans 13:14; Romans 6:11; Philippians 4:8; James 4:7; Ephesians 6:10-17; Galatians 5:16-17)
Those who twist this truth exaggerate God’s part in changing us. They decry any human effort in the process of growing in godliness as “the work of the flesh.” They believe it is unspiritual to do anything spiritual by any means that includes human effort. First of all, they believe that when God wants them to change in a particular area He will give them a miraculous and irresistible revelation of truth. In other words, He will tell them exactly what He wants them to stop doing and what they are to start doing. Then, He will do what is necessary to change them. Therefore, they continue to practice known sin because it seems to them that God is doing nothing about it. And if God is doing nothing about a known sin in their life, that is His decision. What these folks do not see is how this approach leads them to deliberately resist many of God’s efforts to free them from the practice of sin.
The fifth common way in which we resist God’s efforts to free us from the practice of sin is lack of preparation. Most Christians set aside little or no time to adequately prepare for the challenge of living godly in an ungodly world. We are too busy doing other things. But the truth is, we choose not to make the time. We make time to adequately prepare for such things as school assignments, job assignments, speaking in front of a group, weekend dates, vacation trips, child care when we need to be away from the children, shopping with coupons, making major purchases, house and car repairs, special occasions (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries), and investments. When we adequately prepare for these kinds of things it proves we believe in the value of preparing, and it proves we know how to organize our time in order to adequately prepare.
of preparation, or inadequate preparation, means we will continue in
old, sinful habits even though we know the right thing to do. Habits
take time to establish, and habits take time to kill. Without a
prolonged, consistent effort (the fruit of daily preparation),
we won’t break any established habits. Neither will we
establish new, righteous habits to replace the old sinful habits. Lack
of preparation, or inadequate preparation, means we will choose
self-centeredness, and therefore sin, more often than if we had
prepared. Lack of adequate preparation means unnecessarily hurting more
people more often than if we prepared. Indeed, we are not loving others
as we want them to love us when we fail to adequately prepare so as to
bring a reasonably quick end to our sinful ways. Finally, to carelessly
prolong the process of putting an end to known sin means we are
intentionally prolonging our resistance to some of God’s
efforts to free us from the practice of sin. Is it any wonder we
continue to willingly, knowingly, and repeatedly sin while calling
It should be clear from these five ways of resisting God’s efforts to free us why His ways don’t seem to work very well. His power and working are enough to do what needs to be done. We are the problem. Our resistance may not be obvious or well-planned. Yet whether preplanned or unplanned, our resistance is willful, voluntary, intentional, and self-serving. Do not let anyone deceive you on this point.
Therefore, the continued practice of known sin is the direct result of a moral weakness (a deliberate choice to continue doing what we know is wrong). A moral weakness is the result of purposefully and voluntarily setting some goal, or giving way to some desire, or living according to some fear that we know, or should know, advances our interests at the expense of others. A moral weakness is the result of intentionally choosing selfishness over love. And, a moral weakness is motivated by unbelief or distrust of God.
Opposite the moral weakness is the natural weakness. A natural weakness, whether intellectual or physical, is the result of some handicap, deficiency, or inability that is beyond our control. A moral weakness is our fault. A natural weakness is an unfortunate imperfection.
If you are a Christian and are knowingly practicing sin, it is not the result of any natural weakness. Your problem is the result of a moral weakness. You know what is right in relation to your repeated sin. There may even be times when you wish you could be free from that sin. Yet at the same time, you are acting out one or more of the five common ways we resist God’s efforts to free us from the practice of sin. You cannot come to freedom while resisting the efforts of your Redeemer.
we want to be set free from the power and practice of sin we must fully
co-operate with God’s efforts to free us. Partial (selective)
cooperation is not enough. If we intentionally pump life into
self-will, be it ever so little, we will intentionally resist some of
God’s efforts to free us from the practice of sin. If we
believe there is a sinful solution that is better than God’s
solution to one of our pressing problems, we will intentionally resist
God’s efforts to free us from the practice of that sin. If we
feel we must have, or even deserve, just one benefit or pleasure
outside the boundaries of godliness, we will intentionally resist
God’s efforts to free us from the practice of that sin which
gives us the benefit or pleasure we seek. It isn’t that we do
not know what is right, it’s that we want to do what is
wrong. This is a moral choice affirming a moral weakness.
God has given us everything necessary to live a godly life. We have the ability as children of the living God to make full and proper use of what God has done and will do to free us from sin — its power, its practice, and its penalty. When we do our part, we will come into that wondrous, God provided, God empowered, God enabled freedom from the overpowering influence and enslaving attraction sin has in our life.
“My dearest children, I am writing these things to you so that you will not continue in sin. However, if you sin, Jesus Christ, the righteous one will intercede on your behalf with the Father.” (Note: I John 2:1)
“What should our response be to God’s marvelous and incomprehensible grace? Should we continue in the practice of sin, as if sinning more will make God’s grace more obvious? Or should we feel free to sin, as if His grace makes it safe to sin by freeing us from sin’s penalty? What an unchristian thought! This kind of thinking is as much an enemy of love as infidelity is an enemy of marriage. How is it possible for Christ-ones, those who have been freed from the accumulative and addictive power of sin, to continue practicing sin? Have you not heard that all who are baptized into Jesus Christ have been baptized into His death — that is, His death to sin? Therefore, all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have died to sin just as He has, so that just as He was raised from the dead by God’s supreme power, so we too are empowered by God to live a new and godly life.” (Note: Romans 6:1-4)
“Now all who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death the flesh with its irrational fears, selfish desires, foolish impulses, and fleshly passions.” (Note: Galatians 5:24)
“Therefore, put to death any past habits, desires, and inclinations that can lead you into sin (those things brought into your Christian life from your old sinful life): sexual immorality, impure thinking and adulterous fantasies, excessive passions, selfish desires, greed — which is a form of idol worship — manipulative anger, physical and verbal abuse, fits of rage, the desire to get even, slander, derogatory and disrespectful talk, and lying. This is only reasonable since you have repented of sin and been converted to a new life in Christ Jesus — a life which is being progressively conformed to the very life of God Himself.” (Note: Colossians 3:5,8-10)
“No temptation or time of testing has come into your life that has not been experienced by others. You are not the only one to experience such difficulties. Others have remained faithful to God’s ways when subjected to the same temptations and trials you are experiencing. This assures us that God can be trusted to never allow us to be tempted or tried beyond our ability to endure or resist. And in addition, He ensures a mentally healthy and spiritually appropriate way out of each temptation so you can escape its efforts to ruin you.” (Note: I Corinthians 10:13)
“The foundation laid by God stands forever, and this is inscribed on its cornerstone: ‘The Lord has a personal relationship with those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who says they are born-again Christians forsake and abstain from all self-centeredness and sin.’” (Note: II Timothy 2:19)
“If we continue to willfully sin after having heard and believed in the truth of the Gospel, there is nothing more God can do to free us from the power, practice, and penalty of sin. What God has done through Jesus Christ is more than enough. There is nothing more that can be done. If we reject what God has done, whether openly or as a result of thoughtless choices and behavior, the only thing left is the certainty of judgment and the horror of a fire which will consume all who have set themselves against God and His glorious purposes for mankind.” (Note: Hebrews 10: 26-27)
“Therefore, as obedient children of the all-loving God, do not give in to your former fears, desires, impulses and passions which you preferred when you were self-centered and sinful. Rather, like the Holy One who called you, pursue holiness yourself in a whole-life, life-long way.” (Note: I Peter 1:14-15)
The contrast between what God says we Christians can be and what we are confirms how morally weak we are. True, we are fighting against the cumulative and addictive power of sin. We are fighting against the master tempter, Satan. We are fighting against the pressures of the world to conform us to its sinful ways. Yet far worse than that, we are fighting against ourselves — our own self-centeredness, our own distrust of God, our own self-deceit, our own irresponsibility, and our own laziness. We know the right thing to do. But sometimes, and repeatedly in some areas, we just do not want to do it. This is our fault, not God’s.
The problem is, we are selfish. In our selfishness, we are most vulnerable where our selfish interests oppose our desires to do what is right. The weakness of our nature added to the cumulative and addictive power of sin creates an enemy that is extraordinarily strong. Knowledge, and the motivating power of fear and hope, are not enough to overcome the power and practice of sin.
Self must die if victory is to come. God must become the supreme focus of our love and trust if victory is to come. The power and provision of God for holy living must be drawn on and put to its intended use if victory is to come. God’s Word must be relied on as the final authority over all we think, feel, choose, say, and do if victory is to come. In other words, we must trust God implicitly and obey Him explicitly, willfully, and persistently if victory is to come. This is our part.
If you are struggling against specific sins, do not despair. If you want to live for God but find yourself burdened under the weight of failure and shame, there’s hope for you. If you feel trapped in some specific sin, all is not lost. Jesus came to save you from your sin. He is eager to save you from the power and practice of sin and from the weakness of your nature. The Apostle Paul points to this hope when he asks, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” NOTICE, he did not say “WHAT will set me free...”, but “WHO.” He was looking to a person, not a character quality or a particular method to set him free. Why? Because nothing other than God can set us free. And He sets us free by His power and provisions freely and liberally given to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord. (Note: Romans 7:24)
Only by the efficient and all-sufficient power of God can we subdue our sinful passions and impulses. Only by the wisdom of God can we overcome our irrational fears. Only in the love of God can we find true acceptance and security. Only in God can we become new creatures, with the old “selfish” life removed and the new “love” life put in its place.
Let Him free you so you can become all that He created you to be. He will not change you against your will, but He will enable you to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ as you do your part.
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