For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells. – Romans 7:18
The depravity of our fallen nature is, and will be, universally and always felt during our present earthly state. It insinuates into, and mixes with all our thoughts, and all our actions. It is inseparable from us, as the shadow from our bodies when the sun shines upon us.
The holiness of a Christian does not consist in a deliverance from our sin nature, but in being sensible of it, striving against it, and being humbled under it; and taking occasion from thence to admire our Savior, and rejoice in Him as our complete righteousness and sanctification.
The grace of God puts a great deal into the heart, but it takes nothing out. Nature and grace, flesh and spirit, will antagonize each other to the end of life. Therefore the life of a believer, while in the body, is a continual state of warfare.
The apostle felt a law in his members warring against the law of his mind. He would do good, but evil was present with him. He groaned, being burdened.
When we first set out, we hope to be spiritually rich–but the Lord’s purpose is to make us sensible of our extreme poverty. We wish to be something–but He is teaching us that we are nothing.
When indeed we are willing to be nothing, that He may be all in all, in us and for us–then I think we reach the very acme of holiness. Then, while we feel that we have no sufficiency of ourselves, we shall be enabled to do all things that occur in the line of duty, through Him strengthening us.
If you are a Christian, you battle with sin. It is not necessary for me to list examples of the struggles with the flesh you may have. The minute you read the title of this post, you most likely had a specific struggle in mind. You have within you both flesh and Spirit, and the two are contrary to one another. Knowing this, however, does not mean the fight will easy or that you have it all under control. Here are five truths about your fight with sin you hate to admit.
1. Some battle scars are more recent than you are comfortable acknowledging.
As Christians, we are quick to acknowledge our struggles with sin, but we prefer to talk about the battles of the past. The ones where we have seen significant victory. The problem is, you have recent battle wounds as well. The fact that the battle is on-going is not something you like to broadcast to the world.
2. You sometimes try to get as close to the flame as possible without getting burned.
No matter how much you despise the sin that so easily besets you, you still find yourself wanting to get as close to the fire as possible. You think, “I will only allow myself this much room and will draw the line here.” The problem is that every time you get close to the line, it seems to move just a little further. This tendency to push boundaries has left you, on more than one occasion, beating yourself up over going too far.
3. You sometimes wonder why you are drawn to the very thing you despise.
Every time you are deceived by the deceitfulness of sin, you wonder how, at times, you desire the very thing you hate. Like Paul, you cry out, “who will save me from this body of death?” Even when you want to do right, evil is close at hand. You know that the problem with temptation is you because deep down you still have desires that war against your soul.
4. When it comes to your growth in godliness, you thought you would be further along than you are now.
You often think back to the many times you swore it was the last time, and you set out to grow in godliness. If you have been a Christian for a long time now, you remember looking forward to this time in your life with great anticipation. You imagined you would have experienced greater sanctification than you have.
5. You wonder if you are the only one; certainly there are other Christians out there who have risen above this.
You occasionally look at other Christians and think, surely they don’t have to war with sin the way I do. They seem to be the picture of piety. When you look at them from the outside, you think, “certainly their heart does not struggle like mine.” You may even hear from someone who claims, contrary to scripture, to have stopped sinning, and you think, maybe it is true. Maybe it is just me.
What you need to know
1. You are not an anomaly because being a Christian means battling sin.
This fight is something we all face, and warfare never happens without a few wounds. The fact that sanctification is a process that will not be completed this side of eternity means that every believer, no matter how sanctified they are, still has unsanctified areas in their life. In fact, the closer you walk with Jesus, the more aware of the battle you will become. The problem is not when you feel the conflict, the problem is during those times when you do not. John Newton once asked the Lord that he might grow and found that these inward trials were part of the growth process. Temptation will continue to come as long as you live, and it can be difficult to resist, but our standing in Christ is not shaken because we encounter temptation. As John Owen once said, “When we say a tree is firmly rooted, we do not say the wind never blows upon it.”
2. You are not alone because Jesus is with you.
Christ did not go to the cross to atone for your sin and bring you forgiveness to leave you to yourself to see if you could hack it. He called you, and He will keep you. Even when He sends His rod of correction, it is His love that is dealing with you, not His wrath. His wrath was satisfied on the cross. He is faithful and just to complete the work He has begun in you. You can look back and see victories over sin in your life, and you will continue to see more. Stay close to our Savior, hide His word in your heart, and pray without ceasing. He has promised to be with you, even to the end of the age.
3. The enemy will continue to accuse you, but there is no condemnation in Christ.
The enemy will frequently tell you that you are not worthy of being a Christian. Never go for the bait because what he wants you to do at that moment is to begin to justify yourself. The minute you start listing off all your good qualities and victories over sin, he will have you right where he wants you. There are clearly victories you have experienced in Christ, and you are right to rejoice in them, but they do not make you worthy to be a Christian. When Satan tells you, you are not worthy to be a Christian; the correct response is to agree with him. Of course I am not worthy to be a Christian, no one is. I was not worthy in the past, I am not worthy now, and I will not be worthy in the future, but Jesus is worthy, and my worth is found in Him. I am counted righteous in Him. And if you ever start to believe the lie that you may have fallen beyond forgiveness, here is something you can do to snap you back into reality. Picture Jesus dying on the cross and imagine yourself walking up to Him, and try to tell Him He didn’t do enough to atone for your sins.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6
Eternally freed from sin, as one with Jesus; what a liberty! What a freedom! It is so, and so forever—it cannot be undone. “Wonder, O heavens! be astonished, O earth.” I myself do wonder, with great admiration, at the glorious blast of the jubilee trumpet, which has just reached my ear, and touched my heart. It was the voice of my Beloved, which said, “You are absolutely beautiful, my darling, with no imperfection in you.” Free from sin, being dead with Christ to it, “In that He died, He died unto sin once” (Rom. 6:10), and we died to it in Him—free from sin, in being risen with Him, to live unto God forever.
Paul knew this freedom (Rom. 6:7). Rom. 8:1, 2: “There is therefore no condemnation [then there can be no sin, for where sin is, condemnation is] to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh—but after the Spirit.” John knew it (1 John 4:17) “As He is, so are we in this world”—that is, must be perfect, and without sin; not in our nature-self—but in Christ, and in that which is born of God and sins not (3:9).
Why, then, do I so often feel myself a transgressor? Because I build again, by my legality, what I had destroyed by faith, namely, justification by my own doings; and thus make myself a transgressor (Gal. 2:18). This is not walking after the Spirit—but after the flesh, and it tends to bondage. The Spirit points to Christ–the flesh leans to self. In Christ we have perfection, without spot, in which we can lift up our head with joy; in self we have spots and no perfection, which must needs make us ashamed!
An awful thing has happened. I was traveling, when, during the night, some of the wicked men of Benjamin arose and came after me with the intent to kill me. They raped and killed my concubine, so I divided up her body parts and sent them to the rest of the people of God so they would know what evil has taken place (Judges 20:3-6 Paraphrased).
In the child of God there is a civil war raging. There is flesh and there is spirit. There is the new nature and there is the remaining indwelling sin, and like Israel’s first civil war, drastic action must be taken. As John Owen once said, “Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.”
The first thing we must do is recognize the evil for what it is. When the Levite learned of the sinfulness at work in Israel, he did not partition it off as something that could be tolerated if they would simply keep it quarantined. He saw it for what it was, and he knew it needed to be killed.
One of the most dangerous aspects of sin is its deceitfulness. It is always trying to convince us that it is not that bad, and we can simply section off our lives and still be happy and spiritually healthy. This is not the case. There is no quarantine that can keep our sinfulness from poisoning every other aspect of our spiritual life. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. We must put it to death.
Once we see the danger, we must take action to kill it. Just as the Levite took drastic action to notify all of Israel of the danger, we too must make sure to sound the alarms. Not only within ourselves, but also to our fellow believers. God has not called us to fight alone. You need to find a band of trustworthy brothers and sisters in Christ to whom you can confide and find help. The purpose of this alliance is to gather strength to kill the enemy. So all the Israelites got together and united as one against the city (Judges 20:11).
Our hope is that this will be an easy war, and our flesh will simply lay down its arms, but this is never the case. As we begin to take this action against our iniquity, our sinfulness will also fortify itself. At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men (Judges 20:15). The strength of the emeny will gather, and there will be causalities in this battle.
The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day (Judges 20:20-21).
When we face a loss like this, we realize how daunting the enemy truly is, and we wonder if we should continue. The bloody nature of the fight rightfully leads us to the Lord to see if we should go up once again. The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?” The Lord answered, “Go up against them” (Judges 20:23).
This will always be the Lord’s response when it comes to fighting our indwelling sin. Yes, you are to fight. This command of God to go up against our sin can often lead us to assume the next battle will be easy and the victory painless because he told us to contend. This, however, should not be assumed. The Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day.This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords (Judges 20:24-25).
Why would the Lord do that? Why would he tell us to go fight and then let us lose the battle? I believe Israel’s response to the defeat gives us the answer. Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord (Judges 20:24-25).
As we contend with our sinfulness, we will be bloodied and bruised. Maybe you are there now. You have been fighting for some time with no success. The only proper response is to draw up under the wing of your God. As we lose battles, we begin to learn the most important lesson. This battle cannot be won in our own strength.
Much like when God wrestled with Jacob, the contest was not about Jacob getting something out of God, it was about God getting something out of Jacob. One of the most important aspects of that event is that Jacob, when he realized he could not win, went from contending against God at the beginning of the match, to clinging to Him at the end. This is exactly what our failures in our battle with sin should do to us. It should drive us closer to our Lord and cause us to cling more tightly to him.
Know this, this civil war of flesh and Spirit will rage until the day we die, but there will be victories as we lean more and more on God. We may be hesitant to continue the fight, but as you trust less and less in your own power and might and trust more and more in his Spirit, ask Him again if you should fight.
They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands” (Judges 20:28). The more we know that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more he will give the enemy into our hands. He will use our hand, but it will be his power that is at work.
So how do we begin to fight? How does the Lord direct us to march? “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first” (Judges 20:18). Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. Though we will win some and lose some, there is only one way in which we should march. Advance with Jesus in the lead. He is our forgiveness and righteousness. If he is our head, then our ultimate victory is assured even if we lose some battles.
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:2
Suppose a person were to go to a blacksmith and say to him, ‘I want you to make me a long and heavy chain — I will pay you well for it.’ The blacksmith, for the sake of the money, commences it; and after toiling hard for some time, finishes it. The person calls, and says on looking at it, ‘Yes, it is a good chain — but not long enough; work on it another week, I will then call and pay you for it.’ Encouraged by the promise of full reward, the blacksmith toils on, adding link to link. When his employer calls again, he praises him as before — but still insists that ‘the chain is too short.’ ‘But,’ says the blacksmith, ‘I can do no more; my iron is all gone, and my strength too.’
‘Oh then, just add a few more links, the chain will then answer my purpose, and you shall be well paid.’ The blacksmith, with his remaining strength, and last few scraps of iron, adds the last link he can. ‘The chain will now do,’ says the man, ‘you have worked hard and long; I will now pay you your wages.’ And taking the chain, he suddenly binds the blacksmith hand and foot, and casts him into a furnace of fire!
Such are the wages of sin. It promises much — but its reward is damnation!
“The wages of sin is death!” – Romans 6:23
What! is the reward for all that hard toil — death? Yes, death! Oh, extraordinary wages — but more astonishing still, that any should be found to work for them!
If the only wages for sin were those received in a lifetime, we could be calmer. But oh, Eternity, Eternity is sin’s long pay-day — and the wages paid is Hell!
…But never forget, there is a way of escape in Jesus.
The storm is a gift. This was the thought that was running through my mind as wave after wave crashed upon me. In part because I knew it was true and partly because I hoped it was true. When the skies turned dark they caught me off guard. I found myself lost in confusion as every bit of my weakness was exposed, but that was only a portion of the battle.
As the tempest raged against me from the outside, something else started happening on the inside. My flesh began to rebel. It had been active for years, as I now realize, but it started to let me know that it was upset. As I entered one of the darkest times of my life, my sinfulness began to rear its head in ways I could have never imagined. It was showing me its power.
I never really saw myself as someone who longed for or loved the things of the world, but the minute the pleasures were no longer available, a passion for them stirred in my soul. The fact that they were no longer at my disposal caused a despondency in my spirit that made me feel ill. I thought, “What if all those days of pleasure are gone? I can’t live without them, they are part of what makes me who I am.” The notion that they were no longer mine was more than I could handle.
It was here that I realized the conflict between flesh and Spirit was clashing within me in a battle more fierce than I could ever remember. The problem is, when you already feel you are spinning out of control because of the circumstances in which you find yourself, this type of inner conflict brings your sinfulness to the surface compounding the trial. Once once my sinfulness was added to the mix, I was devastated. I had nothing left: everything I thought I was standing on was systematically dislodged from beneath me. I don’t think I could have plummeted any lower.
This, however, was exactly were I needed to be. When the conflict between flesh and Spirit heightens within us, it is more often a sign of spiritual progress than decline. When the Lord sends us troubles that are designed to mold us to His image, the first thing we tend to notice is how far we fall short. In other words, sanctified affliction seldom seems sanctified because the Lord is drawing the dross to the surface, but never forget, He is drawing it to the surface to wipe it away.
A.W. Tozer once said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” This may not sit well with many in the church today, but it is important to remember that God is more concerned with our spiritual growth than our worldly prosperity, and often He will sacrifice the latter to promote the former.
Even the disciples, who had seen Christ perform many miracles, didn’t marvel until it was their own boat that was at stake. We tend see Christ’s power to calm the storm as interesting until it is our life that is on is on the line, then it becomes imperative. Our Savior is not looking for people who admire His power from a distance, His children are the ones who know their very lives depend upon Him. Though everything I thought could support me crumbled beneath me, when it had all been destroyed, I found myself standing on the Rock of Christ Jesus. In an act of God’s grace, the storm killed my idols.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts. – Proverbs 17:3
Why did Jesus have to die? Many object to the fact that Christ had to be put to death and that blood had to be shed for the remission of sins (Matt 26:28). They believe this is unbecoming of God. Others believe that if we as humans can forgive each other without punishment and God cannot, then humans are more kind and forgiving than God.*
We hear these arguments coming from people who think they need to protect God from the doctrine of penal substitution. Besides their lack of understanding scripture, these arguments escape reason. They escape reason because the same people who make these arguments then go on to make distinctions between good and evil and preach moral living.
Why should man be moral? Why is it wrong to be immoral? These are the questions Anselm raised when dealing with the necessity of Christ’s death. He then went on to lay out the following argument:
To remit sin without satisfaction or adjustment is not to punish it.
And if sin needs no adjustment or punishment, then the one who sins is no different before God than the one who does not sin.
And if there is no adjustment that needs to be made before God, then what needs to be forgiven?
Following this logic there is no reason for forgiveness at all because to be unrighteous or righteous makes no difference before God.
Therefore, it is unbecoming of God not to punish sin because it would make evil and good equal in His sight.
Since this cannot be the case, then God must punish sin.
The idea that God can forgive sin without requiring its just punishment leads us to another conundrum. If it is true that God does not need to justly punish sin, then anyone He sends to hell would be sent there arbitrarily and not out of necessity. Of course, that would be reprehensible which is why many who reject penal substitution eventually become universalists (the idea, contrary to scripture, that no one will go to hell).
The wages of sin is death according to scripture (Rom. 6:23). For God to offer forgiveness, the satisfaction of these wages must be met. This is what the cross is all about. Christ bore upon Himself the sins of all those who come to Him through faith. It necessarily had to happen in order for God to be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Him (Rom. 3:26).
Every sin will receive its just recompense. Either we will pay for it ourselves, or, through faith, we will accept His payment upon the cross on our behalf.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4
*Even we cannot forgive each other without a cost being paid. If you break my lamp on purpose, and I say, “I forgive you,” some one has to pay for the new lamp. If I slander your good name, and you say, “I forgive you,” there is still a cost. Either you will bear the damage I have done to your reputation, or, if I go to all your friends and tell them I slandered, I will bear a loss of my own reputation. More importantly, even those sins against each other are sins against God for which either we will pay or Christ will bear in our place. Even among each other, sin always has a cost.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. – Micah 7:18-19
Even as Christians, the greatest storm we face is the sin that rages in us. It crouches at our door, its desire is for us, and its only fruit is destruction. It threatens to sear our consciences, hinder our prayers, and even cause our love for Christ to grow cold. But even when we fail, and some of these things begin to be seen in our lives, let us never forget that our God will have compassion on His children. He delights in mercy, He will turn again to us to subdue our iniquities, and cast’s our sins to the depths of the sea.
Do you see dear believer what hope is found in this Scripture? God is not looking to help you because you have been perfect and you deserve to be helped. He desires to pardon your iniquity. He knows you have sinned and need to be delivered. He has placed the wrath that your sins deserve on Christ your substitution. And though your sinful heart still threatens to toss you where it will, like a lost vessel on an angry sea, our God anchors you with a strong and secure hope.
Grab hold of Christ who is that hope. Like an anchor securing a ship on a stormy sea has plunged beneath the veil of the water and cannot be seen, so Christ has entered within the veil; where he has gone as a forerunner on your behalf (Heb. 6:17). And though we cannot see Him at this moment, the hope he has given us is like a secure chain anchored to the throne of God, which is pulling us home through the tumultuous sea.
As the storms grow stronger, by His grace He strengthens our hold upon this hope, as we learn that nothing else can save us. The tighter we hold to our hope, the more tight the line between us and our true home becomes, until we can feel it pulling us homeward.
Though the storms of sin surround, take heart that your sins have been removed, and you are anchored to the distant shore through Christ. Fear not, for no surer hope has ever been tested, and as your love for this world slowly weakens, you will notice the chain between you and your true home has become that much shorter. When you see this, you will know He has turned to you, and is having compassion upon you, because this is work that only He can do.
Let us end with a short verse by Charles Spurgeon, who inspired most of the content of this devotion.
Let the winds blow, and billows roll, Hope is the anchor of my soul. But can I by so slight a tie, And unseen hope, on God rely? Steadfast and sure, it cannot fail, It enters deep within the veil, It fastens on a land unknown, And moors me to my Father’s throne.
“God disciplines us for our profit.” -Hebrews 12:10
What profit is in affliction? Afflictions are disciplinary. Afflictions teach us—they are the school of the cross.
Affliction shows us more of our own hearts.
Water in a glass looks clear—but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. Just so, when God sets us upon the fire—corruption boils up which we did not discern before. Sharp afflictions are to the soul, as a soaking rain to the house; we do not know that there are holes in the roof until the shower comes—but then we see it drop down here and there. Just so, we do not know what unmortified lusts are in the soul, until the storm of affliction comes—then the hidden evils of the heart come dropping down in many places. Affliction is a sacred eye-salve, it clears our eyesight. Thus the rod gives wisdom.
Affliction quickens the spirit of prayer.
Jonah was asleep in the ship—but at prayer in the whale’s belly. Perhaps in a time of health and prosperity we prayed in a cold and formal manner, we put no coals to the incense. Then God sends some affliction or other—to stir us up to take hold of Him. “They poured out a prayer—when Your chastening was upon them.” Isaiah 26:16. In times of trouble we pray feelingly and fervently.
Affliction is a means to purge out our sins.
Affliction cures the pestilence of pride—and the fever of lust. Affliction is God’s file—to scrub off our rust. Affliction is God’s flail—to thresh off our husks. The water of affliction is not to drown us—but to wash off our spots.
Affliction is a means to wean us from the world.
The world often proves, not only a spider’s web—but a cockatrice egg. Corrupting worldly things, are great enchantments. They hinder us in our passage to heaven. Affliction sounds a retreat, to call us off the immoderate pursuit of earthly things. When two things are frozen together—the best way to separate them is by fire; so, when the heart and the world are together—God has no better way to separate them than by the fire of affliction.
Affliction is a means to purify us.
It works us up to further degrees of sanctity. “God disciplines us for our profit—that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10. The vessels of mercy are the brighter for scouring. As you pour water on your linen when you would whiten it—so God pours the waters of affliction upon us to whiten our souls. Afflictions are in themselves bitter—but they bring forth the sweet fruits of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11.
Futility. That is what every attempt at rebellion against God entails. Every railing of sin, every shaking of the fist in His face, results in the same thing. Nothing. We serve an unchanging God and nothing can diminish His perfections.
For I, the LORD, do not change. – Malachi 3:6
Thomas Brooks once said, “If it could be carried by votes, God would be voted out of the world; for the language of the carnal heart is, “Leave us alone! We have no desire to know Your ways!” (Job 21:14).”
We live in a society that attempts to determine its own truth and morality. They vote in and enact many laws that call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Yet, truth and morality will never be established by popular vote. All of the world’s statutes that celebrate sin and punish good will never alter the word of God.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever. – Psalm 33:11
The doctrine of God’s immutability should do two things for the believer. First it should leave us in awestruck wonder since it so far beyond our full comprehension. The second thing it should do is comfort us. Just as no sin can diminish His perfections, neither can our excellencies increase them.
With this knowledge all believers can let out a huge sigh of relief. We sometimes live as if the existence of God is up to us. We sometimes feel like we must be His protector. We are not God, and living like He is dependent upon us is exhausting. He has called us to find our rest in Him, not for Him to find His rest in us.
The best thing we can do is point people to the place where his excellencies are most clearly seen: the word of God. Too often we feel that we must be creative and come up with something new in order for the Lord to be known. All the while, we neglect the revelation He has given of Himself: scripture.
If you are in Christ Jesus, you are as secure as His being. He alone is the rock of our Salvation that will never be moved (Psalm 62:6). May we point the world to His perfections through His word with a confidence that is not derived from our abilities, but in His immutable splendor.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8