The Struggling Christian!
After reading a lot of books and listening to many sermons over my fifty years as a Christian, I have most often been left with the impression that if you are born again by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, and operate in the gifts of the Spirit, then the tension, conflict, and struggles, with indwelling sin are a thing of the past. What battles we have are never lost. What lack we have is due to small faith. What problems we struggle with are due to failure to use the right formulas for success. NOT!
The truth is every maturing believer has a daily and deadly struggle with indwelling sin. The later, well-known pastor of Times Square Church, David Wilkerson – a precious, Spirit-filled, holy man of God -- writes after being a Christian for half a century, “I am a strange creature with two opposing minds in one body. Two distinct life forces in me keep trying to control my actions. There are things about myself that scare me. Things like a great inner need that can't be explained. Like the constant need for love and fulfillment. Also, those subtle desires that surface on occasion, making me lust for experiences that are contrary to my better nature. I can't explain why I am such a dual person when it comes to right and wrong. The evil that I hate is always present in me. The good and moral desires are there too, keeping my mind in constant turmoil. It is not an every day, all day long battle, but the evil, at times, tries to overpower me. Just when I think I've got my act together, things fall apart, and once again I am doing things I really don't want to do.”
In Romans 8:2, Paul discloses that there are two principles at work in the believer – the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death. "In every believer, and in no one else, there are these two principles at work -- sin and grace, flesh and spirit, the law of the members and the law of the mind. It is the experience of every Christian," observed Robert Haldane.
A Struggle with Indwelling Sin is both Comforting and Discomforting.
A. It is comforting in that it’s a sign of spiritual life – Romans 7:14:
"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin."
In Romans 7, the apostle is demonstrating the lawful use of the Law of God. He says it is spiritual, good and flawless. But the law cannot make bad men good. It was not designed for this purpose. Secondly, he wants us to see that the law cannot make good men better. In other words, not only is the law not a justifying agent, (making us right with God) neither is it a sanctifying agent (making us holy).
Romans 7 teaches us that anytime a Christian decides on the basis of will-power that they can overcome indwelling sin, they will find themselves ensnared in the performance trap. Willpower, or stubbornness, or what I call "won’t power", plus rules and regulations cannot overcome indwelling sin’s influence.
Romans 7:14-8:4, has been and continues to be a hotly debated and difficult passage of scripture. In fact, there are four views:
View 1: Paul has a non-Christian in view;
View 2: It refers to any legal moralist, possibly Jewish;
View 3: Paul is talking about an immature convert to Christ;
View 4: Paul is addressing the maturing Christian.
I am of the persuasion that these verses can’t be describing the unsaved, or natural man. He is dead in sin, desires to sin and does it because it’s the natural thing to do. It can’t describe a “carnal” or baby Christian, because most of them are self-confident and filled with pride instead of bemoaning the treacherousness of their own heart. The immature believer thinks they are in control, when the truth is, they really aren’t. They are like the lady who was writing an accident report for the police records explaining what had happened. She wrote, “I was backing my car out of my garage. I lost sight of the driveway and backed across the lawn. I ran through my flower bed, went through the hedge between my yard and the yard next door, hit my neighbor’s garbage can, then the mailbox. I smashed into the side of my neighbor’s car. Then I lost control.”
The point of Romans 7 is to show us that if we think we can control our selfish, sinful tendencies and produce lasting change by some sort of self-controlled, performance-based efforts, we are already out of control.
As for me and my own struggles with my flesh, it’s comforting to know that these verses describe the experience of a spiritually alive, maturing believer. (There is no such thing as a "mature" believer, only maturing ones who are at various levels of maturity!)
B. It is Discomforting in that it Frustrates our True Desires to Live Satisfied with all that God Promised to be for us in Jesus.
No true child of God wants to sin, or to have to struggle with indwelling sin. We understand that sin is a temporary lapse into moral insanity; that sin is what we do when we believe it can give more pleasure than what God promises to give us in Christ.
The truth of the matter is, that in spite of all that God has done in His grace I have a problem. I am fleshy, "I am of flesh, sold into the bondage of sin" (Romans 7:14). It’s revealing to note that Paul uses the present tense more than forty times from verse 14 to the end of the chapter. He is describing the daily battle of the Christian. Moreover, he uses the plural "we" to remind his readers that all believers face this problem. He is talking to the regenerate, born again believer. Paul describes for us something that every believer will go through again and again for the rest of his life on this earth. Paul opens his heart and shares with us his own personal feelings. It was not something Paul went through only once and would never have to face again. It is not like he moves on to Romans 8 and never goes back to Romans 7 experiences. Paul went through it again and again in his life because sin has the power to deceive us. Only true believers go through what Paul speaks of here.
The Struggle with Indwelling Sin is both Daily and Deadly
A. Our Daily Walk in the Spirit will be Deceitfully Challenged by Sin’s Indwelling Presence
The conflict, the struggle, the tension, in question is inevitable and unavoidable. Indwelling sin is the calamity of all the people of God. Two powers are at work within one and the same person. Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish." The flesh lusts (has strong desires or drives) against the Spirit. It uses our physical senses to mar the Spirit’s power. It presents to the eyes what will inflame evil passions; it appeals through the ear to appetite; it finds the tongue often too ready to serve its purposes. “The Spirit lusts against the flesh.” The Holy Spirit is there entrenched within the spirit of the newborn man and will not be dislodged. He uses the senses — the eye, the ear, the tongue, the hand, the foot -- for the purposes of transforming the believer. He conveys thoughts, suggests impressions, and imparts motives, which restrain, guide, influence, and transform the soul.
1. We must not ever forget that the remains of indwelling sin are active!
In Romans 7:14-23, all the occurrences of the word "sin" is in the singular person. Sin, singular, is the fact of a sin principle. Sins, plural, are the practices that arise from this sin principle. This principle of sin, which still remains in the believer after conversion, is identified in the Bible by a number of terms: the flesh, the old man, the carnal mind, the deceitful heart, etc. It is an hereditary impulse, rooted deep in our nature, which drives us to continually oppose God by asserting our emotions, desires, thoughts and will above His. It is that proud and stiff-necked "I" which refuses to bow to any authority.
Herb Hodges, “The best way to understand the meaning of the word “flesh” in the above text is to spell it out, “f-l-e-s-h,” drop the “h,” and turn the word around: “s-e1-f” The flesh is the “self-life.” I am distinguishing in this study between the “self’ and the “self-life.” The “self’ is simply the essential you. If you were not a self you would have no existence at all. However, the self-life is the egocentric, self-curled, self-centered, self-indulgent, self-advancing life, which comprises one of the Biblical definitions of sin. “We have turned everyone to his own way “(Isaiah 53:6). Sin is Self-Ish-Ness! This selfishness retained in a believer’s life is called the “flesh.”
Martin Luther, the great German reformer, referred to the flesh as “that great Pope Self.” Every saved person has a factor for evil inside of him which acts like the Pope, claiming authority and making demands as if it were God.
Dr. John White called the flesh “the beast in the basement” of every believer’s life. He said, “When the flesh really gets excited, it looks as if you have opened the cellar door, turned on the lights, and surprised and aroused all the rats!”
Paul reminds the Galatian believers in Galatians 5:17, and every Christian, that our hearts and minds will be the battleground for a dynamic and daily struggle, a struggle which will be lost on a somewhat regular basis if he does not learn to “walk in the Spirit.” Yes, it’s true that at conversion one becomes judicially dead to sin's power. But experientially sin, though deprived of its former power, is nevertheless present and active. Do not be fooled by the occasions when sin appears to have been removed from your life. Seventeenth century Puritan, John Owens wrote, "Sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep. when they are still." Just remember that sin is always acting, seducing, conceiving and tempting. Though we have been delivered from the rule of sin, we are still the objects of its incessant guerrilla war attacks. The principle of sin is ever so subtle and strong. It can wear so many faces.
2. We must not ever forget that the reaches of indwelling sin are ambitious!
Romans 7:11, “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, Romans 8:13,
Sin deceives us and causes us to trust in ourselves. Indwelling sin is like a dethroned Master demanding that we still serve him, even though the “New Us” desires and is determined to live free in Christ.
Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones states that, "though sin cannot reign in us, that is, in our essential personality, it can, if left unchecked, reign in our mortal bodies. It will turn the natural instincts of our bodies into lust. It will turn our natural appetites into indulgence, our need for clothing and shelter into materialism, and our normal sexual interest into immorality."
Sin always aims at the utmost. If sin had its way, every time it rose up it in our lives, it would go to the utmost sin of that kind. In other words, every unclean thought or look would carry through to adultery; every covetous desire would carry through to theft and oppression; every thought of unbelief would carry through to atheism; every incidence of anger would lead to murder, if sin had its way!
3. We must not ever forget that the ruin of ignoring sin is awful!
Romans 8:13a, "For if you live after the flesh, you shall die...."
Those who have been in the faith any length of time have sadly discovered how deceitful, dangerous, and deadly their flesh really is.
John Owen said, "If you are content to leave sin alone in your life it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous and soul-destroying sins."
Some time ago, I read a book by a Pentecostal healing evangelists named Don Stewart. He tells of men and women who were mightily used of God, but that lost the battle with indwelling sin. One was a well-known, albeit, controversial evangelist in his day, A.A. Allen, who struggled with alcohol all his ministry and finally died of cirrhosis of the liver. Tommy Hicks was greatly used of God in Argentina, even meeting and ministering to President Juan Peron. But he lost the battle with alcohol and died an unheralded, lonely man. Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the Foursquare church and denomination, had several marriages, a nervous breakdown and died of an overdose of medicine. Then Christian television personalities, Jim and Tami Baker, Evangelist Jimmy Swaggert, Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, and on and on we could go. Which says, "if you are content to leave sin alone in your life it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous and soul-destroying sins!”
In our next article, we will consider in more detail how to overcome in the daily struggles with our flesh. But in a summary statement, the key to victory with our struggles is simply this:
Find in Jesus Everything that Father God finds in Him!
Hebrews 12:2, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,…”
The infinite happiness of the Father consists in the enjoyment of His Son. God's pleasure, purpose, promises, and plans are in His Son.
Go on beholding the Son of God in the Word of God and the Spirit of God will daily deliver us from sin's deception. LET CHRIST become the true medicine of your soul to restore you, -- your meat and your drink to refresh you -- your fountain of life to quench your thirst, -- your light in darkness, -- your joy in sadness, -- your advocate against your accusers, -- against your bondage the mercy-seat, -- against the judgment-seat the throne of grace, --against condemnation your forgiveness, -- your strength against your weakness, -- your way against your wandering, -- your life against death!!