Monday, December 25, 2017

CAN WE OVERCOME ALL OF OUR SINS?



                                   


Our answer depends on what it means “to overcome.” To the Church at Thyatira, Jesus offers to overcomers the hope of a joint reign with Him:

·           “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations--He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Rev. 2:26-27)

What then does it mean to “overcome?” How can we be certain that we too can overcome? Each of the seven letters to the seven churches promises eternal life and heavenly blessing to “him who overcomes.” What then are the conditions for this blessedness? For the two most faithful churches – Smyrna and Philadelphia – there was only one condition. They simply had to remain faithful.

For the five other churches, surprisingly, there was only one condition. They had to repent; they had to swear-off their sins, and this would make them overcomers – co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).

I know that this sounds too good to be true. We tend to wrongly think that to be a overcomer means that we have to master sin and its temptations at all times. So perhaps a Biblical example might be fitting. Job had been the most righteous of men, but he also had made many false and unjust accusations against his God. The prophetic Elihu confronted Job with his rash words (Job 33:8-12; 34:5-6). God reiterated the same charges against Job (Job 38:1-3; 40:8). Although, Job didn’t curse God and die, as his wife had suggested, Job had been majoring in accusations against the Divine (Job 9:21-24; 27:2-6; 16:12-17).

However, Job repented (Job 40:4-5; 42:3-6), and this was followed by one of the most incredible verses in Scripture:

·           After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." (Job 42:7-8)

It was as if Job had never made an accusation against God! Job’s three friends had hurled no railing accusations against God, as had Job, but Job had repented, and that made all the difference in the world. Everything he had charged, prior to this, had been forgotten and forgiven. Only one word remained on Job’s lips: “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). Nothing further was needed! Job became an overcomer.

John also defines “overcomes” in terms of the flipside of repentance - faith:

·           For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)

When we have faith, we also have ears for His Word:

·           Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:4-6)

But what does “overcome” mean in terms of resisting sin? Answering this becomes difficult in light of the verses that claim that we are free from sin (and not just the penalty of sin):

·           For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:7; 18)

·           For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

What does it mean to be free from the dominion of sin? It cannot possible mean that we are free from the power or the temptation of sin:

·           “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—“ (1 Kings 8:46; ESV)

·           as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

·           For we all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2)

Paul even admitted that he too had not achieved sinlessness, but he presses on towards this goal (Philippians 3:13-14

Even the most sinless of men, Job, was not sinless, but, more importantly, God regarded him as such. We also cannot ignore the many verses that teach that we all are dependent upon the mercy of God, because we all sin:

·       If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

However, there are other verses that suggest that we should be able to resist all sin. For instance, Peter taught that after suffering, we have ceased from sinning:

·       Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2)

Have all who have suffered “ceased from sin?” No one is without sin! Instead, it seems that we all continue to mourn because of our ongoing struggle against sin. How then should we interpret these verses? It seems that this passage equates “ceasing from sin” with living for “the will of God,” and not in pursuit of fleshly indulgence. Understood in this way, Peter is not teaching sinless perfection but a wholehearted determination to follow the Lord.

This reminds us of Jesus’ many teaching to seek the Lord before all else (Matthew 6:33; 10:37; Luke 14:26). Consequently, we understand that those who have truly suffered will not look back as Lot’s wife had. We are also taught that those who exemplify faith were not sinless but kept their eyes on the eternal hope:

·       If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:15-16)

When we suffer, we despair of hoping for the joys of this world. This applies to another set of verses that are cited as teaching sinless perfection:

·       Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him…Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3:6, 9; KJV; also 5:18)

However, does “not commit sin” can also be translated: “No one who abides in him [unrepentantly] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6; ESV).

From the perspective of the ESV, John is not teaching sinless perfection but a commitment to live for God and not for the flesh.

In view of all this, while I think that we can be completely committed to the Lord, we will not be able to keep sin fully in check, as Paul seems to confess:

·       Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25)

I have to confess that I too often feel like this “wretched man.” But, as Paul, I can also rejoice, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Why? Because my Savior’s love for such a person as me and His promise of eternal deliverance.

Because of this ongoing struggle, I have come to increasingly adore my Lord. He graphically demonstrates for me that my hope cannot be in myself but in Him alone, who has become “to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). My painful struggle against sin is a constant and gracious reminder of this fact. I need this reminder lest I become proud.

Yes, I continue to strive to please Him in every way, but I am also a spiritual failure, and that’s okay. Why? Because He is everything I need! I also have learned that when we confess our sins, He not only forgives us, but cleanses us from every stench-emitting sin-infested corpuscle (1 John 1:9).

Consequently, I am suspicious of claims that some have been able to keep sin under lock and key. While I think that we can do a lot, by God’s grace, to change certain behavioral patterns or habits, our feelings and reactions seem to be more resistive to our determined influence.

Seeing this is not only humbling, it teaches us gentleness and compassion for others who are likewise struggling, even as we regard ourselves as overcomers.

1 comment:

  1. Good work Daniel. You clearly have been blessed with a good understanding of scripture.I found your blog through a link on CRI from an article you wrote about Ezekiel 40-48 which was very enlightening. God is clearly using you, keep up the good work.

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