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An unbeliever is like a mouse stuck in his cage, endlessly spinning the exercise wheel of sin in the flesh. But once we come to faith, can we really “have the victory” over sin, the flesh, the world and the enemy? Is that realistic? Today’s “theology” teaches people that to truly live a sinless life as a disciple of Christ is simply not possible. As a result many believers feel that even to try to do so is nitpicking legalism which will undermine their faith. Most “church” leaders seem to agree.
Others are horrified by that conclusion. Did Jesus face the injustice, pain and rejection of the crucifixion so that we would have victory in the morning, only to fail in the afternoon? Did He suffer so much to achieve so little? Can it really be that the Bible demands the impossible of us—and calls that “Good News”? Does God ask us to be perfect, knowing that we never can? If it is truly not possible, then this little mouse must still be sadly stuck in his cage, endlessly spinning the exercise wheel of sin in the flesh—all the while pretending he’s saved! And every so-called “Christian” too, obviously.
So does God call us to a sinless life?
Absolutely—see Romans 6. And the stakes are a lot higher than you might think. The love of God, which many claim to see as incompatible with demands for perfect sinlessness, is actually the reason God is so determined that we should live sin free. He knows what our disobedience will cost us so He’s spelled it out in the Bible very clearly. The letters from the apostles are stuffed with their horror of wilful sin, because they can see the eternal loss facing those who refuse to overcome. Jesus came to save people from sin, not just those sins already committed, but, even more importantly, from the sin principle within us. If He had failed to achieve that, then there would have been little point in cleansing the record of our old sins—we’d simply have replaced them with new ones.
Some people seem to want a get-out clause—a way to sneak into heaven without having to actually live up to the calling of God in Christ. It’s as if they want, built-in to the faith, permission to live by the flesh, so they can compromise with sin without losing anything.
But I like to think that most believers would love to break free of sin and live a genuinely holy life, they just don’t know how. And since they’ve been taught that it’s not possible, they don’t even try. But this teaching is not from the Bible, it’s from the enemy, using the weakness and corruption of our fallen flesh to “prove” his point. We struggle to resist sin in the flesh, which subsequently fails—as God tells us it will (Romans 7:14-24)—and then we build a doctrine of imperfection out of our experience. This is the way we deceive ourselves. But all our truth must come from the Bible if we are to live by it, we can’t make up our own: only the Bible’s truth is eternally solid.
Clearly, a doctrine of imperfection is what the enemy wants us to believe because in that one thought lies his victory: if we ever allow Satan or his agents to convince us we can soften the demands of Christ on behalf of our corrupt flesh, changing the teaching of the Bible, so that some level of sin is not just permitted, but expected, even allowed, then we put ourselves in appalling danger. A holy life, in perfect fellowship with a perfectly holy Jesus, could not possibly include any level of wilful sin—even the most mild. And Revelation tells us, repeatedly, that the rewards of heaven go only to “he who overcomes.”
The failure of our flesh
The processes and power of spiritual life cannot function correctly by the flesh, it’s not designed for it, it is dead in sin and crucified in Christ due to its utter corruption. For many it is also buried in baptism. Our best efforts, our commitment, determination, enthusiasm or any other emotion cannot contribute to God’s purposes at all—the flesh has no more power to do so than a jet fighter has the ability run on jelly beans. But we truly are called to live holy, perfect lives in Christ—victorious, fruitful, sin-free lives in Christ. There is no scripture which actually contradicts this, though some can be stretched that far. The clue is “in Christ.”
Some people wonder if we can expect to achieve it this side of being called home? The witness of the Bible is consistent here too: Jesus did and so did Paul, John, Peter, Philip, Timothy, etc—every mention of the principle refers to our lives here and now, not to the afterlife. The idea that we might not get holy before we die is based on a gradual improvement model which has no basis in scripture. What the Bible says is that victory is a gift. Victory is Christ.
And we are commanded to have the victory—a victory over sin, over the law, and over death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)—a victory over the flesh that continually opposes us with its weaknesses, corruptions and flaws; over the world that undermines us with its endless distractions, foolish values and false methods; and over the enemy who tries to finish us off with his lies, accusations and temptations. It was, and is, to be the way we live all the rest of our lives. Who could possibly be good enough, pure enough and strong enough to consistently have the victory over all that lot? Only Jesus. And He, of course, is our victory.
Nowhere in the Bible are we ever commanded to have the victory outside of Christ… because that would be impossible. God puts us “in Christ” expressly so that we will be able to have the victory. In the flesh we can do nothing, but in Christ all these things are beneath our feet. In Christ we inherit His gentle character, His perfect holiness, His amazing prayer life, His fellowship with the Father, His wisdom—everything—“in Christ!”
The secret of victory—this is the important section!
The secret is to find, read, believe, and claim the promises of God in the Bible.
2 Peter 1:4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
A lot of power is stored in each promise, power fully backed up by God’s Holy Spirit when we claim it in faith.
1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Firstly, it’s a gift, not a question of earning anything, and secondly, the victory is Jesus Christ—nothing of ourselves at all.
Matthew 7:11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
Here we see that God is more willing to give us His promised gift than we are to give good things to our own children.
Philippians 4:19 …my God will meet your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus
Another quite limitless promise we must believe because God says it.
Romans 6:11 In the same way, count yourselves truly dead to sin yet living to God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So we ask for His gift, confessing we can do nothing of ourselves, believe we have received it, thank Him, and count it as a completed transaction. In Christ Jesus we are completely dead to sin and completely alive to God, so we are free to live for the glory of God. We do have to work at it though!
Romans 13:14 put on the Lord Jesus, the Christ, and make no provision for the lusts of the flesh.
And this is how it’s done: we “put on” our Lord, never taking Him off again, and refuse to plan for, or even consider bowing to, the demands of our old sin nature. This allows Jesus to live out His victorious, transcendent life in us and through us.
So it’s all by faith, as we knew, but it’s also all about being exchanged for the indwelling Christ, not about improving ourselves at all.
Some more scriptures which may help
Philippians 2:1-2 If there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort in his love, if any communion in the Spirit, if any tender mercy and empathy, then complete my joy by having the same attitude: the same love, the same heart, the same mind.
Paul doesn’t suggest they imitate Jesus’ love, heart or mind, but that they (and we) should have His exact same love, heart and mind—that which is of Him and in Him, as He resides in us. We draw on the riches of the indwelling Christ by faith in the working of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heaven, as he chose us in him before the founding of the universe, to be utterly holy and flawless in his presence in love,
He is overwhelmed by God’s loving kindness when he considers the magnitude of our inheritance in Christ—even “every spiritual blessing in heaven!” God’s plan, from before He created anything, was our presence with Him in perfect holiness. It does not suggest that we have to wait until we are in heaven to achieve this.
Ephesians 4:6-8 one God and Father of all – the one who is over all and through all and in you all. Yet grace was given to each of us in line with the scope of Christ’s gift, as the scripture says, “he ascended on high defeating bondage and so gave gifts to man.”
The bondage he defeated was our slavery to sin and our bondage to the flesh, thus releasing us to live holy lives; the gifts are all which are ours in Christ: salvation, forgiveness, our death in Him, our new creation, our new “heart of flesh,” our burial in baptism, and so on, and the Holy Spirit by whom Christ lives in us and overcomes for us.
Ephesians 4:11-13 And so he provides apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to complete the saints for works of service, promoting the growth of the body of Christ, until we are all unified, in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, into one perfect man of the stature and the fullness of Christ.
We cannot possibly be “one perfect man” if anyone is still wilfully in sin.
Colossians 1:22-28 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh through death, to present you holy, without fault and blameless in his sight, if, of course, you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded and not drawn away from the hope of the gospel you heard…I became a servant of the body, by the commission God gave me, to fully expound the word of God for you: the mystery which was hidden from the ages and generations, but is now revealed to his saints, to whom God wished to reveal the glorious riches for all peoples of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and training everyone in all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ,
God wanted us in perfect relationship with Himself so our guilt had to be dealt with. The main reason Christ had a body of flesh was in order that He could take the punishment for all our sin by dying as our representative. This would free us, while still in the flesh, to live the holy and blameless life we are called to. God’s plan of redemption is to put Christ within each believer (just as the Father totally indwells Christ) so that He will have the victory in them and for them—“glorious riches” indeed!
8 Be careful that no one captures you through the sophistries and vain seductions of the traditions of men and the principles of the world, and not in the way of Christ, 9 for the completeness of the godhead is embodied in him,
“The completeness of the godhead”: His perfect morality and judgment; His limitless power, wisdom and creativity; His endless resources; His absolute sanity and understanding; His unending love and grace… all these take physical form in Jesus Christ. He is the living God as a man.
10 and you are complete in him who is head of every rule and power.
In the same way that God is personified and revealed in Christ, Christ is also personified and revealed in us because we are also “complete in Him.” As we live and ‘walk’ in Christ, His resources become ours, so we can do all that God requires of us. Not only that, but we also inherit His authority over “every rule and power,” so we can command spiritual forces we cannot see and they have to obey! It also means that the principles of the world which attempt to beguile us are subservient to us.
11 You were also circumcised in him, with a circumcision not done with hands, involving putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ.
Circumcision in the Old Testament was not just the sign of the consecration of His chosen people, but also contained the idea of spiritual purity. It was the seal of God’s covenant of grace, promised to Abraham, and so included the promise of redemption.
So the circumcision mentioned here is not a circumcision performed by Christ, but the circumcision experienced by Christ and inherited by us through faith—Christ’s circumcision being the only one ever performed which truly fulfilled all that was signified by the rite—so we inherit the perfect circumcision of Christ, which signifies His purity and applies it to our hearts—and, of course, it applies to believing ladies too.
The body of the flesh is that part of us which is irredeemably corrupt, so in Christ it is spiritually ‘cut away’ since we can no longer legitimately use it as any kind of resource.
12 Having been buried with him in baptism, you are also raised with him, through the transcendent power of the faith of God, who raised him up from the dead;
God does not raise us together with Christ by our faith, any more than he raised Christ Himself by our faith; both acts were performed by God’s own faith which is a transcendent supernatural power in itself. Our faith in “the working of God” is not required here: we are automatically raised with Christ because we accept His lordship in our lives, whether or not we even know it involved God’s working.
13 and though you were dead in the sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him, graciously forgiving all your sins.
Our flesh is responsible for all our sins through its uncircumcision or corruption: both the sins and the state of uncircumcision ‘belong’ to the flesh, which is why we were dead. Without the flesh we would not sin.
This is not to say they weren’t our sins, as Paul covers that by the end of the verse, just that the point he is making here is more specific. The conclusion of which is that our ongoing sin problem is fully solved by God’s provision of our spiritual circumcision, rendering our flesh ‘cut away,’ and therefore unavailable. At the same time He expunges our record so we can make a fresh start.
14 He obliterated the written law which ruled against us as it was opposed to us, removing it from our midst and nailing it to the cross:
Here we see that the Law of Moses was opposed to us because our fallen nature meant that no one ever, until Jesus, managed to keep it. As a result, it ruled against everyone who ever tried to obey it. Jesus, through His perfect sacrifice on the cross, fulfilled the law, removing it from jurisdiction over us. It says “nailing it to the cross” because the cross was the instrument used to cancel it, because Jesus took the punishment due to everyone for their sins, leaving the law with nothing to do for, and no jurisdiction over, those who received God’s redemption. The cross answered all the objections of the law.
Colossians 3:3 for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Being dead in Christ means we can no longer draw on our flesh to live even our daily life, let alone our obedience to God. The only strength by which we legitimately do anything is His strength, made available by the Holy Spirit and drawn upon, by us, through faith. Not everything is concealed however: our God-given personality or character—our individuality—is still ours so we can still express ourselves.
Having priests etc, is not the way God designed us to function. The reasons we set up “church” with these governmental or management structures are: that we don’t actually trust Jesus to be in control; that many people like to have power over others; and that we haven’t worked out how to live by faith in the power of the indwelling Christ applied by the Holy Spirit. Whichever way, it boils down to a lack of faith, which is sin.
14 Over all these add love, which is the binding agent of perfection,
Here Paul is directing us to spiritual perfection: love holding together all the virtues of Christ within the individual believer, particularly those virtues he’s just mentioned.
15 and let the peace of God be your heart’s arbiter, for to this way of life you were called as one body, and grow in gratitude.
What Paul means here is that we are to live by the peace of God, ie, to attend to the ‘check or the peace in the spirit,’ and to stop or move based on our awareness of God’s peace regarding a particular action or direction. It doesn’t mean to allow God’s peace to make you feel relaxed and at peace in every situation.
Paul means we are called to the practice of letting “the peace of God be [our] heart’s arbiter,” because we are His body on earth and this is the only way it will work. If we allow the Holy Spirit to direct our steps, then we are “sons of God” and thus form His body. Simply trying to be filled with God’s peace is not going to achieve that.
And finally, because, when we live this way it will work and we will bear fruit for Christ, this will cause us to become more and more grateful to Christ for calling, purifying and enabling us.
Galatians 1:15-16 But God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, delighted to reveal his Son in me that I might announce him as good news to the Gentiles…
He also ‘delights’ to reveal His Son in us; it’s only our own lack of faith which holds Him back. Paul has, terribly early in his Christian walk, realised that all truth, all explanation, all understanding, must come through God’s Holy Spirit, not through any man, and specifically not his own flesh’s intellectual abilities.
Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ and live no more, but Christ lives in me, so now I live in my body by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me
This life is often referred to as ‘the crucified life’ which means that the old sin nature is dead in Christ (and buried in baptism) so we cannot draw from it at all. Now we draw from Christ’s life and His faith which even animates our bodies, enabling us to live the victorious, overcoming life by His transcendent life dwelling in us.
Galatians 3:11 and it is clear that no one can be justified before God by the law since, “by faith the righteous will live,”
We’re not just to believe, we’re supposed to draw our very life from the Son of God by that faith so that nothing we do draws upon the flesh as its resource in any sense. If everything we do is by faith in His provision, He will live out His transcendent, overcoming life in us and through us, and there will be “no condemnation” for any of us! We will be righteous, and we will truly live! And “everything which is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
Galatians 4:19 My little ones, with whom I am again in labour until Christ is formed in you,
He addresses these disciples affectionately, even though he is worried, and describes his discomfort and efforts as labour pains, which plainly should not have to be repeated! Interesting to note that he doesn’t suggest correcting their doctrine, even though that is wrong, he is looking to see Christ formed in them—our discipleship is not about having all the right doctrine, but about God revealing Christ in us.
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren, not freedom to express the flesh, but to serve one another in love.
The freedom that Christ won for us is very deep and far reaching. It includes freedom to serve, but also freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, shame and condemnation, freedom from self, freedom from worry and fear; but, obviously, not at all a general lack of discipline or freedom to sin by expressing the flesh.
So the mouse has escaped the cage and wheel—by the grace of God!
Bless you folks, Geoff >ᴥ<