Total Life Ministries
Dealing With Sin Which Dwells In Us
The seventh chapter of Romans makes it clear that not only have all sinned, but also, all have a principle of sin dwelling within them. This principle of sin is present from conception. It is an inheritance from Adam. It works in the fleshly body and mind (Ephesians 2:3) to bring forth sinful thought, speech, and deeds, and to produce the fruit of sin, which is death. Paul describes it as "a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my [redeemed] mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:23 NASV).
The faith of many Christians is deeply shaken when they realize, after coming to Christ, that they are still in bondage to life-dominating sins. They anticipate freedom from these habits once they have given their lives to Christ. And yet, sooner or later, they find themselves under the power of some sin just as they were before salvation. Not yet understanding the reality and ways of indwelling sin, and not knowing God's provision for them to deal with it, they frequently begin to doubt if they are really saved. Hopelessness and despair set in. With Paul, they cry out, "Wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24 NASV). Not a few have given up in compromise and defeat.
Clearly, each Christian needs sound Biblical knowledge concerning God's provision for indwelling sin. Without the counsel of the Word of God on this critical subject, the work of sanctification will be impeded. Without the faith which comes from knowing God's way regarding the power of sin, the Christian will not be able to "prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2 NASV). Let us look, therefore, in the balance of this article, at the problem of indwelling sin and its remedy.
The Problem Of Indwelling Sin
A common science fiction theme illustrates the problem of sin dwelling in us. Sin is like an evil alien being that has taken up residence in a human body, working evil and destruction through it. Once the alien enters the person's body, no power can remove it. The alien and the human become one entity whose works are evil. The only remedy is death. Kill the host organism and thus render the invader harmless by removing the body through which it operates.
God never intended for sin to dwell in humans. But Adam opened the door to sin by his choice to disobey God (Romans 5:12,19). Sin entered in and has subsequently been passed down to each generation. "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5 NASV). Each subsequent human being, yielding to the principle of sin dwelling in them, has committed acts of sin. Each act of sin is rebellion toward a holy and righteous God. God judges the sinner to be deserving of death for his acts of rebellion, saying, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4,20 KJV). God is just in pronouncing death as the fitting judgement of the sinner: "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge" (Psalm 51:4NASV).
Because we deserve death anyhow, God's easiest solution to the problem of sin dwelling in us would be to simply kill off each of us as soon as we first commit sin. This would accomplish two things: (1) justice would be served; (2) the alien principle of sin would be rendered powerless, at least in regards to the potential destruction it would have worked through the now dead individual if he had continued living.
But, God be praised!, this was not the solution He chose. Rather, In His wisdom, according to His purposes, and because of His love, He instead sent His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. At the cross, God caused the full penalty and judgement for all sin for all time to fall on His Son. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims this wonderful truth, that if we turn in repentance to the God against whom we rebelled, and if we put our faith in His Son and in what He accomplished at the cross, God forgives our sin and pronounces us not guilty of death. He imputes the righteousness of His Son to our account and gives us life eternal. Thus we are justified in God's sight through the blood of His Son, and we escape death and enter into the life of God as those who have been born again.
But the alien doesn't go away; it still lives in us. Sin still dwells in our bodies. After being born again, we still have the same full capacity for working deeds of death in our bodies that we did before we were justified. Remember, the alien can only be rendered powerless by killing the body it works through. We will not be rid of the principle of sin dwelling in our members until either our earthly body dies and goes into the grave, or Jesus returns and changes our mortal body "into conformity with the body of His glory" (Philippians 3:20-21).
So what do we do while we still dwell in our mortal bodies? What is God's provision for sin dwelling in us? God's Word reveals the profound truth that we who are in Christ are already dead. He pronounces: "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3 KJV). No matter that we still live in a body infected with sin. God says that we were "in Christ" when he hung on the cross and died. We were "in Christ" when he was taken from the cross and buried in the tomb. "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death....we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death..." (Rom 6:3-5NASV). The cross doesn't let us off the hook so we can go on doing our own thing. No, rather, it brings the well-deserved end to our "old man" or "old self." "...Our old self was crucified with Him..." (Rom 6:6 NASV).
If I am dead, it follows that the alien, i.e., the principle of sin, cannot work though me. I am not available to be used by it, and therefore, the alien's power--its ability to stir up lusts and passions within--is broken. Paul says we were crucified in Christ for this purpose, "that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin." (Romans 6:6-7NASV). It was my old self that lived according to the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). But now, in Christ, my old self is dead, and being dead, I am unavailable to sin.
But God did not stop here. Not only does He declare that we died in Christ; He also reveals that we were made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5). "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4 NASV). My body has a new occupant, God Himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit, who wants to live through me. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20 NASV). In effect, having crucified my old self, which was the vehicle or vessel through which sin worked, God created a new self for me through which He now works. This new self "in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4:24 NASV). Again, this new self "is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him" (Colossians 3:10 NASV). It is the new self which lives according to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. My new man conforms to righteousness and bears the fruit of life.
Appropriating The Provision
This message of the cross contains tremendous power for the overcoming of life-dominating sin. Paul says that the word of the cross, the preaching of Christ crucified, is both the power and the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:18, 23-24). But to lay hold of the power of these revelations concerning the cross, we have to make choices. We have to choose to walk by faith and not by sight. For if we walk by what we see, we observe ourselves still sinning in thought, word, and deed. Then we reason from what we see and conclude that we are still in sin's power and that nothing has really changed. Truly, walking by sight regarding indwelling sin is a prescription for despair and defeat.
So how do we walk by faith regarding sin which dwells in us? Romans 6 tells us three things we are to do in order to walk by faith. First we must KNOW; Second, we must CONSIDER; and third, we must ACT.
What Must I Know?
God intends for me to know what He has done for me through Christ at the cross. Three times in Romans 6, Paul makes reference to "knowing". First he asks "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" (Romans 6:3 NASV). I must not be ignorant of God's provisions. My ability to walk by faith depends on whether or not I have grasped by revelation what happened to me at the cross and in Christ's resurrection. Next Paul says, "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him..." (Romans 6:6 NASV). Again he says, "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him" (Romans 6:8-9 NASV). I must know that I died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. This knowledge is something more than mental assent. It requires submission of my unbelieving heart and mind to the reality that what God declares happened at the cross really did happen, and happened to me, individually and personally, even though I don't see it by sight. I must choose to believe God's Word and receive it in meekness so that it can save (e.g., transform) my soul (James 1:21).
What Must I Consider?
As these truths are revealed and grasped in my heart so that I really know them, then I am to consider, reckon, or account that they are truly so. Paul exhorts, "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11 NASV). I must choose to consider reality on the basis of what God has said. I really am dead to sin but alive to God. Most of the time I don't feel dead to sin, and much of the time I may not feel very alive to God. But God's Word has pronounced that I am dead to the one and alive to the other. So I must bank on what He has said. I must count it so. I must conform my thinking to what He has declared to be true. I must bring my thoughts into submission to the truth. If I fail in this choice, I allow a stronghold of unbelief to remain.
How Must I Act?
Having reckoned myself to be dead to sin but alive to God, my will must be exercised. I must choose to act in accordance with what I now consider to be true. "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts..." (Romans 6:12 NASV). Sin is no longer king over me. It will try to bluff me into believing that it still has power over me, so that it can reign as king. But because I know and consider that I am dead to it, I can say "no" to it and reject its claims with conviction, authority and power.
"...And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness..." (Romans 6:13 NASV). In the past, I yielded myself to sin both as a matter of habit and because I agreed with it. But being dead to sin, I do not have to give myself to it any longer. I am not under obligation to it. I do not have to let it arouse me, use me, or work through me. If I choose to take my stand in faith against it, based on what I know and believe from God's Word, it is powerless over me.
"...But present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead..." (Romans 6:13 NASV). To "present myself to God" means to bring myself, like a soldier reporting for duty, into the presence of God for introduction, inspection, and service. This is a once-for-all transaction. I present myself as who I really am, one who was formerly dead in sin but now is alive to God in Christ. My fundamental consciousness as a Christian should be that I have died (regarding sin and my old self) and that my life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Paul restates the thought in Romans 12:1 when he urges us to "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."
"But present...your members as instruments of righteousness to God" (Romans 6:13 NASV). Having shown up for muster, I am to continually present the members of my body--my mind, my emotions, my tongue, my eyes, my hands and feet, etc.--to be used as instruments of righteousness. Indeed, I am to present my members as "slaves of righteousness, resulting in sanctification" (Romans 6:19). Again, I accomplish this by my choices--to obey God, to yield to His Spirit, to deny myself, and to do His Word. But I must do all this in faith, truly believing that I am dead to sin but alive to God.
In summary, when we make these faith choices to appropriate God's provision against indwelling sin, the power of God will be manifest to back us up in the choices we've made. We will actually experience the power of sin, which dwells in us, being nullified, being broken. We will participate in a real, practical, living way in the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification. We will walk in accordance with who we truly are, people who have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.