Victory Over Sin
By Rich Carmicheal
One of the main themes in this issue of the Herald is sin, ranging from backsliding to living victoriously over sin. Sin is, of course, of utmost consequence, and in the following article I invite you to consider some of the biblical truths regarding it. If you are battling sin in your own life, or if you are helping others who are dealing with sin, I hope these truths help bring victory.
1. Sin is ultimately a transgression against the Lord. The biblical concept of sin is to "miss the mark" or fall short of the Lord and His standards. The Scriptures point out that this is a universal problem: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). We know that the Lord is perfect in His nature, His character and in all His ways, and that He has created us in His image and likeness. We sin whenever we act in a way contrary to who He is and what He desires for our lives. This often involves outward actions, but also includes thoughts and motives that are displeasing to Him.
Sin is, therefore, a very personal matter to the Lord, a violation against Him and His ways. This is true even when our sin is directed against another person. For example, when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and tried to cover it up with deception and murder, he acknowledged that his sin was ultimately against the Lord: "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" (Psa. 51:4). Likewise, Joseph, who did not give in to the sexual temptations of Potiphar’s wife, acknowledged that to do so would be a wicked thing and a "sin against God" (Gen. 39:9). The truth that sin is ultimately against the Lord is a truth that permeates Scripture (e.g., Num. 32:23; Deut. 20:18; 1 Sam. 12:23; 14:34; 2 Chron. 6:26, 36; 19:10; Psa. 78:17; 119:11; Jer. 33:8; 50:7; 1 Cor. 8:12). To sin is to rebel against Him, to do wrong in His eyes, to disobey His commands, to disbelieve His promises and to not listen to His Word.
Because our sin is against the Lord, He feels it very deeply. In the days of Noah, for example, the Lord saw man’s great wickedness and evil, and He "was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain" (Gen. 6:6). And in the days of Isaiah, the Lord declared how the people had burdened Him with their sins and wearied Him with their offenses (Isa. 43:24).
2. Sin separates us from the Lord. Of course, the consequences of sinning against the Lord are tragic, including those described by the prophet Isaiah: "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isa. 59:2). Our sin is a very personal matter to the Lord and it impacts our relationship with Him. On one hand, our guilt and shame over sin can drive us away from Him, such as when Adam and Eve tried to hide from the Lord following their sin (Gen. 3:8-10). On the other hand, sin can cause the Lord to withdraw from His people, such as when the Lord warned Joshua following Achan’s sin: "I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction" (Josh. 7:12; see also Hosea 5:5-6). In either case, the most tragic consequence of sin is that it separates us from the Lord. David was well aware of this, and so as he poured out his heart in Psalm 51 in regard to his sin, he pled to the Lord, "Do not cast me from Your presence, or take Your Holy Spirit from me" (v. 11).
3. Sin brings many other devastating consequences. Since the Lord is the source of love, joy, peace, goodness, holiness, purity, and so forth, any barrier in our relationship with Him necessarily means at least some loss, if not major loss, of these qualities in our lives. In other words, sin robs us not only of the Lord’s presence, but also of the abundant life that flows from Him.
As sin disrupts a person’s fellowship with the Lord, he/she can begin to experience more problems such as anxiety, fear, bitterness, despair, discouragement, emptiness and selfishness. If that person continues on in sin, the separation from the Lord widens, and the consequences intensify. For example, the Apostle Paul describes those who "are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more" (Eph. 4:18-19). In other words, the farther a person is separated from God, the less he will possess and manifest the life and character of God, and the more he will be entangled in the destructive power of sin. As the Scripture warns: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction…" (Gal. 6:7-8).
That destruction can manifest itself in many ways. For example, sin can bring disgrace (Prov. 14:34), distress (Zeph. 1:17), defeat (1 Kgs. 8:33), disaster (2 Kgs. 21:12), drought (2 Chron. 6:26; Jer. 5:24-25), ruin (Mic. 6:13), affliction (Psa. 107:17), suffering (Num. 14:34), spiritual blindness (Psa. 40:12), trouble (Jer. 8:14-15; Lam. 5:1-18), punishment for future generations (Num. 14:18), rebuke, discipline and a loss of wealth (Psa. 39:11). It can also destroy much good (Eccl. 9:18), load us with guilt and shame (Isa. 1:4; Jer. 3:25; Psa. 38:4), hold us captive (Prov. 5:22), cause us to waste away (Ezek. 33:10-11; Psa. 106:43), cause our strength to fail and our bones to grow weak (Psa. 31:10), disqualify us from God’s service (1 Sam. 15:24-28), deceive us (Rom. 7:11), enslave us (John 8:34), harden us (Heb. 3:13), overtake us (Psa. 40:12), overwhelm us (Psa. 65:3) and lead to our downfall (Hos. 14:1). Sin also stirs up God’s anger, wrath and judgment (1 Kgs. 14:22; Mic. 7:9; Isa. 13:9-13), and if a person remains in sin, he will eventually face final judgment and eternal separation from the presence of the Lord (Rom. 2:1-12; 1 Cor. 4:4-6; Rev. 20:12-15).
4. Sin is to be avoided at all costs. When you consider even this brief list of the devastating effects of sin, you can understand why the Lord so strongly admonishes us to avoid sin at all costs. For example, Jesus teaches that "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell" (Matt. 5:29-30). He is, of course, not telling us to literally gouge out an eye or cut off a hand, but He is stressing the necessity of treating sin and its causes with all seriousness. The consequences of sin are too significant to be treated lightly. We must be very careful to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" (Heb. 12:1) and to "abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul" (1 Pet. 2:11).
The solemn warning in the tenth chapter of Hebrews shows that to continue on in sin is a most serious offense toward the Lord: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. …How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:26-29). We must not continue in sin.
In fact, the Apostle John tells us that "No one who lives in Him [Christ] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him" (1 John 3:6). He adds that the person "who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning…. No one who is born of God will continue to sin…" (1 John 3:8-9). If we continue to sin it reveals that something is terribly wrong in our relationship with the Lord.
5. There is hope for overcoming sin! If you are struggling with sin, or if you are ministering to someone who is, the previous discussion could be rather disheartening. However, we must never forget that we have great hope for overcoming sin. For example, notice what the Apostle John writes earlier in his first letter: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2). And in the verses just before this, John writes that "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9).
One of the wonderful promises in these verses is that through Christ we have the hope of being forgiven and cleansed of our sin. In fact, Jesus came to "save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). That salvation began when Jesus bore our sins in His body on the Cross "so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Pet. 2:24). He "was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). While we were stained with sin, He offered Himself unblemished to God, shedding His blood on the Cross as a sacrifice for our sins. And His precious blood has the power to "cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Heb. 9:14). The price for your sin and my sin has been paid in full, and through His blood we can be forgiven, cleansed and set free!
And not only did Jesus give His life on the Cross to deal with our sins, He also continues to this day to help us overcome sin. He is a merciful and faithful high priest who was made like us in every way, and "because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted" (Heb. 2:18). He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He "has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin" (Heb. 4:15). As we turn to Him, we can trust Him to extend mercy to us and help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). He is able to save us completely as we come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25). He is our hope and salvation, "the Author and Perfector of our faith…" (Heb. 12:2).
In other words, the key to our victory over sin is what Jesus has already done for us on the Cross, and also what He continues to do. We are saved from our sin by His death and His life. As the Apostle Paul writes, "The death He [Christ] died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life…" (Rom. 6:10-13).
6. We must confess our sin and turn away from it. The Lord has paid the price for our freedom from sin, and He is willing and able to help us overcome any sin in our lives. He is the answer to our problem with sin. He is our "righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). As we seek to overcome sin, our main responsibility is to seek Him with all of our heart through prayer, confession, humility and repentance.
At any point when we are aware of sin in our lives, whether in deed, thought or motive, we need to turn fully toward the Lord. One part of turning toward Him is confession of our sin. As David describes, there is tremendous benefit in openly confessing our sin to the Lord: "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long…my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and You forgave the guilt of my sin" (Psa. 32:3-5). The Lord is gracious and faithful to respond to us when we are genuinely humble and broken over sin. If you are struggling with sin, pour out your heart to the Lord, confessing your sin and asking for His mercy, grace and help.
Another key element in turning to the Lord is repentance. We must be very intentional and radical in turning away from sin. We are to purify ourselves from "everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Cor. 7:1). It is God’s kindness that leads us toward repentance (Rom. 2:4), and as we turn away from sin, and toward Him, He will wipe away our sins and send "times of refreshing" (Acts 3:19). He wants us to have victory over sin, and offers us this encouragement: "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon" (Isa. 55:6-7).