VICTORY OVER SIN AND TEMPTATION
ďBut thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.Ē I Corinthians 15:57
We, as all people, are sinners by nature and practice. Would not that fact make our attempt to write a booklet about sin and temptation presumptuous? Would not that fact discredit the value of any insight we try to offer into the nature of sin and temptation? Would not that fact disqualify us from giving any helpful counsel to others who seek to gain victory over them? If what we write is based primarily upon our experience and personal reflection, then our words cannot be trusted and must not be a guide. However, we are all commanded to seek the perfect wisdom of the sinless One, who explains all we need to know in His Word, the Bible. And it is our desire to faithfully and clearly bring the Bibleís message concerning sin and temptation, in order that you may live a life that honors the Lord Jesus Christ and know the joy of obedience to His will.
We do not write about sin and temptation because we think we are so holy and so in control of ourselves that sin is no longer a problem in our lives, as if sin and temptation are issues of the past we have completely resolved. We do not expect people to read and heed these words because we claim to have finally attained victory over all our sins and therefore offer perfect wisdom and counsel. Instead, we write these things as experts in sin. Sadly, we have lots of experience with sin and continue to gain more experience as we struggle daily with sin and temptation (Psalm 38:4-6, 40:12). And yet, as time goes by, by grace we understand more and more of the Bibleís message about what is true and false about sin and temptation. Day after day we learn to value all that the Bible says about them; and it has a great deal to say about sin and temptation. Equipped with biblical insight, we can experience victories over sin and temptation, victories that God gives to us according to His gracious will (Rom. 7:24,25, I Cor. 15:57).
We are motivated to write what the Bible teaches about sin and temptation because we recognize the common, immediate and abiding struggle we all have with them. We write these things because we see the present and eternal peril that is a consequence of sin. There is no more important question we could answer in life than, ďDoes what I think and do about sin, especially about my own personal sin, reveal if I am saved?Ē
For all these reasons and more, we present these words because we believe that a clear and accurate understanding of sin and temptation is an important foundation for assurance of salvation and for leading a life that both honors God and brings spiritual benefit to others. To that end, we pray that these words may result in your increased faithfulness. And we pray that these words may give you courage that is a consequence of knowing for sure what you believe. The spiritual strength that comes from such conviction is especially needed in the face of the numerous, compelling and bewildering attractions of sin that are a part of this modern world.
May you, by Godís grace, be free from the condemnation and penalty of sin. May you, by His wisdom and strength, gain victory over the power of sin and temptation. May you, according to His promise, live before the Lord in His heavenly Kingdom separated from the presence of sin forever.
A positive word
Notice the title of this study is not "Sin and Temptation," but "Victory over Sin and Temptation." It is true that a large portion of this book focuses upon the embarrassing and offensive subject of sin. However, despite its emphasis upon such a sad and dark theme, it contains a positive message. Its purpose is to help us properly understand what the Bible teaches about sin so that we can discover Godís plan for victory over it. The Bible explains how we can submit to that plan and how God gives us the victory thereby.
We cannot avoid sin. Sin surrounds us and dwells within us. And yet, we can take courage. There is reason to hope. The good news is that there is a way to overcome sinís power and influence. The Bibleís message about sin and temptation is meant for our personal profit and the Godís honor.
Two extreme views
I was motivated to write this study because, after hundreds of conversations with people, both in person and through correspondence, I recognized how confused they were about sin and temptation. I was concerned because their confusion often led to fear or belligerence, attitudes that reveled they did not truly grasp the Bibleís message of sin. They appreciated neither the horror of sin nor the Gospelís promise of rescue and relief. I also noticed that many times peopleís confusion about sin and temptation led them to strange, unbiblical doctrines as well as behavior that harmed both themselves and others. Their confusion usually was expressed in two extreme views of how Christians relate to Godís law.
The first extreme view I want to examine is based upon the idea that, because salvation is by grace apart from the law (Rom. 3:28), because it is independent of the work of man (Eph. 2:8,9), Christians do not have to concern themselves too much about obeying the Bibleís commands. This view is sometimes supported by a liberal interpretation of Galatians 5:1 that says, "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with a yoke of bondage." The idea is labeled as "Christian liberty" and can be expressed as "free from the law, oh happy condition," in the sense that "freedom" means Christians are free to indulge themselves in the amusements and social habits of the people of the world.
The fruit of this point of view is a spiritually or morally casual life, indistinguishable in many respects from the life of an unsaved person. This extreme view promotes the attitude that living by grace means obedience to Godís law is not very important. This view has sometimes been labeled "easy-believism." That is, it is a belief that is easy to adopt because it is accompanied by no obligation to conform to the restrictions or expectations found in the Bible. However, such a view is very wrong. It an extreme view that is fundamentally a denial of Godís grace and power as well as an excuse for self-indulgence.
People who hold to this extreme view sometimes say, "It really doesnít matter how holy I live. Afer all, sincerity counts. Even though I keep breaking my resolution to turn from this bad habit, I am trying. That is all that matters." That expresses an incomplete understanding of a Christian life.
The danger of such a view is illustrated by Lot. Though he was a true believer, he chose to live in wicked, spiritually corrosive Sodom and witnessed the sad consequences of a family that lived far from Godís will (Gen. 19:26, 36).
The second extreme view I want to consider is based upon the idea that, because the work of grace will show in Christiansí character and behavior (James 3:18), Christiansí strict obedience to the Bibleís commands is both required and expected, with very little exception. This view is sometimes supported by a verse such as I Peter 1:15, " but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." The idea can be expressed as, "if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it is a duck," in the sense that a personís outward behavior is an unfailing, accurate measure of his soul, and any variance from Godís commands calls into question his salvation.
One fruit of this point of view is pride in the hearts of people who think they have achieved compliance to Godís law and a critical attitude toward other people whom they estimate have not. Another fruit of this point of view is alarm in the hearts of people who recognize that they do not measure up to Godís holiness. This view has sometimes been labeled "perfectionism" or "moralism." In this view, salvation is accompanied by a life that conforms to the restrictions or expectations found in the Bible with few or minor exceptions. This view includes the attitude that as soon as an area of non-compliance is detected in a personís life, his salvation is suspect. However, such a view also is wrong. It is an extreme view that is fundamentally a gospel of works, inasmuch as it teaches peopleís relationship to God is determined or maintained by a their performance.
As we shall learn in this study, the Bibleís view is different from both of those extreme views. The quick answer to all of this confusion is, "Yes, outward obedience must and will be seen in the lives of people who are saved. However, outward obedience is neither complete or as consistent as it should be, or as it will be in Heaven." In the final analysis, it is not a personís record of obedience, but rather it is a personís inner "want to," or heart desire that is the true testimony to his salvation. That desire only is seen by and known to God and the person himself.
It is not too much to say that a personís motive is more important than the acts he performs. His godly motive will be reflected more and more in his performance, as over time he grows in his understanding of the Bible and in his ability to do that which he understands is right. There must be some present obedience in a Christianís life and there must be growth in obedience. But his record of performance will always be marred with many faults due to the ever present desires of his flesh and due to the baggage he carries with him from his rebellious past. And as we will learn, it is not Godís will that, on earth, Christianís perfectly express the holy desire to obey He has created in their hearts. God reserves that perfect, outward compliance for their life in Heaven.
Therefore, we must avoid the judgmental attitude that characterizes the second extreme view of the law and Christian life. We cannot accurately evaluate the spiritual condition of some one else based upon our observations alone, nor should we try. While we are led to pray for other people based upon what we see in their lives, the Bible expects us leave the state of their souls in Godís hands and take heed to our own lives (Matt. 7:1-3, I Tim. 4:16).
How to Use this Study
How this study helps you depends, in part, upon your situation at the moment and your goals. If you want immediate counsel to help you gain victory over a sin that is presently troubling you, then you may profit from reading chapters 3 and 4. If you are interested in a more complete explanation of the nature and character of sin, in order to understand how serious a problem it is, then turn to the rest of this book.
We must caution you before you read this study. There are dangers associated with reading something about sin, even if what you read is true and faithful to the Bible. For one thing, increasing your knowledge about sin, ironically, may promote the sin of pride (I Cor. 8:1-2). Secondly, if you have gained a measure of success overcoming some sins in your life, you may become frustrated and impatient with people who are still struggling with similar sins. You even may condemn them (Matt. 7:3, Rom. 14:3-6). Thirdly, you may pay a great deal of attention to accurately understanding what the Bible teaches about sin, or any other doctrine for that matter, and forget to do what the Bible commands (Matt. 23:3). In other words, learning a lot of true things about the nature of sin and how to successfully deal with it does not in itself mean you have achieved victory over it.
Perhaps the best advice we could give to you before you read this study is to point out that your attempts to deal with sin must be a natural extension of your daily devotion to God. Victory over sin is a result of your personal, faithful walk with God. You must keep in mind that the solution to anyoneís sin problem begins and ends with God Himself. He provides the insight, motivation, strategy, tactics, power, and eventual success. Therefore, reading this study will help you in your struggle against sin only to the extent that you trust and love God, call upon Him consistently in prayer and spend time studying and meditating upon His Word.
© 2001 Thomas Schaff
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