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6. The Remedy for Sin

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What is the remedy for our sin nature? We’ve considered how we are totally depraved—meaning that every aspect of our human nature has been corrupted by sin to such a degree that we can do nothing pleasing to God because of our rebellious nature, and we cannot save ourselves. Therefore, God must save us. However, in our salvation, God gave believers several remedies to conquer their sin nature.

1. On the cross, the sin nature of believers was crucified with Christ, and though it remains with us, we’ve been delivered from slavery to it.

Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” On the cross, Christ not only paid the penalty for our sin, but delivered us from slavery to it, so that we could be slaves of God and righteousness instead (6:18).

Because of this reality, in Romans 6:11, Paul says, “So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We must think of ourselves differently. Possibly before being saved, we thought that it was impossible to be delivered from a certain tendency or practice that had identified us for years or possibly our entire lives. That tendency might be anger, unforgiveness, anxiety, or a sexual orientation. A common lie planted by Satan through the world and our flesh is that this tendency is just who we are and that it cannot or should not change. Accepting this type of lie actually hinders the Holy Spirit’s ability to make us more like Christ (cf. Acts 7:51). As Paul said, we must recognize what Christ did for us on the cross, so we can become slaves of righteousness instead of slaves of sin (Rom 6:18).

2. At salvation, God gives believers a new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to conquer sin.

Nature refers to a tendency or capacity within a person towards something.1 Unbelievers only have a sin nature, which is a tendency towards evil. It’s not that unbelievers can’t do good—it’s just that their good works are tainted by sinful motives. However, at salvation, believers become new creations in Christ and receive a new nature, empowered by God’s Spirit (Col 3:10, 2 Cor 5:17). They gain a desire and ability to do what is righteous (cf. Matt 5:6, Phil 2:12-13). Because of this, in believers there is a continual battle between their two opposing natures. In Galatians 5:16-17, Paul describes this, when he says,

But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.

This battle often results in believers sinning—doing what they don’t want to do. In Romans 7:19-20, Paul describes this: “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.” However, in Galatians 5:16, Paul offers battle-weary believers a remedy. He says, if we “live by the Spirit,” we will “not carry out the desires of the flesh.” It can also be translated “walk by the Spirit.” This pictures step by step, moment by moment, dependence upon the Lord for victory over our sinful desires.

How can we walk by the Spirit? We do this by continually obeying God’s will for our life, especially as we practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer, thanksgiving, reading God’s Word, engaging in Christian community and worship, serving others, and turning from sin. As we do this moment by moment, hour by hour, and day by day, we experience victories over our sinful nature.

Often this battle between our new nature and sin nature has been described as battles between two starving dogs. Which starving dog will win? The dog that we feed. If we feed our flesh ungodly entertainment, conversations, and evil attitudes and acts, the flesh will win. But if we feed our new nature (and starve our flesh), our new nature will win.

3. When we sin, we should confess our sins to the Lord and accept his forgiveness.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ taught believers to ask God for forgiveness (Matt 6:12). And in 1 John 1:9, John says, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.” To “confess” means “to say the same thing.”2 It is in the present tense, which means it is not referring to a “once-for-all confession of sin at our conversion” (cf. Acts 20:21).3 It means that believers should continually confess every wrong thought, word, and action to God. To confess does not just mean to recognize something as sin before God, but also to despise and turn away from it. In response, God forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

If God forgave all our sins on the cross, why do we still need to confess them when we sin? On the cross, God forgave our sins judicially. We will never pay for our sins eternally because they were paid for on the cross by Christ. However, when we sin after salvation, we need to seek relational forgiveness. For example, when I sin against my wife, it doesn’t change our legal status—she remains my wife. However, my sin does negatively affect our fellowship. When I confess, it restores our fellowship. Likewise, when we sin, we turn away from God and can’t enjoy his blessing and intimacy as we previously did. When we turn back, our relationship is rightly aligned and restored. Therefore, we should continually confess our sins, which include turning from them back to God.

4. At death, God will remove our sin nature.

When we die and our bodies are separated from our spirit, our sin nature will be gone as well; therefore, we will no longer struggle with sin. In Hebrews 12:23, believers who have died and are waiting in heaven for their resurrection are called the “spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect.” Then one day, God will give us glorified bodies at Christ’s return. In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul said this:

But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself.

God has done many things in the believers’ salvation to deliver them from their sin nature: He broke the power of sin on the cross, so we no longer would be slaves to it. He gave us a new nature, empowered by God’s Spirit. He forgives our sins when we confess them—restoring our intimacy with God. Finally, at our death or the rapture (whichever happens first), God will deliver us from the presence of our sin nature.

Perfectionism

Some think that believers can reach perfection—where they will never sin anymore—on this earth. They argue that God would never give commands that believers are unable to keep. If so, that would be unfair. How can God command us to, “Be holy as I am holy,” or as Christ commands, “Be perfect as God is perfect,” if it were not possible? Therefore, they would say, “If God commands us to do something, he empowers us to do so! So, perfection is surely possible!” Some might even teach that on this earth we can eradicate our sin nature altogether. This belief has at times been taught in Wesleyan traditions. Often, they would say that after some second work of the Spirit (sometimes called the baptism of the Spirit), believers can achieve holiness or perfection.

However, this contradicts what Scripture clearly teaches. It is very possible for God to give us a standard that cannot be achieved. For example, God gave the Israelites the law of Moses, not because they could keep it, but because they couldn’t. In fact, God gave provisions (sacrifices) within the law because they would fail at keeping it. Paul taught that the law was a tutor to prepare people for Christ—their need for a savior (Gal 3:24). Therefore, in the New Covenant, God can still command something of us that we cannot attain in our earthly bodies. We are to seek to be like God for the rest of our lives, though we won’t achieve it until we get to heaven or Christ returns (Heb 12:23, 1 John 3:2).

Further support that we cannot achieve perfection on earth is seen in the Lord’s Prayer, which Christ gave to his saints as a pattern for daily prayer. We are to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12). The fact that this was included in our pattern of prayer, implies that we will continually need to pray this, just as each of the other petitions: your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, give us our daily bread, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.

In addition, to claim perfection is to claim something that no apostle or godly person in Scripture ever claimed. In Romans 7:15-20, Paul essentially says, “The things that I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I do. Who can save me from this body of sin?” (paraphrase). In Philippians 3:12, Paul said, “Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me.” In James 3:2, James declared, “For we all stumble in many ways.” Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “For there is not one truly righteous person on the earth who continually does good and never sins.”

Furthermore, John said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Throughout the book, John gave tests of true salvation (1 John 5:13), and to him claiming perfection proved that “the truth” (God’s Word) was not in a professing believer—that he or she was not truly saved. Truly knowing God actually makes us more aware and sensitive to our sin (cf. Is 6:1-5, Rom 7:15-20). If we claim perfection, then we don’t truly know God (1 John 1:8, 1 John 5:13).

It is clear from Scripture that no one will achieve perfection on this earth. We will not be perfect until we get to heaven or Christ returns (Heb 12:23, 1 John 3:2).

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What remedies has God given to conquer our sin nature?
  3. What is the view called perfectionism? Why is it not true?
  4. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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1 Accessed 8/13/20 from https://www.gotquestions.org/two-natures.html

2 MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (p. 39). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

3 Guzik, D. (2013). 1 John (1 Jn 1:8–10). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin)

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