Dealing with Recurrent Sin
Let us look at a cogent fact. The Bible states that you and I must keep God’s commandments perfectly if we hope to be saved and one day be in the paradise of God. All God’s just requirements must be met in the life of a human or he will never stand in the presence of God. In a word, there must be an active and perfect holiness in every human’s life. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14). This necessity of possessing holiness is a recurrent one in the Bible.
In this strict requirement, humanity has a problem. The Bible shows quite clearly that no human is righteous in God’s eyes. No matter how many good deeds one has performed, all of us have come short of practicing righteousness (Romans 3:20). “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6). More than that, the prophet Jeremiah provides an accurate description of the human heart, including yours and mine:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it.”
This was not a description of the so-called “evil” heart, but of all normal human hearts, including yours and mine. This appraisal goes along with God’s own judgment of our normal human activity. We are no different from humans that God judged in the past.
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Even after the Flood of Noah, God still appraised the eight people left on earth (that is, Noah, his wife and three sons, with their three wives, and all who would descend from them — and that includes us today) with both a blessing and a severe judgmental accounting.
“I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake [as He did with the Flood], for the imagination of man’s heart IS EVIL from his youth.”
These verses describe the nature that we all have because we are in the flesh. It is the sinful nature we inherited from our first parent Adam. God Himself is responsible for placing this kind of evil nature into our beings when He created us (Isaiah 45:7). Notice my emphases in the above quotes. God saw mankind as degenerate in nature and a hopeless lot of depraved individuals. If we wish to have (or to inherit) the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), God is going to have to give us (by His GRACE) a different attitude than we all have at present. Something has to be added to the natures of mankind to make us righteous. Without this additional factor that God can (and will) supply, mankind will remain inherently wicked and evil, without the slightest righteousness.
What a hopeless situation we are in. The apostle Paul went even further in appraising himself (and the rest of us). He called himself “the chiefest of sinners” (and gave his judgment about himself in the present tense, not the past). He wanted his readers to know what he thought of his own righteousness — in fact, the apostle Paul felt that he had no righteousness whatever (see 1 Timothy 1:15). When Paul wrote the Book of Romans (in 56 C.E.), he stated that he was having a constant struggle (and usually not successfully) in attempting to live in a proper way and with a good behavior pattern dominating in his life. He wanted to live righteously before God, Christ and even before the brethren in the Ekklesia, and to show goodness and honesty before the world at large. This was Paul’s chief desire. But he could not do it.
If you truly believe what Paul wrote (and I do), our apostle had emotional and spiritual problems that rendered his own attempts at doing righteously as useless in making him perfect and sinless. When you read what Paul said of himself, one must admit he needed help in dealing with his personal sins. He described himself as being in a hopeless situation in regard to his conduct and the supervision of his daily life. When you read what he stated, our apostle needed counseling from what we call professional psychologists and/or social workers who might be adept at helping cure people undergoing depression and feelings of inferiority.
Paul was in such a pit of desperation regarding his own behavior in relationship to sin (and sinning) that he felt only God could help him out of his dilemma. Of course, Paul was right. Paul needed what we call today a complete transformation of his mind and disposition. He needed professional help from a source that would improve his daily habits of life that led him to think of himself as being in a state of constant and persistent evil. Really? By his own admission, he presents to Christians and the world an account of a person in a pitiful and desperate state. He expressed a clear case of self-condemnation with an attitude of depression and hopelessness. At least, it appears that way. Note what Paul said of himself,
“I find then a law [within me], that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
Paul was brash enough to admit that the principal natural law he found within him was NOT the Law of God, it was the law of sin. What an admission! I have long had a hunch that Paul was not as righteous in his outward behavior as most people imagine, and here we have Paul admitting with his own mouth that my belief is likely correct.
But there is more. Paul’s personal appraisal of himself should be taken seriously by all of us and not looked on as if the great apostle was speaking “tongue in cheek.” He actually meant what he stated. Looking at Paul’s statements in a non-serious manner (that the apostle was being overly philosophical about his evil condition) does great injustice to the very teaching Paul is trying to convey to his readers. The simple truth is, if anyone ever needed spiritual and psychological help, it was Paul! Look at his dismal evaluation of himself.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
What a hopeless case of self-denial and lack of self-esteem. This poor guy needed help.
But that does not end it. Paul also said that he was carnal. Paul said,
“For we know that the Law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would [do], that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not [normally want to do], I consent unto the Law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it [the wrong], but sin that dwells in me.”
That is right! Paul admitted he was nothing but a carnal minded person and that the carnality part of him usually won the day in any decision he might make in doing right or wrong. Not only did Paul, according to his own testimony, say he leaned toward carnality in his natural thinking, he said that his actions showed utter fleshliness of mind in most of the things that he did. As a matter of fact, Paul said that he often did the very unrighteous things that he did not want to do. He also said he was so weak in natural character that he did not do the righteous things that he thought he should do. And these faults were in evidence in Paul’s life as late as the time he wrote the Book of Romans, some 25 years after his conversion and being called to be an apostle of Christ.
Let us be honest with these teachings of the apostle Paul. Most people do not want to believe what he said. Most Christian people thought Paul was always showing forth a righteousness to people that would have excited the envy of a Billy Graham or Mother Teresa. But in no way was this the case, if we believe the very words of Paul. He said by his own admission that he did not do the things he should, and the things he should not do, that he did. Most Christians (even secular historians and theologians) find it difficult to believe that Paul actually felt the way he did about himself. Lots of Christian folk think that Paul was surely speaking with “tongue in cheek” in these passages. Surely, he did not mean what he said. But let me assure you, he was not speaking with “tongue in cheek”! I take Paul at his word. You should too. He meant every word of that appraisal of himself. But what a wretched human being he thought himself to be, if what he said was the truth. I am glad he was sincere in owning up to his evil actions that he consistently found himself doing. 1
Paul’s appraisal of his awful condition does not end the matter. Paul knew that in any appraisal by God, even he was in a hopeless state. 2 Still, Paul had a simple answer to such accountings that never failed to bring him out of his depressions and feelings of worthlessness — and the formula worked wonders. He simply stated, and believed with all his heart, that Christ could (and would) deliver him instantly from such feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. He simply turned the whole matter over to Christ to resolve, and then he had the simple faith to believe that God would honor his request. Paul stated:
“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord [for deliverance from such evaluations of myself]. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
Paul did not let the fact of his sins (that he committed daily) worry him in his overall disposition toward God the Father and Christ Jesus. He knew he was by nature a sinner like the rest of humanity, but when he prayed to God, he prayed as a righteous person petitioning God. Paul knew that since he was now reckoned by the Father to be “in Christ,” that made him a sinless person in the eyes of God (even if he had just eaten a whole box of chocolates — to use a modern example).
Paul was not flippant about sin, its awfulness, or how bad its consequences could be, but he was certainly not consumed by the thought of sins (any sins, mild or extreme) that he encountered in his daily life. This was because he knew he was reckoned as sinless in God’s eyes and that sufficed for him in dealing with sins that constantly found residence within his fleshly frame. He put them all in God’s hands and went about his business of living happily in the flesh and in the spirit.
Paul learned that just because he served the law of sin in his flesh (and he remained flesh until the day he died, of course), he was reckoned to be delivered by God because with the mind he served the law of God. Because of the merits of Jesus Christ (and our being “in Christ”), God looks on each of us as being as sinless as Jesus is sinless, even though we are still sinners and will continue to be until our deaths in the flesh. Note what John taught:
“Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his [God’s] seed [sperm] remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.”
1 John 3:9
Note how important this verse is. John said that if there was only a single sperm of God occupying a person’s body (made up of billions of fleshly cells), that one sperm was sufficient to make the whole human as perfect and sinless. This is because that single sperm has the potential of developing a conceived human egg (an ovum) into a divine personage who is truly and certainly sinless. That is all that we need of the Holy Spirit implanted to effectively make our entire person wholly righteous and sinless in the eyes of God the Father. That is the teaching of the apostles Paul and John. 3
Of course, there is not the slightest
evidence that after his conversion Paul committed extreme crimes against
humanity such as outright murder of a fellow human being; that he outwardly
and unabashedly stole from people; or that he engaged in sexual orgies or
similar profligate things.
Indeed, Paul stated categorically that his sex drive was not as intense as that of others (1 Corinthians 7:7–9). God gave Paul an uncanny ability to “turn off” his sexual drive any time that he pleased. Not only that, he had the unusual strength that he could “turn off “ almost every emotional proclivity that God has given to the majority of mankind.
With his own words Paul stated he could temporarily “turn off” any emotion for having sex with a woman (or even a wife, if he had one). Or he could “turn off” any emotion that normally evokes sadness in most humans. Or he could “turn off” any type of gladness that most humans craved. Or he could “turn off” any type of emotion that normal humans had for worldly possessions or financial security. He even recommended that all Christians should adopt his methods of “turning off “ emotions in times of temporary persecutions that might afflict Christian groups. That’s right. Paul had those strengths and he recorded them in 1 Corinthians 7:29–31. Yes, this was an ability that Paul had.
But let me tell you a fact about myself. Ernest L. Martin has not the slightest ability to “turn off” such emotions as Paul was able to do. God has not given me the desire (or the innate will-power) to “turn off” those emotions that God gave to the apostle Paul. Indeed, I admire the apostle Paul for his extraordinary capabilities and strengths that God gave him. But my emotional state (call it weakness if you will) prohibits me from abandoning my wife in times of persecution in the manner that Paul advised. On the other hand, my brother Paul was different (as he admitted), and stronger, than many other humans. He had extraordinary powers to resist temptations and the ordinary cravings that mankind desire. God gave such powers to the apostle Paul that most of us do not have. I have to admit that I do not possess those extraordinary powers that the apostle Paul could muster at an instant.
On the other hand (before we start giving out medals to our brother Paul) even he admitted to having an extreme example of human nature that caused him to do things he did not want to do. Since this is the case, I am certain in my own mind that the apostle Paul, on occasion, was afflicted in mind with the same type of adultery that President Jimmy Carter owned up to doing often. After all, the apostle Paul was also a human being (with all the male hormones in his human make-up) like the rest of us males. Of course, some may want to single out the apostle Paul as one who only had the smallest of peccadilloes in his human experience. This may be, but those peccadilloes of Paul were still part of the root problems within Paul and the rest of mankind that cause humans to go sometimes to extremes in committing sins — even the worst of sins. To Paul, as well as to James, the committing of even peccadilloes were as vile as if one had done the most heinous of sins (James 2:10). Paul is telling us about the reality of the potential within his own mind and body (and his appraisal of himself was not benign and happy). To Paul, he was an abject sinner. True, but in no way can we consider the apostle Paul as profligate in pursuance of the most wicked of sins.
In Paul’s eyes there was no difference in the
comparison of sins or the degree of sins. Sin, even the slightest sin, was
enough to render the whole person as degenerate, depraved and as evil as the
most sinful person ever to disgrace this earth with his or her presence.
Paul placed himself (with all of us) in that category of degradation. And,
of himself, he believed that he was in a desperate situation in which he
needed real help.
The rest of his epistle to the Romans tells how he obtained (along with us) that perfect righteousness in Christ Jesus. Paul found an optimistic way out of the problems of sin that plagued him and he told us how we could obtain the same release and deliverance. He simply placed his sins on the back of Christ and then he forgot they existed in his being. He had no need to be remorseful over his sins (either past sins, present sins, or even future ones). The fact is, the Father does not reckon any of us “in Christ” as having sins. We are all as free of sins as is our Elder Brother, Christ Jesus. Indeed, I will soon show that we have no laws over us that we can break.
Humans find it almost impossible to believe
that God the Father now recognizes each of us as SINLESS (in His eyes). Yet,
that is the teaching of the apostle Paul. There is no longer any SIN
whatever that can be associated with us. Each of us is now acknowledged to
be completely and thoroughly SINLESS, no matter what sins we
have done in the past (or what we will do in the future).
That’s right, you cannot commit any sin, no matter what you do now or in the future that the Father will recognize as a sin. We are permanently considered by the Father as SINLESS because we are all now “in Christ.” And though we are commanded to always do good works (as best we can) and the Father expects us to do those good works, we are in His eyes (not in the eyes of our present society) as being completely sinless and without the slightest taint because we are “in Christ.”
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