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Is there victory over sin in this life?
THEN WHEN LUST HAS CONCEIVED IT BRINGS FORTH SIN

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SUMMARY: 
Isn’t it exciting that the new nature is already prepared for us? Putting on Christ is like putting on a garment! The work of faith is a work of grace: we are after all, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared before that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). As we put on Christ so we fi nd ourselves walking in the good works He has prepared for us. So let us all fi x our eyes on the Lord Jesus! (Heb 12:1).

IN Matthew 5:48 the Lord Jesus gave this command to the crowds gathered together to hear His sermon on the mount: “Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The Greek word used by the Lord is “teleios” which means to be complete and includes moral character. The context of this exhortation to holiness comes as Christ applies the outward commands of the law to the inner man, so that we are told that to be angry without cause against our brother is tantamount to murder (v22), and to lust after a person of the opposite sex is to commit adultery in our hearts (v28). How do we fare under this exacting test, brother and sister in Christ?
In Romans 6 Paul begins the chapter with this well-known rhetorical question: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” And look at this surprising answer in verse 2: “May it never be!. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live in it any longer?” Paul explains that we have been crucifi ed with Christ and that the old self is now dead.
In verse 7 he goes on to say that He who is dead has ceased from sin! I remember that when I was baptized I felt as if I had gone to my grave and indeed Paul tells us that this is exactly what happens to the Christian when he turns to Christ (v4): “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life.”
In verse 11 Paul goes on to tell us to reckon ourselves dead to sin: that is to act as if we are dead to sin. It would make no sense to suggest that this act of reckoning was wholly futile; like the emperor without his clothes on, whom everyone told looked wonderful except the innocent little boy who told him the truth. When we reckon ourselves dead to sin we are to reckon ourselves alive to God. If being born again means anything doesn’t it mean just that? As Paul writes (in Ephesians 2:5) we have been made alive in Christ!
There are many who claim that we can never have victory over sin in this life and therefore that we shouldn’t expect to. Now I am far from perfect, regrettably. However I cannot accept that the Lord Jesus would make a demand on his followers that they are unable to meet. Many cite Paul’s account of his battle against sin in Romans 7 as clear and irrefutable evidence that he did not have victory over sin in this life. Well, let’s have a look at this passage.
Chapter 7 opens with Paul’s illustration that those in Christ have been set free from the law just as a widow is set free to remarry after her husband dies (see verses 1-6). This leads on to Paul addressing the great objection that is raised by the law’s barrier to us having life: is the law evil (v7)?
He then explains that the purpose of the law is to demonstrate our sin because it is only when we have a law that we are able to see that we have broken it: sin is seen as sin when compared to the law (v9). He retorts that it is we who are sinners and not the law.
In verse 12 Paul concludes that the law and the commandment are holy, just and good. In verse 13 he continues his defence of the law showing conclusively that the law’s purpose is to demonstrate how sinful sin is. For us to understand Paul’s logic in the rest of chapter 7 we must start at verse 13 which provides us our gateway into all that follows.
The Crucial Importance of the Word “for”
The fi rst “for” in verse 14 defends the law on the ground that we know that the law is spiritual but I am carnal, sold under sin. Paul is saying that the law cannot be at fault because it is holy. I am the one who is fl eshly and sold under sin. He is obviously not talking about the redeemed state but the unredeemed. In order to bring me to Christ I have to know my sin. My sin is made known to me by the law which, we know from Galatians 3:24, is our guardian that leads us to Christ.
In order to further establish this point Paul uses the second “for” to show that it is sin in me that is the cause of the problem and not the law. The “I” is the old nature. It illustrates the battle that occurs between an awakening mind and a sinful body. There is a part of me that knows what is right but another part that cannot do what is right. From this in verse 16 Paul deduces that if I know what is right, and I acknowledge that what I am doing is not right, then I consent that the law is good: again he is making the point that it is sin in me that is at fault and not the law.
In verse 18 we have a third “for”: Paul explains why it is—so that my knowledge, that what I am doing is not what I want to do, is the root of the problem and not the law: there is a part of me that knows that in me (my fl esh) dwells no good thing because, although I want to do the right thing, I am not able to do it. He makes this point again in verse 19. I wonder how many of us have had this experience before we were converted?
I remember that there was someone I knew who always seemed to do the right thing and naturally seemed to have a heart for others. Actually she was not then a Christian although I understand she is now converted.
However the point is that in my fallen state I acknowledged that someone was better than me because she walked more closely according to the law that I consistently broke. I acknowledged this law that it was good but, like Paul, did not have the power to keep it.
The Awakening Conscience
From verse 17 onwards Paul seems to be excusing himself from his sin. Does this mean that Paul is suggesting that, in some way, a person who cannot do anything about his sin is excused from its consequences?
This cannot be so because he has just concluded at the end of chapter 6 that the wages of sin is death and indeed he concludes chapter 7 with the cry in verse 24: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” This old nature that was dragging him to hell and separation from God needed to be dealt with but he was powerless for the task.
No, I believe that the fi rst “I” that we see in verse 20 is referring to the mind or conscience that has been awakened by the law and realises what sin is and would resist the committing of the sin: it is not that part of me that sins but it is the sin that dwells within the rest of me. Again Paul returns to his old theme to show that the law is good and is not the problem.
The Tale of Two Laws
In verses 21 to 23 Paul contrasts two laws: the fi rst law he refers to here is not the moral law of the Bible but a sort of natural law of cause and effect. I want to do good but do evil because evil is present with me (v23). Part of me delights in God’s law but there is at work the law of sin that has come into me from the Fall: it wars against the mind or the conscience that knows that sin is wrong. I
t is important to note that Paul describes himself as delighting in the law of God after the inner man.
It is as if he were saying that he desires not only to be perfect outside (as every pharisee) but also on the inside. You will recall that the Lord’s great indictment against the pharisees in Luke 11 was that they kept their cups clean on the outside but were fi lthy on the inside!
Who can deliver me from the body of this death: who can rescue me from this impossible situation where I know what I want to do but am unable to do it? Verse 25 has the answer: it is Christ: I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I serve the law of God; but with the fl esh the law of sin.
The second sentence returns to the former argument: that the enlightened mind (or conscience) serves the law of God by imposing the plumb-line of righteousness to show up the fallen standards of the old nature that serves the law of sin which leads to death.
Deliverance from the Law of Sin and Death
In Chapter 8 Paul concludes that we may enjoy victory over the old nature when we walk in the Spirit and not in the fl esh. Indeed he introduces a third law: the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, which has set us free from the law of sin and death. Those of us who are in Christ Jesus are in the Spirit because the Spirit of Christ lives in us (v9).
This should not come as a surprise to us. When we become Christians something happens: we have the assurance of sins forgiven; an understanding of what the Bible teaches; an ability to resist sin: all through the Spirit of Christ that comes into the believer at conversion. The question for us is whether we will walk in the Spirit or in the fl esh. If we walk in the fl esh then we indulge our sinful nature; if in the Spirit then in the righteousness of Christ.
Consider Galatians 5:16 which enjoins us to “walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfi l the lust of the fl esh”.
We need then to reckon the old nature as dead. This we can achieve only through the Spirit. In the words of Colossians 3:1-2 we must “seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.” We are to set our “affection on things above, not on things on the earth”. If we indulge the fl esh how can we expect it to be mortifi ed?
Philippians 4:8 encourages us to fi ll our minds with “whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report”. How are we doing?
Let us take certain steps: be careful which books we read, which (if any) television programmes we watch, who we spend our time with and what we talk about in general conversation. If there is anything we are involved in that leads us into temptation then we should stop doing it: it is all part of the principle at the end of Mark 9 of cutting off anything that causes us to stumble.
Let us all then put on the new nature and be full of the fruit of the Spirit which we fi nd in Galatians 5.
I end with a quote from F.B. Meyer *1 in his commentary on Isaiah:
We are not bidden to purchase strength, or generate it by our resolution, prayers, and agonisings; but to put it on. It is already prepared, and only awaits appropriation.
Put on your strength, O tempted one! Before passing from the quiet morning hour into the arena, which has so often witnessed failure and defeat, put on the might of the risen Saviour. Do not simply pray to be kept or to be helped but arm yourself with the whole armour of God; take hold of his strength and be at peace; wrap yourself about with the mail of Him who is stronger than the strong man armed. Reckon that it is yours. Dare to believe that you are more than a match for your worst foes. Say with David, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who set themselves round about. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”

Isn’t it exciting that the new nature is already prepared for us?

Putting on Christ is like putting on a garment! The work of faith is a work of grace: we are after all, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared before that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
As we put on Christ so we fi nd ourselves walking in the good works He has prepared for us.
So let us all fi x our eyes on the Lord Jesus! (Heb 12:1).


Footnotes:
*1 F.B.Meyer, a 20th century Keswick theologian and famed devotional writer

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Appeared in Issue 13.1 CETF 39 MARCH 2007
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