Anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ can testify to the struggle of battling with sin. Though we have new life in Christ, that life is anything but one removed from the absence with this struggle. Daily fighting is necessary to say “no” to temptation. We quickly learn that our personal resources are not sufficient in this battle. Clearly we know that we need God’s word, the work and power of the Holy Spirit, and prayer. We know we need to keep a clear view of the finished work of Christ and a biblical community that helps us stay focused, that challenges us and encourages us. All these are necessary and important. But what is the goal of it all? Why battle against sin? What are we fighting for? What is the goal of avoiding a yielding to temptation? The goal of the battle and method of the battle are inextricably connected—to know and live in the fullness of God, trusting Him to be all that our hearts need and crave. The battle means we must accurately understand the essence and effects of sin and search the Bible in order to find God’s remedy. What we will find is that the solution is faith. Let’s look deeper.
What is faith? For many, faith is mental agreement with a set of facts. To others it is belief based on experience. Does either of these constitute the essence of faith? Is faith based solely on logical conclusions supported by accepted facts? Is it what is seen in experience and believed? Some would say it is acting on faith that is part of its essence. In other words, it includes the will. That is, faith is action; it is doing what one believes. Is faith more than these explanations? Let’s dig deeper to see if we can give a biblically defensible answer, with the intent of seeing how the Bible presents faith, in order to understand how it is the key to fighting sin.
To connect faith with fighting sin, we need to remember what sin is. It is clearly more than just actions. It is the condition of the soul of man because of the fall. It is moral and spiritual impotence. It creates specific sins (which could be thoughts, desires, actions, etc.). What Paul calls sin in Romans 7 is that which causes death (v. 11, 13) through the law of God, though the law itself is “holy and righteous and good” (v. 12),. How is it that something good becomes death to us except that it is wielded by something capable of such destruction? Sin is a power over which we have no power to will it away. Its power is that which blinds us to the infinite worth of God and leads us to worship tangible creation over against the Creator who is blessed forever (Romans 1:18-25). God’s wrath burns when His creatures, made in His own image, find worth and happiness in His creation rather than in Himself. Sin both positions us under the wrath of God, who is by His nature the source of all ultimate joy, and blinds us to the reality of both. It causes us to rebel against the Lord’s gracious commands and renders us incapable of finding joy in worshiping the Law-giver. Furthermore, it makes us culpable and responsible to God for that condition. We are guilty, thus deserving death, which means living an existence now in the destructive pleasures of our sin, and also ultimately apart from God, separated from the fellowship we were designed to enjoy in Him. Sin is a horrible condition with both temporal and eternal consequences. We need a remedy. We need deliverance.
Sin by its nature affects everything about us, including our desires and passions. Because of sin, our desires and passions are corrupted. We desire the wrong things and also desire right things in wrong ways. How does this connect with our understanding of the essence of faith? We must conclude that there is a believing that is spawned by sin; a believing in God that is insufficient to qualify is real faith. This kind of believing is disconnected from affections for God. Even the demons believe(James 2:19)! Throughout the Bible there were people who saw the power of God yet did not believe Him (e.g., John 12:37). And there were others that saw miracles, believed in Jesus as a miracle worker, and yet their belief did not bring life-changing faith (John 7:3-5; 12:42-43). How are we to understand this? How could they see God, in the person of Jesus, perform miracles and yet not believe in such a way that they were drawn to Him in life-giving faith? We see, for instance, the children of Israel, having seen the miracles of God that ultimately secured their deliverance from Egypt, failing to believe the Lord, and instead turning away from Him into idolatry (Exodus 32). They grumbled at Moses and God because they still longed for the culinary pleasures of Egypt (Numbers 11). God’s demonstration of power took them out of Egypt, but did not take the desires of Egypt out of them. They still craved for the temporal pleasures they had tasted while in bondage. So, their bondage was more than physical, it was spiritual. The problem was not that they did not believe God could, but that they did not love the God who did.
Notice that the Lord identifies the source of the rebellion and disobedience of children of Israel as unbelief:
And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? (Numbers 14:11)
Moses, in his first sermon in Deuteronomy, warned the children of Israel of their unbelief.
"Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, "The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there."' Then I said to you, 'Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.' Yet in spite of this word you did not believethe LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go. (Deuteronomy 1:26-33)
David reports the goodness of the Lord toward His people and their response of unbelief. The Lord God graciously provided both for their deliverance from Egypt and also during their journeying to the promise land. He faithfully demonstrated His power to keep His promises. Yet they did not believe!
Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?" Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.
But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel. In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe. (Psalm 78:17-22; 30-32)
How could they not believe? What more could God have done to enable them to see His matchless power in their behalf? The answer is found in seeing that their cravings were not for God, but for themselves. Deliverance from Egypt was a good thing to them if it meant they would be able to have more freedom to enjoy the things of Egypt without the bondage of slavery in Egypt. They did not want a Deliverer with whom they would have intimate and faithful relationship, but rather one who would give them the corrupted desires of their hearts. There’s was not a blindness of eyes, but darkness in the heart that obscured the glory and desirability of the God of their deliverance. Such are we!
Because sin affects what we want, and because we have no ultimate power over what we want, the greatest miracle is not that God is capable of future deliverance from that which we dislike (suffering in various forms, some of which is intensified by our sinful desires), but that He changes us into those who can desire, enjoy, worship the right thing, namely God Himself. In our corruption, we can believe that God is capable of doing powerful and great things, but still not love Him. We can believe that He can give us what we want, but without a desire that He give us a desire for Him. Much of our “disappointment with God” results from this very phenomenon. We want God in the sense that He gives us what we crave. However, when He does not, we become disappointed and angry, continuing to believe that the thing craved for is capable of bringing happiness, security, meaning, and delight. It is God’s grace that withholds those things that, if given, would bring further corruption to our already misdirected and unfulfilled desires. What we need is a Deliverer who is not content with saving us from just bondage of suffering, but also, and primarily, from bondage to delighting in things other than Himself, which is indeed deliverance from the greatest suffering.
Part two of this blog will discuss how sin is overpowered by superior pleasures, which only a gracious God provides in Himself, and how our Deliverer gives us faith to believe in Him in the right way—a faith that believes that He is indeed powerful and able to do all things, but moreover, believes, embraces, and pursues Him as our greatest joy and delight.