All sincere and conscientious believers are acutely aware that they have within their natures a kind of "fifth column" which constantly troubles them with evil thoughts at the very least, and sometimes in response to temptation breaks out into positively wrong words and actions of which they are thoroughly ashamed. These they usually regret very quickly, but may not be able altogether to stop them happening. That "fifth column" is our old nature, "the flesh", or indwelling sin, which has not yet been eradicated from our beings, but lives within us alongside the new nature imparted to us at conversion by Gods Holy Spirit. The aim of these articles is to bring to our attention the teaching of Scripture concerning our "enemy within" with a view to assisting us all to overcome its power and so to live victoriously over it more constantly than we are at present able to do. We shall therefore proceed by making a number of statements concerning our problems with sin, primarily in ourselves but also in other believers, and endeavour to support all of them in turn from various relevant Scripture verses or passages. These statements all aim to answer one or more of the following questions, namely: first, "Is it inevitable that believers sin?"; second, "What should believers do when they, or their fellow-believers, sin?"; and, third, "When can believers expect to be entirely free from sin?".
Occasional acts of sin
Occasional acts of sin will inevitably occur as long as we are in our present bodies. The wise man King Solomon stated that "there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Eccl 7.20). James, the Lords brother, agrees with this statement when he asserts, "For in many things we offend all" (Jas 3.2), or "we all stumble" (RV), and adds, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body". So the use of our tongues gives a good indication of how well, or badly, we are able to control ourselves generally. We all know how easily the unkind word, the unnecessary critical remark, and the so-called "white lie" slip out in unguarded moments and cannot be recalled. The apostle John in his first epistle goes so far as to say, "If we say that we have no sin (that is, the root principle), we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1.8). To this he adds in 1.10, "If we say that we have not sinned (that is, the fruit or act of sin), we make him (God) a liar, and his word is not in us". The apostle continues in 2.1 to state to his "little children" in the faith, "these things write I unto you, that ye sin not". But he proceeds immediately to say, "And if any man sin ", where the tense of the two verbs for "sin" is aorist, the so-called point tense, which indicates that only isolated acts of sin are envisaged as occurring in the believers life. The main lesson for us to grasp first of all is that sinless perfection is not attainable by any believer in this life.
The habitual practice of sin
The habitual practice of sin is not inevitable for a truly born-again believer. Several other statements made by the apostle John later in his first epistle put the other side of the true believers liability to commit sin. In 3.6 he writes: "Whosoever abideth in him (Christ) sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him". He further states, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (3.9), and completes the trio of statements by writing, "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not" (5.18). It is crucial to note here that in all three of these statements the tense of the verb "sinneth" is present continuous, not aorist as before. So there is no contradiction in Scripture. There is an assertion that, although because of indwelling sin the believer will at least occasionally fall into isolated acts of sin, he need not inevitably continue in a life of sin, because he has also within him, since conversion and regeneration, the new sinless nature of God Himself. This fact therefore means that, if a professing believer should continue in a life of habitual sin, then his or her profession of faith must be doubted to have been genuine.
We must confess our sins
We must confess our sins to God before restoration of fellowship is possible. Acts of sin which we commit as believers do not break our eternal relationship with God, but they do at least temporarily interrupt and spoil the enjoyment of our fellowship with Him. The way to the restoration of this fellowship is specific confession to God of those sins. 1 John 1.9 affirms this: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". He is able to do this only because of the one great sacrifice of His Son on Calvary, where He shed His precious blood as a sin offering in our place. That blood now "cleanseth us from all sin" (1 Jn 1.7), and is the righteous basis of our fellowship with God from the moment of conversion onwards. Sins which we commit as believers may, we feel, be very understandable, but we should never condone them; rather, we need daily to repent of them and confess them fully to God our Father. "To confess", in Greek, means literally "to say the same thing". Spelling out to God in detail exactly what we have done or said to offend Him, and perhaps others also, is a very humbling experience, but we need to do this regularly, or else we shall have a permanent cloud between ourselves and God our Father. How often have we been told by older believers to "keep short accounts with God"? For both our joy as believers and our usefulness to the Lord in valued service for Him is dependent upon this.
The Advocacy of Christ
There is provision in the Advocacy of Christ for restoration of fellowship with the Father. Believers are blessed with two Advocates, or Comforters (the Greek word paraclete is used for both). First, the Holy Spirit of God, who indwells every true Christian here on earth and constantly intercedes for us (Rom 8.26-27). Second, the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, according to 1 John 2.1-2: "And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (RV). In heaven today the risen glorified Lord represents the sinning believer before His God and Father and ours, pleading on our behalf the merits of His precious blood shed as the one sufficient sacrifice to turn away Gods wrath from us and restore us to full fellowship with Him.
We died with Christ
The believer has died with Christ to the rule of sin in his life. This is the glorious truth of Romans 6 by which God has provided for the believer the basis of his or her sanctification from the power of indwelling sin. Here we are instructed that God reckons that, when Christ was crucified and died to sin once and for all on Calvarys cross, all true believers in Christ died to sin with Him. So we believers have all been identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection to newness of life. This is the symbolic significance of our water baptism, which the apostle Paul assumes took place in close association with our conversion to Christ. Consequently, the apostle proceeds to assure us that "sin shall not have dominion over you" (Rom 6.14). So this is a further reason why it is not inevitable that a true believer should sin habitually. But we have a responsibility in the matter according to Romans 6.11-12: "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof". We need constantly to ensure that our daily practice is in full accord with our position in Christ.
To be continued.