As long as we are in the body there is a constant warfare between our old and new natures. Romans 7 describes the inability of a believer to live a holy life by trying to keep the law of God in his own strength, and concludes with the discovery of the two conflicting laws, or principles, in his being. These are the law of his mind which serves the law of God, and the law of sin in his members, identified as the flesh, or old nature, which rebels against that other law. In Galatians 5.16-18 Paul not only fully describes this inner warfare, but also begins to point us to the way to victory over indwelling sin, as follows: "But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law" (RV). So we learn that positive living in obedience to the daily, constant, and continual leading, or prompting, of the Spirit of God, who now indwells us, is the way to avoid implementing the sinful desires of the flesh within us.
Victory over sin
Victory over sin in our lives is assured only as long as we allow the indwelling Holy Spirit to control us completely. Romans 8.1-4 are key verses for the full understanding of the only way to practical sanctification in the Christian believers daily life and experience: "There is therefore now no condemnation [which here probably has the meaning of penal servitude according to some commentators] to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the ordinance [better, righteous requirement] of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit [here the AV Spirit is preferable]" (RV). When we first trusted in Christ for salvation, this principle of spiritual life was given to us in the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit, who at that moment came to take up permanent residence within our innermost beings and very bodies, and it has a potentially wonderful emancipating power in the believers life over the down dragging power of our sinful natures in a way similar to the upward flight of a bird, or modern aeroplane, against the force of gravity. This the law of God signally failed to do, precisely because it was powerless either to enable us to overcome our old sinful natures, or to fulfil Gods holy and righteous requirements enunciated in it. But God Himself, in the Person of His sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by Christs incarnation and sacrifice for sin on the cross, did what the law could never do, that is, He condemned sin in the flesh, completely subduing it, overcoming it, and depriving it of its power over all who accept Christs sacrifice. He thus prepared the way for His Spirit to enter the hearts of all believers from the Day of Pentecost and the formation of the Christian Church onwards, so laying the basis for their practical sanctification. God has by this means enabled Christian believers today both to fulfil the righteous requirements of His holy law, and even to far surpass them, as our Lord Himself required of the subjects of His kingdom in His Sermon on the Mount. The Spirit of God has come down into our lives for the express purpose and with the infinite power of living the life of the risen Christ both in and through us. So, if we live constantly and fully in accordance with the promptings and dictates of the Holy Spirit within us, and do not respond to the promptings of our old natures, although these are also still within us, we shall know continuous victory over sin in our daily lives. More than that, the Holy Spirit will reproduce within us the positive moral and spiritual characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. For the open secret of a victorious and fulfilling Christian life is this truth that Christ Himself now lives His resurrection life in us in the Person of His Holy Spirit. As Paul, again, says in Galatians 2.20, "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me" (RV). In our constant warfare against our old natures only the Holy Spirit"s almighty power can deliver us from defeat and enable us to lead lives of positive holiness and usefulness to God. We must allow Him to fill and completely control every part of our beings continually and consistently, as Paul exhorted believers in Ephesians 5.18 to do. Outbreaks of sin in our lives will only be avoided by the expulsive power of our newfound faith in and reciprocal love for Christ who sacrificed Himself for us, as we are motivated and energised by His indwelling Spirit to live positively righteous and holy lives to the glory of Gods grace.
Unconfessed sins in our lives lead to discipline both by God and by the local assembly. Unless we quickly repent of and confess our sins to God as soon as we become aware that we have sinned in any particular matter, we will open ourselves to varying degrees of discipline either by the Lord directly or by our fellow-believers in assembly fellowship. Here again, the New Testament generally, and the apostle Pauls epistles especially, contain much instruction concerning various forms of such discipline. Excommunication is the most that an assembly can exercise for specific gross or habitual sins, as in the matter of fornication at Corinth (1 Cor 5). Physical and premature death is the worst that God can inflict on sinning believers, as in the matter of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5), and the disorderly behaviour of the Corinthian saints at the Lords Supper (1 Cor 11). Whilst true Christian love is slow to wrath, slow to expose the sins of others, and usually gives several warnings to erring saints, if it becomes clear to members of an assembly that a particular believers known sins are affecting the whole assemblys good testimony in the locality, or that his or her wrong doctrine is likely to destroy that testimony and overthrow the faith of some, then united action needs to be taken to preserve the testimony. At a gathering of the local assembly the sinning brother or sister is to be delivered "unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor 5.5).
Discipline is for restoration
All local assembly discipline has in view the restoration of the sinning believer. A comparison of 1 Corinthians 5 with 2 Corinthians 1-2 probably indicates that the brother who had sinned grievously according to the former chapter had subsequently, and in response to fairly united assembly discipline, repented of his sin and changed his conduct to such an extent that he could be restored to fellowship. In fact, the same apostle Paul, who had, in the first place, exhorted the saints to excommunicate that brother, was now at pains to stress that such sinning believers who repent should be forgiven fully and received back into the fellowship again, and that failure on the part of the assembly to do this could result in the offending saint being overwhelmed with sorrow. It is perhaps instructive to observe that this restoration probably took place less than a year after the offender had first been disciplined. It indicates to us that, whenever there is thorough repentance, and the assemblys good testimony is no longer really at stake through any perpetuated misconduct or doctrinal error, restoration to fellowship need not be very long delayed. Sometimes we fail to confirm our love to such a sinning fellow-saint for many long years after he or she has repented and sought to rectify his or her delinquency fully. Only where there is unavoidably perpetuated wrongdoing, or good reason to doubt the sincerity of the persons repentance, should we continue to withhold fellowship from them.
To be continued.