Holiness and Victory Over Sin #2
by Karl Kemp 9/10/2011 / Bible Studies
Holy Father we humble our hearts before you. We admit that we are totally dependent on your grace. We want to rightly divide your Word; we want to understand it; we want to live it. We want to be fully ready for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and to stand before you. We pray in His mighty name. Amen.
I consider it a great privilege to be able to study these things and to share them with you. I consider these things to be infinitely important. We are talking about the heart of the message of the gospel of new-covenant salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Man has one primary problem, the sin problem, and Jesus Christ is the only answer, and He is the full answer. I realize that many Christians are doing a lot of sinning, but it is not OK. To be living in sin is a dangerous place to be. The good news is that we are called to stop sinning, and God's grace is sufficient, even if it's not always easy. This is good news, isn't it?
The first passage we began to look at last week was Gal. 5:16-25. We didn't finish our discussion of the first verse, verse 16, which is a super-important verse. I'm trying to be thorough and to explain the details that will enable us to understand this verse. First I'll read Gal. 5:16. I'll read it from my book, which uses the New American Standard Bible (NASB), 1977 edition. I'll read the verse and make a few comments. Then we'll go back to where we stopped last time. Frequently I'll make comments in the middle of quotation using brackets [ ], and sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] to make the brackets more obvious. "But I say [the apostle Paul writes to the Galatian Christians] But I say walk by the Spirit [the Holy Spirit], and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." As I mentioned last time, I would translate, "But I say, walk by the Spirit and you certainly will not carry out the desire of the flesh."
The desire of the flesh is to sin, all sin. Walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis, and you certainly will not carry out the desire of the flesh. In other words, you will not sin. The desire of the flesh is to do the works of the flesh, which equals all sin, and not just sins especially associated with the physical body. For example, in Gal. 5:19-21 the apostle lists many works of the flesh, and he includes idolatry and sorcery, which are clearly sins of the heart/inner man. Walk by the Holy Spirit all the time (by faith) and you will be walking above sin. Now doesn't that sound good? And who gets the glory. Our holiness, our victory over sin comes 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ, and He gets all the glory, as it must be.
Now a walk by the Spirit is not automatic. A walk in faith is not automatic. We must understand God's Word, commit ourselves to it in faith, and live it by God's sufficient grace. The victory is far from being automatic. We could be born again, but still quite fleshly and worldly. The New Testament demonstrates this point, but it also makes it clear that this is a dangerous place to be. The only secure place to be is in the center of God's will, walking by His Spirit, walking in His righteousness, walking in faith based on what His Word says. Walk by (or after, or in) the Spirit, and you certainly will not carry out the sinful desire of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 is one of the most important verses in the New Testament which shows that we can, and should, have the victory over all sin.
Part of God's definition of what it means to be a Christian is to walk by the Holy Spirit all the time. This is not an optional matter. When we become Christians, we sign a contract (so to speak) agreeing to the terms of God's new covenant, which includes the requirement to walk by the Spirit all the time. But this is a great privilege! This is a great blessing! This isn't bondage! This is liberty! And God wants to transform us, not to condemn us. Praise God! When we truly repent, He is quick to forgive, but we need to make it top priority to walk in His righteousness and holiness, with the victory over all sin. We need to be aiming at that target, not making room for sin in our hearts and lives.
Now I'm going to turn back to where we stopped last time, on page 197 of my book. First I'll reread a few sentences. We are under the heading, "The Meaning of 'The Flesh' as These Words Are Used in Galatians 5:13-25." It is common for the apostle Paul (and others in the New Testament) to use the words "the flesh" to speak of fallen man (man in spiritual death, man separated from the Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit). "The flesh" is not at all limited to the physical body. (The NIV has "the sinful nature" instead of "the flesh" throughout Gal. 5:13-25. The Amplified Bible at Gal. 5:16 defines the flesh as "human nature without God.") Often, as here, there is a contrast between "the Spirit" (the Holy Spirit) and "the flesh." The contrast that Paul is concerned with here is not the contrast between our spirit and our body (as some Christians think), but the contrast between the Holy Spirit and man in the flesh.
Last week we looked at two of the cross-references I listed here. We looked at John 6:63 and Rom. 7:5, 6. The next passage I listed is Rom. 8:1-14, and I listed some other verses too. We will just take the time to look at Rom. 8:3, 4 here. Later we will go through Rom. 8:1-14 verse-by-verse. These verses are extremely important. I'm turning to Rom. 8:3, 4; I'm using the NASB, 1995 edition here, which I always use unless I mention otherwise. "For what the Law could not do [Paul was speaking of the Mosaic Law. What was it that the Mosaic Law could not do? It was from God and it was good, but it wasn't designed to dethrone spiritual death and sin and to give people the new birth and victory over sin.], weak as it was through the flesh [The Law could not solve the sin problem for man in the flesh, for man in spiritual death, for man without the Spirit of God, because man in the flesh doesn't have the power to fully keep God's Law. Rather than solve the sin problem, the Law intensified the sin problem in some ways.], God did [How did He do it?]: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh. [Sin, which used to reign over us, has been condemned and dethroned through the atoning death of the Lamb of God. Sin will still reign over us to the extent we allow it to, but sin has no legal right to reign over us now, and as we walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, according to the terms of the new covenant, we will walk in the righteousness and holiness of God with the victory over all sin.], (4) so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." This is the bottom line of Christianity, "so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us." Instead of breaking God's Law and sinning, now we keep the requirement of His Law in our daily lives as we walk by the Spirit of God, who enables us to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over sin. We are not required to keep the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, but we are required to keep God's moral law in our daily lives. God hates sin, and His moral laws cannot change. Sin goes against God and His divine order. God hates sin. I'll read Rom. 8:4 again: "So that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit [the Holy Spirit]." We fulfill the requirement of God's Law as we walk by the Holy Spirit through faith, having been born again and raised above the realm of the flesh/the old man.
Now I'll turn back to page 197 of my book and go on to the next paragraph. For a Christian to walk according to the flesh is to walk according to the old man, but this ought not (need not) be [[And I listed several verses here. We'll stop to look at a few of them. These verses are quite important. First we'll look at Rom. 6:6, but before I turn there I'll read that last sentence again. "For a Christians to walk according to the flesh is to walk according to the old man, but this ought not (need not) be." Romans 6:6 says, "knowing this, that our old self [I would rather translate "our old man"] knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with [In other words, after we become born-again Christians, we should no longer have a body associated with sin; it should be a body associated with righteousness], so that we would no longer be slaves to sin."
That sounds good, doesn't it? It is good news, very good news! Throughout Romans chapter 6 the apostle Paul repeatedly says that we used to be slaves of sin, but now (through new-covenant salvation, in union with the Lord Jesus Christ) we are slaves of God and of His righteousness. The saving grace of God in Christ enables us to stop sinning. This is a great privilege. We are united with the Lord Jesus Christ in His death, His burial, His resurrection, and in His present life. I'll read Rom. 6:6 one more time, "knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." We will go through all of Romans chapter 6, verse-by-verse, when we finish Gal. 5:16-25.
Now we'll look at another verse which demonstrates that born-again Christians are no longer to walk according to the flesh and do the sinful works of the flesh. Let's look at Eph. 4:22. I'll start to read the verse. "In reference to your former manner of life [your life before you became born-again Christians], you lay aside the old man [and then Paul continues, but these are the primary words we need for our present discussion]." For Christians to lay aside the old man once-for-all, and completely, is the same thing as crucifying the old man, which is spoken of in Rom. 6:6, which we just read and in Gal 5:24, for example. As we walk by the Holy Spirit by faith, in accordance with the terms of the new covenant, the old man/the flesh, will not be able to manifest itself in sin.
We'll look at one more verse here, Col. 3:9, which is similar to Eph. 4:22. Colossians 3:9 says, "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old man with its evil practices." Do not lie to one another, or do any other sin, since you laid aside the old man once-for-all, and completely, when you became born-again Christians. In the ideal case we would never sin again after we become born-again Christians. The apostle Paul and other writers of the New Testament repeatedly speak of this glorious ideal. God hates sin, and no true Christians want to sin, so this is very good news. But the New Testament also makes it quite clear that there is intense warfare against us from the world, the flesh/the old man, and the devil and his hosts, and that a victorious walk by faith and by the Holy Spirit is far from being automatic, or always easy.
Now I'll continue to read from page 197 of my book.]] The Christian is to be dead to the old man; he has crucified the flesh (the old man who wants to live in sin) with its passions and desires. Where did I get that? From Gal. 5:24, which we haven't read yet. I'll read Gal. 5:24. "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." In the ideal case we would crucify the flesh when we become born-again Christians, and we would never sin again. But that doesn't mean that we won't be tempted, or have wrong desires, or that we cannot sin.
The world, the flesh (the old man who wants to live in sin) and the devil and his hosts are waging intense warfare against us. In Gal. 5:17 the apostle makes it clear that born-again Christians can have wrong desires, even strong wrong desires, but that isn't sin. Wrong thoughts and wrong desires are not sin if we resist them by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will always give us the power to resist wrong thoughts and desires as we walk after the Spirit on a continuous basis by faith (faith in God and His word, knowing that His Word teaches that victory over sin has been provided in new-covenant salvation).
Christians are to be dead to the flesh/the old man; they have, as Gal. 5:24 says, "crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." The flesh and the old man are equivalent in meaning in verses like Gal. 5:16 and 24. We can speak of the old man being crucified with Christ (see Rom. 6:6, which we read above; also see Gal. 2:20; that is the verse where the apostle Paul said "I have been crucified with Christ....") We can speak of the old man being crucified with Christ, and we can speak of crucifying the flesh. To crucify the flesh and to crucify the old man means the same thing. The only way we can do this is by grace through faith, in accordance with the gospel. The old man, however, will still live and manifest itself in sin to the extent that Christians do not walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis, appropriating God's grace by faith. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to keep the old man/the flesh from manifesting itself in sin.
These things we are talking about are extremely important. A primary reason why the flesh is such a formidable opponent for Christians is that Satan and his horde of demon spirits are very active in the realm of the flesh. Satan is the god of this world (see John 12:31; 16:11; Eph. 2:1; 2 Cor. 4:4). Fallen man could probably sin in all the ways listed in Gal. 5:19-21, where the apostle gives a partial listing of the sinful works of the flesh, without the involvement of demon spirits, but demon spirits work in each of these areas, greatly intensifying the sin problem. This reality makes it all the more necessary for Christians to walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis and to not give the devil any place. Ephesians 4:27 says "and do not give the devil an opportunity." As the margin of the New American Standard Bible shows, a more literal translation would be "place" instead of "opportunity." Don't give the devil any place in you!
Paul wrote these words of Eph. 4:27 in a context of exhorting Christians to walk in righteousness and holiness, having laid aside all sin. In Rom. 13:14 the apostle Paul says, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Make no provision for the flesh. Don't leave any room for the old man (including the work of demon spirits) to have any place in you. The flesh/the old man hasn't been annihilated yet, and it still wants to manifest itself in sin. The world, the flesh/old man, and the devil and his hosts are against us, but the saving grace of God in Christ is much greater than our opponents.
Let's go on to Gal. 5:17. First I'll read the verse and make some comments; then I'll read part of what I said under Gal. 5:17 in my book. "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit [the Holy Spirit; it's very important to see that the apostle is speaking of the Holy Spirit here], and the Spirit against the flesh [The Holy Spirit is always for the righteousness and holiness of God. The flesh/the old man is always for sin.]; for these are in opposition to one another [The verb used here for being in opposition to one another can be used of two armies being arrayed against one another], so that you may not do the things that you please."
Now it is an amazing thing to me, a sad thing, that many Christians (something like one-half of evangelical Christians) think that the apostle Paul was saying in this verse (Gal. 5:17) that we can never quit sinning in this life. I'm totally convinced that they are totally wrong in that interpretation. For one thing, that interpretation contradicts what the apostle Paul just said in Gal. 5:16, not to mention what he said many other places. All of us have the all-too-real potential to misunderstand God's Word. But how sad it is when we think God sent the apostle Paul to teach us that we cannot have the victory over sin in this life. The devil won a mighty victory with that interpretation. Our faith must be based on the Word of God, and we certainly cannot adequately wage warfare against sin if we believe the New Testament teaches that the victory is unattainable. It's no wonder we have problems with sin in the body of Christ.
I'll read Gal. 5:17 again, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please." The apostle speaks of warfare between the Spirit and the flesh in this verse, but he certainly doesn't think in terms of the Holy Spirit losing any battles to the flesh. The Spirit of God is well able to win every battle against the world, the flesh/the old man, and the devil and his hosts, and we will always win the battle against sin if we always walk by the Holy Spirit through faith, which we are called, and enabled, to do. Remember what the apostle just said in Gal. 5:16, "But I say, walk by the Spirit and you certainly will not carry out the [sinful] desire of the flesh."
Let's discuss the meaning of the last words of verse 17, "so that you may not do the things that you please." "The things that you please" speaks of the sinful things Christians may be tempted to do. Paul had just spoken of the fact that Christians can have sinful desires with his words at the end of verse 16, where he spoke of the sinful "desire of the flesh/the old man." But Paul made it very clear in verse 16 that new-covenant salvation gives Christians the victory over sin. He showed that Christians are called, and enabled, to always walk by the Holy Spirit, so that they will not carry out the sinful desire of the flesh/the old man. At the end of verse 17, the apostle tells us that we must not yield to the sinful desires of the flesh/the old man that we may have on occasion, since we are engaged in intense warfare with the world, the flesh/old man, and the devil.
The Holy Spirit always makes the victory over sin available, and we appropriate that victory by walking in faith and by the Holy Spirit. Let me repeat an important point, "the things that you please" at the end of verse 17 means the same thing as "the desire of the flesh" at the end of verse 16. The desire of the flesh/the old man is to sin, but the Holy Spirit is always against sin, and He doesn't lose battles to the world, the flesh/old man, or the devil, or anybody else. If we walk by the Spirit by faith (which we are called, and enabled, to do), we will never sin. Now isn't that good news? God hates sin, and He paid an infinite price to set us free from sin and give us the victory over sin.
Now let's consider the wrong interpretation of this verse. They typically assume that verse 17 means something like the following: Intense warfare against us is taking place, with the result that, even though we are born-again Christians and want to do what is right and to not sin, we are not always able to do to good that we want to do. We will necessarily lose quite a few battles and sin. This verse is frequently used by many Christians to try to prove that Christians cannot stop sinning in this life. (Martin Luther and John Calvin, for example, who were both very influential, interpreted Gal. 5:17 that way in their commentaries on Galatians.) I am thankful that I can say with great assurance that they are misunderstanding what the apostle Paul said in Gal. 5:17. As I mentioned, that view contradicts what the apostle just said in verse 16, Walk by the Spirit and you most certainly will not carry out the desire of the flesh, the sinful desire of flesh/old man.
Galatians 5:17 is quite important in that it shows that the victory over sin is not always easy and it certainly is not automatic. And it is important for us to know that sincere dedicated born-again Christians can have wrong thoughts and wrong desires, even strong wrong desires. These things, though undesirable, are not sin if we resist them by the Holy Spirit. Many Christians have gotten discouraged when they found themselves having wrong thoughts and desires, and the devil has convinced some Christians that they must not be true Christians, and he has convinced other Christians that they might as well go ahead and sin since they are already in sin through their wrong thoughts and desires.
I'll read Gal. 5:16, 17 one more time; then I'll read part of what I said on verse 17 in my book. "But I say, walk by the Spirit and you certainly will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things [that is, so that you may not do the sinful things] that you please." I'm going to turn to page 198 of my book and read just about all that I said under Gal. 5:17. This is so important, and it is so controversial. As I mentioned, many Christians disagree with what I am saying here. I am not attacking those Christians. Many of them are very sincere, very solid Christians, but I believe they are making a serious mistake here. You need to decide. Does Gal. 5:17 really teach that we cannot have the victory over sin in this life? This is a question of key importance.
First I discussed the meaning of the word "For" at the beginning of verse 17. I said, This conjunction ties verse 17 to verse 16. In verse 17 the apostle expands on the absolute necessity for Christians to walk by the Spirit. To the extent we do not walk by the Spirit, sin (the desire of the flesh of Gal. 5:16) will be the inevitable result. In other words, we will yield to the sinful desire of the flesh, and we will sin; we will do sinful works of the flesh.
We'll discuss the words, "the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit." The Amplified Bible has "For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the Holy Spirit." The NIV has, "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit [the Holy Spirit]." The Greek noun "epithumia," which is the noun translated "desire" in Gal. 5:16, was derived from the verb "epithumeo," which is translated "sets its desire" in Gal. 5:17. As I mentioned under Gal. 5:16, "the desire of the flesh" embraces all sin. All sin is against the Holy Spirit. He is called the Holy Spirit for a reason, and we could also call Him the Righteous Spirit.
We'll discuss the words, "and the Spirit against the flesh." The Holy Spirit is, of course, against all the sinful desires of the flesh. All those who walk by (or, after/in) the Holy Spirit will walk in victory over sin. Is the Holy Spirit able to keep us in the righteousness and holiness of God with the victory over all sin? Is God's saving, sanctifying grace sufficient to enable us to do God's will? There is no doubt about these things, but we must do our part, and faith is our part. We must appropriate God's grace and walk by the Spirit all the time, by faith, in accordance with the gospel. If we don't understand these things and are wavering in faith, wondering whether we can stop sinning, or not, we cannot stop sinning. We need all the grace that God has made available, and to the extent we are wavering in faith, we will be defeated by the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We'll discuss the words, "for these are in opposition to one another." Like two armies, the Spirit and the flesh are arrayed against one another. However, the Spirit of God and the flesh (even when Satan and his evil angels and demons are included as part of the flesh) are not equally powerful contestants. The Spirit of God is well able to overpower the flesh in every encounter. Christians will, therefore, always walk with the victory over sin when they walk by the Spirit. And as I have tried to emphasize, nothing can keep us from always walking by the Holy Spirit through faith. It is the will of God for us to always walk by the Spirit, and we can always walk by the Spirit. This is good news! This is a great privilege! I didn't say, however, that it would always be easy, or fun. Warfare is not easy, or fun, but it comes with the salvation package we signed up for.
We'll discuss the words, "so that you may not do the things that you please." I'm sorry to say that many Christians have understood these words to teach that Christians cannot have the victory over sin during this present life. They understand the apostle to say something like the following: "so that you may not [always] do the [righteous] things that you want to do." In other words, the flesh (the old man) is certain to win some battles. In the light of Gal. 5:16 (also see Gal. 5:24, where the apostle Paul speaks of the fact that Christians have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires), I'm surprised by this interpretation. In Gal. 5:16 the apostle has just exhorted his readers to always walk by the Spirit so that they will not carry out the sinful desire of the flesh, so that they will not do the sinful works of the flesh; so that they will not sin.
The apostle did not write Gal. 5:17 to deny that Christians can always walk in victory over sin. He wrote this verse to emphasize the need for Christians to always walk by the Holy Spirit, since the flesh is an active and formidable opponent. I'm quite sure that the apostle's words mean something like the following: Although you as a sincere Christian may, at times, have desires (even strong desires) to sin (because the flesh has not been annihilated yet), you may not (must not) do the sinful things that you (as far as the flesh/the old man is concerned) may want to do (namely the sinful works of the flesh); the Holy Spirit will always enable you to have victory as you walk by Him (which you are called to do as Christians). "The [sinful] desire of the flesh" of Gal. 5:16 is the equivalent of "the sinful things that you please" of Gal. 5:17. I should mention that sinful desires, though very undesirable, are not in themselves sin or defeat. It's time to stop. We'll come back to Gal. 5:16-25 in the next article. God bless you!
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.