for Christ's Disciples
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
2 Timothy 3:16
The Biblical Meaning of “Flesh”
One factor contributing to Christians’ misunderstanding on how God has dealt with their old sinful nature is the translation of the Greek word sarx, which appears 147 times in the New Testament. The King James Version (KJV) translated sarx simply as “flesh.” Most versions of the Bible since then have followed the KJV’s lead and also translated sarx as “flesh.” However, the word “flesh” is not only archaic; it is ambiguous and confusing. When the apostle Paul and other authors of the New Testament used the Greek word sarx, they often used it within the context of explaining profound spiritual subjects critical to the Christian faith. For example, in the Book of Romans, which is the most important doctrinal book in the New Testament, Paul used the Greek word sarx 26 times. And, in the Letter to the Galatians, which is also a very important doctrinal book, Paul used the Greek word sarx 13 times. Paul certainly did not intend that the Greek word sarx would be misunderstood just because it is simplistically translated into English as “flesh.” In fact, the English word “flesh” is only appropriately used to describe “skin” one-tenth of the time where the Greek word sarx is used in the New Testament.
Consequently, when Christians read the New Testament today and they come across the word “flesh” in the Scriptures, they are not able to truly understand what many of these verses actually mean. This has had tragic and severe consequences for the body of Christ since the proper translation of the Greek word sarx is critical for Christians to be able to understand the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross. When Christ died, He died not only to forgive us from the penalty of sin; He died to free us from the power of sin. Therefore, when Christ died on the cross, He bore not only our sins on the cross; He also bore our sinful nature on the cross with Him. Consequently, when Christ died, our sinful nature died with Him and when Christ was buried, our sinful nature was buried (and removed) with Him (Romans 6:3-6). The divine outcome of Christ’s death is that we have been freed from sin and enslaved to God (Romans 6:7, 18, 22).
Now let’s first clear up the confusion about the word “flesh” and see what the Greek word sarx really means. Then we will look at a number of different Scriptures to see how the Greek word sarx should be translated to accurately convey the Biblical truth about Christ’s completed work on the cross. In actuality, the Greek word sarx has four basic meanings depending upon the content and context of each specific verse in the New Testament. The first possible meaning of sarx is “flesh” or “skin,” the thin, soft living membrane that covers the body. As we previously mentioned, the word “flesh” is only appropriately used in one-tenth of the Scriptures that contain the Greek word sarx. The second possible meaning of sarx is the physical or natural body. The third possible meaning of sarx is the human or natural soul. This can also be described as the natural man (with his will and inherent abilities) or the natural mind, which is also called the unrenewed, carnal mind. The fourth possible meaning of sarx is the sinful nature. This is man’s fallen spiritual nature (before he is born again of the Spirit) which he inherited from his spiritual ancestor Adam. This sinful nature, which the Bible also refers to as the old man or the old self, is hostile and rebellious to God. Since this is man’s inward nature before he is born again of the Spirit, it controls man’s attitudes and actions and compels man to sin. This is like a “sin factory” inside unregenerate man that continuously produces sinful thoughts and behavior.
To help shed light on key New Testament Scriptures, which contain the Greek word sarx, we have listed a number of these verses below. In each verse, we have translated sarx using one of the four definitions described above as is appropriate to best understand the proper meaning of the verse.
1 Corinthians 15:50 – “Flesh (sarx) and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” This is one of the few verses where sarx is accurately translated as flesh. The term “flesh and blood” means mortal. In other words, mortal man cannot inherit the immortal kingdom of God unless he is born again of the Spirit (John 3:3-7).
Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh (sarx) and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Sarx is again accurately translated as flesh in this verse. Our spiritual warfare is not against a mortal enemy but against the devil’s evil spiritual forces.
John 3:6-7 – “That which is born of the natural body (sarx) is natural man (sarx), and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” The word sarx appears twice in this verse and, from the context of this Scripture, the natural body and the natural man are the accurate translations. Jesus Christ here is telling Nicodemus that the natural man, who has been naturally born from a woman, cannot enter the kingdom of God. Instead, you must be born again of the Spirit of God to enter the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 5:31-32 – “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body (sarx). This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” The best translation for sarx here is body. Just as a man is physically joined to his wife and they become “one body;” Christ is spiritually joined to the church and they become “one body.” What a beautiful metaphor!
Philippines 3:3 – For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the natural man (sarx).” From the context of this Scripture, it makes sense that this is the proper translation of sarx. No other definition of sarx (the skin, physical body, or sinful nature) would fit. The apostle Paul here declares that those who are true Christians worship God in spirit, boast in Jesus Christ’s glory and do not rely on their natural ability to serve Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:1 - “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual men, but as men with carnal minds (sarx), as to infants in Christ.” In this Scripture, the apostle Paul uses sarx to refer to the carnal or natural mind. This is the natural mind that has not yet been spiritually renewed by God’s Word (Ephesians 4:23). These Corinthians were born again believers who no longer had a sinful nature; however, they were still spiritually immature and beset with carnal attitudes. Paul goes on to say, “For you are still carnal-minded (sarx). For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not carnal-minded (sarx), walking like mere men (1 Corinthians 3:3)?”
Colossians 2:11 - “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the sinful nature (sarx) by the circumcision of Christ.’’ Sarx in this verse cannot possibly mean anything but the sinful nature. Our natural body, soul or carnal mind certainly were not removed and done away with through Christ’s death on the cross. This Scripture is one of many that testify that when a person is born again of the Spirit, their sinful nature is removed from them.
Now we will look at the Book of Romans (Chapters 6, 7 and 8)
Romans 6:19 – “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your unrenewed mind (sarx).” In Romans 6:6, the apostle Paul had just instructed these believers that their old self had been crucified with Christ and their sinful nature had been removed from them. Therefore, the appropriate translation for sarx here is the unrenewed carnal mind. Evidently, the Christians in Rome had to be reminded that when Christ died on the cross, their sinful nature died with Him and, as a result, they had been freed from sin (Romans 6:7).
Romans 7:5 – “For while we had a sinful nature (sarx), the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” Note Paul’s use of the past tense: “we had a sinful nature.” This was our spiritual condition before we were born again of the Spirit. In this passage, Paul is specifically talking to his fellow Jews who were trying to be righteous by keeping the Mosaic Law (see Romans 7:1). Paul tries to persuade them that their zeal to keep the Law will not produce the righteousness of God but only frustration and futility. “They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2).” This was Paul’s own personal testimony before he received Christ as His Lord and Savior and he was born again of the Spirit. Paul explains to them that in Christ they not only died to sin; they also died to the Law (Romans 7:4 & 6).
Romans 7:14 – ”For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I have a sinful nature (sarx), sold into bondage to sin.” Based on his own past experience, Paul now shifts into the dramatic use of first person to emphasize the anguish and futility of trying to keep God’s Law before you were born again and you still had a sinful nature that was hostile toward God. When reading Romans Chapter Seven, it is important to remember that Paul wrote this epistle in the Greek language, a precise and expressive language which often strategically uses the present tense to dramatically describe a past action and experience. In Chapter Seven, Paul made effective use of this historical present tense, as it is called in the Greek language, to vividly describe the futility and misery of a person who wants to serve God but finds himself continually frustrated and sabotaged by his rebellious sinful nature. In writing this chapter, Paul drew from his own past personal experience as a devout Pharisee before He became a born again Christian.
In this passage of Romans, Chapter Seven (verses 5-25), Paul is expressing how an unbeliever who wants to serve God is driven to frustration, futility and failure in his attempts to obey God because he is still a slave to sin and his sinful nature. Paul writes this passage in the first person since this was an experience he himself had passed through. However, from Paul’s personal testimony in Galatians 2:20, it is clear Paul knows sin no longer dwells in him because his sinful nature has been crucified with Christ (see also Romans 6:6). These two contrasting statements (Galatians 2:20 and Romans 7:14) illustrate the great divide between a believer who is freed from sin and an unbeliever who is enslaved to sin. It would be a serious mistake to think Romans 7:14-24 is how the apostle Paul viewed himself after he was born of the Spirit in light of God’s personal revelation to him (“God was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I may preach Him (Galatians 1:15-16).”) It is inconceivable that Paul, who was a bondslave to God and so fully indwelt by Jesus Christ, would declare he was also a slave to sin (Romans 7:14) because evil indwelt him (Romans 7:21). If this were the case, Paul would have suffered a form of religious schizophrenia. If this were Paul’s spiritual condition, it would deny the power of Jesus Christ’s work in him. It would also directly contradict his own previous statement in Romans 6:6 where he clearly declared our old man was crucified with Christ and our sinful nature (this body of sin) has been removed. Paul further adds that since our sinful nature is dead, we have been freed from slavery to sin (Romans 6:7, 14, 18, 22). In Colossians 2:11, Paul also declares Christ has removed our sinful nature. Finally at the end of Romans Chapter Seven, Paul solves the dilemma of this confused and conflicted person by answering his own rhetorical question, “Who will set me free from this sinful nature (this body of death)?” with the triumphant response, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25).
Romans 7:18 – “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my sinful nature (sarx); for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” Paul continues his dramatic argument that the sinful nature of a person (who is not born again of the Spirit) is always prone to do evil, which prevents him from doing what is right before God.
Romans 7:25 – “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the Law of God, but on the other, with my sinful nature (sarx) the law of sin.” Paul here summarizes the dilemma of the individual who is religious-minded and wants to serve God but still has a sinful nature, which drives him and enslaves him to sin, because he has not been born again. In this verse, Paul also introduces the One who has delivered mankind from this moral conflict by His death on the cross – Jesus Christ!
Romans 8:3 – “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was because of our sinful nature (sarx), God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful man (sarx), and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the body (sarx).” In this key Scripture, the Greek word sarx appears three times. The correct translation for sarx, the first time it is used in this verse, is the sinful nature. God was not able to impute righteousness to man because man’s sinful nature prevented him from keeping the Law. The second time sarx is used in this verse refers to how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth in the form of man. Since Christ was not born with a sinful nature, it would be blasphemous to translate sarx as sinful nature here. The third time sarx is used in this verse addresses how Christ, as the Lamb of God, took the condemnation for our sins upon His own body through His death on the cross and fulfilled the Law for us so that we might have the righteousness of God in Christ. Therefore, sarx in this last instance refers to Christ’s body.
Romans 8:4 – “So that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the sinful nature (sarx) but according to the Spirit.” The appropriate translation of sarx within the context of this entire passage (Romans 8:3-13) is the sinful nature. Paul teaches here that those who have a sinful nature cannot keep the Law but those who walk in the Spirit fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law by depending on Christ to fulfill the Law for them. This is what Jesus promised when He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).” God fulfilled this promise by performing a divine heart transplant. When Christ died on the cross, God exchanged our terminally sin-sick heart with His Son’s divine heart to make it possible for Christ to sovereignly live in us (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, when we walk in the Spirit and Christ sovereignly lives in us, we fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law through Him.
Romans 8:5 – “For those who are according to the sinful nature (sarx) set their minds on the things of the sinful nature (sarx), but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Sarx is used twice within this verse. The appropriate translation of sarx in both cases is the sinful nature. Paul is continuing to contrast the difference between an unbeliever who is controlled by his sinful nature and a born again believer who is indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:6 – “For the mind controlled by the sinful nature (sarx) is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Again, sarx is appropriately translated in this verse as sinful nature. Paul is contrasting an unbeliever whose mind is controlled by his sinful nature (for he is spiritually dead) with a born again believer whose mind is governed by the Holy Spirit (who is now capable of obeying God).
Romans 8:7 – “Because the mind set on the sinful nature (sarx) is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the Law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” Again, sarx is properly translated as sinful nature in this verse. Paul declares that the mind of the unbeliever, who is enslaved and controlled by his sinful nature, is in rebellion toward God and cannot subject himself to the God’s Sovereignty because he is not even able to do so. Paul earlier had said that before a person is saved by Christ, they are a helpless, ungodly sinner and enemy of God (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). This is in marked contrast to a born again believer who is able to subject himself to God’s Sovereignty because he no longer has a sinful nature and the Holy Spirit indwells him.
Romans 8:8 – “and those who are in the sinful nature (sarx) cannot please God.” Again, sarx is properly translated as sinful nature in this verse. Unbelievers who have a sinful nature cannot please God and are not even able to do so. This is why the Bible says we needed Jesus Christ to take our sinful nature upon His body on the cross so that when He died, our sinful nature died with Him. In a divine exchange, God then imparted Christ’s holy nature into us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-6). “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:8, 10).”
Romans 8:9 – “However, you are not in the sinful nature (sarx) but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Paul’s use of the word “however” in the beginning of this verse signals a clear shift in the direction of his teaching. Before this verse, Paul had been contrasting unbelievers who have a sinful nature with believers who are born again of the Spirit. Now, in this key verse, Paul makes a clear statement that anyone who is born again of the Spirit does not have a sinful nature. It is obvious that sarx cannot mean anything but the sinful nature in this verse. No other definition of sarx (the skin, the natural body or soul) would properly fit. In this Scripture, Paul also confirms other Scriptures that clearly declare that Christians cannot possibly have two natures indwelling them. Paul declares that anyone who has the Spirit of God indwelling them cannot also have a sinful nature Therefore, from this verse onward in Romans, Chapter Eight, whenever Paul uses the Greek word sarx, he will be referring not to the sinful nature but to a believer’s unrenewed soul or carnal mind.
There is a great difference between the unrenewed mind and the sinful nature. Because a Christian no longer has a sinful nature, he has been totally freed from the power of sin. Therefore, he no longer is captive to sin and he is free to choose not to sin. The unrenewed mind of a believer has no power in itself; it is like the body – a tool that must come into subjection to the Spirit of God within us. The unrenewed mind simply needs to be transformed in accordance with the truth and authority of the Word of God (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). As Paul declared, “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).”
Romans 8:12 – “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the carnal mind (sarx), to live according to the carnal mind (sarx).” Sarx is used twice in this verse and in both instances; it means the unrenewed, carnal mind. By the free gift of God’s grace (at Christ’s expense), we have been set free from sin. Our spiritual and joyful obligation to God is to now live submitted to Christ who indwells us and not allow ourselves to be dominated by the unrenewed, carnal mind. Our duty in Christ is to present ourselves each day to God and meditate on His Word so that we will be a living and holy sacrifice and our mind will be renewed and our soul transformed (Romans 12:1-2).
Romans 8:13 – “For if you are living according to the carnal mind (sarx), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Once again, sarx is properly translated as the carnal mind in this verse. Knowing we have already died with Christ and that we no longer have a sinful nature, it is not by soulish willpower; but solely by faith in the facts of the divine truth of the cross of Christ that we put to death all carnal attitudes and activities. Carnal-mindedness or soulish-mindedness was also the condition of the Corinthian Christians. Although they were born of the Spirit and they no longer had a sinful nature; they were living according to their unrenewed, natural thinking. Consequently, Paul calls them worldly and still spiritual infants.
Finally, we will look at the Book of Galatians
Galatians 1:15-16 – “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh (sarx) and blood.” Sarx is properly translated as flesh in this verse since the term “flesh and blood” means mortal man. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul said that he received the gospel he preached not from mortal man, but directly from Jesus Christ by divine revelation. In this verse, Paul says that he did not immediately consult with mortal man after he received the revelation of the gospel, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).”
Galatians 2:16 – “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no man (sarx) will be justified.” Sarx in this verse means the natural man. Paul here teaches that no man can be righteous before God by keeping the Law; only faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, can justify us in God’s eyes.
Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live in the body (sarx), I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Sarx is properly translated as body in this verse. This verse is one of the most important verses in the New Testament. If John 3:16 best conveys the basic gospel message of salvation based on faith in Christ’s Atonement; then Galatians 2:20 best conveys the rest of the gospel, which is how a born-again believer walks in sanctification based on faith in Christ’s Atonement. By this verse, we see that Jesus purchased for us not only forgiveness from the penalty of sin but deliverance from the power of sin. Paul personally testifies that his old self was crucified with Christ. As a result, his sinful nature no longer lives. Paul then declares that he now lives by faith in Jesus Christ who sovereignly indwells him. It is clear from a review of Paul’s teaching on this subject in his letters to the Romans, Galatians and Colossians, that Paul believed that God did not reserve this Biblical experience of being indwelt by Jesus Christ and freed from the power of sin for only a special class of super Christians. When Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” he declared what God intended to be the normal spiritual life for every Christian who is submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
Galatians 3:3 – “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by your natural ability (sarx)?” Paul chastens the Galatians, who had started their Christian life by faith, for now trying to be righteous before God through their own human effort. This is a common mistake for many Christians. They know their salvation did not require any work on their part; yet they think their sanctification (holiness) demands their best efforts and they actually believe sanctification can be brought about through their own willpower! However, Jesus Christ is not only the author of our faith; He is also the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). When we were saved, God sanctified us (made us holy) by exchanging our sinful nature with Christ’s divine nature (2 Corinthians 5:21). After we are saved, our rightful obligation is to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ and present ourselves each day as a living (alive in Christ from the dead – Romans 6:11) and holy (holy in Christ – 1 Corinthians 11:30) sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). Then God will renew our minds and transform us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; 12:2). This does not mean we do not apply ourselves. What it does mean is that we apply ourselves first and foremost to believe the facts of faith in the cross of Christ; then the righteous works will spring from our faith (not the other way around).
Galatians 4:23 – “But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the natural man (sarx), and the son by the freewoman through the promise.” The best translation for sarx in this verse is the natural man. In this verse, Paul introduces the theme that Isaac was born according to the will and promise of God; whereas Ishmael was born according to the will and self-effort of man.This can also be a metaphor for the true church and false church. The true church is made up of those who are born of the Spirit and are living by faith in God’s promises; whereas the false church is made up of those who are trying to accomplish God’s will by man’s effort. This is what Jesus meant by His parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-32; 36-43). The wheat and the tares both grow up together and to the undiscerning can appear to be very much alike but, at the end of the age, when God separates the tares and throws them into the fire, it will be evident that they were children of the flesh (the natural man not spiritual) and sons of the devil.
Galatians 4:29 – “But as at that time he who was born according to the natural (sarx) persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” Those who are born of the Spirit and submitted to the Spirit are the true sons of God (see also Romans 8:14). This means they are under the Spirit’s Sovereignty in everything they do; whereas those who are not under the Spirit’s Sovereignty seek to establish their own righteousness through works initiated by their own will and energized by their natural strength (calling them “works of God”). Paul declares that those who live lawlessly by walking in the natural man under their own rulership actually persecute and are hostile to those whose righteousness is based on walking in the Spirit under the rulership of Christ. “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic (James 3:15).”
Galatians 5:13 – “For you were called for freedom, brethren, only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the carnal mind (sarx), but through love serve one another.” After we are born again of the Spirit, we are no longer in Adam; we are in Christ. Therefore, the decision we must make after we are born again is this: “Will we live according to the Spirit or according to the unrenewed, carnal mind?” Another way of expressing this daily challenge for each Christian is, “Will we be submitted to the power and rulership of the Spirit or enslaved to the power and rulership of our soul (our natural personality)? If we are living by the power of our natural personality, we are not serving God or one another in love. But if we lay down our soul-life daily by submitting wholeheartedly to Christ so that His resurrection life may be expressed through us, we are serving one another in love (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16). We are also serving God who only recognizes works accomplished by faith and through submission to Him.
Galatians 5:16 – “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the carnal mind (sarx).” Sarx in this verse is correctly translated as the unrenewed, carnal mind. The Bible says if we live by submitting to the Sovereignty of the Spirit, we are practicing righteousness. However, if we live by submitting to the power of our soul (or unrenewed mind), we are practicing lawlessness. The way to walk in the Spirit is to know (believe and act on) the truth that you have died with Christ and by presenting yourself each day as a living and holy sacrifice to God to do His perfect will (Romans 6:6-11; Romans 12:1-2). Now that we no longer have an old, sinful nature and Jesus Christ lives inside us, practicing doing His will daily is possible.
Galatians 5:17 – “For the carnal mind (sarx) sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the carnal mind (sarx); for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The unrenewed, carnal mind sets its desire on earthly things instead of heavenly things (Colossians 3:1-3; see also Philippines 3:18-19). Earthly things are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:5). When a Christian is carnal-minded, his thoughts are hostile to the Holy Spirit because his mind is set on man’s interests and not God’s interests (Matthew 16:23). “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly (carnal-minded) lusts which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).”
Galatians 5:19-21 – “Now the deeds of the carnal mind (sarx) are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This section is addressed to born again believers or brethren (Galatians 5:13). Therefore, once again, the best translation for sarx here is the carnal or soulish mind. Any born again Christian who does not submit himself to Christ’s Sovereignty will not have his mind renewed according to the Spirit of truth (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23). Consequently, a Christian may no longer have a sinful nature but if his mind is still carnal, he will continue to practice lawlessness of the kind described above. Paul in this verse strongly warns any Christians who are practicing lawlessness that they will not enter the kingdom of God. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on the same subject when He said that anyone who claims He is Lord but who does not do what He says and continues to practice lawlessness will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).
Galatians 5:24 – “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the natural man (sarx), with its passions and desires.” Once again, the proper translation for sarx in this verse is the natural man with its unrenewed carnal mind. Paul here teaches that anyone who truly belongs to Jesus Christ puts to death the carnal desires and deeds of the natural man (the unconverted soul or the carnal mind). Paul reiterates this truth in the Book of Romans: “By the Spirit we put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13).” The way we put to death every sinful attitude and action is to abide (stay rooted by faith) in Christ and His death and resurrection (John 15:4-8). Once again Paul clearly states, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5).” This Christian life of sanctification is possible because the divine truth is when Christ died, we died with Him and God exchanged our sinful nature with His Son’s holy nature. Our sinful nature has already been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) and, as we now abide in Christ and He abides in us, our soul will be submitted to Him and conformed into the image of His death (Philippians 3:10).
This obligation to live a holy life separated to God if you call yourself a Christian is confirmed by other Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, which declares that if God is your Father, you will purify yourself from everything that contaminates your spirit, soul and body and you will perfect holiness in the fear of God. With this in mind, Paul instructs Timothy, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from evil (2 Timothy 2:19).” Thus God has two seals that authenticate His people. The first seal is the deposit of the Holy Spirit given to each person when they are initially saved (Ephesians 1:13). The second seal is the evidence of sanctification in that person’s life after they are saved. Sanctification is the proof that a person has true and enduring faith in Christ and His Atonement. You cannot be saved by your works; however, after you are saved, your faith in Christ must produce works of sanctification or you prove yourself unworthy of being Christ’s bride. “Without sanctification no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” Consequently, anyone who does not have this seal of sanctification on their life does not belong to Christ and will not inherit the kingdom of God. “For if you are living according to the carnal or soulish mind (sarx), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).” Of course, the only way to walk in sanctification is by faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross. The sanctified life is not a changed life but the exchanged life, or as Paul put it, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).” (For more information on the exchanged life, see our Teaching Tract: The Divine Exchange).
Galatians 6:8 – “For the one who sows to his own carnal mind (sarx) will from the carnal mind (sarx) reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” The proper translation for sarx here is the carnal or soulish mind. Here Paul continues his theme that a Christian who continues to live in carnal-mindedness will not inherit eternal life; only those who obey the Holy Spirit will enter the kingdom of God.
Galatians 6:12 – “Those who desire to make a good showing in the natural man (sarx) try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.” The best translation for sarx here is the natural man. In the first century, the issue of dead works born of the natural man versus true works born of faith was about circumcision. False teachers were pressuring the Gentile believers to make a good outward impression that they were following God by getting circumcised. In our day, the dividing issue between true and false teachers is still over dead works. From a Biblical perspective, dead works include any works that we do to establish a religious or moral identity outside of Christ. Many works of service done by Christians today fall under this category. Dead works originate from our natural wisdom, are empowered by our natural ability and result in men’s approval. Good works originate from the mind of God, are empowered by the Spirit of God and result in God’s approval. False teachers desire to establish an outwardly religious image based on dead works rather than submit themselves to the righteousness of God, which only comes through the cross of Christ. This is lawlessness and these lawless thoughts and actions are hostile to God! Paul warned the church to beware of these false teachers who masquerade as ministers of morality (2 Corinthians 12:15). “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision (Philippines 3:2).”
Galatians 6:13 – “For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your natural man (sarx).” Again, the appropriate translation for sarx in this verse is the natural man and his efforts. This seems to be a timeless rule: false teachers, who do not obey God themselves, always want to pressure their followers to maintain an outwardly religious image so they can boast in their followers’ dead works. “For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43).” As Jesus said of these false teachers, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are (Matthew 23:15).”
This concludes our study of the Greek word sarx. If the gospel you are hearing and trusting in is not increasingly permeating your entire being with its truth and radically transforming you from the inside out, so that your whole being is craving and delighting in Christ’s Sovereignty, you are not receiving the true gospel. We pray this study has helped clarify the Biblical truth that a born again Christian does not have a sinful nature. Jesus Christ died to remove our sinful nature so that we would no longer be slaves to sin but instead be enslaved to God. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened to see the whole truth of Christ’s Atonement on the cross and may the truth of Christ’s gospel set you free from slavery to sin so that you might truly know Jesus Christ. “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free… so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:31-32, 36).”
The Purpose and Meaning of Romans Seven
(Freed from the Law to Serve God in the Spirit)
Chapter Seven of the Book of Romans may be the most misunderstood chapter in the entire New Testament and with the gravest consequences to the Christian faith.
Many Christians mistakenly think Romans Chapter Seven highlights the conflict of the two opposing spiritual natures (the old and new), which they believe co-exist within every Christian. However, this is not Biblically correct. In Romans Chapter Six, the apostle Paul taught that God crucified our sinful nature with Christ and removed it from us (Romans 6:6; see also Colossians 2:11). Therefore, if you are born of the Spirit, you now have only one spiritual nature – Christ’s holy nature, dwelling in you. The reason why you may keep sinning is not because you still have a sinful nature; it is because your mind still needs to be renewed and your soul transformed by the truth of what Jesus Christ accomplished for you on the cross. The normal Christian experience should be that you sin less and less as you apply this essential truth to your life more and more. God’s purpose and provision through Christ’s death is that sin would no longer have dominion over you (Romans 6:7, 12, 14). However, many Christians do not know (and believe and act on) the truth that they have died with Christ and that their old sinful nature is dead and gone; therefore, they are overcome by besetting sins and still personally identify with the experience of the “wretched man” in Romans Chapter Seven. Since they are defeated by sin, they mistakenly and tragically conclude that they still have a sinful nature. However, the truth is that God never intended for His people to be overcome by sin; that is why He removed our sinful nature when we were saved.
Note: In Romans Chapter Seven, Paul uses the “first person” to emphasize the anguish and futility of trying to keep God’s Law before you were born again and still had a sinful nature that was hostile toward God. When reading Romans Chapter Seven, it is important to remember that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in the Greek language, a precise and expressive language which often strategically uses the present tense to dramatically describe a past action and experience. In Chapter Seven, Paul made effective use of this historical present tense, as it is called in the Greek language, to vividly describe the misery and hopelessness of a person who truly wants to serve God but finds himself continually frustrated and sabotaged by his rebellious sinful nature because he is not born again. In writing this chapter, Paul drew from his own past personal experience as a devout Pharisee before He became a born again Christian. Thus, in Romans 7:5 and 7:6, Paul contrasts the spiritual condition of a Jewish unbeliever (whose righteousness depends on keeping God’s Law, but is subverted by his sinful nature because he is not born again), with the spiritual condition of a born again believer (who no longer has a sinful nature and whose righteousness now depends on faith in Christ instead of keeping the Law). Romans 7:5 sums up the unbeliever’s life, which Paul then describes in Romans 7:14-24; whereas Romans 7:6 sums up the believer’s life, which Paul then describes in Romans 8:9-17.
The Purpose of the Law
With this in mind, let us now look at Romans Chapter Seven. Paul specifically addresses this chapter to his fellow Jews or “brethren” who are following Yeshua ha’Mashiah (Jesus Christ) and know God’s Law, but they do not know that in Christ they have died to the Law (Romans 7:1, 4, 6). What is the Law, and what is its divine purpose? The Law, also known as the Law of God, the Mosaic Law, and “the Commandments,” is a complete system of divine law given by God through Moses to the Jews, in order to set them apart as a holy nation (Exodus 19:5). Since the Law originated with God, the Law rests on fundamental and eternal moral principles consistent with the holy nature and character of God Himself. The Bible calls the Law the “embodiment of knowledge and truth (Romans 2:20).” The Mosaic Law consisted not only of God’s moral law; it also contained civil and ceremonial laws (613 individual laws in all). For the purpose of this study, we will focus on the moral Law of God (expressed principally in the Ten Commandments), since the Old Covenant civil and ceremonial laws applied to Jews only; whereas God will impartially judge every person in this world (not just Jews) by His moral Law (Romans 2:1-16). In our study, we will see that “the Scripture declares the whole world is a prisoner of sin because they are found guilty by the Law, so that what was promised, based on faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe in Him (Galatians 3:22).”
The Law, which includes the Ten Commandments, is found in its entirety in the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Christians call these five books the Pentateuch, which means “Five Scrolls” in Greek; Jews call these books the Torah, which means “the Law” in Hebrew. The Law was given to govern man’s moral conduct by declaring God’s commandments concerning right and wrong. The Law is a binding and exacting standard of statues, which expresses man’s duty toward God and man’s duty toward his fellow man. The Bible declares that if you obeyed the whole Law, you would be blessed by God; however, if you did not obey the whole Law, you were under a curse (Deuteronomy 28). Therefore, everyone who was under the Law was expected to keep the whole Law, or face the penalties for breaking the Law. Many of Law’s penalties were severe, often resulting in capital punishment. For transgressions not warranting death, the Law could provide a means of restitution, as well as a means for forgiveness and atonement through sacrificial offerings, such as an unblemished lamb (Leviticus 1-7). You were not allowed to pick and choose what part of the Law you wanted to obey and what part of the Law you do not care to obey. This is also plainly stated by the apostle James, “For whoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law (James 2:10-11).” Therefore, anyone who was under the Law and broke just one part of the Law was guilty of breaking the whole Law. “All who rely on keeping the Law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:10-11).’”
No One Can be Justified by the Law
Why cannot anyone be justified before God by obeying the Law? The reason is that sin naturally rebels against the Law and uses the Law to strengthen its hold over anyone who tries to keep the Law. The Bible says, “The power of sin is (exposed and enhanced by) the Law (1 Corinthians 15:56).” This seeming paradox is a spiritual axiom. The more you know God’s Law and try to keep His Law, the more you will become aware of the power of your sinful nature (if you are an unbeliever), which will frustrate your every attempt to live by God’s Law. In fact, you will never find out how inherently sinful you really are until you try to be holy! As the Bible says, “The Law came so transgression could increase (Romans 5:20).” This was certainly Paul’s own past experience when he was a dedicated Pharisee who was zealous to keep the Law (but was still an unbeliever in Christ). Paul wrote, “For when we were in our sinful nature, the passions of sin which were aroused by the Law were at work in our members to bear fruit for death (Romans 7:5).” This can also be the frustrating experience of a born again Christian who is trying to live a holy life for Christ, but is continually defeated because he mistakenly believes he still has a sinful nature.
To sum up our three points concerning the Law of God: 1) The Law was first given to the Jews; 2) Everyone who was under the Law had to obey the whole Law, not just selected parts of the Law; and 3) Everyone who was under the Law was found guilty of breaking the Law (because of their sinful nature). The Bible says, “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in His sight by keeping the Law… for we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:20, 23).” Consequently, no one can achieve God’s righteousness by trying to comply with the requirements of the Law, especially the intent and spirit of the Law (Romans 9:31; 10:3). This brings us to our next point. If everyone under the Law is guilty of breaking the Law; and, therefore, is under the curse of the Law and God’s judgment, then why did God give us His Law?
The Law is a Tutor to Lead Us to Christ
The Bible says the Law was given for our good to lead us to faith in Christ. This is clearly stated by Paul: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).” The Bible says “The Law is holy, and the Commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore, did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good (Romans 7:12-13).” The Law, which is God’s holy standard or plumbline, places exacting demands on us to reveal that we are lawbreakers and show us that, in our own moral strength, we cannot overcome sin. Paul describes this tutoring “pre-Christian” experience in the first person since he himself had already gone through it. “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law… so that through the Commandment, sin would become utterly sinful… the Law is spiritual, but I have a sinful nature, sold into bondage to sin… For I know that nothing good dwells in me; that is, in my sinful nature, for the willing is present in me, but the doing of good is not (Romans 7:7, 13-24, 18).” Before God could prescribe His cure to us (which is Jesus Christ), He first had to diagnose our condition (which is indwelling sin), and also give us His prognosis (which is spiritual death). As God plainly spoke, “Behold, all souls belong to Me… every soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4).” The truth is that God knows who I am, but He also wants me to know who I am. God already knows I am a sinner before I am saved; the Law was given so I would also know I am a sinner and acknowledge my sin-sickness. “Through the Law we become conscious that we are sinners (Romans 3:20). Remember that Jesus came to redeem those who know they are sinners, and not those who consider themselves righteous (Luke 5:31; 18:9-14). Thus the Law reveals our spiritual condition (we are sinners by nature), and our spiritual destiny as sinners (spiritual death and eternal separation from God). The Bible says, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the Commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this Commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the Commandment, deceived me and through it killed me (Romans 7:9-10).”
The Law Exposes Man’s Sinfulness
Therefore, the purpose of the Law is to reveal our utter sinfulness and the outcome of our sinfulness - spiritual death, so that we might cry out to God to save us from sin through Jesus Christ. Thus, in Romans 7:14-24, Paul describes a fellow Jew who is trying vainly to keep the Law. However, this frustrating and miserable experience could also apply to a Christian who is trying vainly to be morally good and live according to the Bible, but who does not know that his old sinful nature is dead and gone. A Jew is erroneously told the solution is to study the Law because “the more he knows the Law, the more he will be able to keep the Law.” In the same way, a Christian is erroneously told the solution is to read the Bible more because “the more he knows the Bible, the more he will be able to live according to the Bible.” However, this is not the way God works. As we said before, you will never find out how really entrenched you are in the habit of sinning until you really try to overcome sin. The more a Jew knows the Law, the more he becomes aware of his own sin. The same principle also applies to a Christian. In fact, Jesus said our righteousness under the New Covenant must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees under the Old Covenant (Matthew 5:20). Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a more exacting and demanding standard of holiness that is required to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew Chapters 5-7). Jesus teaches that God will judge not only our outward behavior, but also our words and our thoughts (Matthew 5:21-30). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals the true intent and spirit of the Law (not just the letter of the Law), which is able to judge even the thoughts and motives of our hearts.
Greater Light Produces Greater Accountability
Consequently, the more a Christian knows God’s Word, the more he realizes God’s standard of holiness is higher than he thought. He knew that God would judge his deeds (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17), but he now realizes God will judge even his words (Matthew 12:36-37). The more he becomes aware of God’s standard of holiness, the more he becomes conscious of his own besetting sins and sin’s power over his life. But then he hears another sermon on trying harder to be a good Christian (with the “help” of the Holy Spirit sometimes added in). This erroneous teaching encourages him to decide that he can overcome sin if he just doubles his efforts and goes to church more, reads the Bible more, prays more, gives more, and is involved in ministry more. Yet, once again, the spiritual principle of “greater light produces greater accountability” puts him in a vice grip. And it is meant to do this. For as Paul declared,” I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead (Romans 7:7-8).” Thus the more a religious non-Christian or a spiritually ignorant, born again Christian knows God’s Word, the more the crushing reality becomes apparent: God’s standard of holiness is not merely difficult, it is impossible to fulfill outside of faith in Christ. In despair, he now realizes that God will judge not only his words but his very thoughts and motives (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Hebrews 4:12). If he is really zealous, he will once again redouble his efforts and try to become even more self-disciplined. But as he redoubles his efforts, he finds himself on a treadmill that is going faster and faster. Even though he is already exhausted, he is afraid to step off this unrelenting treadmill and find rest because he thinks he will backslide if he does (and sometimes he does, in a desperate attempt to find relief).
Christ Has Delivered Us From Our Sinful Nature
This is the awful dilemma that many sincere Christians find themselves in when they are trying very hard to live a moral life in keeping with the Law of God. If you were to ask them if Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light, they would inwardly groan from the weight of the yoke under which they labor. At this point (which can take one year or forty, depending on the person’s moral self-confidence) many Christians reach a crisis of faith, which leads them to several possible outcomes. Some Christians get angry at God for seemingly giving them a standard of holiness they cannot possibly achieve and they fall away from the faith. Or, they may think they have failed both God and themselves and drift away from the faith because what they think is Christianity, as they experienced it, only brought them impossible stress, condemnation and exhaustion. Or, even worse, they may decide to continue going to church but stop trying to be holy. They may comfort themselves with the thought that everyone else in church is in the same condition as they are – very flawed, yet forgiven. They then settle for much less than God intended - either a life dominated by chronically practicing sin or becoming more religious and ministry-minded (but still inwardly lawless), and never coming into a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). And yet others, when the Law has accomplished its divine purpose and exposed their utter sinfulness and helplessness, may come to the same spiritual place as Paul did.
In this case, when you have come to the end of your own abilities and resources and your own righteousness, you will cry out to God, “What a wretched sinful man I am! Who can deliver me from my sinful nature?” Now this is the right response. You no longer ask “what” can deliver you, but “who” can deliver you. Having already gone through this experience, Paul’s sure answer is, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25).” The truth is that Jesus Christ already delivered you from your sinful nature and freed you from the tyranny of sin when you were born of the Spirit. For Christ not only died on the cross to free you from the penalty of sin; He also died to free you from the power of sin (by removing your sinful nature). However, if you do not know this divine truth by faith, then you cannot experience this spiritual freedom and rest, which Christ has purchased for you by His death. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome: “Do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus have been immersed into His death?... Your sinful nature was done away with when you were born again… If the Spirit of God dwells in you, then you no longer have a sinful nature… Since you no longer have a sinful nature, you have been freed from the power of sin (Romans 6:3-6; 8:9; 6:7).”
In Christ, We Died to Sin and the Law
In Romans Chapter Seven, Paul explains that not only have we died to sin, but we also died to the Law. “Don’t you know, brethren, that the Law has jurisdiction over a person only as long as he lives? (Romans 7:1).” Thus Romans Chapter Six deals with our freedom from the yoke of sin while Chapter Seven deals with our freedom from the yoke of the Law. For the Jew, this means freedom from the curse incurred by failing to keep the Law of Moses. For the Gentile, this means freedom from the condemnation incurred by failing to keep the moral Law of God. In Romans Chapter Six, Paul taught that when we were saved, we died to sin (Romans 6:2, 7, 11). Now, in Romans Seven, he teaches that when we were saved, we also died to the Law. We could never be freed from the burden of having to keep God’s Law until we died. But how did we die to the Law? The same way we died to sin. When we were born again, God spiritually included us in Christ’s death so that when He died, we died with Him, so that we would be freed from the Law. Paul declared, “Do you not know that you have died with Christ?... You have also died to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God (Romans 6:3; 7:4).” For those who long to bear fruit for God and bring glory to His Name, this is indeed good news!
We Are No Longer Under Law But Under Grace
But why was it necessary for us to die not only to sin but also to the Law? Since we no longer have a sinful nature, why can’t we now obey God’s Law? The answer is that we cannot obey the holy requirements of the Law even after God removed our sinful nature; only Christ can fulfill the Law. We are incapable in our natural moral strength of keeping the Law. As long as we believe that we are under the yoke of the Law, sin will still be able to master us. This is why we died to the Law, so that we might be spiritually joined to Christ, who then fulfills the Law by living through us. This leads us to our next point concerning the Law. The only way to escape the domination of sin and the condemnation of the Law is to come under grace. Therefore, when you are in Christ, you are no longer under the Law (and God’s curse); you are under grace (and God’s mercy). “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).” This is what Paul clearly taught in Romans Chapter Six. “Sin shall not be master over you: for you are not under Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).”
What does “grace” mean? The Law means I must earn God’s righteousness; whereas grace means I can receive God’s righteousness as a gift. Righteousness based on the Law depends on my own work (which always falls short); whereas righteousness based on grace depends on Christ’s completed work on the cross. The Bible says, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness… for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 4:4-5; 6:23).” This is the difference between the works of the Law and the God’s gift of grace. How did we receive salvation? Was it by the works of the Law? Absolutely not! We received it as a gift of grace by having faith in the truth (Ephesians 2:8). How did we receive the Holy Spirit? Was it by keeping the Law? No! Once again, we received it as a gift of grace by having faith in the truth (Galatians 3:2, 5). Then how do we receive freedom from the yoke of sin and the yoke of the Law? In the same way! We receive our freedom as a gift of grace by having faith in the truth. And what is the divine truth that you must believe and act on to be freed from sin and the Law? The Bible says that when you received Christ, God spiritually immersed you into Christ’s death, so that you died to sin and to the Law (Romans 6:2-11; 7:4, 6). This is the truth that sets you free!
Grace and the Law are mutually exclusive. You cannot be under grace and be under the Law at the same time. If you are under grace, then you are not under the Law. What does it mean to no longer be under the Law? It means you are no longer under the binding obligation to keep the Law in order to be righteous before God. It also means you are no longer under crushing condemnation when you fail to keep the Law. The Bible says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).” Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, once you trust Christ for your salvation, He becomes your righteousness. As Paul wrote, “By His doing, you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).”
The “Law of Faith” Has Replaced the “Law of Works”
Now that you are under grace, your righteousness no longer depends on your flawed natural ability to keep the Law; it depends solely on your faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. The Bible says, “Know that a man is not justified by keeping the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we too have put our faith in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law because no one will be justified by the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16; see also Philippians 3:9).” However, remember that true Biblical faith always produces corresponding action. To simply say that you trust in Jesus Christ, but then continue to practice sin and live unrighteously, is irresponsible and lawless and reveals your “faith” is either very shallow or not real at all (Mathew 7:24-27; James 2:14-26; 1 john 3:6). Paul declared, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that to which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of Spirit and not in oldness of letter (Romans 7:6).” Therefore, we are no longer under the futility and frustration of a “law of works;” instead, we can now serve God in the Spirit by the “law of faith,” and God credits our daily faith to us as righteousness (Romans 3:27; 4:5). When the eyes of your heart are opened to see this truth, you have real spiritual freedom in Christ!
Do Not be Subject Again to a Yoke of Slavery
Therefore, Paul’s purpose in writing Romans Chapter Seven was to persuade his Jewish brthren that when they received Jesus as their Messiah, they died to the Law so that they might be joined to Christ and bear the spiritual fruit of God’s righteousness. Paul uses his own past experience as a Pharisee to describe a non-Christian who is zealous to obey God’s Law but whose sinful nature frustrates him and makes him unable to do so. However, this could also be the experience of any Christian who is zealous to serve God but does not know that God has removed his sinful nature through the operation of the cross of Christ. “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by the removal of your sinful nature, by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11).” The truth is that no born again Christian (whether Jew or Gentile) has a sinful nature, and no true Christian (whether Jew or Gentile) is under the yoke of the Law! The Bible says, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).” What a triumph! What a victory!
Paul here declares that the requirement of the Law (with its written code of regulations) was cancelled and removed from us by Christ’s death on the cross. Thus by Christ’s death on the cross, we have been set free from the curse of sin and the curse of the Law. For a Jew, the Law of Moses was like an unscalable, towering mountain that you had to try to climb each day to be right before God even though you knew from past experience that you would continually fail and fall. This is why Peter called the Law of Moses “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear (Acts 15:10).” This is why the ministry of the Law under the Old Covenant is called the “ministry of death and condemnation;” whereas, in contrast, the ministry of the Spirit under the New Covenant is the ministry of life and righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:6-9). To be freed from the crushing burden of always having to keep the Law to be righteous (and always being condemned for failing) was to be free indeed. Paul prized this spiritual freedom from the Law of Moses so highly that he declared, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).” This is also why Paul warned others that they must never allow themselves to come under the yoke of the Law, not even a part of the Law. “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the Law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).”
Christ is the Fulfillment of the Law
Paul also confirmed the divine truth that we are freed from the yoke of the Law in his letter to the Ephesians. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of Commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:14-16).” Once again, Paul teaches that Christ, through His death on the cross, has done away with the requirement to keep the Law in order to be righteous. This legal requirement was the great dividing barrier between the Jews and Gentiles, and Christ has now made it possible for Jews and Gentiles, through faith in His completed work on the cross, to be reconciled to God and to each other as fellow members of His body.
However, it is important to point out that the requirement to keep the Law (in order to be righteous before God) is taken away only for those whom God has made righteous through faith in Christ. The Bible says, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes… knowing that a man is not justified by keeping the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:5; Galatians 2:16).” For a Christian, Christ is the end of the Law as a means of our achieving righteousness because Christ is the fulfillment of the Law (more on this later). Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).” However, for those who are still unbelieving sinners, the Law is neither abolished nor fulfilled. This different relationship of the Law to the righteous and the unrighteous is made clear by Paul when he wrote, “The Law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane (1 Timothy 1:8-10).” This is why Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18; see also Luke 16:17).” The moral Law of God remains essential for training us in what is righteous and unrighteous, and to convict the unrighteous of their sin (2 Timothy 3:16).
When We Are Led by the Spirit, We Fulfill the Law
Paul further clarified this when he said, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law (Galatians 5:18).” To be led by the Spirit means we must not only be born of the Spirit; we must be genuinely governed by the Spirit. Paul also said, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Romans 8:14).” From these two verses we can conclude that the sons of God, who have been born of the Spirit (whether Jew or Gentile), are not under the Law because they are now under grace and led by the Spirit. “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:25).” Therefore, “God has made us adequate as servants of a New Covenant, not of the letter (of the Law) but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).” Since we are no longer under the Law, does this mean we can be lawless and continue to practice sin? Of course not! As Paul declares, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law but under grace? May it never be! (Romans 6:15).” The Bible says we are under grace “so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit… (for) you are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you (Romans 8:4, 9).” When we walk by the Spirit, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, and the Bible says, “Against such things (the fruit of the Spirit) there is no Law (Galatians 5:22-23).” Therefore, if God’s Spirit lives in us, we no longer have a sinful nature, which used to control us; however, we must remember that to live by the Spirit means we must walk (and be controlled) by the Spirit, which is now possible through faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross (Galatians 5:24-25). “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:31).”
Love is the Fulfillment of the Law
How is the Law established in us when we walk by the Spirit? Jesus declared the righteous requirement of the whole Law can be summed up by the following commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:35-40; see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).” Paul proclaimed this same truth when he taught, “The whole Law is fulfilled in a single word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Galatians 3:14),” and “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:8-10).” James called this law of love the royal law. “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well (James 2:8).” Thus the standard of righteousness, which is revealed by the Law of Moses in the Old Covenant, and the standard of righteousness, which is revealed by the gospel of Christ in the New Covenant, are one and the same and can be summed up in one word – LOVE - to love God and love your fellow man. Therefore, the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is not in God’s righteous standard, but in His divine means to achieve this righteousness. The Law could not justify us (Galatians 2:16); could not impart divine life to us (Galatians 3:21); could not give us the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2); could not make us righteous or perfect (Galatians 5:5: Hebrews 7:18; 11:40); and could not permanently deal with sin (Hebrews 10:1-4). Instead, the Law was designed to be a temporary guardian for God’s people and foreshadow Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. The Law demonstrated God’s provision for an atoning sacrifice for our sins (Leviticus 1-7; Hebrews 9:22), and provided many prophetic pictures of Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf as the Lamb of God (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:11-14).
Therefore, what the Old Covenant Law was unable to accomplish because of man’s sinful nature, God accomplished in the New Covenant through His Son’s crucifixion (Romans 8:3). Whereas man failed to keep the Law, Christ fulfilled the Law by His perfect, sinless life and His sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross. Through the operation of the cross, God performed a divine heart transplant, removing our terminally sin-sick heart and replacing it with His Son’s divine heart (Romans 6:3-11). By Christ’s death on the cross, we have not only been freed from the penalty of sin, but also the power of sin. “And through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses (Acts 13:39).” Now that we are born again, we no longer have a sinful nature, which rendered us powerless to obey God. Our old nature is dead and gone, and we are now a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Bible says our old sinful nature died with Christ; was buried with Christ; and our new nature has been raised with Christ. This is the Christian faith. Whereas trying to keep the Law could not impart God’s divine, holy life to us because we had a sinful nature; God’s gift of grace enabled the Holy Spirit to impart His divine life to us because Christ removed our sinful nature by His death on the cross (2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 3:21). Because of Christ’s divine sacrifice, we no longer have a sinful nature, we now have Christ’s resurrection life indwelling us (Colossians 1:27). And now that Christ lives in us, we are able to obey God, overcome sin and fulfill the royal law of love. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).” James calls this law of the Spirit “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Paul simply calls it the “law of Christ” since Christ now fulfills God’s Law by dwelling in us, if we wholeheartedly submit to His sovereignty (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2).
The New Covenant is God’s Divine Heart Transplant
This divine heart transplant is the fulfillment of Old Covenant prophecy, the promise of the New Covenant, the purpose of Christ’s Atonement, and the power of Christ’s gospel. This divine heart transplant was promised by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe My ordinances (Ezekiel 36:26-27).” It was also promised by the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant… I will put My Law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:31-33).” When we were born again of the Spirit, God wrote His law in our hearts - “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).” Or, as Paul simply put it: “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6).” This is why the New Covenant is called a “better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises… so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6; 7:22).” Because we have received the New Covenant promise of God’s divine heart transplant, we can now walk in the Spirit and fulfill God’s righteousness by living each day by faith in Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished for us on the cross. This is the law of liberty and spiritual rest we now have in Christ! Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”
What then can we conclude from Romans Chapter Seven? Paul wrote this passage to his fellow Jews who “have a zeal for God but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:2-3).” Tragically, this is also the normal experience for many Christians who do not know that they died, through the body of Christ, to both sin and the Law. Since they do not know the truth that God has removed their sinful nature through Christ’s death, they remain a slave to sin in their personal experience. Since they do not know they died to the Law, they impotently try to obey God’s Law by their natural moral strength. Like the Jews who do not know what Christ has accomplished for them through the cross, they are trying to establish their own righteousness (by their self-effort) instead of submitting themselves (by faith) to God’s righteousness. Paul wrote of this, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness came through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:21).”
We Are Freed From Sin and the Law to Serve God in the Spirit
God does not want His people to be lawless and habitually overcome by sin. Neither does He want them to pursue a self-righteous, man-made morality and outward form of godliness apart from faith in Christ’s crucifixion and sovereignty. We earnestly pray that anyone who teaches that the wretched, miserable soul enslaved to sin in Romans Chapter Seven is a portrait of the normal Christian life would see the truth of God’s Word and repent from this misunderstanding of the Scriptures, and then begin to lead God’s people into the true spiritual freedom from sin that is found in the cross of Christ. Paul declared this way of deliverance in Romans 7:25 to anyone who finds himself caught in this wretched state when he thanked God that Jesus Christ had freed us from our sinful nature (this body of death). We pray that when you have reached the end of yourself and are ready to be delivered from the power of sin, God will reveal the divine heart transplant that He has given you through His Son’s death. Through the cross of Christ, we have been freed from the ungodly yoke of sin and the unbearable yoke of the Law, so that we might put on the blessed yoke of Christ and wholeheartedly serve God in the Spirit.
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Its Purpose and Power
Jesus commanded His disciples to be baptized in water (Matthew 28:19). Water baptism is the outward expression of the inward transformation that occurred within us when we were saved: our old man of sin died in Christ when we were born again of His Spirit and we are now a new man in Christ (Romans 6:3-11). However after they were saved, Jesus commanded His disciples to also be baptized in the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5 & 8). Therefore, we see that water baptism is associated with salvation, whereas Spirit baptism is associated with something more than salvation. This raises a very important question: If we received the Holy Spirit when we were saved, then why do we need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit after we are saved?
The answer can be found by comparing two key events in church history: Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. On Resurrection Sunday, when Jesus appeared to His disciples as a group for the first time, the Bible says, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).’” This is the moment when the disciples passed from “Old Covenant salvation” to “New Covenant salvation.” Believers in the Old Covenant were saved by looking forward in faith to Christ’s redemption, which had not yet taken place; whereas believers in the New Covenant are saved by looking back in faith to the historic event of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection. In the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul gives two conditions for New Covenant salvation, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).” Before Resurrection Sunday, the disciples had already confessed Jesus as Lord. But now for the first time, they also believed God raised Him from the dead. Therefore, Resurrection Sunday is when the disciples were born again of the Spirit. This is the day when God replaced their old Adam nature with Christ’s new nature.
Empowered to be Christ’s Witnesses
Even though the disciples had received the Holy Spirit for salvation, Jesus made it clear they also needed to be baptized in the Holy Spirit for empowerment. Just before His ascension, Jesus gathered His disciples together and “commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift My Father had promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized in water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be My witnesses (Acts 1:5 & 8). Jesus’ reason for baptizing us in the Holy Spirit is also recorded in the gospel of Luke: “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49).” The Father’s promise to baptize them in the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday when the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:4).”
The Disciples in Jerusalem Baptized in the Holy Spirit
On that morning, the apostle Peter explained to those present what had just occurred, “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He (Jesus) has poured out what you now see and hear (Acts 2:33).” Thus the disciples were born again of the Holy Spirit on Resurrection Sunday but they were baptized in the Holy Spirit seven weeks later on Pentecost Sunday. These two different events show our new birth in Jesus Christ is distinct and separate from Jesus baptizing us in the Holy Spirit. When we are born again, we receive Christ’s life; when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we receive Christ’s power. This is an absolute spiritual necessity “for the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20).” We simply cannot be Christ’s overcoming witnesses and spiritual warriors in this dark, godless, demonic world ruled by Satan unless Jesus Christ has baptized us in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).”
Many Christians are not aware of the array of demonic forces in this unseen, supernatural world that will do everything to stop the spread of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. This is one of the major reasons why Jesus Christ knew His disciples needed to be baptized in the power of the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses in this fallen world. What was His disciples’ witness after they were baptized in the Holy Spirit? “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:33).” The apostle Paul describes his own ministry in similar terms: “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:4).” This testimony of the apostles’ ministry is also confirmed in Hebrews 2:4: “God was testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” Therefore, we can conclude from the Scriptures that Jesus commanded His disciples to be baptized in the Holy Spirit after He ascended to heaven so that they might be spiritually empowered to be His witnesses here on earth.
The Greek word for baptism means immersion. When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are completely enveloped in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the natural realm, there are two possible ways we can be immersed under water. The first way is we can go down under the surface of the water and then come up out of it. This is what happens when we are water baptized. The other way is if the water is poured over us until we are completely immersed and enveloped by it. In the natural, this experience would occur if we stood underneath a pouring waterfall. This is the type of total immersion that occurs when we are baptized in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why the Bible, when describing the baptism in the Holy Spirit, uses language such as “I will pour out My Spirit” and “He poured out this which you see and hear” and “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.” We should also note the terms, “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” “promise of the Holy Spirit” and “gift of the Holy Spirit” are used interchangeably to describe the same Biblical experience (see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5; 2:33, 38; 10:44-45; 11:15-17). Also, after Pentecost Sunday, the term “received the Holy Spirit” always refers to receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit (see Acts 8:17; 10:47; 19:2).
The Disciples in Samaria Baptized in the Holy Spirit
Let’s look at two other occasions after Pentecost where the Bible describes when people were baptized in the Holy Spirit. The first event takes place when Philip the evangelist preached the gospel to Samaria. Many people believed in Jesus Christ and were water baptized (Acts 8:12). However, even though they had received the Holy Spirit for salvation, they had not yet received the baptism in the Holy Spirit for empowerment. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying hands on them and they were receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).” We see that the disciples at Samaria were saved through the ministry of Philip but were later baptized in the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Peter and John.
The Disciples in Ephesus Baptized in the Holy Spirit
The second event takes place when Apollos preached the gospel to Ephesus. A number of people believed in Jesus Christ but had not yet been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2). Shortly thereafter, the apostle Paul then encountered the new believers and discovered they had not been properly water baptized nor had they been baptized in the Holy Spirit. “He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:1-6).” We see that the disciples at Ephesus were saved through the ministry of Apollos but were later baptized in the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Paul.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Speaking in “Tongues”
At this point, we will highlight an important feature of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. When Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit, He gives us the ability to speak to God in the spirit through a new prayer language or what the Bible calls a “new tongue” or “other tongue.” Just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus said one of the supernatural signs that would follow believers is that they would speak in new tongues. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues (Mark 16:15-17).” With this in mind, let’s review the five examples in the book of Acts when believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit to see if they spoke in a new tongue. The first example is when the 120 disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance (Acts 2:4). When the first 120 disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they spoke in other languages than their own.
The second example of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit takes place when Philip preached the gospel in Samaria. When a man named Simon witnessed what occurred as Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritan Christians and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, he tried to purchase from them the same ability to impart the Holy Spirit. “Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17-19).’” What did Simon see that impressed him so much? He had already seen a number of miracles, such as people being delivered from demons and being miraculously healed (see Acts 8:6-7). Although the Scripture doesn’t explicitly say the believers in Samaria spoke in new tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is a reasonable to conclude that Simon witnessed the same phenomena that occurred every other time believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts—he saw and heard them speaking in other tongues.
The Apostle Paul Spoke in Tongues “More than You All”
The third example in the book of Acts of someone receiving the Holy Spirit is the case of Saul of Tarsus, later known as the apostle Paul. He had been saved on the road to Damascus, where he had also been temporarily blinded. Three days after his conversion, a man named Ananias was divinely sent to him. “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized (Acts 9:17-18).” There is no doubt that Saul was born again before Ananias arrived to pray for him. He believed in the Lord Jesus when he was still on the road to Damascus. Also, when Ananias first met Saul, he called him “brotherSaul.” Therefore, Saul was filled or baptized in the Holy Spirit three days after his salvation. There is also no doubt that Paul spoke in other tongues because he himself later testified, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all (1 Corinthians 14:18).” When we combine Paul’s personal testimony with all the other examples of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul received the ability to speak in other tongues when Ananias laid hands on him to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
The Gentiles Baptized in the Holy Spirit and Speak in Tongues
The fourth example of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit occurred when the apostle Peter preached the gospel in Caesarea to Cornelius and his household. In this unique incident, Jesus Christ baptized Cornelius and his household in the Holy Spirit at the very same time they received Him as Lord and Savior (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18). Jesus sovereignly poured out His Spirit on them in this manner to supernaturally witness to Peter that God had granted salvation to the Gentiles. Peter knew Jesus had baptized these Gentiles in the Holy Spirit when he heard them speaking in tongues. “The Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God (Acts 10:45-46).” This was the sole evidence that convinced Peter and the others traveling with him that the Gentiles had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. The evidence that they were baptized in the Holy Spirit was not their “love” as some today speculate. Although God’s agape love certainly is a fruit that is formed in a believer who abides in the Holy Spirit, the ability to speak in a personal prayer language of “tongues” is the only visible evidence, which the first century church uniformly accepted, that a believer had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Recognizing that God had saved Cornelius and his household and had baptized them in the Holy Spirit, Peter then instructed them to be immediately water baptized. The fifth example of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit occurred when Paul laid his hands on the new believers in Ephesus so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:6).” Once again, we see that when the believers in the book of Acts were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they spoke with new tongues.
Let’s now review the five examples. In four of them, receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit resulted in the believers speaking with other tongues. In the fifth example, something supernatural obviously occurred when the believers in Samaria received the Holy Spirit because Simon tried to buy the power to baptize people in the Holy Spirit. It is reasonable to conclude those believers also spoke in tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. From the overall Biblical record, we can confidently state that born-again believers in the first century church spoke in other tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Thus, through the obedience of their faith, these disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in new tongues just as Jesus had instructed them. In the same way, everyone who is born again today should also be baptized in the Holy Spirit and expect to speak in new tongues. We once had an interesting experience in this regard. Some Korean Christians, who did not speak English, once visited our fellowship in the United States. As we were all praying together, one of the Korean sisters began to quietly praise God in a tongue she did not understand – in the most perfect and eloquent English.
Difference between Tongues for Personal Prayer and Ministry
It would be good to now distinguish between tongues for personal prayer, which everyone who is baptized in the Holy Spirit receives, from the gift of tongues followed by interpretation of tongues, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to various believers for ministry to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:10). This is the gift of tongues, which Paul lists along with the gifts of healing and miracles, when he says, “All do not speak in tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they (1 Corinthians 12:30).” Paul is not speaking here about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but about the supernatural operations of the Spirit, which can be exercised by the believer in the assembly of the church, as a result of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul enumerates nine different gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are imparted to believers when they are baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Although every Holy Spirit baptized believer can speak in tongues at any time, this does not mean God will use him in the gift of tongues to bring a spoken message to the church. The main difference between the ability to privately speak in tongues and the gift of tongues is the former is for personal devotion to God and the latter is for ministry to the church. When we pray quietly in tongues, we are personally edified but the entire church is edified when we speak out loud in tongues in the church. When we pray privately in tongues, we can pray as we will but the gift of tongues for ministry to the church only operates as the Holy Spirit wills and directs. When we pray privately in tongues, our spirits are praying to God, but when we speak out loud in tongues in church, it is so God can speak to the church. For this reason, the gift of tongues as it functions in church must always be accompanied by the gift of interpretation of tongues. As Paul instructed, “Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret (1 Corinthians 14:13).”
The Purpose of Tongues for Ministry
The distinction between the baptism of the Holy Spirit (also called the gift of the Holy Spirit), which is accompanied by the evidence of personal tongues, versus the gift of tongues, which is accompanied by interpretation of tongues, is also differentiated in the New Testament by two different Greek words for gift. Whenever believers received the baptism or gift of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament uses the Greek word dorea for gift (Acts 2:38; 10:45; 11:17);whereas the New Testament always uses the Greek word charisma for gift to describe the ministry gifts (Romans 11:29; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31;13:2; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). These two Greek words, dorea and charisma, are never interchanged in the New Testament. Charisma is never used to describe the believer’s personal prayer language, which they receive when they are baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), and dorea is never used to describe the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues, which the Spirit gives believers for ministry to the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). Therefore, Paul’s question, “Do all speak with tongues” means “Do all believers, after they receive the gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit, exercise the gift (charisma) of tongues for ministry?” The answer is no since not all believers have this particular gift of ministry. For example, in the five cases we reviewed where believers spoke in tongues after they received the baptism or gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit, in none of these five situations did the believers use the gift (charisma) of interpretation. This once again demonstrates that when you receive the gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit, you also receive the personal, devotional prayer language of tongues but not necessarily the gift (charisma) of tongues, which must always be exercised with the gift (charisma) of interpretation to edify the church.
Paul clearly instructs that whenever you speak in the gift (charisma) of tongues in an open assembly of the church, it should be followed by the gift (charisma) of interpretation of tongues so that others can understand the message that is given in tongues (See 1 Corinthians 14:5 & 13). Thus everyone who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit has the capability of speaking in private, devotional tongues (though they may not exercise this capability because of unbelief, ignorance, fear, or other reasons); but not everyone receives the gift (charisma) of tongues which is used in conjunction with the gift (charisma) of interpretation. If you cannot interpret the message that the Holy Spirit has given you or if there is no other interpreter present in the assembly, then Paul says, “the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God (1 Corinthians 14:28).” When the gift (charisma) of tongues accompanied by the gift (charisma) of interpretation is properly used in the church, it is similar to the gift (charisma) of prophecy, which is given to build up, exhort and comfort the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:3). For example, not long ago when we meeting together, a sister in Christ who we know, and who does not speak any Chinese, gave an edifying message for the church in the Chinese language, which was then interpreted in English. This is how God intended all the gifts (charisma) of the Spirit to be used to minister to the body of Christ. “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each as a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, and has an interpretation. Let all things by done for edification (1 Corinthians 14:26).”
The Purpose of Personal Tongues
If you don’t speak in tongues immediately when you are baptized in the Holy Spirit, don’t be anxious. After you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, you have a reservoir of living water ready to overflow from your spirit. “Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ By this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:38-39).” Releasing the gift of tongues is like turning on a water faucet. You just have to learn how to turn on the “faucet” to speak in your prayer language. Jesus said we must receive the kingdom of God with faith like a child (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17). This does not mean do not use our mind. Our intellect is a useful tool but our faith must always spring from a pure and open heart towards God. This reminds me of the time I met a fellow Christian who had graduated from one of the top universities in the United States. After a brief conversation, I perceived this brother had a keen intellect. I then asked him whether he had ever received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He answered no and asked what this was. I then began to open the Scriptures to him and explained how Jesus wanted all His disciples to be immersed in the Holy Spirit so they would have supernatural power to be His witnesses and be able to speak directly to Him in a Spirit-given prayer language. We then bowed our heads in prayer and he simply asked Jesus to baptize him in the Holy Spirit. While we were still praying, this brother (who wisely didn’t let his great mind and education get in the way of his child-like faith) began to joyously speak in other tongues just like the disciples did on the day of Pentecost.
Why does Jesus Christ want to give us the ability to speak in a prayer language that we don’t know when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit? We are talking about personal prayer language here and not the ministry gift (charisma) of tongues accompanied by interpretation. The Bible gives at least three reasons. The Bible says the foremost reason is that when we speak in another tongue, we are able to speak directly to God in the spirit and, if necessary, receive comfort, encouragement and guidance by the Spirit. This is what the apostle Paul taught. “For the one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries (1 Corinthians 14:2).” There are many times when you may not be sure how or what to pray and, by speaking in tongues, you can communicate directly to God in your spirit. As Paul said, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays… I will pray with my spirit and I will pray with my mind also (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).” Paul clearly valued this spiritual benefit of speaking in tongues when he wrote, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all (1 Corinthians 14:18).”
Paul says the second reason is that speaking in tongues builds you up in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:4). When you pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit is able to strengthen your inner man. Jude also speaks to this benefit: “But you, dear friends, build yourself up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20).” The third reason to speak in tongues is mentioned by Paul when he exhorts Christians to “pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18)” so they might intercede for the saints. In this way, speaking in tongues can help us “pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)” as the Spirit Himself intercedes for us and through us according to the will of God. “In the same way the Spirit also helps in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words, for He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).” We can be sure we are praying accurately because the Spirit prays the prayer that God wants to hear and wants to answer. With these three reasons in mind, we encourage each believer, after they are baptized in the Holy Spirit, to spend time every day privately praying and praising God in their new language. In this way, you can more intimately fellowship with God the Father and His Son and build yourself up in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit can empower and lead you to effectively intercede for others.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit with Fire
There is one more very important aspect of the baptism in the Holy Spirit we need to point out. John the Baptist called this “the baptism in the Holy Spirit with fire (Matthew 3:11).” Fire represents the holiness of the Lord. Therefore, when Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit, He intended it not only to empower us but to also purify us. Our immersion into Christ’s Spirit of holiness is meant to expose, convict, purge and burn away all the dross (soulish carnality) from our lives. The Holy Spirit‘s ongoing, purifying fire in our lives is essential if we want to be Jesus’ holy witnesses. Jesus said His disciples would be salted with fire (Mark 9:49) but if they lose their saltiness (holiness), they are not good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by the world (Mark 9:50; Matthew 5:13). Without holiness, we cannot display God’s power. Without holiness, we cannot be Christ’s witness. Without holiness, we cannot know Jesus Christ. Of course, we must always remember we cannot possibly live in Christ’s holiness (even if we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit with fire) if we don’t know (believe and act on) the truth that we have been crucified with Christ. The gospel of Christ crucified reveals the power, which God has provided for us through His Son’s death, to abide in Christ and overcome sin, the world and the devil.
To sum up, Christ’s completed work on the cross delivers us not only from the penalty of sin but the power of sin. Water baptism demonstrates we have been immersed into the power of Christ’s crucifixion; whereas Spirit baptism immerses us into the power of Christ’s resurrection. Obviously, we need to know (and act on) both the power of Christ’s crucifixion and His resurrection if we want to know and experience Jesus Christ in fullness. As the apostle Paul testified, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection… becoming like Him in His death (Philippines 3:10).” In view of Jesus’ command for His disciples to be baptized in the Holy Spirit to empower them to be His witnesses in this world, we strongly encourage every believer to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. When anyone was saved in the early church, they were normally baptized in water the same day and baptized in the Spirit shortly thereafter. And when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave them the ability to speak to God directly in another language. In the same way, when Jesus baptizes you in the Holy Spirit, He will give you the supernatural ability to speak in another language.
How to Receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
You can receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit the same way you received Christ when you were saved – by faith (Galatians 3:2). Jesus said, “If you being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13)?” Our heavenly Father has promised to give you the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His Son is the One who will baptize you in the Spirit. Remember the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an emotional experience; it is a divine promise and gift, which you receive by faith in God’s Word. You may or may not express any emotions and you may not initially speak in tongues when you are baptized in the Holy Spirit. However, when you ask Jesus to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, you can count on the Word of God that He will. Just ask Him.
Endnote: If Jesus Christ baptizes us in the Holy Spirit to empower us, then why do we need to know we died with Christ? Jesus did not intend the baptism in the Holy Spirit to have only a one-time impact in our lives; He means it to be the spiritual gateway for us to be continually empowered by the Holy Spirit and be able to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build up His body (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13). However, the only way the power of the Holy Spirit can be manifested continually in our lives is if we know (and act on this knowledge) that we have been crucified with Christ. Calvary must come before Pentecost. This is the divine principle: Jesus had to be crucified at Calvary and ascend to His Father before the power of His Spirit could be poured out at Pentecost (John 7:39). In the same way, our baptism (immersion) into the power of Christ’s resurrection is only effective if we have also been baptized (immersed) into the power of Christ’s death. The divine truth is that we have already been baptized into Christ’s death. We were baptized into Christ’s death when we were born again (Romans 6:3). Therefore, we now need to abide (remain united by faith) in the power of Christ’s crucifixion so that the power of Christ’s resurrection might abide in us.
If we don’t know this divine fact (that we have died with Christ and our sinful nature has been removed) by divine revelation, we won’t be able to act on this truth and overcome sin. We will mistakenly try to live the Christian life by the power of our soul (our natural personality and ability) but we will incorrectly think it’s with the help of the Holy Spirit. However, when we live by the power of our soul, we are not relying by faith on the power of Christ in us to live. And when we do not live in faith and obedience to the truth of God’s Word, we are blocking the Holy Spirit’s power in us. This has tragic results even though it may not be evident to those who are spiritually undiscerning and immature. We simply cannot expect to be filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit and overcome the world if we are not obeying God and His Word.
Therefore, it’s essential that we know (believe and act on) the Word of God: We have been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:8; Galatians 2:20: 6:14) so that Christ can express the power of His Holy Spirit through us. Otherwise, even though we may have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, we will end up living by the strength of our soul. This is Galatianism or “starting in the Spirit but finishing in the flesh (Galatians 3:3).” Tragically, this has been an all too common experience for many Christians, even “charismatic” Christians. Any Christian who has not been baptized in the Holy Spirit is not fully equipped and empowered and is in danger of being overcome by the world. However, any Christian who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit but who does not believe and act on the truth that he has been crucified with Christ also remains in grave danger of being overcome by the world. One of the main reasons for this is that the baptism in the Holy Spirit not only introduces a believer into a new realm of spiritual blessing and provision, it also introduces a believer into a new realm of spiritual conflict with the unseen forces of evil. Whenever any believer receives the capability through the baptism in the Holy Spirit to powerfully advance the kingdom of God, the demonic forces will increase their attacks against that believer to stop the potential threat he poses against the kingdom of darkness. Therefore, it is imperative that any believer who receives the baptism in the Holy Spirit also continually walk in the truth. Walking in the truth is our best defense and best offense against the devil and his forces. The Bible exhorts us to “put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).” The first piece of protective armor in this passage of Scripture (Ephesians 6:13-17) is the belt of truth and the one offensive weapon is the sword of truth or the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. Although we may be baptized in the Holy Spirit, if we do not abide by faith in the whole truth of Christ’s death on the cross (when Christ died, we died with Him and our sinful nature was removed from us), we will lack the whole armor of God necessary to protect us from enemy attack.
However, when we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ and believe and act on the truth that our sinful nature has died with Christ, then Christ can train us daily to walk in the power of His Spirit and to place no confidence in the strength of our soul (our natural ability). Then we will truly be Christ’s overcoming witnesses and disciples. “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed! (John 8:31-32, 36).”
The Gifts and the Fruit of the Spirit
The gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit are both supernatural expressions of God and intended to encourage and comfort the body of Christ, but they are different in many respects. The Bible describes the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The Bible describes the gifts of the Spirit as the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, special faith, healings, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, various kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Some additional spiritual gifts, such as the gifts of leadership, teaching and service, are also addressed in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11.
God Wants the Church to Have Both Gifts and Fruit
Because of unbelief, ignorance and disobedience, the church has two common problems concerning the spiritual gifts – either a lack of use of the gifts or a misuse of the gifts. Both these problems would be solved if Christians truly believed they had died with Christ and no longer relied on their natural abilities and church traditions to do God’s work but instead trusted solely in Christ to sovereignly live through them. Many Christians pursue fruit but neglect the gifts. However, from God’s perspective it is not a matter of one or the other, He wants us to desire both the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. The Bible says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:10).” When Christians lack spiritual fruit, the church is sick but when Christians lack spiritual gifts, the church is not strengthened. Since our warfare is not against mortal men but against the spiritual forces of darkness, our equipment, tools and weapons must also be spiritual; otherwise we will not prevail (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The apostle Paul instructed, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant (1 Corinthians 12:1).”
Although there may be various interpretations on the meaning of specific gifts, there is no question that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid today. Arguments against the use of the spiritual gifts are normally not based on Biblical grounds but instead on a fear of abuse of the gifts (which the apostle Paul effectively deals with in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 14). There is no Scriptural support to suggest that the gifts were only for the first century or that the gifts were only intended for men or leaders. The apostle Peter, citing the prophet Joel, declared, “And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy… even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).” The Bible clearly states that the Holy Spirit distributes the spiritual gifts to every believer for effective ministry to the church and effective evangelism to the world (Acts 4:29-30; 14:3; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12). “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).” The Bible says that the spiritual gifts are given to every believer to comfort, encourage and strengthen the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:3, 26). Paul wrote, “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).” If we reject the Holy Spirit’s gifts or misuse them, we reject God’s will and divine provision and tools for equipping His church. The body of Christ will then suffer as a result our unbelief and disobedience and God will ultimately hold us responsible.
The Gifts and Fruit Are Different in Nature and Purpose
A major difference between the two is found in the nature of spiritual fruit compared to the gifts. The fruit of the Spirit are attributes of God’s divine character; whereas the gifts of the Spirit are instruments of God’s divine power. The gifts are the supernatural operation and manifestation of the Holy Spirit who distributes them to each member of the body of Christ according to His own will (1 Corinthians 12:11; Hebrews 2:4). For example, when the elders of the church laid hands on Timothy, the Holy Spirit gave him a spiritual gift, perhaps the gift of teaching (1 Timothy 4:13), which was confirmed through a prophetic message (1 Timothy 4:14). It is important to note that all the gifts are distributed by the initiative of the Holy Spirit and not by man’s will. “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do it by the works of the law or by hearing with faith (Galatians 3:5)?” Therefore, in order to exercise the gifts of the Spirit properly, we must be submitted to Christ’s authority and act only in obedience to His initiative (John 15:5). Jesus Himself never said or did anything on His own initiative; He only acted on His Father’s initiative (John 5:19, 30; 8:28; 12:49). That God’s will and initiative is required to properly exercise the spiritual gifts is also evident by the apostle Peter’s instruction on prophecy: “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21).”
Both the Gifts and Fruit Are Supernaturally Imparted
Just as the fruit of the Spirit is not the same as naturally endowed virtues; the gifts of the Spirit are not naturally endowed abilities. All of the gifts of the Spirit are supernaturally endowed; they are not the product of natural effort or education. It is not the intention of this teaching to define the characteristics of the individual gifts; however, all of the spiritual gifts are either described or displayed by the apostles in the Book of Acts. In every case, the results that the spiritual gifts produce are far superior than anything we could ever achieve with our natural ability. For example, someone may be a naturally eloquent speaker but that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit has bestowed on them the supernatural gift of teaching. Furthermore, natural eloquence can never produce the spiritual results that can only come from the Holy Spirit and His gift of teaching. Or, someone may be a natural born leader, but this does not mean the Holy Spirit has given them the gift of spiritual leadership. And the Holy Spirit’s gift of prophecy is definitely not the same as someone’s “inspirational” sermon. Unfortunately, due to spiritual ignorance and unbelief about the gifts, many people are following teachers who are speaking from their own natural wisdom and ability rather than from the revelatory and enabling gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Gifts and Fruit Are Produced Differently
Another major difference between the spiritual gifts and fruit is how they are imparted. Whereas the gifts of the Spirit are received spontaneously by an act of faith; the fruit of the Spirit are produced over time by abiding or persevering faith (Luke 8:15). One brother in Christ has compared this to the difference between a fruit tree and a Christmas tree. Fruit is formed slowly over time by being vitally connected to the life of the tree; whereas Christmas ornaments are like gifts, which are placed on the tree by a single act in a single instant of time. The Bible says “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).” This means the gifts are not loaned out and then recalled. If someone falls away from the faith and becomes carnal and ungodly, their ability to use the gifts will not cease. For example, even though King Saul became rebellious, ungodly and depraved, he still prophesied (1 Samuel 19:18-24). Consequently, the gifts do not necessarily reflect the spiritual character and sanctification of the person who exercises them; whereas fruit is an expression of that person’s character and sanctification. As result, the great danger for Christians who exercise the gifts is for them to think and feel they are more “spiritual” than they really are. For this reason and because of the different nature and function of spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts, the gifts can often be misused by someone who is soulish and carnal. For example, the Corinthian church abounded in the spiritual gifts but sorely lacked in spiritual fruit since they remained very carnal minded (1 Corinthians 1:7; 3:1-3; 11:17-32). Their failure to be convicted that they were spiritually carnal and lawless even though they exercised the spiritual gifts is a sobering warning to all of us.
You Shall Know Them by Their Fruit Not Their Gifts
Whenever Christians are more impressed with dramatic gifts rather than authentic fruit, there are major problems. We need to always keep in mind Jesus’ warning, “You shall know them by their fruit.” He did not say, “You shall know them by their gifts.” Nor did He say, “You shall know them by their outward moral behavior.” There is a great difference between man-made morality, which is naturally born and developed, and the fruit of the Spirit, which is only spiritually formed and grows from out of our sanctification to Christ. Morality apart from the cross of Christ is not true sanctification: it is just another version of the flesh. It is very important to know that exercising the spiritual gifts can be dangerous and backfire if you are not walking in sanctification (holiness). If you are not walking in sanctification, God cannot protect you from Satan’s schemes to deceive and attack you when you function in the supernatural realm. The only way we can safely function in the spiritual gifts is if we are submitted to Christ’s sovereignty and hear and obey His voice. And the only way we can be truly submitted to Christ’s authority is if we know (believe and act on) the truth that we have been crucified with Christ and our sinful nature has been removed from us (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20).
God Holds Us Accountable For Both Our Fruit and Gifts
God will hold us accountable for everything He has given us, including the spiritual gifts. Therefore, we should desire to fully use the spiritual gifts as His responsible stewards for the good of His body, the church. We do not want to be like the slave who refused to do anything with what his master gave him. Jesus Christ judged this slave wicked, lazy and worthless (Matthew 25:26-30; Luke 19:22). It is a serious and grievous matter to refuse any gift which God wants to give us and for which His Son died. This includes the gift of salvation, the gift of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and all the spiritual gifts, which God has given every believer for building up the body of Christ. However, we must pursue holiness and love to ensure that we use the spiritual gifts safely and properly; otherwise Christ’s Judgment will also be severe. Jesus warned that He would reject many in the Day of Judgment who exercised the spiritual gifts even while they willfully and habitually practiced sin (Matthew 7:21-23). This is why it is imperative that we “pursue sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” The spiritual gifts, which are instruments or tools, will cease at the end of this age but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which express Christ’s character, will remain forever (1 Corinthians 13:8). Therefore, without the fruit of the Spirit in evidence, the use of the gifts has no eternal value. The gifts, which are exercised by faith, must always function in love to have any spiritual worth (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). The apostle Paul taught, “Faith works through love (Galatians 5:6).” And the apostle Peter exhorted, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10). Therefore, God’s desire is that all Christians would exercise His spiritual gifts in His love to build up His church.
The New Covenant Priesthood of Believers
Under the New Covenant, all believers constitute God’s priesthood who together are responsible for the “work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). However, in most churches today the work of the ministry is performed by professional clergy who are paid by the rest of the church members who are considered lay people. This dichotomy of clergy and laity never existed in the New Testament and is not Biblical. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit gives each member of the body of Christ a special function or spiritual gift to equip them to minister to the whole church. It is God’s intent that whenever the church meets under Christ’s headship, each member should be able to freely share their spiritual gifts with the body of Christ as the Holy Spirit directs them. Paul taught, “Since we have gifts that differ according the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly (Romans 12:6).” The Bible says that whenever the body of Christ meets together under Christ’s headship, one member might share a psalm, another member a prophecy, another member a teaching, and another member might share tongues and interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26). This functioning priesthood of all believers is one of the fundamental building blocks of Christ’s church. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house as a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9).”
To use another metaphor, God intends that Jesus Christ would be like the head “orchestra leader and conductor” of His church. Therefore, whenever we come together in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, every member of the body should fix their eyes on Jesus their head. The Holy Spirit will then spontaneously prompt each member, as individual instruments of “Christ’s orchestra,” to share their spiritual gifts in proper order for the good of the whole body (1 Corinthians 14:40). When Jesus is the “head conductor” of church, our gathering together and ministering to one another will be creatively directed by the Holy Spirit who will produce a spiritual “symphony” to supply the needs of the whole body of Christ. To this end, Paul wrote, “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).” In this way, all the members actively participate in building up the body of Christ so that the church as a whole can fulfill God’s eternal purpose – to express the fullness of Jesus Christ.
We Must Abide in Christ to Have Both Good Fruit and Gifts
In closing, we manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit the same way we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit – by faith in Jesus Christ and His words and works. As the apostle Paul said, “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5).” Therefore, we can exercise the spiritual gifts by faith according to the grace that the Holy Spirit has given each of us (Romans 12:6). We exercise the gifts by trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit and not relying on our natural ability (1 Peter 4:11). In order to properly exercise the gifts of the Spirit, we must abide (stay united by faith) in Jesus Christ and in His death and resurrection. If we do not abide in Christ and His completed work on the cross, we will not be properly submitted to Christ’s headship and we will not bear the fruit of sanctification. Our functioning in the gifts will then be in vain or, even worse, spiritually lawless (John 15:4-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Therefore, it is essential that we believe and act on the truth that we have died with Christ and our sinful nature has been removed from us so that He can sovereignly live through us (Galatians 2:20). This is the way Jesus Christ will be able to sanctify us as His bondservants and enrich us with both His spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts for the building up of His body. “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21).”
How To Stop Practicing Sin
Many Christians ask, “If we were freed from sin when we were saved, then why must we still struggle against sin?” There are two principal reasons. The first reason is that even though our spirit was made alive in Christ when we were saved, our mind still needs to be converted by God’s word. The second reason is that God uses our struggle against sin to purify our faith and bring us into spiritual maturity. It is a Biblical fact that we were freed from slavery to sin when we were saved because God removed our sinful nature. However, after we are saved, we still have to struggle by faith to overcome the sinful desires of our unconverted soul-life until our mind is renewed by the truth of God’s word. There is a simple illustration of this in the Old Testament. After God miraculously delivered His people from slavery to Pharaoh (a picture of our deliverance from slavery to Satan), they still had to conquer the hostile giants in the land of Canaan (a picture of overcoming sin to possess our spiritual inheritance – “the Promised Land”). Remember that they could only overcome these giants and take the Promised Land by believing in God and obeying His commands. However, most of those who left Egypt died in the wilderness and never received their promised inheritance because they were unbelieving and disobedient in heart (Psalm 78; Hebrews 3:12-4:11). As Jude wrote, “I want to remind you that after the Lord saved His people out of Egypt, He subsequently destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 5).” This is a lesson and a warning to us all. If we want to possess God’s promised spiritual inheritance, we must struggle to overcome the hostile “giants” of sin that would stand in our way, and the only way we can overcome sin is by believing and acting on the truth of God’s word.
The Bible says, “God… has saved us and called us to a holy life… like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’ (2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:15-16; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:7).” If you are a Christian, there are no exceptions to God’s call to be holy, for “without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” Therefore, it is essential that we learn how to overcome sin if we want to know God. Remember, however, that God would never expect us to be holy unless He had also provided the way for us to overcome sin. And the way that God has provided for us to overcome sin is found in the reason why Christ died on the cross. That is why the apostle Paul declared, “I determined that while I was with you I would speak of nothing else but Jesus Christ and (the purpose of) His crucifixion (1 Corinthians 2:2).” For when Jesus Christ was crucified, He did not just physically die two thousand years ago on a cross outside the gates of Jerusalem. Since Jesus is the Son of God (God manifest in the flesh), His death transcended time and space and took place in “the heavenly tabernacle” - in the realm of eternity, so that He might provide redemption from sin to everyone who receives Him as Lord and Savior (John 1:12; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 9:11-15). In order to redeem us from the cancer (and condemnation) of sin, God the Father used His Son’s sacrificial death to not only provide us with forgiveness of sins, but to also deliver us from the power of sin. How did God accomplish this? Since we were born into sin and were sinners by nature, we could only be freed from sin through death. Therefore, God released us from sin’s dominion by spiritually including us in His Son’s death. The Bible says that when we were born of the Spirit, God spiritually immersed us into Christ’s death in order to remove our sinful nature, so that Christ could dwell in us by His Holy Spirit (Romans 6:3-6; Galatians 2:20; 4:6; Colossians 1:27). Consequently, we are now “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).” This is the miracle of our new birth, made possible by the divine operation of the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:11-12; Galatians 6:14).
But now that God has saved us, how can we keep ourselves undefiled from the sin of the world? How can we serve God with a pure heart and an incorruptible love? How can we stop practicing the sins that have so easily entangled us in the past? Although God has made us a new spiritual person in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), our soul-life (our natural personality with its inherent attitudes, affections and thoughts) was not instantly converted and transformed into Christ’s likeness when we were saved (Ephesians 4:22-24). Therefore, we do not have to crucify our old sinful Adam nature (since God has already put it to death and removed it), but we still have to contend with our old Adam way of thinking (the sinful thoughts of our unconverted soul-life). Remember, however, that there is a great difference between our old sinful nature (now dead and gone) and our unconverted soul-life. Our unconverted soul-life (the unrenewed mind) does not have the power of the old sinful nature, which was like a sin factory within us, always producing sinful attitudes and actions (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Since God has freed us from slavery to sin by destroying and removing our sin nature/the sin factory, so that His Son’s Spirit could dwell in us (Romans 6:6-7; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:11), we are now capable of living a sanctified or holy life. We are now able to overcome sin by fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ (His Person and His completed work on the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2)). Since sin no longer is our master, we are able to bring our thought-life into submission to Christ by renewing our mind according to the truth of God’s word. Paul taught, “Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is… be renewed in the attitude of your mind… put on the new man (your new mind) who is being renewed to a true knowledge in the image of God who created him (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10).” This is what Jesus meant when He commanded His disciples to carry their own cross daily, deny themselves, and lose (get rid of) their unconverted soul-life for His sake (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 14:26-27). With this command in mind, Paul wrote, “Therefore, brethren, we have an obligation, not to the flesh (our unconverted soul-life), for if you are living according to the flesh (your unconverted soul-life), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live… put to death, therefore, whatever is soulish: immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire and greed… those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death on the cross their flesh (their unconverted soul-life) with its passions and desires (Romans 8:12-13; Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:24).” Now that we no longer have a sinful nature and Christ’s Spirit lives in us, we can “put off” our old soulish way of thinking and acting, and “put on” Christ’s way of thinking and acting (1 Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). When we practice this daily sanctification (or holiness) that comes by exercising faith in the truth of the cross, our soul will be transformed into Christ’s likeness and we will prove that our salvation is real and enduring (Acts 26:18; Philippians 2:12-13; James 2:26; 2 Peter 1:10-11). For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #48: Living by the Spirit; and #54: The Secret of Sanctification.
In our daily struggle to overcome sin, it is helpful to remind ourselves of these four divine facts:
We want to overcome sin because we love God. We can only have one master: we cannot serve God and still serve sin. Paul said, “Sin shall not be your master (Romans 6:14).” And Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24).” The Bible says that if we are born again and know God, we will not continue to practice sin. “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or knows Him… no one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him and he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:6 & 9).” And Paul wrote, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an incorruptible love (Ephesians 6:24).” But how can we have an incorruptible love for Jesus if we are continually ensnared by compromising sins? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commands… whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me (John 14:15 & 21).” And John wrote, “This is love for God: to obey His commands (1 John 5:3).” Our obedience to His commands is clearly God’s love language. Therefore, we want to learn how to overcome sin and obey His commands because we love God and want to please Him. For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #16: The Pearl of Great Price; and #51: God’s Glorious Church.
If we want to overcome sin, we must do it by faith. The Bible says that not only are we saved by faith, we must also live by faith (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). However, if we want to live by faith and overcome sin, we must live by the truth (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6). Faith is not a feeling; it is a decision to believe and act on the truth of God’s word. How do we get this kind of overcoming faith? We immerse ourselves daily (with a good and honest heart) in the truth of God’s word (Luke 8:15). Paul said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you… faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ (Colossians 3:16; Romans 10:17). Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).” And this is the truth that sets you free from the world’s ever-present temptation to sin: God removed your sinful nature when you were saved, so that you would no longer be enslaved to sin, and Christ could live in you and empower you by His Spirit (Romans 6:6-7; Colossians 1:27).
Ultimately, our struggle against sin is a struggle of faith against unbelief because all sin springs from unbelief (Hebrews 3:12-19). Just as unbelief produces lawlessness and yields the fruit of death, our faith in Jesus Christ (who He is and what He accomplished for us on the cross) produces obedience and yields the fruit of holiness, and its reward – eternal life (Romans 6:20-22). Believing and acting on the truth of the cross (that we have died to sin) is the way (the only way) that God has provided for us to overcome sin. The Bible says, “For he who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:7).” God has freed us from sin’s power by destroying and removing our sinful nature (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11). This Biblical truth is our God-given “Declaration of Independence” from the tyranny of sin, which Jesus Christ died on the cross for us to possess. This is the liberating truth that Paul practiced and preached: “I (my old self) have been crucified with Christ and I (my sinful nature) no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).”
Remember that our faith must have corresponding action to be effective (James 2:18-26). Faith is not passive; if we want to overcome sin, our faith must be active and even forceful. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it (Matthew 11:12).” It is not enough to just hear God’s word, but then not act on it. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?... My brothers are those who hear God’s word and act on it (Luke 6:46-49; 8:21).” We must believe and act on God’s word; otherwise it will have no transforming power in our lives. “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the word they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith (Hebrew 4:2).” If we believe and act on the Biblical truth that we have been freed from sin (because we no longer have a sinful nature), we will be empowered to live by faith in the Son of God who indwells us with His Spirit of power and holiness (Galatians 2:20). This is the divine truth that sets us free from sin and enables us to “put to death” every sinful thought and carnal desire that tries to oppose God’s will from being done in our life. If we practice our faith in this truth of the cross, our faith will mature and become steadfast and unshakeable. For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #22: The Works of Faith; #39: The Obedience of the Faith; #55: The Overcomers; and Myths Exposed #4: Christians Have Two Natures.
If we want to overcome sin, we must wage spiritual warfare. The apostle Peter exhorted believers to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).” And Paul taught, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).” In other words, our struggle against sin is ultimately a spiritual battle of faith against the devil and his demonic forces. The Bible says, “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. But resist him, standing firm in your faith (1 Peter 5:8-9).” But how is it possible for us to wage spiritual warfare against the devil who wants to deceive and devour us in sin? The Bible says we cannot use natural weapons or our natural strength to resist the devil and overcome sin. Paul taught, “The weapons of our warfare are not natural, but divinely powerful to demolish strongholds (of the mind). We cast down vain imaginations and every barrier of pride that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).” Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5),” and this includes overcoming sin. If overcoming sin depended upon our own willpower, natural self-discipline and self-effort, we would surely be defeated. Therefore, we must put no confidence in our own ability and works to overcome sin; instead, we must put our faith and confidence solely in Jesus Christ, and His completed work on the cross, which is the only basis upon which we can overcome sin (Galatians 3:3; 6:14; Philippians 3:3).
Since the devil can no longer control us through our sinful nature (which is dead and gone), he has switched his tactics - the battleground is now our mind. The devil will try to attack our thought-life in order to ensnare us in unbelief and sin. The primary weapon the devil uses against us in this spiritual battle is the “Big Lie.” What is the Big Lie? The Big Lie is the devil’s constant accusation against us that we are hopelessly chronic sinners (John 8:44; Romans 8:33-34; Revelation 12:10). The devil uses this Big Lie to try to deceive and entrap us in sin. The devil also uses this Big Lie to discourage and condemn us after he has ensnared us in sin. As soon as you swallow this Big Lie and believe that you are just a hopelessly chronic sinner, the devil has critically undermined your faith in the power of the blood of Christ. And if the devil can undermine your faith in Christ’s triumph on the cross, he can then try to undermine your faith in Christ Himself.
But thank God that Jesus Christ has given us the victory over the devil and sin (1 John 5:4-5). For greater is Christ who reigns in us, than the devil who rules this world of sin (1 John 4:4). Thank God that Jesus Christ has given us spiritual weapons to do spiritual battle and overcome the devil (2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:4). And the most powerful weapon in God’s heavenly arsenal is the blood of Christ! The Bible says, “They overcame him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11).” The blood speaks of Christ’s victory over the devil and sin through the cross (Colossians 2:15). By His death on the cross, Christ destroyed the devil’s spiritual foothold in us by removing our sinful nature (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11; 1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14). This is why it is essential that we renew and fortify our mind by meditating on this truth of God’s word, and believing and acting on it. As soldiers of the cross, we can put on the armor of God and use the shield of faith (in the cross of Christ) and the sword of the Spirit (the truth of God’s word) to repel the devil’s attacks against our mind (Ephesians 6:11-18; 1 John 2:14). Just as Christ defeated the devil during the temptation in the wilderness by testifying to the truth of God’s word (Luke 4:1-14), we also can “fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12),” and overcome the devil’s temptation to sin by testifying to the truth of God’s word. And this is that truth: God removed our sinful nature when we were saved, so that His Son’s Spirit of holiness and power could dwell in us and enable us to overcome sin (Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 2:20; 4:6; Colossians 2:11; 2 Timothy 1:7).
The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).” In other words, a man speaks and acts based on who he is – in his inner being. The Bible says that every man was born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:10-23; 5:6-19; 7:14-24). For this reason, Jesus said that a man’s sinful thoughts and actions originate from out of his sinful heart (Matthew 15:18-19). However, when you were born again of the Spirit, God changed your inward identity. Your old sinful nature is dead and gone, and Jesus Christ now lives in you by His Spirit (Colossians 1:27). The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; his old being is gone, a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17).” If you believe this Biblical truth, your new attitudes and actions will spring from out of your new identity - who you are in Christ! This truth of the cross is the most powerful and effective weapon God has given you to overcome sin and, in fact, is the only way of escape from enslavement to sin. You can overcome sin by simply making a decision to believe in this truth of the cross that God has given you a new identity in Christ. We are not hopelessly chronic sinners! We are saints - holy ones – who are dead to sin and alive to God because we no longer have a sinful nature, and we now have Christ’s holy nature dwelling in us. Armed with this strategic and powerful truth of the cross (we are dead to sin because we no longer have a sinful nature), we can overcome the devil and sin.
Remember that we always fight from a position of spiritual rest. And we enter into God’s rest by trusting in Christ’s victory on the cross. We do not have to fight to attain victory over sin; instead we fight from a secure position of victory because Christ has already secured our victory over sin by His triumph on the cross. If we step out of this position of faith in Christ and, instead, rely on our own self-effort to overcome sin, we will fall victim to the devil’s temptations. Confessing our deliverance from the power of sin is the natural way for our faith to express the truth of Christ’s triumph on the cross. Whenever we believe and confess by faith that we are dead to sin (because we no longer have a sinful nature), the devil’s power to ensnare us in sin is broken and we are freed to do God’s will. The Bible says, “It is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke.’ With that same spirit of faith, we also believe, therefore we also speak … for it is with your heart that you believe, resulting in righteousness, and it is with your mouth that you confess, resulting in salvation (2 Corinthians 4:13; Romans 10:10).” Remember that our confession of faith must be aligned with the truth of God’s word; otherwise we do not have true Biblical faith. Therefore, we do not confess hoping that somehow, sometime in the future we will be delivered from sin. This is actually unbelief in the cross of Christ. Instead, we confess our faith based on the Biblical truth knowing that we have already been delivered from sin because of Christ’s victory on the cross. And this is the result: our faithful testimony of the power of the blood of the Lamb enables us to endure and escape every temptation to sin (2 Corinthians 10:13). This is the power of the blood of Christ that protects our mind against the devil’s lies, accusations and seductions. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and after you have done everything, to stand firm… resist the devil and he will flee from you (Ephesians 6:13; James 4:7).” For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #13: They Loved Not Their Lives; #41: Put on the Armor of Light; #55: The Overcomers; Question & Answer #50: Why must I believe that I no longer have a sin nature?; and Question & Answer #51: How can I ever be freed from my deeply ingrained, sinful habit?
If we want to overcome sin, we must suffer for Christ. Paul instructed the first century Christians, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God … for it has been granted to you for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him but to also suffer for Him (Acts 14:22; Philippians 1:29-30).” Why must we suffer for Christ’s sake? Suffering hardship is an integral part of God’s “boot camp,” which is designed to test and develop our faith in Christ, and to train us in sanctification. The Greek word for affliction is thlipsis. It is also translated as trouble or tribulation, and simply means pressure. God has designed suffering to press us beyond our natural ability to endure trials and resist temptations, in order to train us to depend solely on Christ and His completed work on the cross. Trials, afflictions and persecutions are the crucible that God uses to purify our faith in Christ. As God has said, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10).” We cannot be Christ’s soldiers and overcome sin if we are not willing to suffer the hardship of His divine training (2 Timothy 2:3). We cannot be Christ’s pure bride if we are not willing to suffer for Him in our struggle against sin (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). We cannot receive God’s promises of our spiritual inheritance if we are not willing to suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17).
We cannot bear God’s spiritual fruit if we are not willing to suffer the pain of His divine pruning (John 15:2). We cannot be God’s children if we are not willing to suffer and endure His divine discipline (Hebrews 12:5-7). We cannot be Christ’s disciples and come into spiritual maturity if we are not willing to suffer and persevere by faith in order to overcome sin (Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4). We cannot reign with Christ in the age to come if we are not willing to suffer with Him during our life on earth (2 Timothy 2:12).
In His parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus said we must endure two kinds of suffering to overcome sin and produce the fruit of sanctification (Matthew 13:21-22; Mark 4:16-19; Luke 8:13-14). We experience the first kind of suffering when we endure the trials of affliction and persecution. We experience the second kind of suffering when we resist the temptations of worldly riches and pleasures. We might call these two kinds suffering that prove our faith the twin tests of adversity and prosperity. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in all things as we are and that He suffered in the flesh (mentally, emotionally and physically) when he resisted the temptation to sin (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). The Bible says, “It was fitting for Him (God)… to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings… although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 2:10; 5:8.)” And Peter wrote, “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh (mentally, emotionally and physically) has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).” This means we will often suffer (mentally, emotionally and physically) when we resist and overcome sin in order to live holy to God.
Here are some questions to help us see if we are suffering for Christ’s sake in our struggle to overcome sin: Are we suffering alienation and hostility from unbelievers (including old friends, members of our own family, and unbelieving “Christians” in the false church) because of our witness for Christ? Are we suffering in the flesh because we refuse to indulge in the pleasures of sin and the riches of the world for Christ’s sake? Are we suffering with Christ because we are “putting to death” daily the sins (fear, anger, bitterness, pride, envy, lust, greed, etc.) that used to entangle us? Are we suffering with Christ because we are denying ourselves the pursuit of self-gratification and self-fulfillment? Are we suffering for the sake of the gospel because we are laying down our willfulness, personal preferences and prejudices, and natural desires to Christ’s Sovereignty? Are we suffering in the flesh because we are giving up our worldly ambitions, activities, and associations for Christ’s sake?
Remember that we can only forsake temporal, soulish happiness in this world if we hold fast to our faith in Christ and His completed work on the cross. Jesus told His disciples a parable of a man who sold everything he had in order to obtain a treasure hidden in a field. Why did the man sell all to acquire this treasure? Jesus said the man was willing to give up everything for the joy of gaining this great treasure (Matthew 13:44-45). In the same way, we can give up our unconverted, natural soul-life (and its carnal desires and passions) and endure suffering to resist sin because, in return, we will gain the priceless joy of knowing Jesus Christ. It is this joy of knowing the Lord that gives us the strength to endure suffering for His sake (Nehemiah 8:10). This was Paul’s personal testimony: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).” The Bible says that Moses was able to endure suffering and resist the temporal pleasures of sin because he had his eyes fixed on eternal God who is invisible (Hebrews 11:25-27). The Bible says that Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the cross because of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-2). This is this heavenly vision and spiritual joy that enables us to suffer in this world and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).”
To sum up, why does God allow us to suffer in our struggle of faith against sin? Paul said, “We rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance proven character (Romans 5:3-4; see also James 1:2-4).” Suffering is God’s way to develop faith in us that has been tested, refined and proven as pure gold (1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-13). What is the “pure gold” that constitutes a tested and proven faith? Remember that our faith must be based on the truth of God’s word to be Biblical faith. The solid gold of God’s truth that purifies our faith in Christ so that it is immovable when tested and tried is the gospel truth of Christ’s completed work on the cross (Christ died for us and included us in His death, in order to remove our sin nature, so that He could sovereignly live in us). This is the pure gold of God’s truth, which enables our faith to persevere under pressure. The Bible says, “Let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).” And when we have persevered in overcoming sin, our faith in Christ will be more established and stronger than ever. “After we have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).” For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #12: Destined to Suffer for Christ’s Sake; and #29: Suffering – God’s Crucible.
In closing, let us review these four points on overcoming sin:
- We want to overcome sin because we love God.
- If we want to overcome sin, we must do it by faith in the truth of the cross.
- If we want to overcome sin, we must wage spiritual warfare.
- If we want to overcome sin, we must suffer for Christ’s sake.
There is a great difference between a Christian who struggles against sin and is continually defeated, and a Christian who struggles by faith against sin and is an overcomer. We are able to overcome sin by fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ (who He is and what He accomplished for us on the cross). By Christ’s triumph on the cross, God has freed us not only from the penalty of sin, He also freed us from the power of sin (by removing our sinful nature), so that by His Spirit (which now dwells in us) we could overcome every temptation to sin. Our struggle of faith against sin will often require us to endure hardship as we learn to overcome sin. The Bible says, “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. All discipline for the moment is not pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10-11).” This training is essential to what the Bible calls the practice of sanctification (or holiness), which will continue until we die and are called to be with the Lord in glory. Sanctification requires a daily struggle of faith on our behalf, which is often marked by sacrifice and suffering, but is richly rewarded with ever-increasing, intimate fellowship with the King of glory. Paul taught, “For momentary, light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison… for I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:18).” As we learn to overcome sin by exercising faith in the power of blood of the Lamb, we will steadily occupy the spiritual land (our spiritual inheritance) that Christ has secured for us by His death and resurrection. When we overcome sin this way by faith in the truth of the cross, we will have the indescribable joy of truly knowing our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, and we will bear much spiritual fruit for His sake. By our victorious struggle of faith to overcome sin, we prove (by our actions) that we truly believe in Jesus Christ and all that He accomplished for us on the cross, and by our lives we glorify God and prove that we are, indeed, His disciples. The Lord Jesus promised all those who overcome would not be hurt by the second death, but they would eat of the Tree of Life; they would be clothed in white garments and have their name in the Book of Life; they would receive hidden manna and a new name; they would be a pillar in the temple of God and belong to the new Jerusalem, the city of God; and they would rule over the nations with Him (Revelation Chapters 2 & 3).