Questions and AnswersBible answers to your questions | Vol. 27 No. 6 | Sep-Oct 2017
One of my spiritual leaders assures me that we will be sinning all our lives because it is impossible to overcome sin. Is this true?
I am perplexed by the number of church leaders, even pastors, who push the non-Biblical concept that saved Christians cannot have power to overcome sin.
No doubt it comes from the fact that it is impossible for us, of ourselves, to resist Satan’s temptations. But God would indeed be a powerless God if He could not give to us that victory. Let me give you just a few texts to answer the question.
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.
“Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” 1 John 3:6.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it: that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25–27.
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” Jude 24.
There are many more such texts. I’ve asked those who believe that we cannot overcome sin to show me just one Bible text that God cannot or does not give His children victory over sin. I’m still waiting for their evidence. But in case anyone reading this column fears that if he sins, his life is hopeless, let me turn you again to the One who will “forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. And again, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1.
How do I deal with the thoughts that bombard my mind when I’m tempted to do wrong? Is temptation sin?
Every sin has its origin in the thoughts long before it appears as an act of the body. Jesus said “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.” Mark 7:21, 22. Almost every category of evil is included in this long list of sins that come forth from the heart.
Right at this point we must make some careful distinctions. It is very important to understand that desire, in itself, is not wrong. God has actually placed certain powerful appetites and propensities within our human nature. There is nothing wrong with these drives as long as they are properly controlled and directed. This includes ambition, temper, sex, and every other basic disposition. Wrong comes in only one way—when desire oversteps the bounds of holiness and seeks gratification outside the will of God.
Even the temptation to lust is not sin. As long as those sinful desires are not gratified or fulfilled they are not wrong. It is only when the mind responds to the desire by receiving it and holding it that the temptation turns into sin.
James describes it this way. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished bringeth forth death.” James l:l4, l5. Here the act of sin is compared to the process of conception and reproduction. Just as a bee carries pollen from one open blossom to another to fertilize the flower, so the heart of each individual is open to the introduction of unholy thoughts and desires. If those seeds are allowed to mingle with the carnal nature, they produce an inevitable harvest of sin, and finally death. Our only protection is to carefully guard all the avenues of the soul, to test every entering thought. By the grace and strength of Christ, every evil desire can be recognized and sifted out, so that it has no opportunity to linger in the mind as a catalyst of lust and sin.
But can human beings, in cooperation with Christ, actually conquer the temptation to harbor impure thoughts? The Bible says Yes. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians l0:4, 5.
How is such total victory possible? We must agree that this kind of deliverance comes only through the enabling, indwelling Spirit of God. There is not enough strength in the flesh to overcome one evil desire. Nevertheless, the victory is not obtained without our strong cooperation and action. God does not work miracles to deliver those who have been given the power to avoid evil.
How far should we go in protecting ourselves from the vulnerability of sin? Jesus laid down a very clear principle in the Sermon on the Mount. “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Matthew 5:29, 30.
Obviously, Jesus was not talking about the literal body. One could violently decimate his body and still be as wicked as ever. Christ was talking about what the eye focuses on. If we find ourselves in a job or any physical situation that opens a door of temptation, the counsel is to “pluck it out.” The Master indicated that any radical means should be used to avoid situations which might overwhelm with soul-destroying sin. Even an employment position should be abandoned rather than risk the spiritual loss of etemal life.
What a persuasive argument against the corrupt communication media of today! The alluring appeal of television is probably the most powerful incitement to sin in the 20th century. The Word of Christ would have a most explicit application to those who have difficulty controlling the TV set. Our Lord’s counsel to “pluck it out” would
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