Have you ever wondered why it is so much easier to sit with a bucket of popcorn and watch Captain Jack Sparrow on a big screen for 2 hours, than it is to kneel and pray for 5 minutes? Or why is it that one minute we can have such a passion to glorify God with a pure lifestyle, and then one alluring commercial later we are fighting back an entire nest of wicked desires? Or why does there seem to be constant tension between wanting to do good and finding it much easier to do evil?
The reason is because every single one of us has what is called an indwelling sin nature, sometimes referred to as “the flesh” or “old man” or the “old self” in Scripture. Last week in our Foundations in Genesis series, we asked the question, “Why must we be born again?” This implies that there is something fallen about the human nature and we learned that when Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the spiritual element in their lives. This is why we must be born again by the indwelling of the Spirit of God (Jn. 3:3). But what else happened at that crucial moment in Genesis 3 is that every man would also inherit the indwelling sin nature.
This sin nature is a result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin (Rom. 5:12). When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they began to know, experientially, both good and evil – and so began the war with sin in our hearts. In Genesis 4, God told Cain, the first murderer, that “sin is crouching at your door and it’s desire is for you, but you must master it.” That’s a really great depiction of sin, by the way. It’s like an enemy who is always there waiting to pounce on us and make mincemeat out of our lives. And the thing is, no matter how far we think we’ve outrun it, it always catches back up to us! It’s always “at our door”. Since we can’t run from it, but are to master it, we should study what the Word of God says about it and how to have victory over it in our lives.
SIN NATURE REALITY #1
Every person has an indwelling sin nature.
Since we’re all descendants of Adam and Eve, we’ve all inherited this evasive and deceitful sin nature. Unlike Christ, all of our conceptions were maculate, not immaculate. And because we aren’t born with the Spirit of God indwelling us, the sin nature is our only master until we’re born again. We are slaves to sin (See Romans 6).
The sin nature is so engrained in us that Paul even calls it a law of human nature by giving it the title “the law of sin” (Romans 7:23). The internal "law of sin" wages war against the external “Law of God”. He explains this in Romans 7. Romans 7:22-24 says,
“For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am!
When I think of a law, I think of something that is permanently fixed in the fabric of something. It affects everything and is unchangeable by man. In our world, it is something like gravity in that always pulls and never rests. Like the sin nature, it tries to bend everything in its direction. Man also has a law of hunger and thirst. As much as we’d like to quit eating and drinking for various reasons, maybe to get more work done or lose weight, our bodies have a law driving us to fulfill its demands. Like gravity or hunger, the sin nature is a ruthlessly demanding law that desires to bend our will to consent to it rather than God.
With this law raging on the inside of us, we must realize that we need a new law, a higher and more powerful law to defeat it. And not just something external like the Law of Moses, even as great as it is. We need this new law inscribed into our very being. As one man said, “No mere written law can muster a threat against the law of sin working from the inside.” So we need an internal law more powerful than the law of sin. This is what is promised in the spiritual aspects of the New Covenant and is received today by grace through faith in Christ.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 says God’s law is now written on our hearts, on the inside, by the Holy Spirit. “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it” and, “not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart…” (2 Cor. 3:3). The Spirit of God can meet the law of sin on level playing ground inside of us and give us the power we need to have victory over it. Paul calls this new law, “the law of the Spirit of life” in Romans 8:2. This leads us to Sin Nature Reality #2.
SIN NATURE REALITY #2
Every believer in Christ is free from the power of the
indwelling sin nature by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
When I say that, I don’t mean that believers are completely free from the sin nature altogether – as if the sin nature is totally eradicated – but that we are free from his rule in our life. We don’t have to live only for “him” anymore – our old master – but we can now choose to live for a new Master, with a capital M (the Spirit). We can choose to walk according to “the law of the Spirit of life” rather than “the law of sin”.
When we trusted in Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit took up residence in our hearts, indwelling us forevermore. But now, having been given a new divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4), we enter the new experience of having 2 indwelling masters vying for the consent of our wills. Paul talks about this internal tug of war going on for our souls in Galatians 5:16-24. Verses 16-17 say,
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of
Having two natures means things will not always be easy. We will be in this tug of war even on our best days and in our best moments and we can tell which master we are serving by the produce of our lives. Our lives either exhibit the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit. But the reality is that Christ has set us free from the tyrannical rule of the sin master so that He can produce the fruit of the Spirit in us!
Romans 6:18 says, “having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” Christ has overthrown sin’s rule, weakened its power, and even killed its root so that it cannot bear the fruit of eternal death in a believer. What a glorious reality to be set free from sin by God’s grace! What is more glorious is the fact that this war will not go on forever. Sin will be defeated for good in us when Christ fully redeems us with glorified bodies like His own! That’s Sin Nature Reality #3.
SIN NATURE REALITY #3
All believers will be freed from sin’s presence
when they receive glorified bodies.
Like Paul in Romans 7:24, this is something we desperately long for!
“Who will set me free from this body of death?
What this means, again, is that today as a believer Christ’s gives us freedom for the sin nature’s power – hallelujah! – but also that one day, when the morning star arises in our hearts, we will even be free from its presence and we will be gloriously conformed to the image of His Son. Romans 8 teaches us that the Spirit of God in us now is His pledge to us that this hope of glory is a coming reality. Just as all of creation is groaning to be set free from the subjection to sin, so, “also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
For a long time, I’ve thought of the flesh hypothetically like a tricky, deceitful, elusive pirate captain. He’s a lot like Jack Sparrow in that just when you think you have him, he slips away and steals all your loot and your ship. He’s always got something up his sleeve. But in reality, this captain is not as funny as the Jack Sparrow character in The Pirates of the Caribbean.
However, almost unexpectedly one day, the Owner of the ship came – whose name is Christ – and He freed the ship from this old captain’s domineering control. He took charge of the ship that was rightfully His. And the pirate captain? Well, he is tied up to one of the poles on the ship where he waits to be taken into custody as soon as we get to the home port. Now, even though this old captain is tied up to one of the ship’s poles, he’s still barking his same old orders, but we don’t have to listen to him! We have a new captain and the pirate’s power and authority has been usurped. When we reach the heavenly shore of glory, Christ will kick him off the ship and he will be locked up forever, without bail.
VICTORY APPLICATION #1
Realize you cannot win the battle against the flesh in your own strength.
John 15:5 says, “Apart from Him [Christ], we can do nothing.” We are spiritually powerless to win in our own strength and must go to Christ for the indwelling power of His Spirit. It is “by the Spirit” that we put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13) and the Spirit who gives life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11). You cannot do this on your own.
VICTORY APPLICATION #2
By faith, look to Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.
This is the main applicable rule for walking by the Spirit. By faith you must look to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection not only to be saved, but to live the Christian life. The flesh’s ways are opposed to the Spirit’s ways. The flesh’s ways are rooted in self-effort with the goals of legalism or license. It is self-centered and self-rooted. However, as the book of Galatians explains, the way of the Spirit is by faith and is Christ-centered and Christ-rooted. The way of new life as a Christian is not by looking to self, but looking to Christ.
Let this diagram help you: When you trust Jesus Christ, you are given a perfect position (standing) before God that comes with many glorious realities: You have been indwelt and sealed by His Spirit; your Abba Father has adopted you; you have been united with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension; you have been forgiven; shown mercy; set free from the power of sin; raised to new life and so much more! We have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3)! Now, it is by faith, still looking to Christ and all the great gospel truths that will cause you to walk by the Spirit. As you do so, your condition (green) will start to catch up with your position (yellow), becoming Christlike and fruitful.
To sum it up: just as you were saved by grace through faith in Christ, so you live by grace through faith in Christ. As we walk with our eyes on Jesus, we are reminded of the great cost He paid to free us from sin’s penalty and power, and the wonder of His mercy and grace floods our souls with renewed love for Him (avoiding license).
As we walk with our eyes on Jesus, we remember He paid it all and our Christianity is not us working for heaven (avoiding legalism). As we walk with our eyes on Jesus, we remember His resurrection and that we’ve been raised to new life in Him (Col. 3:1-4) and are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). As we walk with our eyes on Jesus, we remember He is our High Priest who is ever there to help and defend and allow entrance into the Holy of Holies in heaven. As we walk with our eyes on Jesus, we remember that He has been in our shoes and He understands what we’re going through (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15-16). I think you get the point: to walk by the Spirit is to walk by faith in Christ. This faith-walk is opposed to the flesh-walk.
VICTORY APPLICATION #3
Keep your mind on heavenly things.
In addition to the gospel realities, meditate (ruminate) on all things which are eternal and good and right and pure and lovely, etc. (Phil. 4:8). Keep your mind on heavenly things and what will matter for eternity. If you’re tempted to worry, fear, or complain about things going on in the world, remember God’s sovereignty – that’s a heavenly thing! Colossians 3:1-4 says it well:
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with Him in glory.”
Our minds are like a river with thoughts constantly flowing through them and we must build a dam to divert some thoughts from passing through. The Bible says to guard your heart, taking shameful thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). The sooner you build a dam and stop the bad or lustful thoughts and focus on something good and right, the better. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to consent to the imagination and make the fantasy a reality. Meditating on the Sciptures and memorizing them is helpful, allowing you to quickly replace bad thoughts with Scriptural thoughts. Maintain deep times of communion with God in prayer and His Word. The flesh wants to keep you from deep communion with God.
VICTORY APPLICATION #4
Run when you have to!
There is no shame in running when you have too! There are occasions when like Joseph was in Potiphar’s house, tempted by his wife, you will have to simply run (Gen. 39:9-12)! He called it sin against God and knew consequences would follow. Paul said to “flee immorality” trusting God to provide escape (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:13).
VICTORY APPLICATION #5
Do preventative maintenance decision making.
We don’t change our oil when the cars breaks down. We change it to keep the car from breaking down. It’s called preventative maintenance. We can do preventative maintenance in our lives by making wise decisions ahead of time. Romans 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the flesh.” In other words, don’t provide opportunities for the flesh.
If you know of a time that you are vulnerable to temptation, get some accountability at that time – simply text or call a friend. If there is a place you are tempted, avoid it. If there is a substance you are trying keep from mastering you, don’t keep it around the house. Throw it out! I heard of one man who wrote out Psalm 101:3 on a card and set it on top of his television – “I will set no evil thing before my eyes.” Some may call that extreme, but didn’t Jesus say killing sin sometimes requires drastic measures (Matt. 5:30)?
Proverbs 21:31 depicts the last two victory principles well: “The horse is prepared for battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” Do what you can, but know that victory belongs to the Lord and you cannot do it without Him. It is His grace sanctifying you.
VICTORY APPLICATION #6
Take specific temptations to God in prayer.
When you are struggling with a specific temptation, take it to the Lord in deep, honest, meditative prayer to God. Ask for victory and seek His power over this reoccurring work of the flesh in your life. Thank Him for making you a new creation and victory attainable. By faith, walk in His help as you continue to look to Christ.
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