In the battle against sin, God’s grace and power is critical. But it will only be released when we choose committed engagement to resist both sin and self.
You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:4)
There are some Bible verses like a cold-water plunge, aren’t there? This is one of them. It cuts straight through to the heart of the matter and leaves no room for excuses or confusion. The worst part is that it is critically relevant to every single believer, no matter where we may be on the ‘work in progress’ journey. It challenges us on so many levels but the truth is inescapable – our battle against sin implies an ‘all in’ mentality.
The harsh reality of our battle against sin.
With our ears tickled by phrases like ‘triumphant life,’ victorious life,’ and ‘abundant life,’ it’s easy to slide into complacency. Add to that our ‘instant’ society, where the tools for self-gratification are instant and diverse, we come to expect that our Christian walk will follow the same pattern of ease. Besides, the Bible continually tells us, in one way or another, that it’s not might or strength but God’s power. It’s wonderfully comfortable to assume the battle is the Lord’s, so we don’t have to participate. Or that Jesus has ‘already done it’ so all we have to do is sit back and wait for the outcome. At best, we enter the battle against sin in a half-hearted and presumptive way.
It’s true that we’re born again, Spirit filled, forgiven, made righteous, justified, etc. But this has to be practically applied every day and in every situation. Sin will remain a problem until we finally go to be with Christ. We’re in the world, and our battle against sin is relentless and ongoing. The difference, however, is that we do have power of God on our side.
Understanding the truth that the battle against sin has been won.
To say that Jesus has already defeated sin is correct. He has overcome it and set us free from it. It’s an accomplished fact, an historical event, an eternal truth. Victory in our battle against sin is part of our ‘salvation package.’ But, like everything else in the gift bag, it has to be taken out, unwrapped, and used. This brings home the reality that what Jesus did assures us of victory, but in order to apply that victory we actually have to go out and fight the battle.
This is because we’re still in a fallen world. We still carry with us our inherent weaknesses, and are only ‘works in progress.’ The process of Christian growth includes victory in each small battle against sin. What Christ accomplished on the cross isn’t a magic ‘patch’ that we apply and, hey presto, we’re victorious. It’s fighting our way forward towards a victory that is promised, paid for, and already achieved. The devil, of course, didn’t read the memo so won’t accept that the battle has been won. He’ll do everything in his power to reassert the chains of sin and undermine our faith.
The battle against sin is a battle against self.
‘The devil made me do it’ is an expression that usually brings a few laughs and shaking of heads. We all know this is a total cop-out. Satan and his cohorts may well throw their all against us in the battle against sin, but ultimately, we choose whether to sin or not. When we make the wrong choice, it’s self raising itself up against God. To win, we first need to defeat self. This will enable us to defeat sin.
Self is a very loud voice and a powerful adversary, and it has an unholy alliance with Satan. Often, self will do the devil’s work for him. We are trained and programmed to respond in specific ways to certain triggers. Our weakness are ‘wired in’ and reinforced by life. The devil definitely has a role to play in this, but most of our struggles in the battle against sin are due to the fact that self is doing its level best to retain control, undermine us, and derail our campaign. Like Satan, from whom self learned the tricks of the trade, self is very adept at using even God’s Word to gratify its purposes.
God’s grace and power in the battle against sin.
While it’s true that we don’t have what it takes, and that only the grace and power of God can do it, victory in the battle against sin means active engagement on our parts. God has given us the tank and the artillery to defeat sin, but we must start up the tank, prime the weapons, and enter the battle. God’s power and grace only come into play when we place ourselves on the front lines. God’s grace and power fight the battle with us. We don’t get to lurk on top of the hill and watch Him do the fighting.
If this kind of ‘sovereign’ intervention were what God intended, everything would have simply been ‘fixed’ with the cross. We’d all be perfect Christians living in perfect world. The reality is that we will never experience the grace and power of God in our battle against sin if we don’t enter the battlefield and engage our enemy – sin, self, and sometimes, the devil.
Our attitude and the battle against sin.
It all comes down to our attitude and approach to the battle against sin. Most often, we fling ourselves into it without preparation, presuming that grace and power will miraculously resolve the conflict. God will do it, and we just have to show up. It’s already done, so we don’t have to really engage. The problem with this attitude is that we all too often lose the battle. Our presumption and lack of spiritual discernment and understanding cuts down our own defences, leaving us vulnerable and unable to either fight back or overcome.
The other dangerous attitude is ‘limited participation.’ We enter the battle against sin with limited commitment. While we don’t mind if ‘God does it,’ we aren’t really committed to defeating sin. This is because, subconsciously, we like it. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have a problem. Self wants the very thing we’re trying to get rid of, and like Gollum and his ‘precious,’ it will fight tooth and nail to retain it, even though it’s destroying us. This half-hearted engagement is very, very dangerous, because it convinces us that we’ve ‘tried everything,’ which in turn creates unbelief – we showed up but God didn’t.
We choose our terms in the battle against sin.
This is the impact of today’s verse. Our choice determines the course of the battle. We have to choose active, determined, committed, fight-to-the-death engagement in the battle against sin. The powerful reminder of Christ’s struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane puts this in very clear perspective. Have we ever really committed to resisting sin to a level where we’re so totally engaged that we actually sweat blood in the struggle? Yet that is what the Bible is telling us. If we want to defeat sin in our lives, that’s the attitude we need. Whatever it takes. It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
Lord, forgive us for all the times that we have entered the battle against sin with ignorance, wrong understanding, or lack of commitment. Release in us Your discernment so that we see our sin as You do. Grant us the courage to make the right choice and the strength to engage ourselves completely, sure in the certainty that Your grace and power will enable the victory.