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20. Reasons for Sin in the Renewal Process

Chapter 20

Reasons for Sin in the Renewal Process

Sin leads to doubt over whether we have been born anew

Some people, even after reading these chapters, may still be uncertain whether they are regenerate. This uncertain­ty is ines­capable if they continue to live in sin. Every time you sin, the question of whether you are regener­ate can come back to trouble you. The problem will become more acute until you either deal with sin or choose the fatal path of smothering the conscience.

Grasp the matter so that you won’t keep on wondering if you are regenerate. Every time you lose your temper or do something wrong, you may say to yourself, “Am I a true Christian? If I am regenerate, why am I behaving like this?” Where is the border line—the line of demarcation—that crosses into regeneration? How can we tell whether we have crossed it? Or does my problem have to do with renewal rather than regen­eration?

1. The Continuing Battle with Sin

Not even when we are born anew is sin eradicated from our lives. Sin is always a possibility, because it dwells in our flesh. The flesh, according to Paul, is where sin has its roots or its base of operation. So long as we have a body of flesh, sin will dwell there, entrenched in our flesh.

It doesn’t mean that we have no choice but to sin. With God’s help we can overcome the sin that is lodged in our flesh. In fact all our lives we will be fighting a war with this ever-present reality of sin. By God’s grace we can triumph over sin and become stronger through every victory over it.

At those times when you seem to be losing the battle, the question, “Am I truly regenerate?” may come back to perplex you. You may have lost your temper today, or treated your room­mate inappropriately. After coming to your senses, you ask yourself, “How could I, as a Christian, have behaved like that?” Then you begin to doubt whether you are a true Christian. This problem is particularly acute for those Christians who lose the battle frequent­ly.

2. Slavery versus Freedom

What is the line of demarcation between the unregenerate man and the regenerate man? In Romans 6 to 8, Paul gives a clear answer. To remove any guesswork, let us establish statistically what are the important words in these three chapters. The frequency of words will help us establish what Paul is saying, so that our conclu­sions are based on facts and not on guesswork.

In these three chapters, particularly in Romans 6.18-8.21, Paul uses the word “free” and related words frequently—seven times to be exact. These Greek words are all related: eleutheroō (ἐλευθερόω, to set free), eleutheros (ἐλεύθερος, free) and eleutheria (ἐλευθερία, freedom).[65]

In these three chapters, Paul uses another word even more frequently: “slave” (plus related words such as “slavery” and “en­slave”). These occur a total of 13 times.[66] This is significant because these words occur only four times in the rest of Romans.

Therefore the opposite concepts of slavery and freedom are two key ideas in Romans 6-8. Moreover, when Paul employs these con­cepts, it is in relation to sin. Therefore Romans 6-8 has two specific themes: slavery to sin and freedom from sin. This gives us a clear line of demarcation: The unregenerate man is enslaved to sin where­as the regenerate man has been freed from sin.

The unregenerate man is under the dominion of sin,[67] whereas the regenerate man has been set free from it because he has died with Christ and has been raised with him. That is the central thesis of Romans 6 to 8; that is the sharply marked line of demar­cation between the two.

The regenerate man has experienced God’s power breaking the chains and shackles of sin in his life. In his former days, he was sinning by sheer compulsion because he was too weak to resist. But now, thanks be to God, he is a new person in Christ, and is no longer under compulsion to sin. He can still sin out of carelessness, but is no longer under its power. He can still lose his temper as before because the reaction may have been habitual and the habit not broken yet; but the flare-up can be controlled because the Holy Spirit has come into his life, giving him the strength to overcome it.

3. Are You Under Compulsion to Sin?

“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Ro.8.2). If you are regenerate, the law (or principle) of sin and death can no longer compel you. Apply this litmus test to your life. Are you still struggling to break free from a particular sin despite repeated attempts but without success? Then you are still unregenerate and still enslaved to it. You are too weak to resist it; and even when you do resist, the effort tends to be futile because sin still compels you despite your intentions.

The compulsion to sin doesn’t necessarily stem from the desire to sin. The will of the unregenerate man is not in bondage to the extent of being totally incapable of willing the good (Ro.7.18,19). It is in bondage only in the sense of being unable to do the good. We must get this distinction clear in our minds. The unregenerate man is capable of desiring the good (and he occasionally does good, e.g. donating money to an orphanage or a famine relief) but he is power­less to live the righteous life consistently. Paul does not depict the unregenerate man as being totally incapable of doing any good at all, not even one good deed, but that being in the grip of sin, the unregenerate man cannot live a consistently righteous life. The regenerate man, on the other hand, is able to live the righteous life consistently despite the occasional sin committed unintentionally.

Now the line of demarcation can be stated as follows: The unreg­enerate man may do the occasional good, but he cannot live in righteous­ness consistently. The regenerate man, on the other hand, might commit the occasional sin, but he lives in righteousness con­sistently.

What is your situation? If by God’s grace you can say “no” to sin, then you are regenerate. If and when you do sin, your conscience will be disturbed immediately, and it will impel you to repent straightaway.

But if sinning doesn’t bother your conscience, you have every reason to doubt your regeneration, for if the Holy Spirit is living in you, your conscience would be sensitive to sin. The sins that didn’t bother you before, now have a way of disturbing you profoundly. That is a sure sign that the Holy Spirit is working in you. You can tell if you are a child of God by whether you are grieved and contrite after committing a sin.

A sensitive conscience is strong evidence that the Spirit is working in your heart. The sadness that comes from having sinned against God is a sign that you are a child of God. But the one who sins and is not grieved by it, is not a true Christian; he shrugs it off with words such as, “Why the fuss? Nobody’s perfect. A lot of people do the same thing.” This shows that his conscience is hardened and he is disobedient to the voice of God.

With this line of demarcation, it is easy to discern for yourself whether you have been born anew. It is harder for other people to tell whether you are regenerate because they have no direct access to your conscience. But in your own heart, you can be certain about whether you have been freed from sin or not.

4. Being Religious versus Being Spiritual

We still need to ask, “If you are truly regenerate, why do you still fail from time to time?” Why do you still do the things that are dis­pleasing to God?

In Romans chapter 7, Paul describes his state of affairs in the days when he lived under the Law. As a practicing Pharisee, he was trying to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law in his own strength. He soon realized that although he could and did comply with the letter of the Law in terms of outward literal observance, he could not fulfill its spirit within his own heart.

The commands regarding the Sabbath, not stealing, not committing adultery, he successfully obeyed; but what about covetousness in the heart[68]? What about loving God with the whole heart and the neighbor as oneself, which to­gether constitute the sum total of all the commandments? These were beyond any hope of attainment. Therefore the good he wanted to do, he could not do. In that sense, the religious man is no better off than the unregenerate man. Being religious is not the same as being spiritual; the two must not be confused.

Whereas Romans 7 describes the predicament of a religious man living under the Law, Romans 8 describes the freedom of a spiritual man living by the Holy Spirit. This brings out the vital distinction between being religious and being spiritual. Many people in the world are religious in the sense of having a religion. Romans 7 warns us of the futility of being a religious person, even a religious Christian. We are not saved by religion but by Christ. Paul knows from his own experience that religion does not free a man from being a slave of sin.

Romans 7 is different from the adjacent chap­ters because here Paul is speaking in the first person. He is speaking from his intense­ly personal experience of being a religious Pharisee who lived under the Law yet languished under the slavery of sin. Religious people are generally unregen­erate people; and they will not change until the Holy Spirit comes into their lives, and they become new persons in Christ.

5. The Three Types of People in Romans 6 to 8

The three chapters—Romans 6,7,8—describe three different types of people:

1.      Romans 6 applies to all unregenerate people.

2.      Romans 7 describes the predicament of the unregenerate relig­ious or moral person, the religious Jew being an example of this par excellence.

3.      Romans 8 portrays life as a regenerate or spiritual person.

These three chapters are among the most important in the Bible. If your life story has gone from Romans 6 to Romans 7 to Romans 8 (or directly from 6 to 8, if you have never been a religious person), then you can be sure that you are a new person in Christ. As a regenerate person, you now live by the Holy Spirit under the lordship of Yahweh God. At this point you can start talking about renewal. If regeneration had not taken place, there would be no renewal to talk about; but now renewal can begin.

6. Three vital points about renewal

First: “Renewal” Implies a Progressive Removal of the Old

Paul says, “Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2Cor.4.16). The words “renewed day by day” indicate that renewal is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. Today you are being renewed, tomorrow you will be renewed, and so it continues until you meet the Lord. In fact, at this very moment, as you are listening to or reading the exposition of God’s word, you are being renewed.

The very word “renewal,” however, implies that the old still exists in us. By God’s grace, the old is being removed progressively in the renewal process. If the old had vanished completely, there would be nothing left to renew. In reality the old is still present in the Christian life but it is being steadily removed as we move closer to the image of Christ.

Every day in the renewal process, we move one step closer to our final destination. When we evaluate our present position in relation to where we were before, we can see that we are gradually getting closer to the fullness of Christ’s stature.

Second: Renewal is the Work of the Holy Spirit

Renewal is not achieved by human effort; we cannot renew ourselves by our own righteous deeds. It is the Holy Spirit who renews us. The Spirit of God is the chief engineer of the renewal process. Every day the Spirit is transforming us through our life situations.

You may find yourself in an unhappy situa­tion, say, in your marriage or in your relationship with your college roommate. Are you aware that these problems, whether they pertain to your room­mate or your marriage or your health or your work or your studies, are being used by the Holy Spirit to renew you? If you understand that, you would not grumble about it. It often takes a lot of hammering, scraping, grinding, sanding, polishing, and sanding to produce a beautiful piece of work.

From time to time I have to work on the rust spots of my car. I would use a sharp tool to scrape off the rust until the bare metal is exposed. I work hard at it, hammering away until the rust is removed. Then I patch the hole with fiberglass, and sand it down with coarse sand­paper by hand or with a machine. Next, I use fine sandpaper to get a smooth surface, over which I apply a coat of paint, then a second coat, then a third. The fumes that fill the place can do interesting things to your respir­atory system if you are allergic to the chemicals. But when you are done, ah, the work is beautiful. No one will be able to tell that something was previously wrong with the car. The car has been renewed: the old has gone and the new has come.

You need sharp tools to do the hammering, chiseling, grinding and scraping. That’s exactly what the Holy Spirit does to us in renewing us. Our rough spots are showing, so God has to work on us. Your husband or your wife may turn out to be the rough sandpaper that God applies to you, removing your rough edges and making you beautiful. In that process, of course, you might not appreciate your husband or wife or roommate or anyone else who might be “rubbing you the wrong way”.

Though the hammering and the polishing are not usually plea­sant experiences, how else will we be made beautiful? Paul exhorts us to give thanks in all situations (1Th.5.18), because all things work out for good in God’s hand. If we take it in the right attitude, we are going to be beautiful; but if we take it in the wrong spirit, we will only get uglier. Thanks be to God, He is working in us through the Holy Spirit, renewing us every day in various life situations, making us yet more beautiful and thus bringing us closer to the image of Christ.

Third: Renewal of our Minds

Renewal involves changing the way we think and therefore the way we act. Our actions stem from our thoughts. When we lose our temper, it originates from the heart. “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mt.12.34). If you think something unkind, you will say something unkind. To change our speech or conduct, the Holy Spirit has to work on our minds. Ephesians 4.22-23 says,

In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.

The Holy Spirit has to change the spirit or the attitude of our minds. Romans 12.2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Attitudes are hard to change, but we must bear in mind that the old and the new are incompatible. We must remember that we cannot patch a new piece of cloth onto an old garment because when the patch shrinks, it will tear the garment (Mt.9.16-17). Nor do you pour new wine into an old wineskin because the skin will burst, spilling the wine. The old and the new are utterly incom­patible. If your mind has not been renewed, a fierce battle will rage within you. The conflict between old and new will make life unbear­able, zapping away any peace or happiness that you may have.

Any attempt on our part to harmonize the two will be in vain. We cannot say to ourselves, “I am willing to be made new in order to be saved, but I also want to keep the old because I still have pet sins such as selfishness. I have lived with these sins all my life, and I cannot bid them farewell just yet.” The refusal to let go of the old while trying to take hold of the new will inevitably lead to trouble in the form of inner conflict.

The intense inner battle can even lead to mental breakdown. If that should ever happen to a Christian, people will wonder why he became a Christian in the first place. The conflict between old and new must be settled once and for all. But are we willing to bear the cost of committing to the new and forsaking the old?

If anyone thinks that the cost of putting away the old in order to enter the new is too high, it is best that he forgets about becoming a Christian. Go and enjoy sin while there is opportunity. Sin today and die tomorrow. Judgment and hell await such a person. But for now, he can enjoy his sins for the remaining little while. What he cannot do is to try to play around with both the old life and the new. That would be like mixing two volatile chemicals and getting a disastrous explosion in the face.

It is hard to understand why some people cling to the old even after they have been warned about it time and again. They mix in equal portions of the old and the new, harming themselves and others as a result of the inevitable conflict between the two irrecon­cilable elements. Some people try to minimize the damage by mixing a larger amount of the new with a smaller amount of the old. This, they hope, may yield less negative results. But a small explosion is still an explosion, and can still cause a lot of damage.

To live the Christian life as it is meant to be lived—in the joy and peace available to us in Christ—we must get rid of the old. Someone might say, “Aren’t you contradicting yourself because just now you said that the old still remains in us, to some extent at least?” Yes, the old is still around, but what matters is our attitude towards it. The old may still be around, but the question is whether we are still condoning and pampering it. Or are we letting it die by denying it, not compromising with it in any way? The old may be present, but it cannot do much to us if we constantly say “no” to it. Sin arises only if we cater to the old. But if we reject the old, it cannot harm us even though it tries to fight against us.

7. The Battle against Sin Will Make Us Stronger

In fact we will grow stronger and stronger through battling the old. I used to wonder why God does not simply remove the old instantly, but now I see His wisdom. It is through the constant battling with the old that we get ever stronger. If there were no battle to fight or no challenge to face, we would become weak.

When I was young, I grew strong because of fighting. Interest­ingly, we boys had a way of getting into fights. Just as strange, we would remain good friends after a fight. Almost immediate­ly afterwards, we would forget the argument that started the fight and become good friends again.

One way boys can acquire a strong physique is through fighting and wrestling, or boxing, or some other martial art. Another way is through sports, usually competitive sports. Now I can see God’s wisdom in allowing us to go through nonstop fighting with the old things in us, in order to make us stronger in the new life.

Though the old is still with us, though we continue to fight the old, and though the old is still strong (espe­cially in young Christ­ians), we always gain victory by depending ever more on the Holy Spirit. Winning the battles gets easier with time, which is an indi­cation that we are getting stronger. But we need to keep alert and rely on the Holy Spirit constantly.

8. Greek Words for “New”

Since we get stronger through battling with sin, it follows that when we are spiritually young and inexperienced at the beginning of the Christian life, we are still relatively weak and fall into sin more easily. The contrast between “old man” and “new man” is very relevant in this regard. Colossians 3.9-10 says:

Do not lie to one an­other, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. (NKJV)

We are in the process of being renewed into the image of our Creator and Redeemer, thereby making us a whole new person. To that end the “old man” is discarded like old clothes and the “new man” is “put on” like a new garment.

There are two Greek words for “new”: neos (νέος) and kainos (καινός). Neos means new in terms of age or time, whereas kainos means new in terms of quality. The concise United Bible Societies Greek-English Diction­ary of the New Testament defines neos as “new, fresh, young,” and kainos as “new, of new quality”.

A thing can be new either in terms of its age or in terms of its having a different quality. This important distinction does not come out in the English except by paraphras­ing. To help us understand this aspect of Scriptural teaching more clearly, let us consider these distinctions more closely:

Kainos is used by Jesus at the Last Supper when he speaks of “the new covenant in my blood” (Lk.22.20; 1Cor.11.25; cf. 2Cor.3.6; Heb.8.8,13; 9.15). It is qualitatively new, that is, it is different from the old in that it is “better” (Heb.7.22; 8.6).

It is possible to be new in both senses of the word “new”. This is true also of the New Covenant. Neos is used to des­cribe “the covenant” as “new” in the sense of being new in time; it is recent as compared to the Old Covenant established 1500 years earlier.

The “new man” is also new in both senses. On the one hand, “new man” in Ephesians 2.15 is kainos anthrōpos, referring to a new man who experiences a new quality of life—a new life that is totally different from the old life. The new man is therefore completely different from the old man in life and character. But on the other hand, it is also true, as is seen in “the new (neos) man” of Colossians 3.10, that the new man is new in the sense of being more recent in time as compared to the old—for we were all first born physically and only some time later born anew spiritually. But even this serves to emphasize the qualitative difference too: The old is of the flesh, the new is of the Spirit.

Notice how the qualitative newness of kainos finds expression in the following verses:

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2Cor.5.17, NIV)

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal.6.15, NIV)

9. Four Reasons for Sins in the Renewal Process

Let us consider the four things that give rise to sin in the renewal process.

First Reason: The Attractions of the World

A “new man” who is spiritually young tends to be easily fascin­ated by superficial things. That is a common reason for sin in the renewal process. They may not intend to sin but they are attracted to what is superficial because of their immaturity.

All children love toys, whether they are two years old, ten years old—even fifty years old. Yes, fifty years old! Walk into any toy store and take a look. Some stores have toys that are designed for grownups, and they dignify these toys by calling them “model air­planes” which you build yourself. And are these toys exciting! There are radio-controlled planes that have motors and can fly. Have you ever seen a ten-year-old playing with one of these? It’s more likely to be a thirty-year-old or even a fifty-year-old who plays with it. If you strike up a conversation with one of them, he will tell you, “This is my son’s toy.” Of course the son hardly gets a chance to play with it because the father doesn’t want him to smash it up. So the father ends up enjoying the expensive radio-controlled airplane. And why not? It’s lots of fun.

The spiritually immature are attracted to the toys of the world. If you think that you are above that, just walk into a shopping plaza and watch your reaction. The world has so many fascinating toys on display. The other day I saw an advertisement about a camera that actually talks to you. When you are about to shoot, it says, “Too dark”. Then it says, “Out of focus”. At the end of the roll, it says, “No more film”. The newest cameras don’t even need to talk; they automatically adjust everything for you. The ten-year-old cannot afford these toys but perhaps his father can.

There is also the TV watch. While riding on the bus you can switch on your TV watch and enjoy the baseball game. To get full sound, you plug in an earphone. It’s a fascinating toy. Of course it will set you back $500, which is unaffordable to most twenty-year-olds, but within the reach of many fifty-year-old kids.

What about the Christian? He too is fascinated with the TV watch! He looks into his wallet and says to himself, “Five hundred dollars (gulp!)? But I deserve a treat once in a while, don’t I?”

After paying the $500, your con­science begins to bother you. You suddenly realize that you have wasted big money on a toy. Then you remember that brother so-and-so cannot pay his school fees, yet you forked out $500 for a TV watch.

Often the spiritually young Christian sins because he is still fascinated by the world. The world has it all, from smart gadgets to electronic games. You just name it. There is something for everyone and every occasion. The world knows how to keep you occupied 24 hours a day.

Being spiritually immature, we are fascinated by the toys that the world dangles in front of us. In the process of renewal, we are faced with the temptations posed by a mind-boggling array of new toys being advertised everywhere to capture our imagination; and newer gadgets are being developed at an impressive level and speed of innovation.

Consider the ubiquitous computer. The newest model has scarcely appeared on the market and it is already well on its way to obsolescence. High-quality television sets, even large flat screen “high definition” television sets, are now common. Some people have two or three sets, so they can watch two pro­grams at the same time.

High-tech devices such as computers are undeniably useful, and in today’s world, virtually indispensable. This gives the fascination with these devices a certain legitimacy, even in the minds of Christians. We do well to heed the apostle’s cautionary words that we should be as those “who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1Cor.7.31).

The fascinating toys of the world have caused the downfall of many Christians. They are ensnared by gadgets, so they have no time for spiritual things. Who wants to read the Bible when you can watch kung fu movies? You have Chinese kung fu, Japanese karate, Korean tae kwon do, and now there are American “rambos” who, at least on film, seem to know all kinds of kung fu! Anyway, it’s fun to watch people jumping or flying up walls and running on rooftops (as in Chinese kung fu films). The Bible seems less exciting.

The world ensnares us with its vast array of attention-getting devices. This is one of the many dangers threatening the renewal process, causing Christians to fall. John says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1Jo.2.15). The world has a subtle way of ensnaring us. We don’t fall in love with the world in one go. Slowly and persistently, using a series of tiny baits, the world lures us into a trap, which then snaps shut. The point is that we can be slowly and subtly lured into loving the world without our being aware of it.

Second Reason: Inability to Distinguish Good and Evil

Secondly, we sin in the renewal process be­cause of being unable to distinguish between good and evil. The danger is especially real for those who are young in the faith. This was the case with the Corin­thians, who had difficulty discerning good and evil. Hebrews 5.13-14 says,

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

The young Christian lives on “milk” (the ele­mentary teaching in God’s word), and is unskilled in “the word of righteousness”. The Bible contains milk and it contains solid food. The young Christian feeds on milk whereas the mature Christian feeds, according to his capacity, on solid food. Those who live on milk are those who have not yet grown to the point where they can digest the word of right­eousness; they are still spiritually immature and cannot discern good and evil.

What we need to learn from the important statement in this verse is that if we do not grow out of infancy into matur­ity, that is, if we do not grow out of the milk-drinking stage to the solid food stage, we may not survive in the spiritual life. Why? Because we wouldn’t be able to discern between good and evil, between what is good for us and what may be deadly to us. An infant living on milk would scarcely know the difference between the fam­ily’s farm animals and a wolf comes in search of a meal—the infant itself.

Life and death depends on discerning good and evil

Discerning good and evil is a matter of life and death. For this reason, growing from spiritual infancy to maturity is not a matter we can be indifferent to, but is an absolute necessity. Yet, amazingly, there are even Christian leaders today who are so ignorant of this truth that they regard in-depth Bible study or training as unnecess­ary, superfluous, and a waste of time! Just stick to “simple” Bible reading they say! Milk, according to them, is all that is needed—well, that is true, but only for babies!

But the “solid food” of which Hebrews speaks is not simple to digest, especially for babies who are unable to digest the solid differ­ence between good and evil, and are not yet able to compre­hend deeper Biblical truths. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t need to grow out of living only on “simple” milk. On the contrary, they urgently need to grow into maturity in Christ if they are not to end up as spiritual casualties because of their lack of discernment.

Many churches are unable to provide spiritual nourishment

The fact is that many churches are unable to provide anything more than milk, because not even their leaders can handle the “solid food” of “the word of righteousness”. The consequences for such churches are often tragic: the people cannot grow beyond infancy and consequently become weak because the vital spiritual nourishment needed for further growth is unavailable; moreover, often they are scattered and harmed by “savage wolves” (Ac.20.29; Mt.7.15) which they have neither the capacity to discern nor the strength to resist.

Sadly, many church leaders are poorly trained in the teaching, the exegesis, and the exposition of the Word of God; some have virtually no training to speak of, so they can do little beyond providing some milk (often even this is diluted by the lack of any real substance) and hope that the church will somehow survive.

But the matter is made worse when these leaders and teachers try to justify their incapacity to feed those under their care with the explanation that their “simple” teaching is actually all that is needed. So their churches are left without hope of moving beyond the infancy stage, which means they are left without hope of reaching the stage in which they begin to develop vital spiritual discernment, with “their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb.5.14).

Serious consequences of lack of discernment

Paul had to deal with the serious problem of the lack of discern­ment among the Corinthians. He said to them:

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (2Cor.11.4, NIV)

The Corinthians had still not grown out of the infancy stage; they were still “babes”. That is why the apostle says, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able” (1Cor.3.2). So, when people came along and preached an­other Jesus or another gospel, they could not tell the difference. They could not tell one gospel from an­other, one Jesus from another, one apostle from another; neither could they discern good from evil, true from false. This left them vulnerable to spiritual deception and disaster.

The gullibility and consequent vulnerability of infant Christians

Paul points out their vulnerability as evidenced by their gullibility: “If someone proclaims himself a ‘super-apostle’ (v.5, NIV), putting on airs and speaking in a self-important manner, you listen to him, swayed by his charm and char­isma” (see vv.4,13). Then the apostle remonstrates, “For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles. But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge” (vv.5-6).

Chapters 11 and 12 tell us what was happen­ing. Some slick preachers with a lot of charisma were preaching a different gospel, and their eloquence was sweeping the Corinthians off their feet. Paul, after conceding that he was less eloquent than these super-eloquent preachers, went on to bemoan the fact that, “You bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes ad­vantage of you (e.g. gets money out of you), if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face” (v.20).

Then he added sarcastically, “To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison” (v.21). What did he mean by this? He was saying to them, “In your presence we acted courteously and gently, without bossing you around or barking out commands. And you despise us for that very reason. The super-apostles come along in grandiose style and self-exalting manner, barking out orders and demanding what they want, and you readily submit to the authority of such people.”

It is amazing that some people put on airs and are adored for that reason. Hitler screamed and shouted, yet multitudes ap­plauded him and obeyed his every whim. They ecstatically saluted him with shouts of “Heil! Heil!”

Paul was telling the Corinthians, “If someone enslaves you, you bear it well enough. But when we come along and act humbly, you despise us.” The Corinthians could not tell between good and evil, true and false. People without spiritual discernment are easily swept away by worldly behavior, not to mention false teaching.

Those super-apostles got money out of the Corinthians (2Cor. 11.7ff). That was why Paul wrote, “Did I commit a sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?” Paul refused to take money from them, but when the “super-apostles” came along with their collection plates, the Corinthians were all too happy to unload their money. Paul was too “foolish” to do that, so the Corinthians despised him.

Immature Christians think in worldly ways

Worldly mentality is often distorted and strange: Humility is seen to be self-deprecating and invites disrespect, while those who make demands are seen to have authority. The greater the demand made, the greater the authority expressed. Have you noticed how many preachers use the phrase, “I want you to (raise your hand, come forward, etc)” or, if these words are not used, they speak in a commanding tone or behave in an authoritative manner? How essential it is to have discernment, otherwise we will throw out the apostle Paul and welcome some self-important “super-apostle” to our eternal detriment!

The carnal Christian thinks in a worldly way and holds to worldly values. He is impressed by worldly ways of doing things, especially when done in a grand or splendid manner. For that reason, he is easily taken advantage of by clever worldly people in the church, especially when they appear as impressive “apostles” or “super-apostles”. Be on the alert! There are people in the church today who do not hesitate to call themselves “apostles,” as I have seen for myself.

The consequences of the lack of spiritual discernment can be absolutely disastrous, as in the case of the Galatians, to whom the apostle wrote, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” (1.6).

Third Reason: Old Habits of Mind

Thirdly, Christians sin because they have deeply-ingrained old habits of the mind. Habits are hard to change. When you first become a Christian you tend to think in non-Christian ways. The old habits of the mind are removed through the gradual process of renewal.

Colossians 3.9 says, “You have put off the old man” (past) whereas Ephesians 4.22 says, “Put off the old man” (present). There seems to be a contradiction. If you have already put off the old man, why must you continue to put off the old man? The reason is that though the old man was put off at baptism when we died with Christ and were buried with him, yet the old ways of the old man continue to live in our old habits of the mind. The old man is still active through our old ways of thinking. It is this that needs to be “put off”; that is also why the next verse goes on to say, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph.4.23).

In the same verse Paul says, “Do not lie to one another.” Surely we don’t expect the new man (in this case the Colossian believers) to lie, do we? Why then are they told not to lie? The problem is that in their non-Christian days, when they were still the “old man,” they were in the habit of lying. Whether it was a big lie or a “small white lie,” they habitually con­formed to the ways of the world in their thinking and behavior. Lying is a way of life in the world, especially in the business world. Just the other day, someone told me that if you quit lying, you’ll soon be out of business. In the highly competitive world of business, we are told that people cannot survive without lying. People make more money by lying; so if you don’t lie you are at a great disad­vantage.

When people become Christians, the habit of lying is still so deeply entrenched that they lie inadvertently and without thinking. When Paul says, “Do not lie to one another,” he is telling them to put off the old habit of lying. Old habits are tenacious, but they will eventually destroy us if we do not remove them.

2 Peter 2.22 cites a proverb, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallow­ing in the mire. Like the pig that enjoys wallowing in the mud, some Christians go back into the “mud” by force of habit. It is not Peter’s intention to insult the Christian by that comparison. But he gives urgent warning that unless we change our habitual ways of thinking, we will be drawn back to the mud and the filth of the old way of life even after we have been cleansed through “the washing of regeneration” (Tit.3.5). Peter warns of the serious danger of Christians falling away in the renewal process and ending up in a situation in which their “last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away…” (v.20,21).

The story is told of a pig who visited a stately mansion adorned with crystal chandeliers and expensive oil paintings. The pig walked into the mansion and trampled over the beautiful carpets—Afghan, Persian and Chinese carpets. The pig was not, however, interested in the carpets or the paintings, but headed straight for the kitchen. Just as strange, it ignored the refrigerator filled with delicious food and headed straight for the back door. When it saw the garbage bin, it squealed with delight. After a delicious garbage feast, the pig went home. The owner asked the pig, “What did you see in the stately mansion? Beautiful paintings and chandeliers?” The pig replied, “What paintings? What chandeliers? The only good thing was the garbage.”

When people go to church, what do they look for? The beauty of Christ? The right­eousness of Christ? Hopefully, yes. But there are, sadly, some Christians who seem interested chiefly in the garbage; these are the garbage-mongers in the church, the gossips and the slanderers whose habits of mind have not changed.

One Bad Habit Can Destroy You

Just one bad habit can destroy your Christian life if you do not remove it. An Arab philoso­pher illustrated this with a real-life parable taken from his own life. He had offered his house for sale at a very low price but on one condition: “I shall retain pos­session of one nail that is located upstairs in this house. The nail will always be mine, and I retain the right and the freedom to visit it whenever I wish. I can come up anytime to inspect it or even to polish it. Only on this condi­tion will I sell the house at this price.”

The price was so attractive that someone soon bought the house from him. As agreed, the seller retained possession of the nail, and could go in and out whenever he wanted to. Though he no longer owned the house, in reality he still possessed it because he had unrestricted access to it. It illustrates one vital point: If you keep one sinful habit in your life, sin will always retain possession of your life.

Fourth Reason: Ignorance

Fourthly, Christians sin because they are ig­norant of many spiritual truths. Young Christians in particular are generally unin­formed about what the Bible teaches, and are ignorant of God’s will when facing a variety of life situations. That is why Paul says, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant…” (1Thess.4.13).

The Corinthians were evidently the least mature of the Christians that Paul had to deal with. It was to them that Paul had to repeatedly address the rhetorical question, “Do you not know?” This question appears ten times in First Corinthians, but only twice in all the rest of his writings[69]. The Cor­inthians were so ignorant of spiritual things that they were falling into all kinds of sin such as dissension, and were even partaking of the Lord’s Supper in the wrong spirit, thereby becoming guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord (1Cor.11.27). Young Christians need to be spiritually alert if they hope to avoid falling into serious error and sin.

This is why it is so essential to take to heart the apostle’s counsel, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Col.3.16). We need to let his word live in our hearts in its dynamic abundance. For this to be a reality we need to know his word, and know it in depth and with clarity. And how can this goal be attained unless, like the Psalmist, we are prepared to mediate for long hours on God’s word (Ps.119.148)? Why does the Psalmist do this? He himself gives the explan­ation, I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You” (Ps.119.11).

Repent of Your Sins or They Will Destroy You

We have seen four reasons why a Christian, especially a young Christian, might commit sin in the renewal process. You can be truly regenerate yet fall into sin. It is of the greatest importance to repent speedily whenever sin has been committed. The one who doesn’t repent will feel the need to conceal it. But hidden sin has the tendency to grow larger and larger like a hidden cancer, and eventually destroy the one who harbors it.

To drive home the seriousness of the matter, I close with this true story. Some forty years ago in the United States, a respected pastor of a church—a married man—began to develop a liking for a young woman who was in charge of the church choir. He gradually built up a relationship with her. At first it seemed innocent, but the relation­ship grew deeper and deeper until he was having an affair with her. They became so deeply in­volved that one day the gravity of the situation began to dawn on him. The affair was in increasing danger of being exposed. If that should happen, how could he, a pastor, face the world? How will he look his wife and children in the face when they find out that the affair had been going on for several years?

But something worse happened: she became pregnant. How could he now conceal the matter? What will be the outcome of this messy affair? His career, his family life, and his reputation were all on the line. How many non-Christians would be disgusted and stumbled when they find out that a pastor had fallen into such hein­ous sin? The consequences were incalculable.

You see, it all started with a tiny thing, like the nail in the house. As he tried to hide it, it only got bigger and bigger. Instead of con­fessing the sin and dealing with it immediately, he allowed it to get out of hand.

And do you know what that pastor did? He mur­dered the woman! Mind-boggling, isn’t it? A preacher who was committing adultery goes on to commit murder! He hoped that killing her would terminate all the fearful conse­quences of his sin. But the word of God says, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num.32.23). God won’t allow sin to remain hidden and unrequited. Sure enough, as was to be expected, this whole hideous story was widely published in the newspapers.

Sin must be repented of speedily. Any attempt at concealing it will only aggravate the situation. It will become harder to handle and even to repent of, and it will eventually bring destruction.

Let us understand with fear and trembling that pastors and preachers who sin and do not repent will not escape God’s righteous judgment. They should not imagine that they can sin with impunity, or that they will always be safe from the fearful fires of hell. In fact, precisely because they are preachers and pas­tors, they will be judged the more severely.

The Lord Jesus—who will be Judge on the Day of Judgment (2Tim.4.1)—warns us:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be de­manded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Lk.12.48, NIV)



[65] The first of these words occurs in Romans 6.18,22; 8.2,21; the second in 6.20 and 7.3; the third in 8.21. Eleutheroō can be active (I set free) or passive (I am being set free).

[66] In these three chapters, Paul uses doulos (slave) six times, douleuō (to be enslaved) three times, douloō (to enslave) twice, and douleia (slavery) twice. See Romans 6.6,16-20,22; 7.6,25; 8.15,21. (BC)

[67] “Dominion” is another key word in the passage we are studying. The verb kurieuō (to have power over, to rule over) occurs three times in Romans 6-7 but only four times in the rest of the New Testament. (BC)

[68] As far as the tenth commandment (“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, etc.” Ex.20.17) is concerned, so long as no act of coveting has been committed the commandment as such has not been broken. Law can only regulate external acts.

[69] The two other occurrences are: Romans 6.16; 11.2.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church