Overcoming our sinful nature is a lifelong battle, but one we can win with the right approach.
Most professing Christians today believe that God’s law was “nailed to the cross” when Jesus Christ was crucified. They will say, “Jesus led a perfect life in your stead—there’s nothing at all for you to do except believe!”
We in God’s Church, however, have precious truth that mainstream Christianity ignores or rejects. We understand that God has given His people the motivation and the means to come out of sin. But are we using the tools He has given us? Are we really striving to come out of spiritual Egypt, as pictured by the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread? We must strive to conquer sin completely!
To obey our Savior requires faith. Think of the example of the Apostle Peter, responding to Jesus’ command to walk across the water. Peter got off to a good start, but then faltered. “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:30–31).
Peter’s personal exodus from sin almost failed here because of his doubt, but Christ saved him. Each of us in God’s Church is on an exodus of our own, leaving sin behind and progressing toward righteousness.
Triumph, Not Doubt
But sometimes we have doubts. Sometimes we may look at our situation and think God isn’t intervening on our behalf. And then we remember that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). But do we remember what is written after that famous verse? God the Father created us to be “conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (v. 29). Yes, Christ overcame and has been glorified. And we, too, were created for that purpose—not as the Firstborn, but looking forward to being born into the Family of God as firstfruits. We can be conformed to Christ’s image—we can internalize His holy and righteous character as our own! With the Holy Spirit—with the power of God in us—we can triumph. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians,
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:14–16).
To the world, genuine Christians are “the aroma of death.” To those who are perishing in their sins, Christ’s righteousness in us is an affront to their way—and they do not know that their way leads to death. But to God, we are the aroma of life, a beautiful fragrance. It reminds us of the incense coming up before God’s throne in the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8). And it is an aroma of triumph.
“For if when 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 5:10). We have been saved from our past sins, we are being saved from our present sins, and if we endure to the end we shall be saved for all eternity. How do we endure to the end? We continually strive to draw closer to our Savior. We seek to become more and more like Him. One aspect of that—an aspect we stress especially before taking the Passover each year—is that we examine ourselves and ask God to show us our weaknesses. We say, with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).
How can we see our “invisible” flaws? God’s word and His law can help us see what we normally cannot—but are we willing to act on what He shows us? We read that “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23–25).
Have you been a “doer of the work” regarding repentance? Do you right now have a repentant attitude? Have you made a commitment to maintain a repentant attitude to the end of your life? Paul described the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10–11).
Have you seen the fruits of repentance in your own life? Has your repentance produced indignation toward what is evil? Do you live with a godly fear, with a strong desire to do what is right, and with a zeal to do God’s Work and live His way of life? Are you refreshing your mind with the truths of God? Are you reading His word daily? Or do you only read it occasionally—maybe during a congregational Bible Study, or during a Sabbath sermon? Remember what Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). God speaks to us through Scripture. He wants us to understand His word—the truth (John 17:17)—and He wants us to live by His every word (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4)!
Search and Destroy Your Sin
These are vital points of self-examination. You might want to review my old Living Church News article “Self-Examination: A Vital Key to Growth” (March–April 2009). And we certainly do examine ourselves as we prepare to take the Passover each year. But although only baptized members take the Passover, self-examination is also important for those who aren’t yet baptized. None of us should become forgetful, like the ancient Israelites who again and again drifted away from God, not appreciating how He had delivered them.
How far did the Israelites fall back into sin? They even built a golden calf to receive their worship. And how did Moses respond when he saw the Israelites worshiping the golden calf? “Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it” (Exodus 32:20).
That’s what Moses did when he saw the Israelites’ sin. Is that what you do with your sin? When you discover sin, you need to put it out—symbolically grind it to powder and scatter it on the water. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. Before baptism, you and I were slaves of sin. But when we were baptized—when we began to live God’s way with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—we became slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18). And what fruit does that slavery produce?
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:20–23).
Sinners may think they are free, as they don’t regulate their conduct by God’s word. But the truth is that they are slaves to sin, to death, as they are walking in the flesh. It’s different for Christians. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1–2). Those who practice sin are subject to the penalties of God’s law. But those who practice righteousness, who do not walk according to the flesh, are not subject to those penalties—penalties Christ paid for us through His shed blood.
Walk in the Spirit, Not in Sin
How do we know that we are walking in the Spirit? One sign is that we are humble and that we recognize quickly when we have sinned against God or against another human being. We are quick to repent—not just with our words, but by changing our behavior. We remain on guard against even the smallest sin, because we know that if we tolerate sin in our lives it will only grow. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). We must not tolerate sin in our lives. That is a vital lesson of the Days of Unleavened Bread. We remember that Paul told us, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). Put simply, we strive to live as Christ lived.
My New King James Version Bible has a heading above Romans 12:9—“Behave Like a Christian.” Below it we read a powerful summary of Christian conduct:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Romans 12:9–14).
To abhor evil—to hate it—we must recognize what evil is. Remember what God said to Ezekiel: “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it” (Ezekiel 9:4). We know that God is going to protect those who maintain that kind of attitude. Just as we embrace righteousness, we learn to reject unrighteousness. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).
Yes, we are to hate sin, not to look for excuses for practicing sin. We strive to practice righteousness. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). We want to be the people who keep God’s commandments. “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24).
That’s how God lives in us—by the Holy Spirit. “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). And what is the result of abiding in Him? “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:6). If we are striving to obey God, but we stumble in weakness, we are not practicing sin; we root it out as soon as we find it. Though we may sin, we hate our sin and we seek to repent and overcome. And God is ready to forgive as we repent. “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
Exodus 15 was written as a hymn of victory for the Israelites who escaped Pharaoh’s armies. And each of us, on our own personal exodus out of sin, should be able to recount our own victories—times when we relied on God and He provided wonderful triumphs. Can we sing, as did the Israelites, “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1)?
Pharaoh’s armies could not touch the Israelites. And we read that “whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not” (1 John 5:18, American Standard Version). As men and women of faith, we follow the examples of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. We thank God for the understanding He has given us. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).
Love God: Keep His Word
Many call themselves Christians and profess to love Jesus. But are they truly Christians? Jesus Himself gave an answer: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me’” (John 14:23–24).
These people may be sincere. But they are sincerely wrong. It is one thing to be grateful for Christ’s forgiveness of sin when we repent. But it is another—and a grievous error—to make the false assumption that we can keep on sinning and expect God to ignore our conduct. As Paul reminded the Romans, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1–2). Such licentious, antinomian people are shamefully crucifying their Savior again and again (Hebrews 6:6).
Apart from their conduct, even in doctrine such lawless people deny the one sign Jesus plainly gave to declare His Messiahship, the “sign of Jonah.” True Christians show their obedience by keeping the Passover as Jesus taught, not by “Christianizing” pagan fertility customs and calling them “Easter Sunday” observances.
Paul had to endure trials and tests, in his preaching and even in his personal life. He pleaded to God to remove obstacles. We read, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).
When God would not remove the thorn in Paul’s flesh, Paul did not despair. He came to understand that his human weakness allowed God’s power to become more evident in his life. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. As Paul reminded the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). Paul prayed for one outcome—removal of his suffering—but God answered that prayer by intervening in ways Paul could not have imagined.
Endure and Conquer
Brethren, we must strive to conquer sin completely! If we endure to the end, we will receive a wonderful reward! “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57).
Yes, God will give the victory, even beyond what we can imagine doing for ourselves. But we have a part to play. Remember Jesus’ admonition: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We must never forget that God promises us triumph through Christ. As baptized Christians, having received the Holy Spirit, we have within us God’s perfect, holy, and righteous character. But it is up to each of us how much we let God’s character become our character. As we continue our journey from sin to perfection, we must keep our eyes on the “big picture.” We may stumble, but we must not give up the fight. Cleansed by the blood of Christ, we must strive to remain pure in heart, knowing that God will give us the victory.
And we must keep our hearts in the Work! Remember what Paul told the Corinthians: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Let us never forget Paul’s inspiring and encouraging words to the Galatians: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, King James Version).
As we each continue on our personal exodus from sin to salvation, we must always remember that we are not saved because of our own righteousness or because of our own hard work. Yes, we must work as hard as we can, but nothing we do can make unnecessary the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He gave His life for us, and He has given us His very faith, which allows us to live His way as we go about our own lives. We are conquering sin through the gift of the Holy Spirit—and we must remember to use that Spirit continuously.
Our Life-Long Exodus
Each year, the Days of Unleavened Bread remind us of our continuous need to conquer sin in our lives—to overcome self, Satan, and society. It is a lifelong process. Many of us have experienced that, as we grow in our Christian lives, we reach plateaus where we think we’ve done a lot of overcoming—and then God reveals to us entirely new areas to which we were previously blind. Even Paul lamented, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25). To mainstream Christians, this passage is hard to understand, as they have the mistaken “once saved, always saved” idea. But Paul constantly strove to overcome his sinful human nature. He saw himself correctly, but he did not despair—he thanked his Savior, who made his deliverance possible! Paul knew that his whole life—day to day, year to year—was his own ongoing personal exodus from sin.
So, ask yourself, “Have I grown spiritually this past year?” We should be able to see fruits in our lives, mainly the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. Does your life show the fruit of active outgoing concern for others? Are you growing in patience in our stressful world? Have you grown, this last year, in emotional maturity and stability? If you have, then thank God for your progress in developing godly character. And if you haven’t, redouble your efforts to do so, as your Savior wants you to do!
And, as we strive to overcome, we can rejoice that we are not laboring in vain. As we prepare for the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread—and, indeed, throughout the year—let us continue to strive to conquer sin completely!