Sinful Slave or Saved Saint (of fleshly misconceptions and holy possibilities)

There’s so much freedom / waiting for me / why would I waste my time / thinking darkness is a part of me / when it’s just the absence of the light. / — Citizen Way
One of the biggest lies we can believe in Christian culture is the belief that we are sinners. Specifically that we have a “flesh”, or an inherent “sin nature”. Before the Calvinists jump on me and beat me to death with the letter “T” from TULIP, let me first say: you’re right. The sinful state is a real thing. As descendants of Adam, humanity inherited a sin nature, a propensity for evil and an inability to connect with God on our own. Sin is mankind’s heritage, and the incapacity for righteousness is the blood that runs in our veins. Thank God for Christ, because without His perfect, atoning sacrifice we could never have restored our relationship with God. His perfection covered our imperfection. His righteousness became our own. Crazy grace made an even crazier exchange for us because we are crazy loved by the God who is Love itself; a Love that did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

So note that I say that it’s the biggest lie in Christian culture.

How is it a lie, then? The lie I speak of is that even though you are saved; though the blood of Christ has redeemed you and you are new creation, you still retain that very same sin nature to some extent. Whether it’s called total depravity, sin nature, the flesh, or what have you, it’s something that is inescapable in this life and it is what causes you to err from the straight and narrow. When you sin, when you fall, when you fail, it’s because you have this sin nature within you that is striving against your spirit. It will remain a constant struggle until you die, and part of the bliss of heaven is that you no longer have to wrestle with temptation or sin anymore.

Part of this is true; we will only ever be completely free of corruption once we reach the shores of heaven. Having said that, this mindset—a life of constantly fighting against something we cannot help—I have a problem with, because this is not taught in Scripture.

To begin, the Bible makes it very clear that once we are born again, we are given the Spirit of God and we become new creations. Our identities change. No longer are we slaves to fear and to our sin nature, we are children of God; heirs with Christ. For, where the Spirit of God is, there is life and liberty. In Him we have victory. In Him we are overcomers. In Him we have everything that pertains to life and godliness. We are now dead to sin, and alive to righteousness.
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.Romans 6:6-7
“And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” — Romans 8:10
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” — Romans 8:15-16
“Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” — 2 Cor. 3:17
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” — 2 Cor. 5:17
/ They say always have a plan B / they say leave yourself an out / better know your exit strategy / don’t burn the bridges down / well, I’ve separated from the old me. / — Citizen Way
Through my reading of Scripture, I find the message to be very black and white. We are either dead to sin, or alive to Christ. We are either slaves to sin or servants of righteousness. Either orphans or children of God. Either sinful or holy. Of the world or of His Kingdom. Of darkness or light. Old or new. As far as I can see, there is no in between. There is no Biblical pattern for living with a foot in both camps. There is no Scriptural precedence for a life of constant strife between the flesh and the Spirit.

 “Yes there is!” You say. “Paul said in—

Romans 7:15-24? One step ahead of you. It never fails to amaze me how this passage gets taken completely out of context by people who want to prove this point. And on its own, I can understand why it’s so popular. It reads:
“For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” — Romans 7:15-24
Convincing on its own, yet it was never meant to stand alone. Consider what it is prefaced by in Romans 6. Opening with the famous statement, “shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Paul goes on to state in no uncertain terms that as Christians who are born again, we are dead to sin. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but dead things don’t do a whole lot (newsflash). Dead flies don’t buzz, dead dogs don’t dig holes, and you can’t ride a dead horse and get anywhere. Likewise, a dead body cannot sin. This is the comparison Paul is drawing. If we were baptized into Christ’s death and have been raised in the newness of His life, how can we sin anymore? Notice that the righteous life being described here is not one obtained by striving, but by yielding (surrendering) ourselves to God (Rom. 6:13). Chapter six is surprisingly free of a spirit-versus-flesh complex.

Bracketing the passage in question, Paul introduces chapter seven with a direct statement that he is speaking to those who know the law (Jews). As is detailed in the earlier chapters of Romans, the Jews were still trying to keep the laws as a means of attaining salvation, and claiming that the law must still be upheld in light of the cross. Paul makes it very clear in this chapter that as a wife whose husband has died is free to marry another, so we are dead to the law and alive (married) unto Christ (Rom. 8:4).  Without the Spirit, all men are carnal beings, “for when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Rom. 7:5). He then goes on to explain that though the law is good, its purpose was to bring forth sin (Rom. 7:7-13) because without the Spirit, we are incapable of fulfilling the law. Carnal, mortal, human beings cannot obey a spiritual law. It is in this context, that Paul speaks in verses fifteen and onwards.

I think we can all safely agree that Paul has been born again by the time he wrote this letter, yes? If that is so, then this statement in verse fourteen would be incorrect: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin”. Someone who has received salvation is no longer sold under sin. This proves Paul is speaking in past tense. In conjunction with exposing to the Jews the folly of believing they are able to keep the law, he is showing that, without Christ, “what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that do I” (Rom. 7:15). The triumphant conclusion to this exposition of hopelessness—being that of a man trying to please God in the flesh—is one of great exultation:
“Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” — Romans 7:24b-25 
Continuing in that vein in chapter eight, Paul exhorts us that since we are now in the Spirit, we are not to walk after the flesh (because the flesh is dead). “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10). He goes on to say that only those who are led by the Spirit are called children of God, and he refers to living carnally as bondage to fear (Rom. 8:15). Elsewhere we are told that perfect love casts out all fear (1 Jn. 4:18) and that as redeemed saints, we have not been given the spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). No longer are we slaves to our behaviour. No longer are we fighting a losing battle. No longer are we to be victims of sin, of fear, and of death, but we are victorious, righteous, holy saints of Christ by the Spirit and the new nature He has given to us. Hallelujah! This is glorious news.
/ I’m never going back / to the chains that were broken / never going back to the grave / I’m never going back / my eyes have been opened. / — Citizen Way
 "A righteous life [made righteous by Christ] produces righteous living. However righteous living does not produce a righteous life." — Lawson Perdue 
“So, you’re saying that the Christian life should not be marked by temptation or sin? Are you saying that we should never struggle with anything in this lifetime? Are you kidding me?! That’s impossible!”

I do understand your confusion, truly. I can understand how preposterous this sounds when we live in a world so corrupted by sin and evil, and we see so many of our brethren living in much the same lifestyles. Yet there is something that strikes me as funny about this sentiment. It’s the fact you say it’s impossible. How readily we are to believe that God can do anything in our lives… except help us live holy. It kind of makes you want to forget those verses we so often quote in difficult times—
“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” — Luke 18:27
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” — Philippians 4:13
I shouldn’t tease, but here is the point that I so desperately wish to drive home: if we don’t believe holiness is possible, sin will always be excusable. We will always be able to use our flesh as a scapegoat, and our sin nature as a copout. We will always be able to point to the future, “then,” we can say, “in heaven, is when we will be free of this carnality”. It’s not that those with this mindset will celebrate sin as a good thing. Please understand me. I’m not saying that people who believe in a Christian’s dual personality as saint and sinner are excusing sin. Most people I know who believe this are staunchly against sin. However there is no freedom in this philosophy. Sin will always be a ball and chain around our feet if we continue to think this way. There is no doubt in my mind that if we always consider sin to be part of our innate nature, it will always be ready to seize the opportunity to govern our spirit. Do we have a choice in this? Absolutely! But that choice will always be easier made from a place of victory before the battle even begins. This is why we are not fighting, but standing.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” — Galatians 5:1
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” — Ephesiahs 6:13
I’m going to acknowledge your statement before you make it: Christians still sin, yes. “Aha!” You say. “That is because of the flesh!” Actually, no. It’s not. Remember, if we are new creations, children of God, heirs in Christ, walking in the Spirit, dead to sin, alive to righteousness, holy and redeemed saints, we do not have a flesh. It died. So what then?
“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” — Galatians 3:3
Breakdown: before salvation, sinners sin because they are sinners. During salvation, sinners become saints. After salvation, saints sin for one reason—an un-renewed mind. Scriptural evidence for this theory is as follows:
 “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” — Romans 8:6
 “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” — Romans 12:2 
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”1 Corinthians 2:14-16
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 11:3
“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” — Ephesians 4:22-24
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 2:5
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:7
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God.” — Hebrews 8:10
 “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” — 1 Peter 1:13
Like an orphaned lost heir to the throne who doesn’t know his true identity, our minds must catch up to the fact that we have been saved and set free. Not only does Scripture testify to this, but so does history. Emancipated slaves had freedom, they just didn’t all know it. All of us have been born into this world as orphans. After we are redeemed, we spend the rest of our lives renewing our minds to the fact we are dearly beloved children. Thus, when a Christian sins, it isn’t an innate sinful nature that pulls us towards evil deeds, but rather the habits of our mind that retraces our steps back into dead works. This is different to the belief that we have two opposing forces within our souls. James speaks of this dual nature quite harshly:
“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” — James 1:8
The way that we experience this life is still through human eyes. I believe however that there is a difference between the human experience and sinful nature. The way we break, the way the world’s corruption hurts us and we respond with raw, real emotions; these are not always sinful. After all, Scripture also repeatedly tells us that God makes Himself strong on behalf of the weak, that He is the defender of the powerless and His strength is made perfect in the places we are the most broken. This is not to excuse failure, and not to redress sin, but to embrace the glorious grace that Christ bought for us and extends to us continually.
/ This is the heart reset / this is the 2.0 / this is the wave goodbye / or is it hello? / this is the new me / redeemed, set free. / — Citizen Way
The grace of God shown to us through the perfect life and death of Christ goes so far beyond our imaginations allow us. If we live believing that Christ redeemed our souls from hell, yet left us victims to our own natures, we are selling Him short. Understanding that holiness is not of our own work, but is possible by the indwelling Spirit of God in us allows us to live a life free of the stranglehold of sin. When we are called out on behaviours that are ungodly—be that gluttony, lust, pride, envy, or any other listed sin—we don’t have to lean back into the cushion of the flesh, and say “it’s a war I will always be fighting”. There is no excuse. There is nothing we can use as a copout or a scapegoat.

Holiness is possible. Righteous is who we are. Christ in us, the hope of glory. Jesus said “be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). He is the perfector of our faith. We are able to live righteous lives by the righteous Spirit within us.

Let us not waste our lives on anything less.

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” — 1 Peter 5:10
“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 1:24
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” — Hebrews 13:20-21
"You're either one hundred percent the child of God or you're one hundred percent a child of the devil. And if you're one hundred percent the child of God, it's not because of what you did, it's because of Who you believed. But because of Who you believed and who you became when you believed, the life that you live is a result of who you are, the things that I do are a result of who I am. I'm not doing them to try and become something, I do them because of who I am. I am a new creation in Christ. The Spirit of God lives in me." — Lawson Perdue 
Further Reading:
My True Name

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4 comments:

  1. refreshing, even as Paul's pen to those saints at Rome doesn't trail off at chapter 7. From 12:2, Paul writing "μεταμορφουσθε" [transformed; 'metamorphosis'] as in the passive-voice of koine Greek. "transformed to the renewing of your mind" not as something we are to doing [active-voice], not as something we help God get done in us [middle-voice], but-rather as something [only] He can do in/for the child who would otherwise remain a slave to sin.
    Last year while meeting with missions and campus ministry leaders, they unanimously were confirming a life of sin for saints of God. my heart felt heavy to hearing their theme and resolve. Some of all behind the 'sinful natured saved man' confusion so marked in the video linked below (44 minutes). I thank God He has held open your spiritual eyes, Jasmine, to seeing the work of God; to believe!
    http://worthyhouse.info/docs/InMyEars.mp4

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    1. I find that philosophy to not only be inconsistent with Scripture, but also a mindset that perpetuates the very sinfulness those who hold it are striving against. I once heard it said that within every human soul, if they are told "thou shall not", something rises up in them that says "bless God, I shall!" The truth is, the quality of our lives will only rise to the level of our thinking.

      If we believe we are sinners, we will be. Equally, if we believe that we are righteous, we will live like it.

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  2. This is fantastic! What a thorough and thoughtful explanation of why this mindset is dangerous. I really appreciate what you've written here. It is amazing how what we believe influences how we act. Our mind is a powerful thing. Thus the importance of renewing our minds continually...
    It reminds me of the oft-quoted phrase... We do not live this way in order to become children of God. We live this way because we ARE children of God. There is certainly much to be said about the need for the emphasis of our new identity. I have too often heard sermon upon sermon that emphasize our sinfulness far more, and hardly touch on our new identity except at the end of a sermon to reassure us we're not going to hell. (if you know what I mean)

    In other news, somehow I stopped getting notifications for your blog. I will have to catch up! :D

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    1. Exactly right, Ariel! I strongly believe if we preached more about who we became when we were saved than who we were before that, people would live so much free-er. So glad to have your input! I love finding your comments.

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