As the new year turns, do we not all want to put aside our besetting sins, and do a better job of walking with Christ? What are your besetting sins? How can we begin to put those behind us?
I recently had a friend of many years come to me with his struggle against a decades long smoking habit.
“I need to be delivered of this sin, my brother,” he said. “Pray for me that I will find deliverance.”
Which is a perfect set-up for my next question, what is the old man? More importantly how do we deal with the old man, and what can give us real victory over sin?
The phrase old man is used three times in the New Testament, and it is clear from its usage what is meant. Each of these passages should be looked at briefly to understand the term. “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” (Romans 6:6). The reference to the “old man” here is definitely to sinful man, and we are told that the old man is crucified with Christ. It is because the old man is crucified that we can have confidence of our standing with Christ. Does that mean that we are delivered from sin, or in this case a habit that we want to reform?
Let’s look at the second example, “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” (Eph. 4:22-24). Here the example of the old man is “put off”, and we are instead told to put on the new man.
There is yet one more example. “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” The reason we are to be truthful and honest with one another is because we have put off the old man with his deeds.
Some would improperly teach that we have a nature, call it human or whatever, that is apart from these two natures, but the New Testament knows nothing of a third nature. Neither does the Bible teach us sinless perfection possibilities. Rather, when we are saved we saved from the penalty of sin, but not the presence of sin. We are either the old man or the new man. We are either lost in sin, or regenerated by the crucifixion of Christ. There is no third possibility.
My friend, whose example I borrowed, needs to realize that two things are going on here. His new life in Christ is evidently condemning some of his old habits, namely smoking. He has become convicted that this habit needs to be turned away from, and is not sure of how to gain the power to quit. What he may not realize is that there is a battle between two natures going on here, his new nature and his old nature. His dilemma, apart from getting rid of his habit, is how to lay ahold of the new man and move away from the old man.
The apostle Paul famously describes this battle between the old man and new man in Romans seven. Christ was not our example on the cross—he was our substitute, bearing the penalty of our sin, that we should forever be free of that penalty. The Christian is called by faith; he is saved once for all from the penalty of sin by faith, and he must reckon himself dead to sin and alive unto God. The only thing he can do to turn away from sin is to maintain the attitude of faith, yielding himself to God. That is all. But it is more than enough, because the Spirit of God is in us, and can give us victory as we yield to him. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:6). The picture given to us is that God has crucified us with Christ (Gal. 2:20), and has given us a new life to walk in.
So, how can my friend can victory? Certainly not with struggle—his flesh is weak, and that probably will not work. The opportunity for righteous living lies in two areas. First we must know that we are forever forgiven, made to be children of God. There is no failure that we have in this lifetime that is capable of squashing that which God has wrought. The sacrifice of his son was for all of our sins, no matter how persistently we may fall. Second, he must know utterly and completely that God is greater than our habits, and walking in the Spirit, he can begin to lay ahold of victory.
Not that he, or me, or thee is going to attain total victory in this lifetime. Instead, our spirits groan with the long deferred time when all shall be remade. In that time, the scripture says, we shall become like him for we shall see him as he is. At that point, and only at that point we will find freedom from the presence of sin. There are those who would preach a second experience that leads to perfection in this lifetime, but the Bible knows nothing of such perfection. Of subsequent experiences of faith whereby we might grow in grace, there may be a great number, as the Lord does use our times and experiences and his word to refine us and purify us. But we will never escape the pull and temptation of sin.
So what should I tell my friend? Simply to know that he is covered under the grace of God, and that, as he walks in the Spirit he can experience victory over his besetting sin. The best part is that there is no condemnation for failure. It is not God who condemns us in our failure, for he has extended a full forgiveness to us. There is no condemnation for those of us who would strive to walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
Our besetting sins for the new year must be dealt with in the same manner. One at a time. Pressing after the Spirit and leaving the flesh behind is not only the sure path to victory—it is the way that we take on the character of Christ. It may seem insufferably long to struggle with one sin at a time. But it is the narrow path to discipleship. May this new year find us dealing steadfastly with our besetting sins, and as the year wanes, may we be able to look back to the victories we have by walking in the Spirit.
(My thanks to Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 The Christian’s Sin)