Sin & the Fall 5
Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’? … Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?
(Prov.20:9 & 11)
I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The effect of the fall on us as humans is as deep as it is complex. There are almost twenty different words used in the Bible to capture a full orbed sense of the reality of sin. Some are legal, some are relational, some moral; others speak of failure, deviation, falseness or lawlessness. It is perhaps unwise to try and narrow it all down to a single concept - though Bible scholars who do tend to end up doing so in terms of I John 3:4, ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness’. The Law in question being, of course, God’s rather than that of any nation or culture (Ps.51:4). Irrespective of its effect on others (or lack of), it is sin because it violates the Law of God. And given that the Law of God is rooted in His character, sin is ‘personal’. This primary orientation of sin as ‘against the Lord’ appears again and again throughout Scripture (Gen.13:13; 20:6; 39:9; Ex.32:33; I Sam.7:6 etc.).
And the most distressing element of it for many Christians is that it continues after we have become disciples of Jesus Christ! We understand that prior to our conversion we were alienated from God, enslaved to sin, dead in our transgression, helplessly pursuing our own selfish desires. We were corrupt in nature, and so all that flowed from that nature was corrupt as well. But now we are in Christ, the New Creation has come (II Cor.5:17), so why does it seem like we are still defined by the old creation?
In part because we are still part of it. Although we are spiritually alive, having been united with Christ and having passed through His death, His resurrection and his ascension, we are still enmeshed in this fallen world by virtue of living in these ‘lowly bodies’ (Phil.3:21), that are still subject to death (Rom.7:24). This is at the heart of the Christian’s longing for resurrection, when the physical aspect of what we are finally catches up with the spiritual aspect. Then we will have a ‘spiritual body’ that is able to fully engage with all aspects of reality, seen and unseen (I Cor.15:42-55). In the meantime we are called on to set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col.3:1-4), so that we are shaped by what we will be, rather than what we have been (Eph.4:22-24). And as we do, the Spirit renews our heart and teach us to know and fulfil God’s good and gracious will. At the risk of sounding like I’m promoting myself, you might want to get onto mie.org.uk, and listen to the sermons on Romans, especially on chap’s 5-7.
And yet our ongoing experience of sin is, well, ongoing - and often feels like it is getting worse as we become more spiritually sensitized to sin. Thankfully we also have a growing awareness of the magnitude of God’s grace to us in Christ! It is always a key moment in any Christian’s journey when they finally grasp the fact that the cross has greater power to define their destiny than their sin.
But our desire is to grow in actual Christlikeness. How do we do that? It is unleashed into our experience through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is He who gives us faith to believe in Christ; who leads us through repentance to transformation; who teaches us to deny ourselves; who so captivates us with the glory of God that we live and die to advance that glory rather than our own fallen ambition.
As a great pastor once wrote: “We are not our own: let not reason nor our will therefore sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive towards Him as our only lawful goal”. Amen.
(Calvin, Inst. 3.7.1).
Do you think it matters if we sin as Christians? Why / Why not?
What part does your Church and homegroup play in your growth in Christlikeness? How could you help other people grow in their holiness?
Read Romans 3:10-18
This passage describes the reality of every human being outside of Christ. Do you agree with it? Are their places where you think it overstates its case? Would you say this describes you before you were a Christian?
Can you think of any passages in the Bible that speak positively about life outside of Christ?
Compare this with other passages that describe life outside of Christ (e.g. Rom.8:7-8; Gal.5:17-21; Eph.1:1-3; Col.1:21 & 3:5-7; there are also passages in which Paul describes his own specific experience of life pre-Christ: Rom.7:7-11; Phil.3:4-8 etc.). What similarities are there? What differences?
What aspects of this continue to be our experience after we have become Christians?
Read Romans 7:14-25
Is Paul avoiding taking responsibility for his ongoing patterns of sinful behaviour (it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me, v.17)?
Is Paul advocating a hopeless despair in vv.18-19?
How important is motive and desire in assessing our behaviour, and Christian maturity?
How can Paul move from a passage in which he is lamenting his ongoing experience of sin, to declaring that there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1)?
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
For further reflection:
Often we don’t change because we don’t intend to. We do at a general level, but not anything specifically. We want to grow to be more like Jesus, but what does that mean in the detail? Prayerfully identify a facet of your life or character that you would love to see changed. It might be something you want to stop… a pattern of behaviour, an emotion, a desire. Or something you want to start - a gap in your Christlikeness that you long for the Holy Spirit to fill out. Or something you want to replace, perhaps greed with generosity?
Do you have a clear vision of what it would look like to be like Jesus in this arena? What moment in Jesus’ life, or in His teaching (or that of the Apostles) is shaping that vision?
Do you actually want to change? Are you afraid you’ll somehow be losing out, depriving yourself of satisfaction, signing up to a tedious duty?
Why do you want to see change here? Am I trying to impress God, or my homegroup? What is motivating me?
Have I tried to change here before, but failed? Why was that? What are my pressure points? What makes me give up, and give in to temptation? What lie am I choosing to believe? What truth do I need reminded of? When I fail, how can I get back on track as quickly as possible? Am I secure in God’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s ongoing commitment to my growing in Christlikeness?
What can I do to minimise my exposure to temptation? What can I do to strengthen my faith for the fight? Whose help do I need? How will I find the motivation to return to the fight again and again?