The final couple of studies we have this term are focused on the apparent tension between the freedom we have in Christ (Galatians 5v1) and our ongoing struggle with sin. Paul explains to the Ephesians that they were captive to three things; the cravings of our sinful nature (flesh), the ruler of the Kingdom of the air (the devil) and the ways of this world (2v1-3). While there is much overlap between all three, our focus this week is on the flesh, our natural tendency and inclination to “gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” In Galatians 5 Paul says that the desires of our sinful nature are in conflict with the Spirit; he says that though we have a new nature, a new identity and a new belonging, our old sinful nature wars against our new nature, against the leadings of the Holy Spirit who now lives and resides within us (see also Romans 7:15-25).
Galatians 5:16-26 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
How much does God care about sin?
Jerry Bridges in ‘The Discipline of Grace’ uses three passages to emphasise the seriousness of sin;
Leviticus 16v21 21He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task.
2 Samuel 12v9-10 9Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because youdespised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
1 Kings 13v21 21He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you.
In Leviticus 16v21 God uses the word rebellion to describe the sins of the Israelites, i.e. He considers our sin as rebellion against His sovereign rule over His creation. The 2 Samuel 12v9-10 passage is part of the prophet Nathan’s rebuke of David for committing adultery and trying to cover it up by killing Bathsheba’s husband. Here God says that David had despised His word, he had treated it with contempt. Finally in 1 Kings 13v21 God uses the word defied to describe the seriousness of the disobedience, this word indicates a direct challenge to God’s authority. The prophet committed no scandalous sin here (as David had done) but he simply did what God had told him no to do.
So to answer the question, scripture is clear that God treats our sinfulness very seriously indeed, so much so that He sent Jesus to die for us and for our sinfulness at the cross. These words, rebellion,despised and defied help us to get some sense of the gravity of our sin before a Holy God. Jerry Bridges writes, “Sin grieves God. We must not downplay the seriousness of it in the life of a believer. But we must come to terms with the fact that God’s grace is greater than all our sins. Repentance is one of the Christians highest privileges. A repentant Christian focuses on God’s mercy and grace.”
What is so amazing about Grace?
This could all sound quite discouraging if it were not for the grace of God. Paul writes in Romans 5v21 that, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Philip Yancey writes that;
“Grace makes its appearance in so many forms that I have trouble defining it. I am ready, though, to attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God. Grace means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more – no amount of spiritual activities, no amount of knowledge gained, no amount of campaigning on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less – No amount of racism, or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder. Grace means that God already loves us much as an infinite God can possibly love.” (What is so amazing about Grace?, pg 70)
It is important that we begin to comprehend the extraordinary message of the gospel of Jesus, it is important that we start to understand why grace is so amazing! Despite our rebellion, our despising of His word and our defiance against how He has instructed us to live, grace is God’s undeserved gift to guilty and helpless sinners like us.
Twice in Romans 6 Paul asks the question; “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (v1) and “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (v15). Both times he answers his rhetorical question by saying “by no means” and goes on to talk about how our identity in Christ should transform the way that we live.
We are saved by grace rather by our own merit, but that grace is not a licence for us to live our lives as we please. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones said “If your preach grace properly you will be misunderstood”. If we understand grace correctly then it is logical to ask whether it matters what we do. However, rather than being a licence to sin, grace itself becomes the motivation for holiness, the motivation to live holy lives for our new master. Titus 2:11-12 says that “the grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness.”
I do not want to communicate that any of this is easy, I am sure we can all resonate with what Paul says in Romans 7 about his ongoing struggle with sin and how he concludes “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
The following are just a few things that help me in my daily and ongoing struggle to seek after and pursue holiness;
(1) I need to take sin seriously (Matthew 5:29-30),
(2) I need to marvel at just how amazing God’s grace is to us,
(3) I need to pray for God’s help because only he can change me from the inside out
(4) I need to spend time at the foot of the cross confessing my sins to Him who is faithful and just to forgive my sin
(5) I need to take steps to “purify” myself (1 John 3), “put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature” (Colossians 3) and “be transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Romans 12)