DEALING WITH SIN UNDER THE NEW COVENANT
DEALING WITH SIN UNDER THE NEW COVENANT Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Perhaps many Christians in America agree that God is dealing with the sin in our lives. We need to repent and begin to keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles. There are several outstanding moves of the Holy Spirit throughout the country and through them God is warning us to repent before our nation is destroyed.
We understand how God dealt with sin under the Law of Moses. But how God deals with sin under the new covenant is not always made clear, some supposing it doesn't matter if we sin and others maintaining that there is not power in the new covenant to deliver us from sin. This lack of clarity detracts from the effectiveness of the present call to repentance.
DEALING WITH SIN UNDER THE NEW COVENANT
No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (I John 3:6—NIV)
Under the old covenant, the Law of Moses, God issued a clear list of things we are to do and things we are not to do. If we disobeyed any of the commandments or statutes we were to bring our animal as a sin or trespass offering. If we did so, in obedience to the Law, our sins were forgiven.
He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the lamb of the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made to the LORD by fire. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:35—NIV)
Clear, specific, simple directions.
But how we Christians are to deal with sin under the new covenant has not been made clear, specific, and simple. There is a tremendous area of confusion concerning the transition from the Law of Moses to the new covenant.
To my knowledge, none of the writers of the New Testament, with the exception of the Apostle Paul, described specifically how we are to deal with sin under the new covenant, although all of them, along with the Lord Jesus, warned us clearly that we Christians are not to sin, and if we do there are severe consequences.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, But only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26—NIV)
I realize my Christian associates will rise up in protest and announce that the above verse is not written to Christians, even though the writer is addressing the "holy brothers." It is this kind of confusion that prevails.
The Apostle Paul warned us in several of his epistles that if we Christians continue in sin, living in the sinful nature, we will die spiritually.
But Paul did much more than this. He explained to us the nature of the transition from Moses to the new covenant and how we are to deal with sin under the new covenant.
Yet we are not clear on this transition today, probably because, as Peter said, Paul is hard to understand. Peter added that people wrest Paul's teaching to their own destruction. This is what is taking place today. (It is a tribute to the humility and integrity of the Apostle Peter that he referred to Paul's writing as part of the Scriptures.)
Bear in mind that our Lords patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (II Peter 3:15,16NIV))
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, (Romans 3:20-22—NIV)
The confusion arises, of course, from Chapters Three through Five of the Book of Romans. It sounds like Paul is saying Christians need only to have faith in Jesus and their behavior is not an integral part of their salvation. This is not what Paul is saying, as he explains in Chapter Six, but it appears Christian scholars have contented themselves with a superficial understanding of Chapters Three through Five, have drawn axioms from several passages of these chapters, and from the axioms have deduced the current destructive definition of the grace of God in Christ.
A closer look at Romans 3:20-22 (above) shows clearly that Paul is not contrasting faith in Christ with righteous behavior but with the Law of Moses. There is a great difference between the righteous behavior that results from our placing our faith in Christ and living in the Spirit of God, and adherence to the numerous commandments and statutes of the Law of Moses. We no longer are under the authority of the Law of Moses if we have died with Christ on the cross. But if we do not follow the Spirit of God to the point our behavior is becoming righteous, then, according to the Apostle Paul, we shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.
I think it will help our understanding if we take the following three verses from Romans and suggest two different ways of interpreting them. The first way pretty much follows current Christian thinking. The second way is the one we think more closely follows the Bible. Let's see what you believe to be the correct interpretation.
Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 7:25-8:2—NIV)
Paul is stating that the individual is a slave in his mind to the Law of Moses while in his sinful nature he is a slave to the law of sin dwelling in the members of his body.
Paul then says there is no condemnation resting on those who are in Christ Jesus.
Paul explains that through Christ the law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death. The law of sin and death is the interaction of the Law of Moses and the law of sin that resides in the human personality.
Are we correct so far? If so, let us proceed.
Now there are two ways of interpreting the above three verses.
The first way is as follows: while we are on earth we must resign ourselves to the fact that we are going to continue to sin. We may be a devout person and very upset about not being able to fulfill all of God's laws, which we love and are in slavery to, so to speak. However the sin principle in our body dictates that we indeed shall keep on sinning.
God, recognizing our slavery to sin, acknowledging that if we could we would do His will, keeps on forgiving our sinning so we remain without condemnation.
The law of the Spirit of life, operating through Christ, sets us free from the law of sin and death by giving us a clear conscience. We know we are sinning but since we are under grace and not under the Law of Moses we are free from all condemnation.
Would you agree that I have just set forth an approximation of what is currently believed and often verbalized by the ministry?
The second interpretation is as follows: Paul is not speaking of the Christian life but of the dilemma faced by the righteous Jew under the Law of Moses. In the Jew's mind he is in slavery to God but in his sinful nature he is a slave to sin.
In the Book of Romans Paul is reasoning with Jews, perhaps many Christian Jews. Remember, the first Christian church was composed of five thousand Jews who had received Jesus Christ as Christ but were keeping the Law of Moses with all diligence.
When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law." (Acts 21:20—NIV)
Paul's explanation of the transition from the Law of Moses to the grace of Jesus Christ begins in Chapters Two through Six and then resumes in Chapter Eight. Chapter Seven is inserted to reason with the Jews concerning the inability of the Law of Moses to satisfy their desire for righteousness.
Do you not know, brothersfor I am speaking to men who know the lawthat the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? (Romans 7:1NIV)
Thus, Romans 7:25, stating the believer is in slavery to the Law of Moses and also to his sin nature, such that he never has a clear conscience, is not speaking to Christians but reveals the dilemma of the seeker after God who is trying to keep the Law of Moses. This is not the victorious Christian life.
Paul's next proclamation, that there is no condemnation resting on those who are in Christ Jesus, is assuring the Jewish believer that if he is abiding in Christ he does not have to worry about the fact that his behavior is not according to the Law of Moses. He is free from the authority of the Law so he can rejoice in Christ. He is not caught in the dilemma where what he is directed to do and what he is able to do are hopelessly and forever opposed.
Now comes the solution.
Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2—NIV)
Everything depends on how we interpret the above verse. We can interpret it to mean that although we are condemned to keep on sinning, we need not worry because the "law of the Spirit of life set me free" is a way of saying even though we sin God keeps on ascribing the righteousness of the Law of Moses to us.
Or, we can interpret the verse to mean we no longer are under the Law of Moses so we can forget about the condemnation resulting from our inability to observe the Law. We now are under a new law, the law of the Spirit of life. The law of the Spirit of life leads us from victory to victory over our sins, giving us the wisdom and power to break every chain of sin that binds us. As long as we are following the Spirit of God the blood of the Lamb of God is making an atonement for us and the righteousness of Him who perfectly obeyed the Law of Moses is being imputed to us.
Can you see the uncrossable chasm between the two interpretations of the three verses? The first is fatalistic, condemning us to a life of bondage to sin. It is the current viewpoint and accounts for the eternal babyhood of the believers. They have been taught that Christ has power only to forgive our sins, not to deliver us from sin. If we are willing to accept the forgiveness we will go to Heaven when we die.
In addition, the implication of the first interpretation is that there is no law that governs the Christian. Christians often resent the suggestion that they are under any kind of law, and sometimes will declare "There is no law but the law of love!" Did you ever hear a believer say this? It is quite unscriptural.
The second interpretation of the three verses brings us into slavery to the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God takes the place of the Law of Moses. This is extremely important to understand. We are not without law, we have passed from the Law of Moses to the law of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our law under the new covenant.
The second interpretation of the three verses produces victorious saints. They understand the blood is cleansing them from all sin only as they are obeying the Spirit of God, only as they are walking in the light of God's will.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (I John 1:7—NIV)
All Christians believe righteous behavior is desirable. The issue is joined over the question of what takes place if we do not behave righteously. Numerous preachers of our day claim and teach that even though we keep living in our sinful nature we are without condemnation and will go to Heaven when we die, with many stating no Christian need have any fear of the Judgment Seat of Christ. This truly is a dreadful wrenching of the Scripture!
Christ and His Apostles, however, taught that if we keep living in our sinful nature we will die spiritually, we will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
It is our point of view that the first interpretation of the three verses destroys the Kingdom of God.
The only safe way to decide between the two interpretations is to see what other passages have to say. Since we are working with three verses from the Apostle Paul's writings, let us examine whether Paul in other passages supports the idea that we are condemned to continue in sin and Christ's salvation results only in our perpetual forgiveness, or if through the Lord Jesus Christ we can and must cease sinning if we are to live spiritually.
We only have to go back one chapter in the Book of Romans.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (Romans 6:15—NIV)
Paul understood that people could misunderstand (and already were misunderstanding) what he had written in Chapters Three through Five. So he immediately issues a disclaimer, stating he was not saying we could keep on sinning even though we are not under the Law of Moses.
Don’t you know when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16—NIV)
Paul is speaking to Christians who have been baptized in water. He is saying if they continue as slaves to sin they will die spiritually. This verse alone smashes into irrecoverable pieces current Christian teaching that there are no serious consequences if the believer continues to behave according to his or her sinful nature.
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. (Romans 6:17—NIV)
We used to be slaves to sin. We are not slaves to sin now. This indicates that Romans 7:25 is not addressed to Christian people but to devout Jews who were unable to keep the Law and were exceedingly troubled because of this.
"Wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted" means the believers in Rome were obeying the commandments of Christ and His Apostles—again a concept not emphasized in numerous Christian churches. The current stance in so many cases is that God does not expect us to obey the commandments given by Christ and His Apostles. They are present in the New Testament only to show us our need of a Savior.
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:18—NIV)
How do we escape bondage to sin and become slaves to righteousness? Certainly not by claiming it does not matter whether we sin because under the new covenant God does not recognize we are sinning. This is what is taught currently.
We escape bondage to sin and become slaves to righteousness by the power of the Spirit of God. As we live in the Spirit He gives us the wisdom and power (grace) to overcome sin.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16—NIV)
This is a remarkably different viewpoint, isn't it?
I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. (Romans 6:19—NIV)
Which of the two interpretations of Romans 7:25-8:2 does the above verse support? Is it saying we are doomed to be in slavery to our sinful nature, or is it inviting us to live in slavery to righteousness?
The last verse in the sixth chapter of Romans, a verse often preached to the unsaved but has little to do with the unsaved, tells us that as Christians if we choose to be the slave of God and righteousness we will gain eternal life; but if we choose to be the slave of sin, spiritual death will be our wages.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22,23—NIV)
The gift of eternal life is actually the gift of the opportunity to attain life by choosing to be the slave of righteousness. This the unsaved cannot possibly do, and so Romans 6:23 is not really directed to the unsaved.
The subject of the present brief essay is the manner in which we are to deal with sin under the new covenant.
In order to explain how we are to deal with sin we first had to provide the scriptural background for our position as people under the new covenant. We are not doomed to keep sinning. This is not the way of the new covenant. Rather the new covenant, unlike the Law of Moses, provides not only the forgiveness of our sins but also the breaking of the chains of sin that reside in our sinful nature.
There are two issues here. First, precisely what is sin under the new covenant? How is sin defined? Second, how do we obtain release from the sins dwelling in our personality?
Sin under the new covenant is defined as "the works of the flesh." The usual appetites and passions of our body are often sinful.
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. (Galatians 5:19-21—NIV)
There are several lists similar to the above in the New Testament.
The commandments of Christ and His Apostles found in the New Testament serve as a guide to us. We know immorality is sinful. We know strife and rage are sinful. We know drunkenness and witchcraft are sinful. There is no question. These behaviors are sin.
Another list is as follows:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 3:3-5—NIV)
And yet another:
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:26-31—NIV)
The above definitions of sin sound like America of today. In fact, many of these behaviors are found in the churches, such as gossip and slander.
There is a difference between the covenants. The old covenant is very specific in its list of behaviors that are sinful. Obey the Law of Moses and you will live.
The new covenant does not work like this. The purpose of the definition of sin given to us by Christ and His Apostles in the New Testament is to guide us to righteous behavior. But the real law of the new covenant is the Holy Spirit Himself.
We are to follow the Spirit every day. As we do He brings to our attention some aspect of our behavior that is not pleasing to God. It may be in the area of worldliness, or the lusts and passions of the flesh, or our self-will.
When we are made aware of our displeasing behavior we are to confess it as sin. When we confess our sin we do not just recite it, we vigorously denounce and resist it, naming it clearly as sin with the idea that never again by God's help will we practice such behavior again.
Then we are to draw near to God and resist the devil. As with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we confess and denounce our sins, turning away from them, we find God is actually forgiving our sins and cleansing our personality.
We read in the New Testament that not bringing forth the fruit of righteousness in our life will result in our being cut off from Christ. Not abiding in Christ is a grievous sin under the new covenant.
Five of the virgins were denied entrance to the Kingdom because they did not keep full of the Life of Christ. Not keeping full of the Life of Christ is a grievous sin under the new covenant.
The man with one talent was deprived of his talent and cast into outer darkness. The Lord refers to him as a wicked, lazy slave. So we see that not using the abilities given to us so God's Kingdom is built up is a dreadful sin and the result is catastrophic.
We have been commanded to present our body a living sacrifice to God. To not do so is a great sin.
We have been commanded to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow Jesus. To not do so is a great sin and will have disastrous consequences.
In other words, our righteousness must greatly exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees if we expect to enter the Kingdom of God.
The law of the Spirit of Life is infinitely stricter than the Law of Moses. But unlike the Law of Moses we have been given marvelous grace. We have the atoning blood of Christ to keep us without condemnation as we follow the Spirit of God. We have the body and blood of Christ to strengthen our personality. We have the born-again experience, meaning that incorruptible Divine Life has been born within us. We have been crucified with Christ, resurrected with Christ, and now are at the right hand of God in Heaven.
We have the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to bear witness of the atoning death and triumphant resurrection of Christ, to enable us to build up ourselves and others to maturity as measured by the stature of the fullness of Christ, and to furnish us with the ability to overcome every sin. In addition we can come boldly through the veil until we are before the Mercy Seat in Heaven, there to request help from God as we seek to overcome the world, our flesh, and our self-will.
Infinitely greater demands on us. Infinitely greater grace with which to meet those demands.
What is sin? Sin is much of what we do when we choose to walk in our sinful nature rather than in the Spirit of God.
How does God deal with sin under the new covenant? He forgives the past sins of the new Christian on the basis of the blood atonement made by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.
Then God furnishes him with all the aspects of Divine grace that I have listed above.
If we as a young Christian, or even a Christian of many years, choose to keep on living in our sinful nature we will slay the Divine Seed that has been planted in us, as in the parable of the sower. In the day of resurrection we will inherit corruption and death. We will not receive a redeemed body. Our fate may be the outer darkness or even the Lake of Fire. Or we may pass through terrible fires that will save us into the Kingdom.
If we choose to live in the Spirit of God He will lead us against the sins of our personality. Just as the Israelites conquered the Canaanites one city at a time, as the Spirit of the Lord led them, so it is true that the Spirit of God leads us one city at a time against the worldliness, lust, and self-will in our personality.
If we as a Christian choose to live in the flesh we will die spiritually. We will slay our own resurrection.
If we as a Christian choose to live in the Spirit of God we will be enabled increasingly to break the chains of sin that bind us and to keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles.
As we keep the commandments of Christ and His Apostles, continuing to observe all necessary Christian activities such as gathering on a regular basis with fervent believers (as possible), praying continually, meditating each day in the Scriptures, giving of our substance, seeking the gifts of the Spirit and ministering to the members of the Body, exhorting our fellow believers to walk in the path of righteousness, always singing and making melody in our heart to the Lord—as we do these necessary things Christ will be formed in us.
Christ formed in us is the new covenant. Christ Himself is the new covenant. The forming of Christ in us is the highest covenant of all. There never will be a Divine covenant given to man that is superior to that of Christ formed in us.
As Christ is formed in us we obey the eternal moral law of God by nature.
As Christ is formed in us we become a covenant of God with saved mankind. The saved nations of the earth will come up to the new Jerusalem, the glorified Christian Church, to be blessed; to receive the Divine Life of the Holy Spirit; to learn the righteous ways of the Lord. In this manner Christ in us becomes a covenant of God with the peoples of the earth.
We see now how God deals with sin under the new covenant. He forgives us, and then furnishes us with every Divine grace to make it possible for us to grow in the knowledge of good and evil and in the strength and wisdom to embrace the good and to renounce and totally resist and reject the evil. God conceives Christ in us, ministers to us by the Holy Spirit and by the members of the Body of Christ until Christ comes to maturity in us, and then comes Himself with Christ and dwells in us for eternity.
Christ came to destroy the works of the devil in us. He came also to inhabit us, to make us part of Himself so by nature we would obey the eternal moral laws of God Almighty.
What a salvation! So infinitely superior to the Law of Moses that to add any part of the Law to the Divine salvation is to add that which cannot improve but only detract from the operation of redemption.
Yet, sometimes some part of the Law is entangled in the faith of a believer. In this case we are not to judge our brother but to live peaceably with him so his faith is not injured. If he does not eat pork we will not eat pork in his presence while the world stands. Yet under the new covenant eating or not eating pork adds nothing whatever to the work of salvation, nor does circumcision or any other aspect of the old covenant.
We have a infinitely better covenant, an infinitely more powerful grace. Let us not sin against God because we are not under the Law of Moses. Let us rather fully grasp all that God is offering so we finally will be in the moral image of our Lord and at rest in the center of God's will.
The final answer to the problem of sin is to follow the Spirit of God until Christ has been fully formed in us. Then we will keep the eternal moral law of God perfectly because of our new nature.
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6—NIV)
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (I John 3:9—NIV)