for Christ’s Disciples
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
2 Timothy 3:16
Do Christians Have Two Natures?
“If a house is divided against itself,it cannot stand.” Mark 3:25
Many born again Christians believe they have two natures within them, a new Christ-like nature and an old sinful nature, which war against each other. They believe that their new nature loves God and wants to practice righteousness, but that their old nature loves sin and wants to practice lawlessness. They think that their Christian life reflects whichever of these two conflicting natures they yield themselves to the most. However, this “tale of two natures” is not Biblically true. This falsehood is one of the greatest deceptions the devil has ever foisted on the church. Many Christians have become overcome by sin and hopelessly discouraged because they have swallowed this lie, while countless others have become deceived by this lie and their own self-righteousness into thinking that, through willpower and self-discipline, they can stop practicing sin.
The Bible says that every person is born with a fallen spiritual nature, which we inherited from our spiritual ancestor Adam. This inner sinful nature, which the Bible also refers to as the old man or the old self, is hostile and rebellious to God. Since this is man’s inward nature before he is born again of the Spirit, it controls man’s attitudes and actions and compels man to sin. This sinful nature is like a “sin factory” inside unregenerate man that continuously produces sinful thoughts and behavior that are alien and hostile to God. Since we were born into sin and were, therefore, sinners by nature, God’s plan of redemption was to get rid of the “sinner” or “sin factory” within us. Therefore, when we were born again, God spiritually immersed us into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3-4). The Scriptures are very clear on this fact: when Christ died, we died with Him (Romans 6:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:20; 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:11).
Contrary to the faulty theology currently taught in many churches today, born again believers do not have two natures. The Bible says, “For we know that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin (our sinful nature) might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6).” Our sinful nature died and was removed from us when we were born again. The apostle Paul taught that since our old sinful nature is dead and gone, we have been freed from the power of sin. “For he who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:7).” This Biblical fact is so fundamental to our Christian faith that God has ordained the practice of water baptism for new believers to always remind the church of this powerful truth of Christ’s Atonement. When we are buried (or immersed) under water during baptism, this act of faith outwardly demonstrates that our old sinful nature died and was removed from us. The Bible says, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death (Romans 6:4).”
This truth is basic to our Christian faith. However, if we do not believe this Biblical truth of Christ’s Atonement to the point that we act on it, we will not experience the divine provision that Christ died to give us. For example, if we do not believe and act on the Biblical truth that Christ’s death on the cross has completely removed the penalty of our sins, we will not experience freedom from the condemnation of sin. In the same way, if we do not believe and act on the Biblical truth that Christ’s death on the cross has completely removed our sinful nature, we will not experience freedom from the power of sin. The Bible says, “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard (Hebrews 4:2).” We simply cannot walk in sanctification and grow into spiritual maturity in Christ if we do not believe and act on this fundamental truth of the gospel of Christ.
Since Romans 6:6 plainly states that our old sinful nature was crucified and done away with through Christ’s death on the cross, the devil has fabricated two other deceptive variations to the lie that Christians have two natures, in order to subvert the truth and power of the cross of Christ. The first variation of this lie alleges that even if a Christian’s sinful nature has died, it was never completely destroyed and removed from him when he was born again. In other words, this devilish fabrication promotes the false idea that a Christian’s sinful nature is not irrevocably dead and extinct, but instead resides in a Christian much like an idle and dormant volcano, which can spontaneously erupt into life and cause destruction and havoc in your life at any time. There is absolutely no Scriptural support for this falsehood, which is aimed at keeping Christians fearful and captive to sin, so that they cannot walk in the fullness of Christ’s life and power. There are a dozen Scripture verses that plainly state we have died with Christ. The New Testament Greek word used in many of these verses is apothnesko, which means expired or died and conveys a sense of finality – of being very dead. For example, in Romans 6:7-8, the apostle Paul declared, “Because anyone who has died has been freed from sin… we have died with Christ.” Based on the New Testament Greek, this is clearly not just conceptual or symbolic, nor is it merely a figurative or positional death. Our sinful Adam nature, which was at the very core of our inner being and the root of our self-identity and rebellion toward God, actually died when we received Christ into our heart; it was not merely rendered idle or inactive.
There is yet a second variation to the lie that born again Christians have two natures. This second fabrication alleges that even if a Christian no longer has a sinful nature, he still has the malignant presence and power of sin dwelling in his physical body. Once again, there is absolutely no Scriptural support for this falsehood, which is also aimed at keeping Christians fearful and captive to sin. Some Christians are confused when they read Romans Chapter Seven and think perhaps the person being described in this passage is a Christian who has two conflicting natures – a good and evil nature. However, Paul wrote this particular chapter to his fellow Jewish brethren (see Romans 7:1) to convince them that in Christ, they died not only to the ungodly yoke of sin, they also died to the unbearable yoke of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law. In this chapter, Paul describes the frustration and anguish of a person who wants to obey God but cannot do so because of his sinful nature. Finally, at the end of Chapter Seven, this miserable person cries out, “I am a wretched man! Who will set me free from this body of death (this sinful nature)? (Romans 7:24).” Based on his own personal experience, Paul then triumphantly reveals who has freed us from our sinful nature. Paul declares, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25).” When reading Romans Chapter Seven, it is important to remember that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in the Greek language, a precise and expressive language which often strategically uses the present tense to dramatically describe a past action and experience. In Chapter Seven, Paul made effective use of this historical present tense, as it is called in the Greek language, to vividly describe the futility and misery of a person who wants to serve God but finds himself continually frustrated and sabotaged by his rebellious sinful nature because he is not born again. In writing this chapter, Paul drew from his own past personal experience as a devout Pharisee before he became a born again Christian. We should also point out that if a person is born again but mistakenly believes he still has a sinful nature, then he will also subconsciously (if not consciously) think that he is still captive to the all-consuming power of sin and inwardly think of himself as a hopelessly chronic sinner.
God knew that man’s sinful nature was his Achilles heel, which Satan could use to continually snare him in sin. This is why the Old Covenant could not accomplish God’s eternal purpose since man’s sinful nature prevented him from truly obeying God’s commandments. Therefore, what the Mosaic Law was powerless to do because of our sinful nature, God did in the New Covenant by sending His Son who perfectly fulfilled the Law and became sin on our behalf when He was crucified, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Not understanding the purpose and meaning of Romans Chapter Seven, some Christians cite Romans 7:17 (“sin… dwells in me”) to justify their mistaken belief that the evil presence and power of sin still resides in a Christian’s physical body. However as we said earlier, Paul was describing a person who is not born again, yet wants to obey God and cannot do so because of his sinful nature. Also we must ask: where does this spiritually cancerous sin dwell in our physical body after we are born again? Is it in our hands and feet? Jesus said, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire (Matthew 18:8).” However, Jesus did not mean that sin resides in our physical body like a malignant tumor and we must now amputate our hands and feet to become free of sin. Jesus meant we must decisively stop (cut off) practicing sin if we want to be His disciples and enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus revealed where sin resides in unregenerate man when He said, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting, and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within man and defile the man (Mark 7:21-23).” Once again, Jesus did not mean that sin resides in our physical heart; otherwise we would need a physical heart transplant to be freed from sin. Jesus meant that sin dwells in man’s unregenerate spiritual heart. Everyone was born with a heart of sin (a sinful nature); this was our spiritual condition before we were born again (Psalm 51:5). Therefore, God’s solution was to perform a divine heart transplant to save man from the cancerous power of sin and certain death and doom. When His Son died on the cross, God exchanged our terminally sin-sick heart with His Son’s divine heart (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11). The Bible says, “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6).” By this divine heart transplant, God completely delivered us from all indwelling sin, so that Christ could now dwell in us by His Spirit. This is the miracle of our new birth, made possible by the divine operation of the cross of Christ. Although our physical body will age and die because of sin’s effect upon the human race, this does not mean that evil now indwells our physical body as a malignant power that can cause us to sin. The Bible clearly and emphatically declares that the presence of sin does not indwell the body of a born again believer. The Scriptures testify that, after you are saved, you are now a “new man, which has been created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24),” and “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you (1 Corinthians 6:19).”
One of the main reasons why Christians mistakenly think they still have a sinful nature is because they continue to practice sin. Since our sinful Adam nature is dead and gone, then why do we continue to sin? The Bible says the reason why Christians continue to sin is because their minds have not yet been spiritually renewed by the truth of God’s Word. Although our Adam sinful nature is dead, our Adam way of thinking (our unrenewed mind) will still continue in the habit of worldly thinking and sinning until it is transformed by God’s Spirit of truth. More specifically, our mind needs to be transformed by God’s Word to the point that we act consistently on the truth that our sinful nature died with Christ and we have, therefore, been freed from sin. Paul taught, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is (Romans 12:2).” He also exhorted believers to “be made new in the attitude of your mind… take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ… and put on the new man (your new mind) who is being renewed to a true knowledge in the image of God who created him (Ephesians 4:23; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 3:10).” In other words, our unbelieving, sinful attitudes need to be transformed and converted to Christ’s attitudes. The Bible calls this process of renewal, by which we “put off” or “put to death” our unconverted soulish attitudes and behavior, and “put on” the mind of Christ and His attitudes and behavior, the practice of sanctification. Paul wrote, “Therefore, brethren, we have an obligation, not to the flesh (our unconverted soul-life), for if you are living according to the flesh (your unconverted soul-life), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live… put to death, therefore, whatever is soulish: immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire and greed… those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death on the cross their flesh (their unconverted soul-life) with its passions and desires (Romans 8:12-13; Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:24).” As we present ourselves each day to God as a living and holy sacrifice, and believe and act on the truth of His Word that we are “dead to sin but alive to God,” we can count on the Holy Spirit to transform our soul-life into Christ’s likeness.
We should always remember that there is a great difference between the sinful nature and the unrenewed mind. The unrenewed mind does not have the same spiritual power as the sinful nature. Our old sinful nature was like a continuously operating “sin factory” that had to be destroyed by Christ’s death on the cross before we could be freed from slavery to sin. The unrenewed mind or unconverted soul, on the other hand, is simply our soulish mindset, which the Holy Spirit within us can now transform, if we live by faith in the truth and power of the cross (Romans 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18). Since we have become united with Christ in His death and resurrection, we no longer have the presence and power of sin indwelling us; we now have the presence and power of Christ indwelling us. If we believe and act on this divine truth of Christ’s completed work on the cross, we no longer have to practice sin because we have been freed from sin and Christ now lives in us. The Bible says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed abides in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).”
The devilish lie that Christians still have the malignant presence of sin residing somewhere in their natural body is just another devious way of saying Christians still possess a sinful nature. Those who mistakenly think that a born again Christian still has a sinful nature sometimes justify their opinion by focusing on the interpretation of one Greek word, katargeo, as it appears in Romans 6:6: “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin (our sinful nature) might be done away with (katargeo), so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” In this verse, the New American Standard Bible translates the Greek word katargeo by the phrase, “done away with.” This is an appropriate translation within this Scriptural context since our old sinful nature died and was buried (done away with) by our baptism (immersion) into Christ’s death. The King James Version translates katargeo in this verse as “destroyed,” which also fits this Scriptural context since our sinful nature (the sin factory) was destroyed by Christ’s death on the cross. However, those who mistakenly believe that the sinful nature still resides within a born again Christian think the word katargeo should be translated as “inactive” or “idle.” In other words, they think the sinful nature is just sitting “idle” in a Christian, and that a Christian can unwittingly “reactivate” their old sinful nature whenever they commit a sin.
However, this is neither Scriptural nor logical. A careful review of the twenty-seven times that katargeo is used in New Testament reveals that “done away with” or “destroyed” is the proper translation of katargeo in Romans 6:6. In fact, katargeo might be accurately and more clearly translated as “removed.” This is exactly how katargeo is translated in 2 Corinthians 3:14 to describe how the Old Covenant veil that blinds Jews to seeing Jesus as their Messiah is removed (katargeo) whenever someone turns to Christ. This veil certainly is not rendered just inactive or idle; it is taken away! With this in view, the Old Covenant prophet Ezekiel foretold of the divine heart transplant that God would perform in the New Covenant: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).” The Bible here does not need any subjective interpretation; it is very clear. God, through His prophet Ezekiel, declared that our old heart of stone (our sinful nature) would be removed in the New Covenant!
The Bible says we have died with Christ (Romans 6:8; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Colossians 2:20; 3:3); we were buried with Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12); and we were raised with Christ (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12; 3:1). Consider this divine fact: resurrection means to be raised from the dead. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised from the dead with Him. Therefore, we had to die and be buried before we could be raised from the dead. Water baptism outwardly demonstrates this divine truth when we were buried in a watery “grave.” But when we died with Christ, who died and was then buried? Was it our physical body? Of course not! We know that our physical body did not die when we received Christ. Was it our soul? Certainly not! We know that our soul (our personality – our will, intellect and emotions) did not die when we received Christ. Yet, the Bible clearly states that we died with Christ when we were born again. Then who died? According to the Bible, our sinful nature died. The question we must ask ourselves is this: do we believe what the Bible says, that as born again believers, our sinful nature was put to death and removed from us? Do we believe this Biblical truth to the point that we act on it? When faced with the temptation to sin, do we believe this divine truth to the point that we resist sin by believing that we have been delivered from sin’s power because we have died to sin and no longer have sinful nature?
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul confirms the Biblical truth that our sinful nature was removed when we were born again. Here, Paul uses the picture of circumcision to describe what happened to our sinful nature when we were saved. “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the sinful nature, by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11).” We can say with absolute certainty that when someone is circumcised, their foreskin is definitely removed! It is not left attached in just an idle or dormant manner to continually cause infection and disease. Therefore, in this passage of Scripture (Colossians 2:11), Paul declares our sinful nature has been removed in Christ. Paul then shifts in the very next verse (Colossians 2:12) from the Old Covenant seal of righteousness (circumcision) to the New Covenant seal of righteousness (baptism) to further demonstrate that our old sinful nature was removed. Paul logically states that since our old sinful nature died and was removed (verse 11), it was then disposed of by burial: “Having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead (verse 12).” Thus, by linking Old Covenant circumcision with New Covenant baptism, Paul leaves no doubt that the death and removal of the sinful nature (as portrayed by circumcision) is also portrayed by the burial stage of water baptism. Again, we can say with absolute certainty, that when someone dies and is buried, their dead body is definitely removed and buried! In this way, water baptism confirms (just as circumcision also did) that our sinful nature not only died, but was definitely removed from us when we were born again. Thus both the Old Covenant and New Covenant clearly portray what happened to our sinful nature when we were born again of the Spirit.
The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).” In other words, a man speaks and acts based on who he is – in his inner being. This is why Jesus said that a man’s sinful thoughts and deeds originated from out of his unregenerate, sinful heart (Matthew 15:18-19). This was our spiritual identity before we were saved: we were sinners by nature and no matter how hard we tried, we could not escape our identity problem. God’s divine solution to our identity crisis was to get rid of the “sinner” – the “sin factory” within us. This is the Biblical truth: when you were born again, God changed your inward identity. He removed your sinful nature and Christ now lives in you by His Spirit (Colossians 1:27). The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; his old being is gone, a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17).” If you persistently believe this truth, your new Christ-like attitudes and actions will spring from out of your new identity – who you are in Christ! You are no longer a sinner by nature, you are now a new person in Christ. You can resist the temptation to sin by believing and acting on this Biblical truth. Remember that faith is not a feeling, it is a decision to believe God and take Him at His Word. Therefore, you can overcome your old sinful habits by simply making a decision to believe in this truth of the cross that God has given you a new spiritual identity in Christ. We are not hopelessly chronic sinners! We are saints – holy ones – who are dead to sin and alive to God because we no longer have a sinful nature, and we now have Christ’s holy nature dwelling in us. This Biblical truth is our God-given “Declaration of Independence” from the tyranny of sin, which Jesus Christ died on the cross for us to possess.
God does not mix what is holy with what is unholy. God would never pour His Holy Spirit into an unholy vessel containing a sinful nature. Jesus said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins (Mark 2:22).” The reason God is able to pour His Holy Spirit (His new wine) into our hearts is because He made us a new creation – a new wineskin in Christ – and we no longer have an old sinful nature within us. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). Once again, remember that before God could make us a new spiritual creation (born into Christ), He had to first deal with our old spiritual creation (that we inherited from Adam). Therefore, He not only dealt with its bad fruit (our sinful actions) by forgiving our sins; He also got rid of its bad root (by removing our sinful nature).
There are only two kinds of people who would insist that they have a sinful nature. The first person is an unbeliever who really does have a sinful nature because he has never been born again of the Holy Spirit. Even if that person falsely claims to be a Christian, he is still a prisoner to the power of sin because he still has a sinful nature (John 8:34-44). The second person is a born again Christian who does not believe that God ever removed his sinful nature from him when he was saved. Since he refuses to believe God’s Word, he still inwardly thinks he is a prisoner to sin even though Christ died to free him from sin (Romans 7:17-25). The word of the cross can only free a Christian from sin if they believe and act on it. Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). It is very evident in this particular Scriptural passage that Jesus was specifically referring here to being freed from slavery to sin (see John 8:34). Therefore, the unbeliever is a wretched and miserable person because he has a sinful nature and is in bondage to sin – even if he is outwardly religious; whereas the unbelieving believer is a wretched and miserable person because he erroneously thinks he still has a sinful nature and, therefore, continues to experience bondage to sin. Remember that the unbelieving “believer” may not be aware he is poor, wretched and miserable because he may be blinded and deceived into thinking he is spiritually rich and in need of nothing (Revelation 3:17). As God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).” This mistaken thinking and resulting spiritual deception and defeat stems from ignorance and unbelief concerning the power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus said, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God (Mark 12:24)?”
Unfortunately, the false belief that born again Christians still have a sinful nature also provides a religious excuse and cover for those Christians who want to keep sinning. As Paul warned, “You were called to be free, but do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge in sin (Galatians 5:13).” And Peter warned, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God (1 Peter 2:16).” Anyone who teaches that Christians have two conflicting inner natures of good and evil, or that God never actually removed our sinful nature through Christ’s death, is impeding the church from entering into Christ’s fullness and God’s eternal purpose. Once again, some teach this falsehood out of spiritual ignorance, but others deliberately teach it because they themselves knowingly and willfully practice sin. In their case, Jesus’ warning is appropriate, “Woe to you… for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering (Luke 11:52).”
When God completed His divine heart transplant through Christ’s death on the cross, He did not leave us with two hearts or two natures. If God had left a sinful nature within us, we would be divided in heart and mind. We would be constantly conflicted with two opposing natures and never be able to stand up to Satan’s attacks and temptations. Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand (Mark 3:25).” If we still had a sinful nature, the devil would always have a spiritual foothold of sin within us to deceive and defeat us. This would have been an incomplete and pitiful salvation that would only be effective to overcome sin and the devil in heaven – not on earth where we need the victory most! But thank God that Christ’s death on the cross has given us complete victory over sin! By the cross, Jesus Christ triumphed over the devil and sin. The Bible says, “And having disarmed the (spiritual) powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:15).” Thus God, by His Son’s death on the cross, delivered us not only from the penalty of sin; He also delivered us from the power of sin and the dominion of Satan, by destroying and removing our sinful nature, so that His Son’s Spirit could dwell in us and empower us. Jesus Christ has freed us from sin’s power by His death on the cross so that we do not need to practice sin. However, many Christians still believe they have a sinful nature and, therefore, continue to live in sin. Of this grievous situation, Paul declared, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized (immersed) into Christ Jesus have been baptized (immersed) into His death? (Romans 6:1-3).” In other words, “Do you not know that you have died to sin, and sin does not have to be master over you anymore?”
Jesus is the first born of God’s new creation, His church. Jesus did not have a sinful nature. He was born with a human body and He had a human soul (his personality, will and emotions). However, since Jesus was born of a virgin and God was His Father and indwelt Him, He did not inherit Adam’s sinful nature like we did. This is why He was able to obey God and live a sinless life. This is why Jesus said that Satan had no hold on Him (John 16:30). Now that we have been born of God, we no longer have a sinful nature and Satan no longer has a foothold in us. As the body of Christ, we too are capable of obeying God and not practicing sin, if we live by faith in the Son of God who died for us and now lives in us (Galatians 2:20). This is true liberating theology – because this is the gospel of Jesus Christ!
To sum up, the Bible is clear that when we were born again, our sinful nature died. The Bible is equally clear that our sinful nature not only died, it was completely removed from us. Our unholy sinful nature is dead and gone! How can we possibly be betrothed as a pure holy virgin to our bridegroom, Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2), if we still have an adulterous, evil, sinful nature lurking somewhere within our body, which lusts to commit spiritual adultery and rebellion toward God? Christ does not share His body, His church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, with the malignant presence and power of sin. If we preach and teach anything less than the complete removal of our sinful nature by the power of Christ’s crucifixion, we are guilty of not proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ and treating as unclean the holy blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:26-31). The gospel truth is this: Christ’s Spirit alone lives within us, and our mind can now be spiritually renewed and our soul transformed if we believe and act on the power of the cross of Christ. Therefore, we preach and teach the gospel that we are now a holy, new creation in Christ, born of the Spirit and partakers of God’s divine nature (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 1:27; 1 Peter 1:4).
Many Christians do not realize the full significance and redemptive power of God’s gift of eternal salvation. The gift of salvation is priceless; it was paid for us by the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. God has given us the gift of total salvation and complete freedom from sin – not only forgiveness for all our sinful deeds by His Son’s death, but also deliverance from all the power of sin by including us (that is, our sinful nature) in His Son’s death, so that Christ could sovereignly live in us. However, if we reject this precious gift of Christ’s life, which God has entrusted within us as a heavenly treasure, by holding onto the false belief that we still have a sinful nature in us and then use this falsehood as an excuse to practice sin, God will reject us. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be required… so take care how you listen (hear and obey); for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him (Luke 12:48; 8:18).” Only those Christians who receive this word of the cross by faith and wholeheartedly obey it will experience true freedom from sin and be able to faithfully serve God as His bondservants (Romans 6:17-22). Therefore, we pray that God would open the eyes of every believer’s heart to see what Jesus Christ has fully accomplished for us on the cross. This is the gospel that Paul proclaimed and this was his personal testimony: “I (my old self) have been crucified with Christ and I (my sinful nature) no longer live but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).”
How To Stop Practicing Sin
““My dear children, I am writing this to you
so that you will not sin.” 1 John 2:1
Many Christians ask, “If we were freed from sin when we were saved, then why must we still struggle against sin?” There are two principal reasons. The first reason is that even though our spirit was made alive in Christ when we were saved, our mind still needs to be converted by God’s Word. The second reason is that God uses our struggle against sin to purify our faith and bring us into spiritual maturity. It is a Biblical fact that we were freed from slavery to sin when we were saved because God removed our sinful nature. However, after we are saved, we still have to struggle by faith to overcome the sinful desires of our unconverted soul-life until our mind is renewed by the truth of God’s Word. There is a simple illustration of this in the Old Testament. After God miraculously delivered His people from slavery to Pharaoh (a picture of our deliverance from slavery to Satan), they still had to conquer the hostile giants in the land of Canaan (a picture of overcoming sin to possess our spiritual inheritance – “the Promised Land”). Remember that they could only overcome these giants and take the Promised Land by believing in God and obeying His commands. However, most of those who left Egypt died in the wilderness and never received their promised inheritance because they were unbelieving and disobedient in heart (Psalm 78; Hebrews 3:12-4:11). As Jude wrote, “I want to remind you that after the Lord saved His people out of Egypt, He subsequently destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 5).” This is a lesson and a warning to us all. If we want to possess God’s promised spiritual inheritance, we must forcefully struggle by faith to overcome the hostile “giants” of sin that would stand in our way, and the only way we can overcome sin is by believing and acting on the truth of God’s Word.
What are some of the “giants” of sin that are mentioned in the Bible? We are all familiar with the three “goliaths” of adultery, homosexuality and murder, which the Bible strongly condemns. However, the Bible lists a host of other sins which people also practice, such as being unloving, unmerciful, unrepentant, uncontrolled, unjust, unkind, untrustworthy, unforgiving, ungrateful, impatient, stubborn, argumentative, insolent, hostile, irreconcilable, reckless, rebellious, arrogant, angry, quick-tempered, proud, self-righteousness, self-willed, boastful, selfishly ambitious, domineering, overbearing, rude, abusive, vulgar, quarrelsome, belligerent, greedy, envious, covetous, deceitful, divisive, dishonest, lying, lustful, lewd, sensual, sexually immoral, swindling, stealing, unfaithful, lazy, gluttonous, drunkenness, carousing, foolish, frivolous, fearful, anxious, worried, nagging, cowardly, jealous, hypocritical, double-minded, faultfinding, gossiping, meddling, malicious, prejudiced, resentful, bitter, hateful, vengeful, slandering, manipulative and last, but not least, turning a “deaf ear” to the Holy Spirit. Of these sins, the apostle Paul soberly wrote to first-century Christians: “I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice these things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).” Some sins which Christians practice are evident for all to see, such as gluttony or overeating (recent studies show that a majority of Christians attending church are significantly overweight); whereas other sins which Christians secretly practice are hidden from others (but not from God), such as pornography (recent studies reveal that a majority of Christian men attending church regularly look at on-line pornography).
Salvation is only the beginning and not the end of God’s purpose for His people. God’s intention is that we would live a sanctified or holy life after we are saved. The Bible says, “God… has saved us and called us to a holy life… it is God’s will that you should be holy… for God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life… like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’ (2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:15-16).” If you are a Christian, there are no exceptions to God’s call to be holy. Many Christians think that just having forgiveness of sins is enough to get into heaven. That is not true. The Bible commands us to “pursue holiness, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” Jesus said if you continue to practice sin after you are saved, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). And the apostle John warned, “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or knows Him (1 John 3:6).” Therefore, it is essential that we learn how to stop practicing sin if we want to know God and enter the kingdom of heaven. Remember, however, that God would never expect us to be holy unless He had also provided the way for us to overcome sin. And the way that God has provided for us to overcome sin is found in the reason why Christ died on the cross. That is why Paul declared, “I determined that while I was with you I would speak of nothing else but Jesus Christ and (the purpose of) His crucifixion (1 Corinthians 2:2).” For when Jesus Christ was crucified, He did not just physically die two thousand years ago on a cross outside the gates of Jerusalem. Since Jesus is the Son of God (God manifest in the flesh), His death transcended time and space and took place in “the heavenly tabernacle” – in the realm of eternity, so that He might provide redemption from sin to everyone who receives Him as Lord and Savior (John 1:12; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 9:11-15). In order to redeem us from the cancer (and condemnation) of sin, God the Father used His Son’s sacrificial death to not only provide us with forgiveness of sins, but to also deliver us from the power of sin. How did God accomplish this? Since we were born into sin and were sinners by nature, we could only be freed from sin through death. Therefore, God released us from sin’s dominion by spiritually including us in His Son’s death. The Bible says that when we were born of the Spirit, God spiritually immersed us into Christ’s death in order to remove our sinful nature, so that Christ could dwell in us by His Holy Spirit (Romans 6:3-6; Galatians 2:20; 4:6; Colossians 1:27). Consequently, we are now “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).” This is the miracle of our new birth, made possible by the divine operation of the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:11-12; Galatians 6:14).
But now that God has saved us, how can we keep ourselves undefiled from the sin of the world? How can we serve God with a pure heart and an incorruptible love? How can we stop practicing the sins that have so easily entangled us in the past? Although God has made us a new spiritual person in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), our soul-life (our natural personality with its inherent attitudes, affections and thoughts) was not instantly converted and transformed into Christ’s likeness when we were saved (Ephesians 4:22-24). Therefore, we do not have to crucify our old sinful Adam nature (since God has already put it to death and removed it), but we still have to contend with our old Adam way of thinking (the sinful thoughts of our unconverted soul-life). Remember, however, that there is a great difference between our old sinful nature (now dead and gone) and our unconverted soul-life. Our unconverted soul-life (the unrenewed mind) does not have the power of the old sinful nature, which was like a sin factory within us, always producing sinful attitudes and actions (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Since God has freed us from slavery to sin by destroying and removing our sin nature/the sin factory, so that His Son’s Spirit could dwell in us (Romans 6:6-7; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:11), we are now capable of living a sanctified or holy life. We are now able to overcome sin by fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ (His Person and His completed work on the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2)). When the Bible says that a born again Christian must not and cannot practice sin, it does not mean that we will never sin again (1 John 1:8-10; 3:9). It means that we should be and can be in the habit of overcoming sin by exercising faith in the truth of the cross of Christ (1 John 3:6-8; 5:4-5). Since sin no longer is our master, we are able to bring our thought-life into submission to Christ by renewing our mind according to the truth of God’s Word. Paul taught, “Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is… be renewed in the attitude of your mind… put on the new man (your new mind) who is being renewed to a true knowledge in the image of God who created him (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10).” This is what Jesus meant when He commanded His disciples to carry their own cross daily, deny themselves, and lose (get rid of) their unconverted soul-life for His sake (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 14:26-27). With this command in mind, Paul wrote, “Therefore, brethren, we have an obligation, not to the flesh (our unconverted soul-life), for if you are living according to the flesh (your unconverted soul-life), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live… put to death, therefore, whatever is soulish: immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire and greed… those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death on the cross their flesh (their unconverted soul-life) with its passions and desires (Romans 8:12-13; Colossians 3:5; Galatians 5:24).” Now that we no longer have a sinful nature and Christ’s Spirit lives in us, we can put off our old soulish way of thinking and acting, and put on Christ’s way of thinking and acting (1 Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). When we practice this daily sanctification (or holiness) that comes by exercising faith in the truth of the cross, our soul will be transformed into Christ’s likeness and we will prove that our salvation is real and enduring (Acts 26:18; Philippians 2:12-13; James 2:26; 2 Peter 1:10-11). For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #48: Living by the Spirit; and #54: The Secret of Sanctification.
In our daily struggle to overcome sin, it is helpful to remind ourselves of these four divine facts:
- We want to overcome sin because we love God. We can only have one master: we cannot serve God and still serve sin. Paul said, “Sin shall not be your master (Romans 6:14).” And Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24).” The Bible says that if we are born again and know God, we will not continue to practice sin. “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or knows Him… no one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him and he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:6 & 9).” And Paul wrote, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an incorruptible love (Ephesians 6:24).” But how can we have an incorruptible love for Jesus if we are continually ensnared by compromising sins? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commands… whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me (John 14:15 & 21).” And John wrote, “This is love for God: to obey His commands (1 John 5:3).” Our obedience to His commands is clearly God’s love language. Therefore, we want to learn how to overcome sin and obey His commands because we love God and want to please Him. For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #16: The Pearl of Great Price; and #51: God’s Glorious Church.
- If we want to overcome sin, we must do it by faith. The Bible says that not only are we saved by faith, we must also live by faith (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). However, if we want to live by faith and overcome sin, we must live by the truth (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6). Faith is not a feeling; it is a decision to believe and act on the truth of God’s Word. It is impossible to overcome our natural temperament and sinful attitudes and habits by our own strength. Even if we successfully managed to outwardly control our sinful habits, we would still secretly have self-righteous pride that we could do so. The only way we can stop practicing sin is by having faith in the truth of God’s Word. How do we get this kind of overcoming faith? We immerse ourselves daily (with a good and honest heart) in God’s Word (Luke 8:15). Paul said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you… faith comes by hearing and hearing from the word of Christ (Colossians 3:16; Romans 10:17). Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).” And this is the truth that sets you free from the world’s ever-present temptation to sin: God removed your sinful nature when you were saved, so that you would no longer be enslaved to sin, and Christ could live in you and empower you by His Spirit (Romans 6:6-7; Colossians 1:27).Ultimately, our struggle against sin is a struggle of faith against unbelief because all sin springs from unbelief (Hebrews 3:12-19). Just as unbelief produces lawlessness and yields the fruit of death, our faith in Jesus Christ (who He is and what He accomplished for us on the cross) produces obedience and yields the fruit of holiness, and its reward – eternal life (Romans 6:20-22). Believing and acting on the truth of the cross (that we have died to sin) is the way (the only way) that God has provided for us to overcome sin. The Bible says, “For he who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:7).” God has freed us from sin’s power by destroying and removing our sinful nature (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11). This Biblical truth is our God-given “Declaration of Independence” from the tyranny of sin, which Jesus Christ died on the cross for us to possess. This is the liberating truth that Paul practiced and preached: “I (my old self) have been crucified with Christ, and I (my sinful nature) no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).”Remember that our faith must have corresponding action to be effective (James 2:18-26). Faith is not passive; if we want to overcome sin, our faith must be active and even forceful. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it (Matthew 11:12).” It is not enough to just hear God’s Word, but then not act on it. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?… My brothers are those who hear God’s Word and act on it (Luke 6:46-49; 8:21).” We must believe and act on God’s Word; otherwise it will have no transforming power in our lives. “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the word they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith (Hebrew 4:2).” If we believe and act on the Biblical truth that we have been freed from sin (because we no longer have a sinful nature), we will be empowered to live by faith in the Son of God who indwells us with His Spirit of power and holiness (Galatians 2:20). This is the divine truth that sets us free from sin and enables us to “put to death” every sinful thought and carnal desire that tries to oppose God’s will from being done in our life. If we practice our faith in this truth of the cross, our faith will mature and become steadfast and unshakeable. For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #22: The Works of Faith; #39: The Obedience of the Faith; and also our Bible Studies – Myths Exposed #4: Do Christians Have Two Natures?
- If we want to overcome sin, we must wage spiritual warfare. The apostle Peter exhorted believers to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).” And Paul taught, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).” In other words, our struggle against sin is ultimately a spiritual battle of faith against the devil and his demonic forces. True spiritual warfare begins the day we are born again. Before we were saved, there was no real need for the devil to wage warfare against us since we were already enslaved to him because of our sinful nature. However, after we have been saved and freed from sin, the devil will wage full spiritual warfare to bring us back into captivity to sin and darkness. The Bible says, “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. But resist him, standing firm in your faith (1 Peter 5:8-9).” But how is it possible for us to wage spiritual warfare against the power of the devil, who seeks to deceive and devour us in sin? The Bible says we cannot use natural weapons or our natural strength to resist the devil and overcome sin. Paul taught, “The weapons of our warfare are not natural, but divinely powerful to demolish strongholds (of the mind). We cast down vain imaginations and every barrier of pride that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).” Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5),” and this includes overcoming sin. If overcoming the devil and sin depended upon our own willpower, natural self-discipline and self-effort, we would surely be defeated. Therefore, we must put no confidence in our own ability and works to overcome sin; instead, we must put our faith and confidence solely in Jesus Christ, and His completed work on the cross, which is the only basis upon which we can overcome sin (Galatians 3:3; 6:14; Philippians 3:3).Since the devil can no longer control us through our sinful nature (which is dead and gone), he has switched his tactics – the battleground is now our mind. The devil will try to attack our thought-life in order to ensnare us in unbelief and sin. The primary weapon the devil uses against us in this spiritual battle is the “Big Lie.” What is the Big Lie? The Big Lie is the devil’s constant accusation against us that we are hopelessly chronic sinners (John 8:44; Romans 8:33-34; Revelation 12:10). The devil uses this Big Lie to try to deceive and entrap us in sin. The devil also uses this Big Lie to discourage and condemn us after he has ensnared us in sin. As soon as you swallow this Big Lie and believe that you are just a hopelessly chronic sinner, the devil has critically undermined your faith in the power of the blood of Christ. And if the devil can undermine your faith in Christ’s triumph on the cross, he can then try to undermine your faith in Christ Himself.But thank God that Jesus Christ has given us the victory over the devil and sin (1 John 5:4-5). For greater is Christ who reigns in us, than the devil who rules in this world of sin (1 John 4:4). Thank God that Jesus Christ has given us spiritual weapons to do spiritual battle and overcome the devil (2 Corinthians 6:7; 10:4). And the most powerful weapon in God’s heavenly arsenal is the blood of Christ! The Bible says, “They overcame him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11).” The blood speaks of Christ’s victory over the devil and sin through the cross (Colossians 2:15). By His death on the cross, Christ destroyed the devil’s spiritual hold over us and his foothold in us by removing our sinful nature (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11; 1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14). This is why it is essential that we renew and fortify our mind by meditating on this truth of God’s Word, and believing and acting on it. As soldiers of the cross, we can put on the armor of God and use the shield of faith (in the cross of Christ) and the sword of the Spirit (the truth of God’s Word) to repel the devil’s attacks against our mind (Ephesians 6:11-18; 1 John 2:14). Just as Christ defeated the devil during the temptation in the wilderness by testifying to the truth of God’s Word (Luke 4:1-14), we also can “fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12),” and overcome the devil’s temptation to sin by testifying to the truth of God’s Word. And this is that truth: God removed our sinful nature when we were saved, so that His Son’s Spirit of holiness and power could dwell in us and enable us to overcome sin (Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 2:20; 4:6; Colossians 2:11; 2 Timothy 1:7).The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).” In other words, a man speaks and acts based on who he is – in his inner being. The Bible says that every man was born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:10-23; 5:6-19; 7:14-24). For this reason, Jesus said that a man’s sinful thoughts and actions originate from out of his sinful heart (Matthew 15:18-19). However, when you were born again of the Spirit, God changed your inward identity. Your old sinful nature is dead and gone, and Jesus Christ now lives in you by His Spirit (Colossians 1:27). The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new person; his old being is gone, a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17).” If you believe this Biblical truth, your new attitudes and actions will spring from out of your new identity – who you are in Christ! This truth of the cross is the most powerful and effective weapon God has given you to overcome sin and, in fact, is the only way of escape from enslavement to sin. You can overcome sin by simply making a decision to believe in this truth of the cross that God has given you a new identity in Christ. We are not hopelessly chronic sinners! We are saints – holy ones – who are dead to sin and alive to God because we no longer have a sinful nature, and we now have Christ’s holy nature dwelling in us. Armed with this strategic and powerful truth of the cross (we are dead to sin because we no longer have a sinful nature), we can overcome the devil and sin.
Remember that we always fight from a position of spiritual rest. We enter into God’s rest by trusting in Christ’s victory on the cross. We do not have to fight to attain victory over sin; instead we fight from a secure position of victory because Christ has already secured our victory over sin by His triumph on the cross. Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).” If we abide in Christ and His victory over sin, His yoke is easy and His commands are not burdensome. However, if we step out of our position of resting by faith in Christ’s victory, and instead rely on our own self-effort to overcome sin, we will lose His peace and protection and fall victim to the devil’s temptations.
Confessing our deliverance from the power of sin is the natural way for our faith to express the truth of Christ’s triumph on the cross. Whenever we believe and confess by faith that we are dead to sin (because we no longer have a sinful nature), the devil’s power to ensnare us in sin is broken and we are freed to do God’s will. The Bible says, “It is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke.’ With that same spirit of faith, we also believe, therefore we also speak … for it is with your heart that you believe, resulting in righteousness, and it is with your mouth that you confess, resulting in salvation (2 Corinthians 4:13; Romans 10:10).” Remember that our confession of faith must be aligned with the truth of God’s Word; otherwise we do not have true Biblical faith. Therefore, we do not confess hoping that somehow, sometime in the future we will be delivered from sin. This is actually unbelief in the cross of Christ. Instead, we confess our faith based on the Biblical truth knowing that we have already been delivered from sin because of Christ’s victory on the cross. And this is the result: our faithful testimony of the power of the blood of the Lamb enables us to endure and escape every temptation to sin (2 Corinthians 10:13). This is the power of the blood of Christ that protects our mind against the devil’s lies, accusations and seductions. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and after you have done everything, to stand firm… resist the devil and he will flee from you (Ephesians 6:13; James 4:7).” For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #13: They Loved Not Their Lives; #41: Put on the Armor of Light; #55: The Overcomers; Question & Answer #50: Why must I believe that I no longer have a sin nature?; and Question & Answer #51: How can I ever be freed from my deeply ingrained, sinful habit?
- If we want to overcome sin, we must suffer for Christ. Paul instructed the first century Christians, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God … for it has been granted to you for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him but to also suffer for Him (Acts 14:22; Philippians 1:29-30).” Why must we suffer for Christ’s sake? Suffering hardship is an integral part of God’s “boot camp,” which is designed to test and develop our faith in Christ, and to train us in sanctification. The Greek word for affliction is thlipsis. It is also translated as trouble or tribulation, and simply means pressure. God has designed suffering to press us beyond our natural ability to endure trials and resist temptations, in order to train us to depend solely on Christ and His completed work on the cross (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Trials, afflictions and persecutions are the crucible that God uses to purify our faith in Christ. As God has said, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10).” We cannot be Christ’s soldiers and overcome sin if we are not willing to suffer the hardship of His divine training (2 Timothy 2:3). We cannot be Christ’s pure bride if we are not willing to suffer for Him in our struggle against sin (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). We cannot receive God’s promise of our spiritual inheritance if we are not willing to suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17). We cannot bear God’s spiritual fruit if we are not willing to suffer the pain of His divine pruning (John 15:2). We cannot be God’s children if we are not willing to suffer and endure His divine discipline (Hebrews 12:5-7). We cannot be Christ’s disciples and come into spiritual maturity if we are not willing to suffer and persevere by faith in order to overcome sin (Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4). We cannot reign with Christ in the age to come if we are not willing to suffer with Him during our life on earth (2 Timothy 2:12).In His parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus said we must endure two kinds of suffering to overcome sin and produce the fruit of sanctification (Matthew 13:21-22; Mark 4:16-19; Luke 8:13-14). We experience the first kind of suffering when we endure the trials of affliction and persecution. We experience the second kind of suffering when we resist the temptations of worldly riches and pleasures. We might call these two kinds suffering that prove our faith the twin tests of adversity and prosperity. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in all things as we are and that He suffered in the flesh (mentally, emotionally and physically) when he resisted the temptation to sin (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). The Bible says, “It was fitting for Him (God)… to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings… although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered (Hebrews 2:10; 5:8.)” And Peter wrote, “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh (mentally, emotionally and physically) has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).” This means we will often suffer (mentally, emotionally and physically) when we resist and overcome sin in order to live holy to God.Here are some questions to help us see if we are suffering for Christ’s sake in our struggle to overcome sin: Are we suffering alienation and hostility from unbelievers (including old friends, members of our own family, and even unbelieving “Christians”) because of our witness for Christ? Are we suffering in the flesh because we refuse to indulge in the pleasures of sin and the riches of the world for Christ’s sake? Are we suffering with Christ because we are “putting to death” daily the sins (fear, anger, bitterness, pride, envy, lust, greed, etc.) that used to entangle us? Are we suffering with Christ because we are denying ourselves the pursuit of self-gratification and self-fulfillment? Are we suffering for the sake of the gospel because we are laying down our willfulness, personal preferences and prejudices, and selfish desires to Christ’s Sovereignty? Are we suffering in the flesh because we are giving up our worldly ambitions, activities, and associations for Christ’s sake?Remember that we can only forsake temporal, soulish happiness in this world if we hold fast to our faith in Christ and His completed work on the cross. Jesus told His disciples a parable of a man who sold everything he had in order to obtain a treasure hidden in a field. Why did the man sell all to acquire this treasure? Jesus said the man was willing to give up everything for the joy of gaining this great treasure (Matthew 13:44-45). In the same way, we can give up our unconverted, natural soul-life (and its carnal desires and passions) and endure suffering to resist sin because, in return, we will gain the priceless joy of gaining Jesus Christ. It is this joy of knowing the Lord that gives us the strength to endure suffering for His sake (Nehemiah 8:10). This was Paul’s personal testimony: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).” The Bible says that Moses was able to endure suffering and resist the temporal pleasures of sin because he had his eyes fixed on eternal God who is invisible (Hebrews 11:25-27). The Bible says that Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the cross because of the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-2). This is this heavenly vision and spiritual joy that enables us to suffer in this world and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).”
To sum up, why does God allow us to suffer in our struggle of faith against sin? Paul said, “We rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance proven character (Romans 5:3-4; see also James 1:2-4).” Suffering is God’s way to develop faith in us that has been tested, refined and proven as pure gold (1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-13). What is the “pure gold” that constitutes a tested and proven faith? Remember that our faith must be based on the truth of God’s Word to be Biblical faith. The solid gold of God’s truth that purifies our faith in Christ so that it is immovable when tried and tested is the gospel truth of Christ’s completed work on the cross (Christ died for us and included us in His death, in order to remove our sin nature, so that He could sovereignly live in us). This is the pure gold of God’s truth, which enables our faith to persevere under pressure. The Bible says, “Let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).” And when we have persevered in overcoming sin, our faith in Christ will be more established and stronger than ever. “After we have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Peter 5:10).” For more on this subject, see our Teaching Tracts #12: Destined to Suffer for Christ’s Sake; and #29: Suffering – God’s Crucible.
In closing, let us review these four points on overcoming sin:
- We want to overcome sin because we love God.
- If we want to overcome sin, we must do it by faith in the truth of the cross.
- If we want to overcome sin, we must wage spiritual warfare.
- If we want to overcome sin, we must suffer for Christ’s sake.
There is a great difference between a Christian who struggles in his own strength against sin and is regularly defeated, and a Christian who struggles by faith against sin and is an overcomer. We are able to overcome sin by fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ (who He is and what He accomplished for us on the cross). By Christ’s triumph on the cross, God has freed us not only from the penalty of sin, He also freed us from the power of sin (by removing our sinful nature), so that by His Spirit (which now dwells in us) we could overcome every temptation to sin. Our struggle of faith against sin will often require us to endure hardship as we learn to overcome sin. The Bible says, “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. All discipline for the moment is not pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:10-11).” This training is essential to what the Bible calls the practice of sanctification (or holiness), which will continue until we die and are called to be with the Lord in glory. Sanctification requires a daily struggle of faith on our behalf, which is often marked by sacrifice and suffering, but is richly rewarded with ever-increasing, intimate fellowship with the King of glory. Paul taught, “For momentary, light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison… for I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:18).” As we learn to overcome sin by exercising faith in the power of blood of the Lamb, we will steadily occupy the spiritual land (our spiritual inheritance) that Christ has secured for us by His death and resurrection. When we overcome sin this way by faith in the truth of the cross, we will have the indescribable joy of truly knowing our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, and we will bear much spiritual fruit for His sake. By our victorious struggle of faith to overcome sin, we prove (by our actions) that we truly believe in Jesus Christ and all that He accomplished for us on the cross, and by our lives we glorify God and prove that we are, indeed, His disciples. The Lord Jesus promised all those who overcome the world that they would not be hurt by the second death, but they would eat of the Tree of Life; they would be clothed in white garments and have their name in the Book of Life; they would receive hidden manna and a new name; they would be a pillar in the temple of God and belong to the new Jerusalem, the city of God; and they would rule over the nations with Him (Revelation Chapters 2 & 3).
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit
Its Purpose and Power
Jesus commanded His disciples to be baptized in water (Matthew 28:19). Water baptism is the outward expression of the inward transformation that occurred within us when we were saved: our old man of sin died in Christ when we were born again of His Spirit and we are now a new man in Christ (Romans 6:3-11). However after they were saved, Jesus also commanded His disciples to be baptized in the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5 & 8). Therefore, we see that water baptism is associated with salvation, whereas Spirit baptism is associated with something more than salvation. This raises a very important question: If we received the Holy Spirit when we were saved, then why do we need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit after we are saved?
Empowered to be Christ’s Witnesses
The answer can be found by comparing two key events in church history: Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. On Resurrection Sunday, when Jesus appeared to His disciples as a group for the first time, the Bible says, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).’” This is the moment when the disciples passed from “Old Covenant salvation” to “New Covenant salvation.” Believers in the Old Covenant were saved by looking forward in faith to Christ’s redemption, which had not yet taken place; whereas believers in the New Covenant are saved by looking back in faith to the historic event of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection. In the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul gives two conditions for New Covenant salvation, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).” Before Resurrection Sunday, the disciples had already confessed Jesus as Lord. But now for the first time, they also believed God raised Him from the dead. Therefore, Resurrection Sunday is when the disciples were born again of the Spirit. This is the day when God replaced their old Adam nature with Christ’s new nature.
Thus even though the disciples had received the Holy Spirit for salvation, Jesus made it clear they also needed to be baptized in the Holy Spirit for empowerment. Just before His ascension, Jesus gathered His disciples together and “commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift My Father had promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized in water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be My witnesses (Acts 1:5 & 8; see also Luke 24:49).” The Father’s promise to baptize them in the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday when the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:4).”
The Disciples in Jerusalem Baptized in the Holy Spirit
On that morning, the apostle Peter explained to those present what had just occurred, “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He (Jesus) has poured out what you now see and hear (Acts 2:33).” Thus the disciples were born again of the Holy Spirit on Resurrection Sunday but they were baptized in the Holy Spirit seven weeks later on Pentecost Sunday. These two different events show our new birth in Jesus Christ is distinct and separate from Jesus baptizing us in the Holy Spirit. When we are born again, we receive Christ’s life; when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we receive Christ’s power. This is an absolute spiritual necessity “for the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20).” We simply cannot be Christ’s overcoming witnesses and spiritual warriors in this godless world ruled by Satan unless Jesus Christ has baptized us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for baptism means immersion. When we are baptized in the Holy Spirit, we are completely enveloped in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the natural realm, there are two possible ways we can be immersed under water. We can go down under the surface of the water and then come up out of it. This is what happens when we are water baptized. The other way is if the water is poured over us until we are completely immersed and enveloped by it. In the natural, this experience would occur if we stood underneath a pouring waterfall. This is the type of immersion that occurs when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. This is why the Bible, when describing the baptism in the Holy Spirit, uses language such as “I will pour out My Spirit” and “He poured out this which you see and hear” and “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.” We should also note the terms, “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” “promise of the Holy Spirit” and “gift of the Holy Spirit” are used interchangeably to describe the same Biblical experience (see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5; 2:33, 38; 10:44-45; 11:15-17). Also, after Pentecost Sunday, the term “received the Holy Spirit” always refers to receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit (see Acts 8:17; 10:47; 19:2).
The Disciples in Samaria Baptized in the Holy Spirit
Let’s look at two other occasions after Pentecost where the Bible describes when people were baptized in the Holy Spirit. The first event takes place when Philip the evangelist preached the gospel to Samaria. Many people believed in Jesus Christ and were water baptized (Acts 8:12). However, even though they had received the Holy Spirit for salvation, they had not yet received the baptism in the Holy Spirit for empowerment. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying hands on them and they were receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).” We see the disciples at Samaria were saved through the ministry of Philip, but were later baptized in the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Peter and John.
The Disciples in Ephesus Baptized in the Holy Spirit
The second event takes place when Apollos preached the gospel to Ephesus. A number of people believed in Jesus Christ but had not yet been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2). Shortly thereafter, the apostle Paul then encountered the new believers and discovered they had not been properly water baptized nor had they been baptized in the Holy Spirit. “He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:1-6).” We see the disciples at Ephesus were saved through the ministry of Apollos, but were later baptized in the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Paul.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit and Speaking in “Tongues”
At this point, we will highlight an important feature of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. When Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit, He gives us the ability to speak to God in the spirit through a new language or what the Bible calls a “new tongue” or “other tongue.” Just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus said one of the supernatural signs that would follow believers is that they would speak in new tongues. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues (Mark 16:15-17).” With this in mind, let us review the five examples in the book of Acts when believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit to see if they spoke in a new tongue. The first example is when the 120 disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance (Acts 2:4). When the first 120 disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they spoke in other languages than their own.
The second example of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit takes place when Philip preached the gospel in Samaria. When a man named Simon witnessed what occurred as Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritan Christians and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, he tried to purchase from them the same ability to impart the Holy Spirit. “Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17-19).’” What did Simon see that impressed him so much? We know that he had already seen supernatural miracles, such as people being delivered from demons and being miraculously healed (see Acts 8:6-7). Although the Scripture does not explicitly say the believers in Samaria spoke in new tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is a reasonable to conclude that Simon personally witnessed the same phenomena that occurred every other time believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts—he saw and heard them speaking in other tongues.
The Apostle Paul Spoke in Tongues “More than You All”
The third example in the book of Acts of someone receiving the Holy Spirit is the case of Saul of Tarsus, later known as the apostle Paul. He had been saved on the road to Damascus, where he had also been temporarily blinded. Three days after his conversion, a man named Ananias was divinely sent to him. “So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized (Acts 9:17-18).” There is no doubt that Saul was born again before Ananias arrived to pray for him. He believed in the Lord Jesus when he was still on the road to Damascus. Also, when Ananias first met Saul, he called him “brother Saul.” Therefore, Saul was filled or baptized in the Holy Spirit three days after his salvation. There is also no doubt that Paul spoke in other tongues because he himself later testified, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all (1 Corinthians 14:18).” When we combine Paul’s personal testimony with all the other examples of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul received the ability to speak in other tongues when Ananias laid hands on him to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
The Gentiles Baptized in the Holy Spirit and Speak in Tongues
The fourth example of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit occurred when the apostle Peter preached the gospel in Caesarea to Cornelius and his household. In this unique incident, Jesus Christ baptized Cornelius and his household in the Holy Spirit at the very same time they received Him as Lord and Savior (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18). Jesus sovereignly poured out His Spirit on them in this manner to supernaturally witness to Peter that God had granted salvation to the Gentiles. Peter knew Jesus had baptized these Gentiles in the Holy Spirit when he heard them speaking in tongues. “The Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God (Acts 10:45-46).” Recognizing that God had saved Cornelius and his household, Peter then instructed them to be immediately water baptized. The fifth example of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit occurred when Paul laid his hands on the new believers in Ephesus so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:6).” Once again, we see that when the believers in the book of Acts were baptized in the Holy Spirit, they spoke with new tongues.
Let us now review the five examples. In four of them, receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit resulted in the believers speaking with other tongues. In the fifth example, something obviously occurred (other than supernatural miracles) when the believers in Samaria received the Holy Spirit because Simon tried to buy from the apostles the power to baptize people in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude those believers also spoke in tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit since this would be consistent with the other Scriptural examples. From the overall Biblical record, we can confidently state that born-again believers in the first century church spoke in other tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Thus, through the obedience of their faith, these disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in new tongues just as Jesus had instructed them. In the same way, everyone who is born again today should also be baptized in the Holy Spirit and expect to speak in new tongues. We once had an interesting experience in this regard. Some Korean Christians, who did not speak English, were visiting our fellowship in the United States. As we were all praying together, one of the Korean sisters quietly began to praise God in a tongue she did not understand – in the most perfect and eloquent English.
Difference between Tongues for Personal Prayer and Ministry
It would be good to now distinguish between tongues for personal prayer, which everyone who is baptized in the Holy Spirit receives, from the gift of tongues followed by interpretation of tongues, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to various believers for ministry to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:10). This is the gift of tongues, which Paul lists along with the gifts of healing and miracles, when he says, “All do not speak in tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they (1 Corinthians 12:30).” Paul is not speaking here about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but about the supernatural operations of the Spirit, which can be exercised by the believer in the assembly of the church, as a result of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul enumerates nine different gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are imparted to believers when they are baptized in the Holy Spirit. Although every Holy Spirit baptized believer can speak in tongues at any time, this does not mean God will use him with the gift of tongues to bring a message to the church. The main difference between the two is that one is for private and personal devotion to God, and the other one is for public ministry to the church. When we pray privately in tongues, we are edified, but the entire church is edified when we speak in tongues in the church (when it is followed by an interpretation). When we pray privately in tongues, we can pray as we will but the gift of tongues for ministry to the church only operates as the Holy Spirit wills. When we pray in tongues, our spirits are praying to God, but when we speak out loud in tongues in church, it is so God can speak to the church (if it is followed by an interpretation). For this reason, the gift of tongues is always be accompanied by the gift of interpretation of the message in tongues. As Paul instructed, “Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret (1 Corinthians 14:13).”
The Purpose of Tongues for Ministry
The distinction between the baptism of the Holy Spirit (also called the gift of the Holy Spirit), which is accompanied by the evidence of personal tongues, versus the gift of tongues, which is accompanied by interpretation of tongues, is also differentiated in the New Testament by two different Greek words for gift. Whenever believers received the baptism or gift of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament uses the Greek word dorea for gift (Acts 2:38; 10:45; 11:17); whereas the New Testament always uses the Greek word charisma for gift to describe the ministry gifts (Romans 11:29; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31;13:2; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). These two Greek words, dorea and charisma, are never interchanged in the New Testament. Charisma is never used to describe the believer’s personal prayer language, which they receive when they are baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45), and dorea is never used to describe the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues, which the Spirit gives believers for ministry to the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). Therefore, Paul’s question, “Do all speak with tongues” means “Do all believers, after they receive the gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit, exercise the gift (charisma) of tongues for ministry?” The answer is no since not all believers have this particular gift of ministry. For example, in the five cases we reviewed where believers spoke in tongues after they received the baptism or gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit, in none of these five situations did the believers use the gift (charisma) of interpretation. This once again demonstrates that when you receive the gift (dorea) of the Holy Spirit, you also receive the personal, devotional prayer language of tongues but not necessarily the gift (charisma) of tongues, which should always be exercised with the gift (charisma) of interpretation to edify the church.
Paul clearly instructs that whenever you speak in the gift (charisma) of tongues in an open assembly of the church, it should be followed by the gift (charisma) of interpretation of tongues so that others can understand the message that is given in tongues (See 1 Corinthians 14:5 & 13). Thus everyone who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit has the capability of speaking in private, devotional tongues (though they may not exercise this capability because of unbelief, ignorance, fear or other reasons); but not everyone receives the gift (charisma) of tongues which is used in conjunction with the gift (charisma) of interpretation. If you cannot interpret the message that the Holy Spirit has given you or if there is no other gifted interpreter present in the assembly, then Paul says, “the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God (1 Corinthians 14:28).” When the gift (charisma) of tongues with interpretation is properly used in the church, it is similar to the gift (charisma) of prophecy, which is given to build up, exhort and comfort the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:3). For example, one time when we meeting together, a sister in Christ who does not speak any Chinese, gave a lengthy, edifying message for the church in the Chinese language, which was then interpreted in English. This is how God intended the gifts (charisma) of the Spirit to be used to minister to the body of Christ. “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each as a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, and has an interpretation. Let all things by done for edification (1 Corinthians 14:26).”
The Purpose of Personal Tongues
If you do not speak in tongues immediately when you are baptized in the Holy Spirit, don’t be anxious. After you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, you have a reservoir of living water ready to overflow from your spirit. “Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ By this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:38-39).” Releasing the gift of tongues is like turning on a water faucet. You just have to learn how to turn on the “faucet” to speak in your prayer language. Jesus said we must receive the kingdom of God with faith like a child (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17). This does not mean that we should not use our mind. Our intellect is a very useful tool but our faith must always spring from a pure and open heart towards God. This reminds me of the time I met a fellow Christian who had graduated from a prestigious Ivy League university. After a brief conversation, I perceived this brother had a keen intellect. I then asked him whether he had ever received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He answered no and asked what this was. I then began to open the Scriptures to him and explained how Jesus wanted all His disciples to be immersed in the Holy Spirit so they would have supernatural power to be His witnesses and be able to speak directly to Him in a Spirit-given prayer language. We then bowed our heads in prayer and he simply asked Jesus to baptize him in the Holy Spirit. While we were still praying, this brother (whose great mind and education didn’t get in the way of his child-like faith) began to joyously speak in other tongues just like the disciples did on the day of Pentecost.
Why does Jesus Christ want to give us the ability to speak in a prayer language that we do not know when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit? We are talking about personal prayer language here and not the ministry gift (charisma) of tongues accompanied by interpretation. The Bible gives at least three reasons. The Bible says the foremost reason is that when we speak in another tongue, we are able to speak directly to God in the spirit. This is what the apostle Paul taught. “For the one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries (1 Corinthians 14:2).” There are many times when you may not be sure how or what to pray and, by speaking in tongues, you can communicate directly to God in your spirit. As Paul said, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays… I will pray with my spirit and I will pray with my mind also (1 Corinthians 14:14-15/emphasis added).” Paul clearly valued this spiritual benefit of speaking in tongues when he wrote, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all (1 Corinthians 14:18).” Paul says the second reason is that speaking in tongues builds you up in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:4). When you pray in tongues, the Holy Spirit is able to strengthen your inner man. Jude also speaks to this benefit: “But you, dear friends, build yourself up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20).” The third reason to speak in tongues is mentioned by Paul when he exhorts Christians to “pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18)” so they might intercede for the saints. In this way, speaking in tongues can help us “pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)” as the Spirit Himself intercedes for us and through us according to the will of God. The Bible says, “In the same way the Spirit also helps in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words, for He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).” We can be sure we are praying accurately because the Spirit prays the prayer that God wants to hear and wants to answer. As an example of this kind of prayer, one day I began praying privately in my own English language and then shifted into praying in the spirit with my new tongue. I soon found myself weeping as I was led by the Spirit to pray in my new tongue from the very depths of my soul. After a while, the weeping changed into triumphant declarations, and then praise and worship to God. Although I did not know the precise interpretation of my new tongue during this time of private prayer, I knew with certainty in my spirit that I was interceding for God to move powerfully upon our community to bring all of His elect into His kingdom. This intercession and spiritual warfare session lasted nearly an hour, and when it was over, I walked away filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. In closing, for all the Scriptural reasons listed above for praying in the spirit, we would strongly encourage each believer (after they are baptized in the Holy Spirit) to spend time every day privately praying and praising God in their new Spirit-given language. In this way, you will fellowship with God the Father and His Son and you will build yourself up in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit will empower and lead you to effectively intercede for others.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit with Fire
There is one more very important aspect of the baptism in the Holy Spirit we need to point out. John the Baptist called this “the baptism in the Holy Spirit with fire (Matthew 3:11).” Fire represents the holiness of the Lord. Therefore, when Jesus baptizes us in the Holy Spirit, He intended it not only to empower us but to also purify us. Our immersion into Christ’s Spirit of holiness is meant to expose, convict, purge and burn away all the dross (soulish carnality) from our lives. The Holy Spirit‘s purifying fire in our lives is essential if we want to be Jesus’ holy witnesses. Jesus said His disciples would be salted with fire (Mark 9:49) but if they lose their saltiness (holiness), they are not good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by the world (Mark 9:50; Matthew 5:13). Without holiness, we cannot display God’s power. Without holiness, we cannot be Christ’s witness. Without holiness, we cannot know Jesus Christ. Of course, we must always remember we cannot possibly live in Christ’s holiness (even if we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit with fire) if we don’t know (believe and act on) the truth that we have been crucified with Christ. The gospel of Christ crucified reveals the power that God has provided for us to abide in Christ and overcome sin, the world and the devil.
To sum up, Christ’s completed work on the cross delivers us not only from the penalty of sin but the power of sin. Water baptism demonstrates we have been immersed into the power of Christ’s crucifixion; whereas Spirit baptism immerses us into the power of Christ’s resurrection. Obviously, we need to know both the power of His crucifixion and resurrection if we want to know Jesus Christ in fullness. As the apostle Paul testified, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection… becoming like Him in His death (Philippines 3:10).” In view of Jesus’ command for His disciples to be baptized in the Holy Spirit to empower them to be His witnesses, we strongly encourage every believer to walk in obedience to the faith and be baptized in the Holy Spirit. When anyone was saved in the early church, they were normally baptized in water the same day and baptized in the Spirit shortly thereafter to supernaturally empower them as Christ’s witnesses. And when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, Jesus gave them the ability to speak to God directly in another language. In the same way, when Jesus baptizes you in the Holy Spirit, He will give you the supernatural ability to speak in another language.
How to Receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
You can receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit the same way you received Christ when you were saved – by faith (Galatians 3:2). Jesus said, “If you being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13)?” Our heavenly Father has promised to give you the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His Son is the One who will baptize you in the Spirit. Remember the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not an emotional experience; it is a divine promise and gift, which you receive by faith. You may or may not express any emotion when you receive it. When you ask Jesus to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, you can count on the Word of God that He will. Just ask Him.
Endnote: If Jesus Christ baptizes us in the Holy Spirit to empower us, then why do we need to know we died with Christ? Jesus does not intend the baptism in the Holy Spirit to have only a one-time impact; He means it to be the spiritual gateway for a Christian to be continually empowered by the Holy Spirit and exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build up His body (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-13). However, the only way the power of the Holy Spirit can be manifested continually in our lives is if we know (and act on this knowledge) that we have been crucified with Christ. Calvary must come before Pentecost. This is the divine principle: Jesus had to be crucified at Calvary and ascend to His Father before the power of His Spirit could be poured out at Pentecost (John 7:39). In the same way, our baptism (immersion) into the power of Christ’s resurrection is only effective if we have also been baptized (immersed) into the power of Christ’s death. The divine truth is that we have already been baptized into Christ’s death. We were baptized into Christ’s death when we were born again (Romans 6:3) and God removed our sinful nature (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:11). Therefore, we now need to abide (remain united by faith) in the power of Christ’s crucifixion so that the power of Christ’s resurrection might abide in us.
If we do not know this divine fact (that we have died with Christ and our sinful nature has been removed) by divine revelation, we won’t be able to act on this divine truth and overcome sin. We will mistakenly try to live the Christian life by the power of our soul (our natural personality and ability) and mistakenly think it is with the help of the Holy Spirit. However, when we live by the power of our soul, we are not relying by faith on the power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. And when we do not live in faith and obedience to the truth of God’s Word, we are blocking the Holy Spirit’s power from being expressed in us and protecting us. This has tragic results even though it may not be evident to those who are spiritually undiscerning and immature. If continue to live by the strength of our soul, we become open to deception since the soul not governed by the Holy Spirit is a gateway to demonic influence. We simply cannot expect to be filled, empowered and protected by the Holy Spirit if we are not obeying God and His Word.
Therefore, it’s essential that we know (believe and act on) the Word of God: We have been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:8; Galatians 2:20: 6:14) and no longer have a sinful nature, so that the resurrected Christ can express the power of His Holy Spirit through us. Otherwise, even though we may have been baptized at one time in the Holy Spirit, we will end up living by the power of our soul. This is Galatianism or “starting in the Spirit but finishing in the flesh (Galatians 3:3).” Tragically, this has been an all too common experience for many Christians, even “charismatic” Christians. However, when we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and know (believe and act on) the truth that our sinful nature died when we were born again, then Jesus Christ can train us daily to walk in the power of His Spirit and to place no confidence in the strength of our soul (our natural ability). Then we will truly be Christ’s witnesses and disciples. Jesus said, “If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).”
The Gifts and the Fruit of the Spirit
The gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit are both supernatural expressions of God and intended to encourage and comfort the body of Christ, but they are different in many respects. The Bible describes the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The Bible describes the gifts of the Spirit as the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, special faith, healings, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, various kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Some additional spiritual gifts, such as the gifts of leadership, teaching and service, are also addressed in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11.
God Wants the Church to Have Both Gifts and Fruit
Because of unbelief, ignorance and disobedience, the church has two common problems concerning the spiritual gifts – either a lack of use of the gifts or a misuse of the gifts. Both these problems would be solved if Christians truly believed they had died with Christ and no longer relied on their natural abilities and church traditions to do God’s work but instead trusted solely in Christ to sovereignly live through them. Many Christians pursue fruit but neglect the gifts. However, from God’s perspective it is not a matter of one or the other, He wants us to desire both the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. The Bible says, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:10).” When Christians lack spiritual fruit, the church is sick but when Christians lack spiritual gifts, the church is not strengthened. Since our warfare is not against mortal men but against the spiritual forces of darkness, our equipment, tools and weapons must also be spiritual; otherwise we will not prevail (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The apostle Paul instructed, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant (1 Corinthians 12:1).”
Although there may be various interpretations on the meaning of specific gifts, there is no question that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid today. Arguments against the use of the spiritual gifts are normally not based on Biblical grounds but instead on a fear of abuse of the gifts (which the apostle Paul effectively deals with in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 14). There is no Scriptural support to suggest that the gifts were only for the first century or that the gifts were only intended for men or leaders. The apostle Peter, citing the prophet Joel, declared, “And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy… even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18).” The Bible clearly states that the Holy Spirit distributes the spiritual gifts to every believer for effective ministry to the church and effective evangelism to the world (Acts 4:29-30; 14:3; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:12). “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).” The Bible says that the spiritual gifts are given to every believer to comfort, encourage and strengthen the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:3, 26). Paul wrote, “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).” If we reject the Holy Spirit’s gifts or misuse them, we reject God’s will and divine provision and tools for equipping His church. The body of Christ will then suffer as a result our unbelief and disobedience and God will ultimately hold us responsible.
The Gifts and Fruit Are Different in Nature and Purpose
A major difference between the two is found in the nature of spiritual fruit compared to the gifts. The fruit of the Spirit are attributes of God’s divine character; whereas the gifts of the Spirit are instruments of God’s divine power. The gifts are the supernatural operation and manifestation of the Holy Spirit who distributes them to each member of the body of Christ according to His own will (1 Corinthians 12:11; Hebrews 2:4). For example, when the elders of the church laid hands on Timothy, the Holy Spirit gave him a spiritual gift, perhaps the gift of teaching (1 Timothy 4:13), which was confirmed through a prophetic message (1 Timothy 4:14). It is important to note that all the gifts are distributed by the initiative of the Holy Spirit and not by man’s will. “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do it by the works of the law or by hearing with faith (Galatians 3:5)?” Therefore, in order to exercise the gifts of the Spirit properly, we must be submitted to Christ’s authority and act only in obedience to His initiative (John 15:5). Jesus Himself never said or did anything on His own initiative; He only acted on His Father’s initiative (John 5:19, 30; 8:28; 12:49). That God’s will and initiative is required to properly exercise the spiritual gifts is also evident by the apostle Peter’s instruction on prophecy: “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:21).”
Both the Gifts and Fruit Are Supernaturally Imparted
Just as the fruit of the Spirit is not the same as naturally endowed virtues; the gifts of the Spirit are not naturally endowed abilities. All of the gifts of the Spirit are supernaturally endowed; they are not the product of natural effort or education. It is not the intention of this teaching to define the characteristics of the individual gifts; however, all of the spiritual gifts are either described or displayed by the apostles in the Book of Acts. In every case, the results that the spiritual gifts produce are far superior than anything we could ever achieve with our natural ability. For example, someone may be a naturally eloquent speaker but that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit has bestowed on them the supernatural gift of teaching. Furthermore, natural eloquence can never produce the spiritual results that can only come from the Holy Spirit and His gift of teaching. Or, someone may be a natural born leader, but this does not mean the Holy Spirit has given them the gift of spiritual leadership. And the Holy Spirit’s gift of prophecy is definitely not the same as someone’s “inspirational” sermon. Unfortunately, due to spiritual ignorance and unbelief about the gifts, many people are following teachers who are speaking from their own natural wisdom and ability rather than from the revelatory and enabling gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Gifts and Fruit Are Produced Differently
Another major difference between the spiritual gifts and fruit is how they are imparted. Whereas the gifts of the Spirit are received spontaneously by an act of faith; the fruit of the Spirit are produced over time by abiding or persevering faith (Luke 8:15). One brother in Christ has compared this to the difference between a fruit tree and a Christmas tree. Fruit is formed slowly over time by being vitally connected to the life of the tree; whereas Christmas ornaments are like gifts, which are placed on the tree by a single act in a single instant of time. The Bible says “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).” This means the gifts are not loaned out and then recalled. If someone falls away from the faith and becomes carnal and ungodly, their ability to use the gifts will not cease. For example, even though King Saul became rebellious, ungodly and depraved, he still prophesied (1 Samuel 19:18-24). Consequently, the gifts do not necessarily reflect the spiritual character and sanctification of the person who exercises them; whereas fruit is an expression of that person’s character and sanctification. As result, the great danger for Christians who exercise the gifts is for them to think and feel they are more “spiritual” than they really are. For this reason and because of the different nature and function of spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts, the gifts can often be misused by someone who is soulish and carnal. For example, the Corinthian church abounded in the spiritual gifts but sorely lacked in spiritual fruit since they remained very carnal minded (1 Corinthians 1:7; 3:1-3; 11:17-32). Their failure to be convicted that they were spiritually carnal and lawless even though they exercised the spiritual gifts is a sobering warning to all of us.
You Shall Know Them by Their Fruit Not Their Gifts
Whenever Christians are more impressed with dramatic gifts rather than authentic fruit, there are major problems. We need to always keep in mind Jesus’ warning, “You shall know them by their fruit.” He did not say, “You shall know them by their gifts.” Nor did He say, “You shall know them by their outward moral behavior.” There is a great difference between man-made morality, which is naturally born and developed, and the fruit of the Spirit, which is only spiritually formed and grows from out of our sanctification to Christ. Morality apart from the cross of Christ is not true sanctification: it is just another version of the flesh. It is very important to know that exercising the spiritual gifts can be dangerous and backfire if you are not walking in sanctification (holiness). If you are not walking in sanctification, God cannot protect you from Satan’s schemes to deceive and attack you when you function in the supernatural realm. The only way we can safely function in the spiritual gifts is if we are submitted to Christ’s sovereignty and hear and obey His voice. And the only way we can be truly submitted to Christ’s authority is if we know (believe and act on) the truth that we have been crucified with Christ and our sinful nature has been removed from us (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20).
God Holds Us Accountable For Both Our Fruit and Gifts
God will hold us accountable for everything He has given us, including the spiritual gifts. Therefore, we should desire to fully use the spiritual gifts as His responsible stewards for the good of His body, the church. We do not want to be like the slave who refused to do anything with what his master gave him. Jesus Christ judged this slave wicked, lazy and worthless (Matthew 25:26-30; Luke 19:22). It is a serious and grievous matter to refuse any gift which God wants to give us and for which His Son died. This includes the gift of salvation, the gift of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and all the spiritual gifts, which God has given every believer for building up the body of Christ. However, we must pursue holiness and love to ensure that we use the spiritual gifts safely and properly; otherwise Christ’s Judgment will also be severe. Jesus warned that He would reject many in the Day of Judgment who exercised the spiritual gifts even while they willfully and habitually practiced sin (Matthew 7:21-23). This is why it is imperative that we “pursue sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” The spiritual gifts, which are instruments or tools, will cease at the end of this age but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which express Christ’s character, will remain forever (1 Corinthians 13:8). Therefore, without the fruit of the Spirit in evidence, the use of the gifts has no eternal value. The gifts, which are exercised by faith, must always function in love to have any spiritual worth (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). The apostle Paul taught, “Faith works through love (Galatians 5:6).” And the apostle Peter exhorted, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10). Therefore, God’s desire is that all Christians would exercise His spiritual gifts in His love to build up His church.
The New Covenant Priesthood of Believers
Under the New Covenant, all believers constitute God’s priesthood who together are responsible for the “work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12).” However, in most churches today the work of the ministry is performed primarily by professional, salaried clergy who are paid by the rest of the church members, who are considered just support lay people. Since many, if not most, of these pastors do not have the Lord’s spiritual authority, they direct and control church affairs by their own religious authority. Jesus hated this man-made hierarchy and Spirit-quenching dichotomy of clergy and laity, which He called Nicolaitanism (Greek for lording it over the people) (Revelation 2:6, 15-16). In true Christianity, there is true spiritual authority: the Holy Spirit raises up spiritually mature men (elders, who are non-salaried) from among the flock who together help the Lord shepherd His church, but the Bible also says that the Holy Spirit gives each member of the body of Christ a special function or spiritual gift to equip them to minister together to the whole church. It is God’s intent that whenever His church meets under Christ’s headship, each member should be able to freely share their spiritual gifts with the body of Christ as the Holy Spirit directs them. Paul taught, “Since we have gifts that differ according the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly (Romans 12:6).” Thus the Bible says that when the body of Christ meets together under Christ’s headship, one member might share a psalm, another member a prophecy, another member a teaching, and another member might share tongues and interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26). This functioning priesthood of all believers is one of the fundamental building blocks of Christ’s church. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house as a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9).”
To use another metaphor, God intends that Jesus Christ would be like the head “orchestra leader and conductor” of His church. Therefore, whenever we come together in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, every member of the body should fix their eyes on Jesus their head. The Holy Spirit will then spontaneously prompt each member, as individual instruments of “Christ’s orchestra,” to share their spiritual gifts in proper order for the good of the whole body (1 Corinthians 14:40). When Jesus is the “head conductor” of church, our gathering together and ministering to one another will be creatively directed by the Holy Spirit who will produce a spiritual “symphony” to supply the needs of the whole body of Christ. To this end, Paul wrote, “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).” In this way, all the members actively participate in building up the body of Christ so that the church as a whole can fulfill God’s eternal purpose – to express the fullness of Jesus Christ.
We Must Abide in Christ to Have Both Good Fruit and Gifts
In closing, we manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit the same way we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit – by faith in Jesus Christ and His words and works. As the apostle Paul said, “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5).” Therefore, we can exercise the spiritual gifts by faith according to the grace that the Holy Spirit has given each of us (Romans 12:6). We exercise the gifts by trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit and not relying on our natural ability (1 Peter 4:11). In order to properly exercise the gifts of the Spirit, we must abide (stay united by faith) in Jesus Christ and in His death and resurrection. If we do not abide in Christ and His completed work on the cross, we will not be properly submitted to Christ’s headship and we will not bear the fruit of sanctification. Our functioning in the gifts will then be in vain or, even worse, spiritually lawless (John 15:4-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-2). Therefore, it is essential that we believe and act on the truth that we have died with Christ and our sinful nature has been removed from us so that He can sovereignly live through us (Galatians 2:20). This is the way Jesus Christ will be able to sanctify us as His bondservants and enrich us with both His spiritual fruit and spiritual gifts for the building up of His body. “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21).”
Freed from the Law to Serve God in the Spirit
The Purpose and Meaning of Romans Seven
Chapter Seven of the Book of Romans may be the most misunderstood chapter in the entire New Testament and with the gravest consequences to the Christian faith.
Many Christians mistakenly think Romans Chapter Seven highlights the conflict of the two opposing spiritual natures (the old sinful nature and the new Christ-like nature), which they believe co-exist within every Christian. However, this is not Biblically correct. In Romans Chapter Six, the apostle Paul taught that God crucified our sinful nature with Christ and removed it from us when we were saved (Romans 6:6; see also Colossians 2:11). Therefore, if you are born of the Spirit, you now have only one spiritual nature – Christ’s holy nature, dwelling in you. The reason why you may keep sinning is not because you still have a sinful Adam nature; it is because your old Adam way of thinking still needs to be renewed and your soul transformed by the truth of what Jesus Christ accomplished for you on the cross. The normal Christian experience should be that you sin less and less as you apply this essential truth to your life more and more. God’s purpose and provision through Christ’s death is that sin would no longer have dominion over you (Romans 6:7, 12, 14). However, many Christians do not know (and believe and act on) the truth that they have died with Christ and that their old sinful nature is dead and gone; therefore, they are overcome by besetting sins and still personally identify with the experience of the “wretched man” in Romans Chapter Seven. Since they are defeated by sin, they mistakenly and tragically conclude that they still have a sinful nature. However, the truth is that God never intended for His people to be overcome by sin; that is why He removed our sinful nature when we were saved.
Note: In Romans Chapter Seven, Paul uses the “first person” to emphasize the anguish and futility of trying to keep God’s Law before you were born again and still had a sinful nature that was hostile toward God. When reading Romans Chapter Seven, it is important to remember that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in the Greek language, a precise and expressive language which often strategically uses the present tense to dramatically describe a past action and experience. In Chapter Seven, Paul made effective use of this historical present tense, as it is called in the Greek language, to vividly describe the misery and hopelessness of a person who truly wants to serve God but finds himself continually frustrated and sabotaged by his rebellious sinful nature because he is not born again. In writing this chapter, Paul drew from his own past personal experience as a devout Pharisee before He became a born again Christian. Thus, in Romans 7:5 and 7:6, Paul contrasts the spiritual condition of a Jewish unbeliever (whose righteousness depends on keeping God’s Law, but is subverted by his sinful nature because he is not born again), with the spiritual condition of a born again believer (who no longer has a sinful nature and whose righteousness now depends on faith in Christ instead of keeping the Law). Romans 7:5 sums up the unbeliever’s life, which Paul then describes in Romans 7:14-24; whereas Romans 7:6 sums up the believer’s life, which Paul then describes in Romans 8:9-17. Remember that the original New Testament epistle of Romans did not have any chapter and verse denotations.
The Purpose of the Law
With this in mind, let us now look at Romans Chapter Seven. Paul specifically addresses this chapter to his fellow Jews or “brethren” who are following Yeshua ha’Mashiah (Jesus Christ) and know God’s Law, but they do not know that in Christ they have died to the Law (Romans 7:1, 4, 6). What is the Law, and what is its divine purpose? The Law, also known as the Law of God, the Mosaic Law, and “the Commandments,” is a complete system of divine law given by God through Moses to the Jews, in order to set them apart as a holy nation (Exodus 19:5). Since the Law originated with God, the Law rests on fundamental and eternal moral principles consistent with the holy nature and character of God Himself. The Bible calls the Law the “embodiment of knowledge and truth (Romans 2:20).” The Mosaic Law consisted not only of God’s moral law; it also contained civil and ceremonial laws (613 individual laws in all). For the purpose of this study, we will focus on the moral Law of God (expressed principally in the Ten Commandments), since the Old Covenant civil and ceremonial laws applied to Jews only; whereas God will impartially judge every person in this world (not only Jews) by His moral Law (Romans 2:1-16). In our study, we will see that “the Scripture declares the whole world is a prisoner of sin because they are found guilty by the Law, so that what was promised, based on faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe in Him (Galatians 3:22).”
The Law, which includes the Ten Commandments, is found in its entirety in the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Christians call these five books the Pentateuch, which means “Five Scrolls” in Greek; Jews call these books the Torah, which means “the Law” in Hebrew. The Law was given to govern man’s moral conduct by declaring God’s commandments concerning right and wrong. The Law is a binding and exacting standard of statues, which expresses man’s duty toward God and man’s duty toward his fellow man. The Bible declares that if you obeyed the whole Law, you would be blessed by God; however, if you did not obey the whole Law, you were under a curse (Deuteronomy 28). Therefore, everyone who was under the Law was expected to keep the whole Law, or face the penalties for breaking the Law. Many of Law’s penalties were severe, often resulting in capital punishment. For transgressions not warranting death, the Law could provide a means of restitution, as well as a means for forgiveness and atonement through sacrificial offerings, such as an unblemished lamb (Leviticus 1-7). You were not allowed to pick and choose what part of the Law you wanted to obey and what part of the Law you do not care to obey. This is also plainly stated by the apostle James, “For whoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law (James 2:10-11).” Therefore, anyone who was under the Law and broke just one part of the Law was guilty of breaking the whole Law. “All who rely on keeping the Law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:10-11).’”
No One Can be Justified by the Law
Why cannot anyone be justified before God by obeying the Law? The reason is that sin naturally rebels against the Law; therefore, sin’s power is exposed whenever anyone tries to keep the Law. The Bible says, “The power of sin is (exposed by) the Law (1 Corinthians 15:56).” This seeming paradox is a spiritual axiom. The more you know God’s Law and try to keep His Law, the more you will become aware of the power of your sinful nature (if you are an unbeliever), which will frustrate your every attempt to live by God’s Law. In fact, you will never find out how inherently sinful you really are until you try to be holy! As the Bible says, “The Law came so transgression could increase (Romans 5:20).” This was certainly Paul’s own past experience when he was a dedicated Pharisee who was zealous to keep the Law (but was still an unbeliever in Christ). Paul wrote, “For when we were in our sinful nature, the passions of sin which were aroused by the Law were at work in our members to bear fruit for death (Romans 7:5).” This can also be the frustrating experience of a born again Christian who is trying to live a holy life for Christ, but is continually defeated because he mistakenly believes he still has a sinful nature.
To sum up our three points concerning the Law of God: 1) The Law was first given to the Jews; 2) Everyone who was under the Law had to obey the whole Law, not just selected parts of the Law; and 3) Everyone who was under the Law was found guilty of breaking the Law (because of their sinful nature). The Bible says, “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in His sight by keeping the Law… for we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:20, 23).” Consequently, no one can achieve God’s righteousness by trying to comply with the requirements of the Law, especially the intent and spirit of the Law (Romans 9:31; 10:3). This brings us to our next point. If everyone under the Law is guilty of breaking the Law; and, therefore, is under the curse of the Law and God’s judgment, then why did God give us His Law?
The Law is a Tutor to Lead Us to Christ
The Bible says the Law was given for our good to lead us to faith in Christ. This is clearly stated by Paul: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).” The Bible says “The Law is holy, and the Commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore, did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good (Romans 7:12-13).” The Law, which is God’s holy standard or plumbline, places exacting demands on us to reveal that we are lawbreakers and show us that, in our own moral strength, we cannot overcome sin. Paul describes this tutoring “pre-Christian” experience in the first person since he himself had already gone through it. “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law… so that through the Commandment, sin would become utterly sinful… the Law is spiritual, but I have a sinful nature, sold into bondage to sin… For I know that nothing good dwells in me; that is, in my sinful nature, for the willing is present in me, but the doing of good is not (Romans 7:7, 13-24, 18).” Before God could prescribe His cure to us (which is Jesus Christ), He first had to diagnose our condition (which is indwelling sin), and also give us His prognosis (which is spiritual death). As God plainly spoke, “Behold, all souls belong to Me… every soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4).” The truth is that God knows who I am, but He also wants me to know who I am. God already knows I am a sinner before I am saved. Therefore, God gave the Law so I would also know I am a sinner and acknowledge my sin-sickness. “Through the Law we become conscious that we are sinners (Romans 3:20). Remember that Jesus came to redeem those who know they are sinners, and not those who consider themselves righteous (Luke 5:31; 18:9-14). Thus the Law reveals our spiritual condition (we are sinners by nature), and our spiritual destiny as sinners (spiritual death and eternal separation from God). The Bible says, “I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the Commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this Commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the Commandment, deceived me and through it killed me (Romans 7:9-10).”
The Law Exposes Man’s Sinfulness
Therefore, the purpose of the Law is to reveal our utter sinfulness and the outcome of our sinfulness – spiritual death, so that we might cry out to God to save us from sin through Jesus Christ. Thus, in Romans 7:14-24, Paul describes a devout Jew who is trying vainly to keep the Law. However, this frustrating and miserable experience could also apply to a Christian who is trying vainly to be morally good and live according to the Bible, but who does not know that his old sinful nature is dead and gone. A Jew is erroneously told the solution is to study the Law because “the more he knows the Law, the more he will be able to keep the Law.” In the same way, a Christian is erroneously told the solution is to read the Bible more because “the more he knows the Bible, the more he will be able to live according to the Bible.” However, this is not the way God works. As we said before, you will never find out how really entrenched you are in the habit of sinning until you really try to overcome sin. The more a Jew knows the Law, the more he becomes aware of his own sin. The same principle also applies to a Christian. In fact, Jesus said our righteousness under the New Covenant must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees under the Old Covenant (Matthew 5:20). Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a more exacting and demanding standard of holiness that is required to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew Chapters 5-7). Jesus teaches that God will judge not only our outward behavior, but also our words and our thoughts (Matthew 5:21-30). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals the true intent and spirit of the Law (not just the letter of the Law), which is able to judge even the thoughts and motives of our hearts.
Greater Light Produces Greater Accountability
Consequently, the more a Christian knows God’s Word, the more he realizes God’s standard of holiness is higher than he thought. He knew that God would judge his deeds (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17), but he now realizes God will judge even his words (Matthew 12:36-37). The more he becomes aware of God’s standard of holiness, the more he becomes conscious of his own besetting sins and sin’s power over his life. But then he hears another sermon on trying harder to be a good Christian (with the “help” of the Holy Spirit sometimes added in). This erroneous teaching encourages him to decide that he can overcome sin if he just doubles his efforts and goes to church more, reads the Bible more, prays more, gives more, and is involved in ministry more. Yet, once again, the spiritual principle of “greater light produces greater accountability” puts him in a vice grip. And it is meant to do this. For as Paul declared,” I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead (Romans 7:7-8).” Thus the more a religious non-Christian or a spiritually ignorant, born again Christian knows God’s Word, the more the crushing reality becomes apparent: God’s standard of holiness is not merely difficult, it is impossible to fulfill outside of faith in Christ. In despair, he now realizes that God will judge not only his words but his very thoughts and motives (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Hebrews 4:12). If he is really zealous, he will once again redouble his efforts and try to become even more self-disciplined. But as he redoubles his efforts, he finds himself on a treadmill that is going faster and faster. Even though he is already exhausted, he is afraid to step off this unrelenting treadmill and find rest because he thinks he will backslide if he does (and sometimes he does, in a desperate attempt to find relief).
Christ Has Delivered Us From Our Sinful Nature
This is the awful dilemma that many sincere Christians find themselves in when they are trying very hard to live a moral life in keeping with the Law of God. If you were to ask them if Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light, they would inwardly groan from the weight of the yoke under which they labor. At this point (which can take one year or forty, depending on the person’s moral self-confidence) many Christians reach a crisis of faith, which leads them to several possible outcomes. Some Christians get angry at God for seemingly giving them a standard of holiness they cannot possibly achieve and they fall away from the faith. Or, they may think they have failed both God and themselves and drift away from the faith because what they think is Christianity, as they experienced it, only brought them impossible stress, condemnation and exhaustion. Or, even worse, they may decide to continue going to church but stop trying to be holy. They may comfort themselves with the thought that everyone else in church is in the same condition as they are – very flawed, yet forgiven. They then settle for much less than God intended – either a life dominated by chronically practicing sin or becoming more religious and ministry-minded (but still inwardly lawless), and never coming into a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). And yet others, when the Law has accomplished its divine purpose and exposed their utter sinfulness and helplessness, may come to the same spiritual place as Paul did in Romans 7:24.
In this case, when you have come to the end of your own abilities and resources and your own righteousness, you will cry out to God, “What a wretched sinful man I am! Who can deliver me from my sinful nature?” Now this is the right response. You no longer ask “what” can deliver you, but “who” can deliver you. Having already gone through this experience, Paul’s sure answer is, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25).” The truth is that Jesus Christ already delivered you from your sinful nature and freed you from the tyranny of sin when you were born of the Spirit. For Christ not only died on the cross to free you from the penalty of sin; He also died to free you from the power of sin (by removing your sinful nature). However, if you do not know this divine truth by faith, then you cannot experience this spiritual freedom and rest, which Christ has purchased for you by His death. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome: “Do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Christ Jesus have been immersed into His death?… Your sinful nature was done away with when you were born again… If the Spirit of God dwells in you, then you no longer have a sinful nature… Since you no longer have a sinful nature, you have been freed from the power of sin (Romans 6:3-6; 8:9; 6:7).”
In Christ, We Died to Sin and the Law
In Romans Chapter Seven, Paul explains that not only have we died to sin, but we also died to the Law. “Don’t you know, brethren, that the Law has jurisdiction over a person only as long as he lives? (Romans 7:1).” Thus Romans Chapter Six deals with our freedom from the yoke of sin while Chapter Seven deals with our freedom from the yoke of the Law. For the Jewish believer in Jesus Christ, this means freedom from the curse incurred by failing to keep the Law of Moses. For the Gentile believer, this means freedom from the condemnation incurred by failing to keep the moral Law of God. In Romans Chapter Six, Paul taught that when we were saved, we died to sin (Romans 6:2, 7, 11). Now, in Romans Seven, he teaches that when we were saved, we also died to the Law. We could never be freed from the burden of having to keep God’s Law until we died. But how did we die to the Law? The same way we died to sin. When we were born again, God spiritually included us in Christ’s death so that when He died, we died with Him, so that we would be freed from the Law. Paul declared, “Do you not know that you have died with Christ?… You have also died to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God (Romans 6:3; 7:4).” For those who long to bear fruit for God and bring glory to His Name, this is indeed good news!
We Are No Longer Under Law But Under Grace
But why was it necessary for us to die not only to sin but also to the Law? Since we no longer have a sinful nature, why can we not now obey God’s Law? The answer is that we cannot obey the holy requirements of the Law even after God removed our sinful nature; only Christ can fulfill the Law. We are incapable in our natural moral strength of keeping the Law. As long as we believe that we are under the yoke of the Law, sin will still be able to master us. This is why we died to the Law, so that we might be spiritually joined to Christ, who then fulfills the Law by living through us. This leads us to our next point concerning the Law. The only way to escape the domination of sin and the condemnation of the Law is to come under grace. Therefore, when you are in Christ, you are no longer under the Law (and God’s curse); you are under grace (and God’s mercy). “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).” This is what Paul clearly taught in Romans Chapter Six. “Sin shall not be master over you: for you are not under Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).”
What does “grace” mean? The Law means I must earn God’s righteousness; whereas grace means I can receive God’s righteousness as a gift. Righteousness based on the Law depends on my own work (which always falls short); whereas righteousness based on grace depends on Christ’s completed work on the cross. The Bible says, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness… for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 4:4-5; 6:23).” This is the difference between the works of the Law and the God’s gift of grace. How did we receive salvation? Was it by the works of the Law? Absolutely not! We received it as a gift of grace by having faith in the truth (Ephesians 2:8). How did we receive the Holy Spirit? Was it by keeping the Law? No! Once again, we received it as a gift of grace by having faith in the truth (Galatians 3:2, 5). Then how do we receive freedom from the yoke of sin and the yoke of the Law? In the same way! We receive our freedom as a gift of grace by having faith in the truth. And what is the divine truth that you must believe and act on to be freed from sin and the Law? The Bible says that when you received Christ, God spiritually immersed you into Christ’s death, so that you died to sin and to the Law (Romans 6:2-11; 7:4, 6). This is the truth that sets you free!
Grace and the Law are mutually exclusive. You cannot be under grace and be under the Law at the same time. If you are under grace, then you are not under the Law. What does it mean to no longer be under the Law? It means you are no longer under the binding obligation to keep the Law in order to be righteous before God. It also means you are no longer under crushing condemnation when you fail to keep the Law. The Bible says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).” Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, once you trust Christ for your salvation, He becomes your righteousness. As Paul wrote, “By His doing, you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).”
The “Law of Faith” Has Replaced the “Law of Works”
Now that you are under grace, your righteousness no longer depends on your flawed natural ability to keep the Law; it depends solely on your faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. The Bible says, “Know that a man is not justified by keeping the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we too have put our faith in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law because no one will be justified by the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16; see also Philippians 3:9).” However, remember that true Biblical faith always produces corresponding action. To simply say that you trust in Jesus Christ, but then continue to practice sin and live unrighteously, is irresponsible and lawless and reveals your “faith” is either very shallow or not real at all (Mathew 7:24-27; James 2:14-26; 1 John 3:6). Paul declared, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that to which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of Spirit and not in oldness of letter (Romans 7:6).” Therefore, we are no longer under the futility and frustration of a “law of works;” instead, we can now serve God in the Spirit by the “law of faith,” and God credits our daily faith to us as righteousness (Romans 3:27; 4:5). When the eyes of your heart are opened to see this truth, you have real spiritual freedom in Christ!
Do Not be Subject Again to a Yoke of Slavery
Therefore, Paul’s purpose in writing Romans Chapter Seven was to persuade his Jewish brthren that when they received Jesus as their Messiah, they died to the Law so that they might be joined to Christ and bear the spiritual fruit of God’s righteousness. Paul uses his own past experience as a Pharisee to describe a non-Christian who is zealous to obey God’s Law but whose sinful nature frustrates him and makes him unable to do so. However, this could also be the experience of any Christian who is zealous to serve God, but does not know that God has removed his sinful nature through the operation of the cross of Christ. “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by the removal of your sinful nature, by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11).” The truth is that no born again Christian (whether Jew or Gentile) has a sinful nature, and no true Christian (whether Jew or Gentile) is under the yoke of the Law! The Bible says, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).” What a triumph! What a victory!
Paul here declares that the requirement to obtain righteousness by obeying the Law (with its written code of regulations) was cancelled and removed from us by Christ’s death on the cross. Thus by Christ’s death on the cross, we have been set free from the curse of sin and the curse of the Law. For a Jew, the Law of Moses was like an unscalable, towering mountain that you had to try to climb each day to be right before God even though you knew from past experience that you would continually fail and fall. This is why Peter called the Law of Moses “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear (Acts 15:10).” This is why the ministry of the Law under the Old Covenant is called the “ministry of death and condemnation;” whereas, in contrast, the ministry of the Spirit under the New Covenant is the ministry of life and righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:6-9). To be freed from the crushing burden of always having to keep the Law to be righteous (and always being condemned for failing) was to be free indeed. Paul prized this spiritual freedom from the Law of Moses so highly that he declared, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).” This is also why Paul warned others that they must never allow themselves to come under the yoke of the Law, not even a part of the Law. “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the Law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).”
Christ is the Fulfillment of the Law
Paul also confirmed the divine truth that we are freed from the yoke of the Law in his letter to the Ephesians. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of Commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:14-16).” Once again, Paul teaches that Christ, through His death on the cross, has done away with the requirement to keep the Law in order to be righteous. This legal requirement was the great dividing barrier between the Jews and Gentiles, and Christ has now made it possible for Jews and Gentiles, through faith in His completed work on the cross, to be made righteous and be reconciled to God and to each other as fellow members of His body.
However, it is important to point out that the requirement to keep the Law (in order to be righteous before God) is taken away only for those whom God has made righteous through faith in Christ. The Bible says, “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes… knowing that a man is not justified by keeping the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:5; Galatians 2:16).” For a Christian, Christ is the end of the Law as a means of our achieving righteousness because Christ is the fulfillment of the Law (more on this later). Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).” However, for those who are still unbelieving sinners, the Law is neither abolished nor fulfilled. This different relationship of the Law to the righteous and the unrighteous is made clear by Paul when he wrote, “The Law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane (1 Timothy 1:8-10).” This is why Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18; see also Luke 16:17).” The moral Law of God remains essential for training us in what is righteous and unrighteous, and to convict the unrighteous of their sin (2 Timothy 3:16).
When We Are Led by the Spirit, We Fulfill the Law
Paul further clarified this when he said, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law (Galatians 5:18).” To be led by the Spirit means we must not only be born of the Spirit; we must be genuinely governed by the Spirit. Paul also said, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Romans 8:14).” From these two verses we can conclude that the sons of God, who have been born of the Spirit (whether Jew or Gentile), are not under the Law because they are now under grace and led by the Spirit. “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:25).” Therefore, “God has made us adequate as servants of a New Covenant, not of the letter (of the Law) but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).” Since we are no longer under the Law, does this mean we can be lawless and continue to practice sin? Of course not! As Paul declares, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law but under grace? May it never be! (Romans 6:15).” The Bible says we are under grace “so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit… (for) you are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you (Romans 8:4, 9).” When we walk by the Spirit, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, and the Bible says, “Against such things (the fruit of the Spirit) there is no Law (Galatians 5:22-23).” Therefore, if God’s Spirit lives in us, we no longer have a sinful nature, which used to control us; however, we must remember that to live by the Spirit means we must walk (and be controlled) by the Spirit, which is now possible through faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross (Galatians 5:24-25). “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:31).”
Love is the Fulfillment of the Law
How is the Law established in us when we walk by the Spirit? Jesus declared the righteous requirement of the whole Law can be summed up by the following commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:35-40; see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).” Paul proclaimed this same truth when he taught, “The whole Law is fulfilled in a single word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Galatians 3:14),” and “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:8-10).” James called this law of love the royal law. “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well (James 2:8).” Thus the standard of righteousness, which is revealed by the Law of Moses in the Old Covenant, and the standard of righteousness, which is revealed by the gospel of Christ in the New Covenant, are one and the same and can be summed up in one word – LOVE – to love God and love your fellow man. Therefore, the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is not in God’s righteous standard, but in His divine means to achieve this righteousness. The Law could not justify us (Galatians 2:16); could not impart divine life to us (Galatians 3:21); could not give us the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2); could not make us righteous or perfect (Galatians 5:5: Hebrews 7:18; 11:40); and could not permanently deal with sin (Hebrews 10:1-4). Instead, the Law was designed to be a temporary guardian for God’s people and foreshadow Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. The Law demonstrated God’s provision for an atoning sacrifice for our sins (Leviticus 1-7; Hebrews 9:22), and provided many prophetic pictures of Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf as the Lamb of God (Isaiah Chapter 53; John 1:29; Hebrews 9:11-14). And, finally, the Law became our tutor to lead us into faith in Christ (Galatians 3:24).
Therefore, what the Old Covenant Law was unable to accomplish because of man’s sinful nature, God accomplished in the New Covenant through His Son’s crucifixion (Romans 8:3). Whereas man failed to keep the Law, Christ fulfilled the Law by His perfect, sinless life and His sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross. Through the operation of the cross, God performed a divine heart transplant, removing our terminally sin-sick heart and replacing it with His Son’s divine heart (Romans 6:3-11). By Christ’s death on the cross, we have not only been freed from the penalty of sin, but also the power of sin. “And through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses (Acts 13:39).” Now that we are born again, we no longer have a sinful nature, which rendered us powerless to obey God. Our old nature is dead and gone, and we are now a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Bible says our old sinful nature died with Christ; was buried with Christ; and our new nature has been raised with Christ. This is the Christian faith. Whereas trying to keep the Law could not impart God’s divine, holy life to us because we had a sinful nature; God’s gift of grace enabled the Holy Spirit to impart His divine life to us because Christ removed our sinful nature by His death on the cross (2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 3:21). Because of Christ’s divine sacrifice, we no longer have a sinful nature, we now have Christ’s resurrection life indwelling us (Colossians 1:27). And now that Christ lives in us by His Spirit, we are able to obey God, overcome sin and fulfill the royal law of love. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).” James calls this law of the Spirit “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Paul simply calls it the “law of Christ” since Christ now fulfills God’s Law by dwelling in us, if we wholeheartedly submit to His sovereignty (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2).
The New Covenant is God’s Divine Heart Transplant
This divine heart transplant is the fulfillment of Old Covenant prophecy, the promise of the New Covenant, the purpose of Christ’s Atonement, and the power of Christ’s gospel. This divine heart transplant was promised by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe My ordinances (Ezekiel 36:26-27).” It was also promised by the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant… I will put My Law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:31-33).” When we were born again of the Spirit, God wrote His law in our hearts – “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).” Or, as Paul simply put it: “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6).” This is why the New Covenant is called a “better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises… so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6; 7:22).” Because we have received the New Covenant promise of God’s divine heart transplant, we can now walk in the Spirit and fulfill God’s righteousness by living each day by faith in Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished for us on the cross. This is the law of liberty and spiritual rest we now have in Christ! Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”
What then can we conclude from Romans Chapter Seven? Paul wrote this passage to his fellow Jews who “have a zeal for God but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:2-3).” Tragically, this is also the normal experience for many Christians who do not know that they died, through the body of Christ, to both sin and the Law. Since they do not know the truth that God has removed their sinful nature through Christ’s death, they remain a slave to sin in their personal experience. Since they do not know they died to the Law, they impotently try to obey God’s Law by their natural moral strength. Like the Jews who do not know what Christ has accomplished for them through the cross, they are trying to establish their own righteousness (by their self-effort) instead of submitting themselves (by faith) to God’s righteousness. Paul wrote of this, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness came through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:21).”
We Are Freed From Sin and the Law to Serve God in the Spirit
God does not want His people to be lawless and habitually overcome by sin. Neither does He want them to pursue a self-righteous, man-made morality and outward form of godliness apart from faith in Christ’s crucifixion and sovereignty. We pray that when God’s people have reached the end of themselves and are ready to be delivered from the power of sin, God will reveal the divine heart transplant that He has given them through His Son’s death. Through the cross of Christ, we have been freed from the ungodly yoke of sin and the unbearable yoke of the Law, so that we might put on the blessed yoke of Christ and wholeheartedly serve God in the Spirit.
To Judge Or Not To Judge
Is It Ever Right To Judge Others?
Many Christians are confused and not Biblically informed on this subject. Some might even ask, “Why is this topic of any importance to us?” The Bible says it is our Christian duty to judge those who are within the church (1 Corinthians 5:12). In the age to come, the Bible says that the overcoming church will reign with Christ and judge the world and angels (Revelation 20:6; 22:5; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3). How can we expect to join Jesus Christ in His future reign and righteous judgment over the nations if we shirk our Christian duty to exercise godly judgment during our stay on earth?
Some Christians think it is wrong to ever judge another person’s conduct. However, this is not Biblically correct. Spiritual discernment and godly judgment is a God-given gift that should steadily increase as we progressively walk in God’s sanctification (Hebrews 5:14). An unscriptural fear and aversion to “judging” has caused many Christians to mistakenly think they can never lovingly confront a fellow Christian who is practicing sin. It has also led many Christians to think they can never discern whether someone (who claims to be a Christian) is really following Jesus Christ or not. Since this kind of godly judgment and discernment is often lacking among many professing Christians today, untold numbers of unbelievers have freely joined the church. As a consequence, many churches have now been leavened by the hypocrisy of unbelievers who are not born again, and also by the hypocrisy of professing Christians who are unrepentantly practicing sin. The primary reason for this pervasive and deeply troubling situation is a dearth of sound Bible teaching and a lack of godly sanctification in many churches due primarily to a refusal to zealously love and adhere to the absolute truth of God’s Word.
Before we continue, it is important to point out that there is only one way we can walk in sanctification – by faith in the truth (Acts 26:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). We simply cannot overcome sin and walk in sanctification unless we believe and act on the truth of God’s Word (who Jesus is and what He accomplished for us on the cross). More specifically, we must act on the Biblical truth that when we were born again God removed our sinful nature, so that His Son’s Spirit could dwell in us (Romans 6:1-11; Galatians 2:20; 4:6; Colossians 2:11). When we apply this truth of the cross to our lives each day by faith, we are able to “put off” our old sinful way of thinking and acting and “put on” Christ’s way of thinking and acting (Romans 8:13; Ephesians 4:22-24). This is the only way by God’s grace we can overcome sin and walk in sanctification. And without this daily sanctification (that comes by believing and acting on the truth of the cross,) it is impossible to have God’s wisdom to properly discern and judge what is right and wrong. We should also note that God’s love is the fruit of walking in sanctification (Galatians 5:22), and having God’s love is essential to be able to properly judge others who are caught in sin (Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:15).
Let us now look at the Biblical meaning of “judging” to help us clarify the difference between right and wrong judging. In the New Testament, the Greek word krino simply means to judge. However, the word krino also denotes a wide range of actions that are involved in the act of properly judging. These actions may include discerning and assessing a person’s behavior; confronting and disciplining a person based on their behavior; and judicially sentencing and punishing a person based on their behavior. But the word krino can also denote a variety of actions associated with improperly judging, such as showing favoritism, prejudice, or contempt; and disdaining, slandering, or wrongly condemning others. Therefore, the context of each individual Scripture passage will help us determine whether krino means to either rightly or wrongly judge.
First, krino can mean to judge wrongly or unrighteously. This is the meaning of Jesus’ admonishment, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged (Matthew 7:1).” In other words, if you judge others unrighteously, you will then be judged by God for your unrighteous judging. What does it mean to judge unrighteously? The Bible says that we should not wrongly judge others by their outward appearance or judge others unrighteously with an attitude of contempt or disdain. Jesus said, ”Do not judge according to appearance but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24; see also John 8:15).” And the apostle Paul wrote, “Why do you judge your brother? Why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10; see also Luke 18:9).” The apostle James gave an example of this kind of unrighteous judging when he chastised Christians who were biased and favored the rich while disdaining the poor (James 2:1-3). James rebuked them: “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:4).” The Bible admonishes that it is wrong to treat other people either better or worse based on their race, gender, ethnicity, social status, economic class, or political position (1 Timothy 5:21; James 2:8-9). This is the kind of evil judging and discrimination (whether in thought or deed) that Christians should definitely not do. If we treat others wrongly with undue partiality, favoritism or prejudice, we will be held accountable by God who shows no partiality and favoritism toward any man (Acts 10:34-35; 1 Peter 1:17).
Second, krino can mean to judge correctly or righteously. This is the kind of judging Jesus meant when He said to “judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24),” and when He said, “You have judged correctly (Luke 7:43).” For example, this is the kind of proper discernment and godly judgment that a congregation of believers should exercise when they assess the behavior and ministry of others who claim to be Christians. Jesus said, “You will know (discern) them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).” As an example, Paul taught, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment (1 Corinthians 14:29).” In other words, believers who hear prophecies should assess and judge those prophecies to determine whether they are of God or not. This is why it is imperative for every believer to personally study the Scriptures in order to be able to discern and judge whether the “Christian” ministers they are listening to have godly character and sound Biblical doctrine. In this regard, the Book of Acts records the story of a group of believers in Berea who were highly commended, not just because they eagerly received the gospel, but because they also examined the Scriptures daily to judge whether the teaching they received was actually the truth (Acts 17:10-11). In another example of this kind of godly judging, Jesus praised the church in Ephesus because they examined some who claimed to be Christian ministers, and correctly judged them to be false ministers (Revelation 2:2). This is also the kind of godly discerning and judging that a fellowship of believers should exercise when they correct and discipline one of their members for sinful misconduct. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Are you not to judge those who are within the church? (1 Corinthians 5:12).” This is the proper judging that Paul himself did when he said, “I have already judged him who committed this sin… I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).”
This is the kind of righteous judging that Christians should practice to preserve discipline and holiness in the church. One reason for judging a professing Christian in this way is so that he might repent from practicing sin and be spared God’s judgment and punishment. This kind of proper judgment also protects the church from being “leavened” or influenced by the chronic sinful behavior of those who claim to be Christians. For example, the apostle Peter righteously judged other professing Christians who sinned (Acts 5:1-11; 8:13-23). Another Biblical example of proper judgment is when the elders of a church wisely judge and settle disputes between fellow Christians (1 Corinthians 6:1-4). The Bible says that mature Christians should have their spiritual senses trained to discern and judge what is good and evil (Hebrews 5:11). Godly discernment is a prerequisite for God’s people if they want to exercise righteous judgment for the good of the church. The fear of God should give every true believer a strong desire to have this kind of godly discernment to order to be able to correctly and spiritually assess the doctrine and character of others who claim to be Christians. For without this sound judgment, the church can easily fall prey to false Christians, charlatan ministers, and counterfeit doctrines.
Third, the last meaning of krino is reserved for God’s final judgment alone. The Bible says, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy (James 4:12).” Every person will face God’s divine, eternal judgment of their soul. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment… for we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Hebrews 9:27; Romans 14:10).” On that day, God will judge each person impartially without regard to their race, gender, ethnicity, social status, economic class, or political or religious position (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 2:17). The Bible says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at our heart (1 Samuel 16:7).” God will judge not only our deeds but also our motives and thoughts. The Bible says, “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world… on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; see also 2 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 20:12).”
We should never attempt to judge others with this eternal “judicial” judgment that is solely reserved for God alone. Jesus said, ”Do not judge… and do not condemn (Luke 6:37).” The condemnation of men’s souls is God’s righteous judgment alone. This divine, judicial sentencing will occur on the Day of Judgment when God will pass judgment and condemn those who are lawless to eternal punishment. The Bible says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord… the Lord will judge His people. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:31).” Since there is no condemnation for those who live by the Spirit in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), we should “speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law (of faith in Christ) that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful (James 2:12-13).” Therefore, since we have received mercy for our sins (1 John 1:7-9), we should have mercy on others who are caught in sin (Matthew 18:21-35; Jude 21-23). Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy… be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:36).” The Bible says, “For judgment will be merciless to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment (condemnation) (James 2:13).” Once again, this does not mean that we should never righteously judge; however, it does mean that when we correctly judge others, we should have an attitude of mercy with the hope of redeeming the sinner.
What can we conclude from these three distinctive Scriptural meanings of “judging?” The Bible warns us to not judge others incorrectly or unrighteously with disdain, contempt, condemnation, or evil motives. However, the Bible does exhort us to judge others correctly with an attitude of mercy and impartiality according to the standard of the Scriptures. We should always exercise spiritual discernment (not ungodly discrimination) and good judgment (not carnal condemnation) to determine if a professing Christian’s doctrine and conduct is godly. Some people quote Titus 3:2 (“slander no one”) to argue that we should never say anything critical concerning others; however, the Greek word for slander used in this verse is blasphemo, which means to speak malicious lies about another person. Consequently, the Bible warns us to “put aside all… slander, along with all malice (Ephesians 4:31).” But this does not mean that we should not speak truthfully to another person, if it is appropriate. The Bible says, “Lay aside falsehood and speak truth with one another (Ephesians 4:25).” Regarding another Christian who is caught in sin, Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him (Luke 17:3).” Some people also quote Titus 1:15 (“
to the pure all things are pure
”) to say that we should only see good in others, and never confront anyone for bad and sinful behavior. However, this kind of humanistic, new age thinking is misguided and directly contradicts the whole counsel of God, as expressed through His Word, the Bible. It also directly contradicts the example and instruction of Jesus and the early church. Finally, some people misinterpret the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 13:5 (“love… thinks no evil”) to say that love would never think any evil or bad of others and, in particular, would never suspect anyone of having evil motives. This wrong thinking is a result of grossly misinterpreting the Scriptures. The New American Standard Bible more accurately translates this verse: “love… does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The New International Version also precisely translates this verse: “love… keeps no record of wrongs.” In other words, the Bible says that if we walk in God’s love, we will not hold an unforgiving grudge against those who have done evil or wrong against us. However, this does not mean that love sees no evil, nor does it mean that love does not confront evil. Once again, the wisdom of the Bible firmly contradicts this foolish way of thinking. As an example, Jesus confronted and called out sinners for their evil motives (Matthew 9:14); Peter confronted and called out sinners for their evil motives (Acts 8:22); Paul confronted and called out sinners for their evil motives (Philippians 1:17); and James confronted and called out sinners for their evil motives (James 2:4).
The Bible also says that we must discern and judge our own motives and behavior in order to not incur God’s judgment. Paul wrote, “If we judged (examined) ourselves rightly, we would not be judged (by the Lord) (1 Corinthians 12:31).” Paul also taught, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).” In other words, have you set apart Christ as Lord in your heart, to the point that you are practicing sanctification and not practicing sin? For if you are practicing sin, you fail the Biblical test of true faith (Romans 14:23; 1 John 3:6). The Bible says that we cannot righteously judge others who are caught in sin if we are also practicing sin. Practicing sin does not mean that we will never sin again; however, it means that we should not be in the regular habit of committing certain sins. Instead, we should be in the habit of overcoming sin by exercising faith in the truth of the cross of Christ (1 John 3:6-8; 5:4-5). Remember that some sins that Christians regularly practice are evident for all to see, whereas other sins which Christians practice are hidden from others, but not from God. With this in mind, Paul soberly wrote to those who practice sin: “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?… I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Romans 2:1-3; Galatians 5:21).” Now here is our dilemma: How can we expect the church to be holy and right before God, if we ourselves are still practicing sin and are not right with God? How can we righteously judge and correct others’ sinful behavior if we ourselves we are storing up God’s judgment by continuing to practice unrepentant sin? And how can we possibly expect to help others get free from entangling sins, if we ourselves are also ensnared by habitual sins? This is why we must learn how to overcome sin (by faith in the grace and truth of the cross), so that we can help free other believers from their entangling sins.
If we do not know how to overcome sin in our own lives, we are faced with two options, either of which is not godly: 1) We will never judge others’ sinful behavior (for fear that we also will be judged by others); or 2) We will judge others’ behavior unmercifully and hypocritically (because we too are compromised by sin). Does this mean that we are never to righteously judge others’ sinful behavior? Certainly not! Does this mean that we have to be perfect in order to properly discern and help others’ get free from their sinful behavior? Of course not! However, it does mean that we should be practicing sanctification as a daily habit of faith in our life instead of continuing to practice sin. Once again, we must remember that there is only one way we can by God’s grace overcome sin – by exercising faith in the truth of the cross. We must believe and act daily on the Biblical truth that we no longer have a sinful nature and, as a consequence, we have been freed from the power of sin. Jesus said only when we have taken the log out of our own eye (when we have examined ourselves correctly and turned away from practicing sin), can we then help take the speck out of our brother’s eye (Luke 6:42).
The Bible says that we can only have true spiritual fellowship with professing Christians who 1) Walk in the light and do not practice sin; and 2) Live by the truth of sound Biblical doctrine (1 John 1:6-7). If we continue to practice sin and abdicate our God-given responsibility to discern and judge the conduct and doctrine of both ourselves as well as others who claim to be Christians, we will inevitably become immersed in a soulish (and false) form of fellowship with lawless “Christians” who do not walk in the light or live by the truth. This kind of unholy union with ungodly “tares” will leaven all those who foolishly embrace it in the name of “Christian unity.” This is why it is essential for mature Christians to stop practicing sin in order to have their spiritual senses trained to discern good and evil. Although bad behavior and wrong doctrine can often be easy to discern and judge, the real problem arises when they are diabolically disguised as “good” conduct and doctrine. The fact is that a “good” lie can often be disguised when it is wrapped in a little truth. Also, in this regard, Paul said that Satan’s workers often disguise themselves as ministers of “morality” (2 Corinthians 11:15). The Bible says that we must walk in sanctification to righteously discern and judge if others are walking in the light and practicing the truth. This includes discerning and judging those Christians who are practicing carnal immorality (1 Corinthians 5:11). It also includes discerning and judging those Christians who are practicing carnal “morality” (2 Timothy 3:5). What is carnal morality? It is trying to practice an outward form of morality based on your own self-will and natural self-discipline, instead of relying solely on Christ’s work on the cross to overcome sin. Since this kind of man-made “morality” is not based on faith in the grace and truth of the cross, it is sinful and produces a soulish, hypocritical, and counterfeit form of Christianity. As Jesus said, “On the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:28).” How do we approach someone who wants to fellowship with us, but they persist in living carnally (either in lawless carnal immorality or lawless carnal morality)? The Bible says that the Spirit and the flesh oppose each other (Galatians 5:17). Therefore, if we are living by faith in the truth of the cross, the likelihood is that lawless individuals who claim to be Christians will be convicted and feel uncomfortable around us and will (of their own choosing) separate themselves from us. The Book of Acts records that when Christians in the early church were full of faith and walking in the truth, unrepentant sinners and false believers did not want to associate with them, and only true converts joined the church (Acts 5:13-14). As John wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).”
However, in spite of this Biblical principal, the devil will sometimes try to plant these lawless “Christians” among us to undermine and sabotage God’s work. What should we do if a professing Christian (who is practicing sin) insists on regularly meeting together with us for fellowship? Jesus said that we should truthfully and lovingly confront this individual privately at first (Matthew 18:15). Paul said, “Brethren, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).” However, if the guilty person rejects our spiritual discernment and loving correction, we are then to report their unrepentant misconduct to the whole church for proper judgment and appropriate discipline (Matthew 18:16-17). In this situation, the church will discipline the unrepentant individual by excluding them from fellowship (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and Titus 2:10 as examples). The Bible says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers (or unbelieving Christians), for what partnership has righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14).” This disciplinary exclusion from fellowship applies to any so-called Christian who practices carnal immorality (which is lawlessness), as well as any so-called Christian who practices carnal morality (which is a religious form of lawlessness). This congregational discipline (when called for) is to be applied to everyone in the church, including the elders, without partiality. In the case of an elder of the church who is caught practicing sin, the Bible says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin are to be rebuked publically, so that the others may be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and His chosen angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and do nothing out of favoritism (1 Timothy 5:19-21).” In some cases, we may even need to confront those who are unrepentant and lawless with strong words and discipline, or as Paul aptly said, “With the rod instead of a spirit of gentleness (1 Corinthians 4:21).”
As an example of judging others righteously, Jesus spoke truthfully and confrontationally to the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28).” When the need arose, Paul also truthfully confronted others. For example, Paul did not mince any words when he rebuked one individual: “You son of the devil, you enemy of righteousness (Acts 13:10).” Jude rebuked those false “shepherds who feed only themselves… for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 12-13).” James also directly confronted others who practiced sin: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God (James 4:4). And Stephen did likewise: “You stiff-necked people… you always resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:52).” Peter confronted the sin of one Christian who had just recently been saved with this harsh assessment: “You are full of bitterness and captive to sin (Acts 8:22).” And Peter addressed another professing Christian with this piercing judgment, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? (Acts 5:3).” The reason why Jesus and His disciples openly confronted and judged unrepentant sin in their day was because they were consumed with a godly jealousy to protect the church, which is God’s family, from the deadly leaven of hypocrisy (see Luke 12:1; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3). Jesus said, “Zeal for Your house consumes Me (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17).” Ironically, if Jesus or His disciples spoke frankly today to false brethren who practice sin, many misguided Christians would criticize them for not being “loving” and would distort the Scriptures to tell them, “Judge not lest you be judged.” But are not these misguided Christians actually saying, “Do not confront anyone who is entangled in sin or you also may be exposed for practicing sin?” And yet a “hands-off” attitude like this is not really loving to other Christians or yourself. The Bible says, “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:5-6).” And James wrote, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death (James 5:19-20).” Thank God that a “hands-off” approach to dealing with sin in the church is not the Holy Spirit’s attitude toward us (unless we persistently reject the Holy Spirit’s conviction and discipline in our lives, at which point God may leave us alone to bear the judgment and consequences of our sin).
Why are so many Christians not able to exercise godly judgment to discern, correct and, if necessary, reject the ungodly conduct and bad doctrine of others? As we noted, an underlying reason is a prevailing lack of sanctification among Christians, which is a direct consequence of not believing and acting on the truth of Christ’s Atonement (when Christ died, our sinful nature died with Him, so that He could sovereignly live in us). Many Christians do not know the difference between right or wrong doctrine because they do not regularly read their Bible, nor do they receive sound Bible teaching. As a result, they do not know how to properly judge others. Another reason why many Christians do not want to judge others is because they do not want to lose the approval of others. As Jesus said, “They loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43).” And Paul said, “I am now seeking the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).” Many professing Christians are secretly practicing sin (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life). As a consequence, they fear that their sins might be exposed if they expose others’ sins. Any Christian who willfully and unrepentantly practices sin does not fear God and will, therefore, lack God’s divine wisdom, which is required to properly judge between good and evil. The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom (Proverbs 15:33).” Anyone who continues to practice sin will become increasingly more tolerant of sin in themselves and others. They will develop an aversion to judging others who practice sin for fear that their own sinful behavior might be exposed, and will often misquote and misuse “judge not lest you be judged” as a religious cloak and excuse to practice sin. In contrast, any believer who is led (governed) by the Holy Spirit will discern and properly judge what is good and evil. Thus the Bible says, “The spiritual man is able to judge all things (1 Corinthians 2:15).”
God has given us wisdom and discernment to protect us. Therefore, it is imperative that we practice sanctification and exercise godly judgment not only for our sake, but to protect Christ’s body, His church. Peter said, “The end of all things is near, therefore, be of sound judgment (1 Peter 4:7).” If Christians only believed and acted on the truth of God’s Word that they have been decisively freed from the power of sin by Christ’s death on the cross (when God removed their sinful nature), they would be able to walk in sanctification and properly discern between good and evil, and judge and discipline those among them who continue in sinful behavior and false doctrine. Jesus judged and disciplined those disciples caught in sin; the apostles judged and disciplined those Christians caught in sin; and the elders in the New Testament judged and disciplined those church members caught in sin. Can we do any less if we want to follow their example and instruction? As Paul wrote, “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may judge and approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:9-10).”
Unveiling The Bride
The New Covenant Church
“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband.” Revelation 21:2
In God’s divine order, everything reproduces after its own kind. Plants reproduce plants, animals reproduce animals and humans reproduce humans. In the same way, just as earthly seed reproduces the image of the earthly, only heavenly seed can reproduce the image of the heavenly. According to God’s plan of redemption, Christ is the heavenly seed that reproduces His church. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single seed; but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:24).” Jesus spoke here of His death on the cross by which He would birth His church and bring many sons and daughters into His glory (Hebrews 2:10). The Bible says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy… and present to Himself a glorious church (Ephesians 5:25-27).” This divine union between Christ and the church is the eternal purpose of God the Father (Ephesians 3:10-11). For it was always in God’s heart from before time to obtain a holy bride and companion for His Son. Just as a husband loves his wife, Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. Just as Eve was created from Adam’s body to be his bride and glory, God created the church from Christ’s body to be His bride and glory. And as Eve was created as Adam’s companion and helpmate to reign over the earth, God created the church as Christ’s companion and co-regent to reign with Him in the age to come (Genesis 2:18-24; Revelation 19:6-7; 20:6). As Paul revealed to the church, “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin… and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking about Christ and the church (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:31-32). Just as there was a betrothal period in Biblical times between the bride and the bridegroom until their wedding ceremony, so the church is now betrothed to Jesus Christ. Through water baptism, new believers declare their betrothal to their bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and their union with His death, burial and resurrection. According to Biblical custom, this betrothal is a binding commitment or covenant that can only be broken by infidelity. And by Biblical tradition, the bride remains veiled until her marriage. At the right time, at the end of the age, the bride will be revealed, the wedding feast will take place and the eternal union of the Lamb of God and His bride will be consummated (Revelation 21:1-2, 9-10). Thus God’s plan of redemption is the unfolding love story of this divine romance between Christ and the church.
However, we see two kinds of church today – the false church, which bears the image of the earthly (man) and the true church, which bears the image of the heavenly (Christ). The Bible says, “You have come to… the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23).” We see from the Scriptures that the true church is the city of the living God, the new Jerusalem – the bride of Christ. The Bible says, “God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all… just as the husband is head of the wife, Christ is also the head of the church… you are Christ’s body and individually members of it (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; 1 Corinthians 12:27).” The primary difference that separates the true church, the body of Christ, from the false church is the kind of life it has. In this regard, the New Testament describes two different kinds of life. First, there is psychē or soul-life, from which we get the English word psychology. This is the life Jesus described when He said, “Whoever finds his soul-life will lose it, but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).” What is our soul-life? This is the life which springs from our natural personality (and its inherent attitudes, affections and abilities). In other words, the person who fulfills his natural soul-life in this world will lose eternal life, but the person who loses (lays down) fulfilling his natural soul-life for the sake of Christ will find eternal life in Him. The New Testament Greek word used for eternal life is zoē. Of the two kinds of life, psychē or soul-life originates from man, but only zoē-life originates from God and is divine. This is the divine life Jesus described when He said, “I have come that they may have zoē-life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).” This is the life the apostle John referred to when he wrote, “He who has the Son has the zoē-life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the zoē-life (1 John 5:12).” Before Jesus saved us, we did not have zoē-life. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no zoē-life within yourselves (John 6:53).” Consequently, our life before Christ consisted of our soul-life, which we inherited from our natural parents, and our inward sinful nature, which we spiritually inherited from Adam, the first man. However, when we are born again of God’s Spirit, we receive Christ’s resurrection zoe-life to indwell our spirit. As Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6).” This resurrection zoē-life that inhabits and sets apart the true church is the free gift of the New Covenant that was purchased for us by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (Romans 6:23). Thus the true New Covenant church is a divine organism – a spiritual body – filled with Christ’s resurrection zoē-life.
In the natural realm, when any of the body’s major organic systems (such as the cardiovascular or respiratory systems) become blocked or obstructed, the body quickly loses its vitality. Its immune system becomes compromised; its members stop functioning; and the body itself can die. In the same manner, if the members of Christ’s body continue to live and function by relying on their own natural soulish (psychikos) ability instead of staying spiritually connected to their head Jesus Christ, they block the power of Christ’s zoē-life from vitally nourishing and strengthening them. The outcome is spiritual degeneration and death. How does the body stay connected to its head Jesus Christ? The Bible says the true church – the bride – responds to Christ’s headship by hearing and obeying His voice. This is God’s love language. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commands… whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me (John 14:15, 21). Jesus further emphasized this vital aspect of fellowship and connection to Him when He said, “My sheep hear My voice, and they know Me, and follow Me… he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (John 10:27; Revelation 2:7).” Because the New Covenant church’s source of life is the head of the body – Jesus Christ; it follows that its membership, unity, growth and direction originate and are sustained by the Spirit of God. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:14).” This is the New Covenant church – a spiritual body – born, grown and governed by Jesus Christ Himself.
However, the false church is not submitted to Christ’s headship; therefore, it does not hear and obey His voice. This is the counterfeit church – an earthly organization – born, grown and governed by men who do not know Jesus Christ. As a result, worldly-minded men plan, direct and coordinate the affairs of the false church by their natural ability and wisdom. The counterfeit church’s membership, unity, growth and direction are soulish (psychikos) and function just like any other institution controlled by man. Without the resurrection zoē-life of Jesus Christ as its source and direction, the counterfeit church is only a “Christian” culture club with conforming customs and dues (a ten percent church tax on its members’ gross income called tithes). Some false churches may have originally started in the heavenly power of the Spirit, but lost their “first love” for Jesus and end up religiously functioning in man’s earthly soul-power (Revelation 2:1-5). History records that when the church fails to hear and obey Christ’s voice, its connection and fellowship with Him is broken and lost. Just as the body without the spirit is dead, when Jesus removes His Spirit from the carnal church, it is spiritually dead. However, since the counterfeit church can continue to run on its corporate soul-power and natural resources without relying on Christ’s Spirit, it can keep functioning as a lifeless institution without missing an earthly step. There are many churches that appear to be alive to those lacking spiritual discernment. They may even be physically growing in terms of people, property and programs. They may seem to have charismatic ministers, dynamic preaching and inspiring worship. However, there is a distinct absence of Christ’s zoē-life in these false churches. As Jesus said, “You have a reputation of being alive but you are dead (Revelation 3:1).” Tragically, this has occurred countless times in church history as well as in our day.
Before we go on, let us go back to the very beginning of the church’s birth, growth and subsequent spiritual decline. One of the more dramatic moments in Jesus’ ministry occurred when He asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter boldly responded that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-19). Jesus said Peter had received this divine revelation from God, and proclaimed that His church would be built on this foundational bedrock – God’s revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus then promised to give Peter (and the other apostles) the keys to His kingdom and declared the powers of hell would not prevail against His church. The fulfillment of Jesus’ two promises – receiving the keys to the kingdom of God and overcoming Satan – are coupled together. Without the Christ’s keys to the kingdom, the church lacks Christ’s power to overcome Satan and sin. And unless the church overcomes sin, she cannot know Christ or abide in Him (1 John 3:6). What are the keys to the kingdom of God? They are the keys to understanding the mystery of Christ’s Atonement. The Bible says the message of the cross contains the power of God to redeem us from sin (1 Corinthians 1:18). The Bible also says that if the spiritual forces of darkness had known the mystery of the cross, they never would have crucified the Son of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). Therefore, spiritually understanding the purpose and power of Christ’s crucifixion is the key to unlocking the power of Christ’s resurrection life in His church.
Following His resurrection, Jesus gave the apostles more divine understanding concerning the meaning of His crucifixion and the divine provisions of His New Covenant. He showed them how His death on the cross as the Lamb of God provided them with forgiveness from the penalty of sin. He also showed them how His death on the cross provided them with freedom from the power of sin. How did God accomplish this? Since we were born into sin, God freed us from sin’s captivity by including us in His Son’s death, so that we could be born again into His Son’s resurrection life. Therefore, when we received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God spiritually immersed us into Christ’s death in order to perform what we might call a “divine heart transplant.” God used His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross to spiritually remove our terminally sin-sick heart and replace it with His Son’s divine heart (Romans 6:3-6; 1 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 13:5). This New Covenant divine heart transplant was foretold by the prophet Ezekiel six centuries before Christ’s birth when Ezekiel declared that God would remove our sin-hardened heart and replace it with His new spiritual heart when He put His Spirit within us (Ezekiel 36:26-27; see also Jeremiah 31:31-34). Therefore, by the divine operation of the cross of Christ, God delivered us from indwelling sin by removing our sin nature, so that His Son could dwell in us by His Spirit (Romans 8:9; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:11-12). The Bible says, “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6).” Thus God included us in His Son’s death so that His resurrected Son might live in us (Colossians 1:27). This divine heart transplant is the miracle of our new birth – the promise of the New Covenant, the purpose of Christ’s Atonement and the power of Christ’s gospel. We see that God’s way to permanently deal with our chronic sinning was to remove the sinner from within us and substitute Christ in his place. Whereas we were once sinners by nature, God now calls us His saints or “holy ones” who are His Son’s holy bride. This is the spiritual lesson that God wants every new believer to learn when they are baptized (buried) into a watery “grave” and emerge as a new person in Christ (Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Thus from His Son’s death and resurrection, God has created a people for His own possession – the body of Christ, His church – who are destined to become conformed to His Son’s glorious image and be eternally united with Him as His devoted bride (Romans 8:29; Revelation 19:6-7). This is why the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is the greatest game changer in human history; indeed, in all eternity.
Therefore salvation is only the beginning and not the end of God’s divine purpose for His elect. But now that God has saved us and called us to be Christ’s holy bride, how can we keep ourselves undefiled from sin while living in this sin-sick world, so that we can fulfill God’s eternal purpose? Although we now have God’s Spirit indwelling us, our soul-life (our natural personality with its inherent attitudes, affections and abilities) was not instantly transformed into Christ’s image when we were saved (Ephesians 4:22-24). Therefore, we do not have to repeatedly crucify our old Adam sinful nature (since God has already put it to death and removed it), but we still have to contend with our old Adam way of thinking (the sinful thoughts of our natural and unconverted soul-life). There is, however, a great difference between our old sinful nature (now dead and gone) and our unconverted soul-life. Our unconverted soul-life (the unrenewed mind) does not have the power of the old sinful nature, which was like a sin factory within us, continually producing sinful attitudes and actions and enslaving us to its power (Ephesians 2:1-3). Since God has freed us from captivity to sin by destroying and removing our sin nature/the sin factory, we are now capable of living a sanctified or holy life. Our co-crucifixion with Christ when we were saved is not merely positional, conceptual or symbolic. When we were saved, God actually removed our sin nature, which was at the very core of our inner being and the root of our self-identity and rebellion toward God. Since sin is no longer our master, we are now able to bring our thought-life into submission to Christ by renewing our mind according to the truth of God’s Word (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5). Now that Satan no longer has a foothold within us through our old sin nature, and our new nature has the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, we are able by faith (in Christ’s triumph on the cross) to put off our old soulish way of thinking and acting, and put on Christ’s way of thinking and acting (1 Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). Thus the gospel of the cross contains the power of God to not only save the elect, but to also sanctify His elect – the New Covenant church – to be the devoted and virgin bride of Christ.
Once Jesus had given the apostles this divine understanding on how His death on the cross had freed them from slavery to sin, the gospel of “Christ crucified” became the apostles’ triumphant proclamation and foundational teaching for the New Testament church (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2). Paul summed up the apostles’ gospel with this personal testimony: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).” It is by believing and acting daily on this truth of the gospel (our old self no longer lives, but Christ now lives in us) that we are able to lose our old soulish identity in Adam and find our new spiritual identity in Christ; and it is our divine union with Christ that gives us a deep inward security and eternal sense of belonging to His body, which neither heaven nor earth can shake and neither Satan nor sin can steal and destroy (Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 12:26-29). Jesus said, “The glory that you have given to Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be in perfect union, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them even as You have loved Me (John 17:22-23).” However, the apostles had to constantly be on guard to ensure this glorious truth of Christ’s completed work on the cross was not subverted and compromised (Galatians 1:6-9). For if Satan could not extinguish Christianity, He would certainly try to distort and corrupt it.
Consequently, at the end of the first century with the death of the last of the original twelve apostles, the truth of the gospel came under relentless attack from Satan to nullify the power of the cross. Tragically, as a result of this devilish onslaught, the spiritual meaning of Christ’s crucifixion (the keys to the kingdom of God) began to be obscured within just a few generations. The key that was lost first was the divine truth that God freed us from the power of sin by replacing our sinful nature with Christ’s divine nature when we were saved. Once the church no longer believed and acted on this Biblical truth that it had died in Christ, its spiritual life and identity and devotion were no longer rooted in Christ. Instead of submitting to God’s righteousness that comes solely through faith in Christ and His completed work on the cross, the church sought to establish its own righteousness and religious identity by relying on its own corporate soul strength. The church began to depend on its organizational power and natural resources to do Christ’s work. When Christians begin to trust in their soulish (psychikos) ability instead of Christ’s completed work on the cross to be holy and serve God, it produces a counterfeit version of Christianity (that we might call “Churchianity”), which appears outwardly righteous but is inwardly lawless, hypocritical and deceived (Matthew 23:28). Church leaders then increasingly relied on their own earthly religious authority to ensure obedience, unity and doctrinal purity in the ranks of their church members. As this downward spiral continued for the next few centuries, the church became preoccupied with its clerical hierarchy, temple-like building programs, and growing wealth and political influence rather than the indwelling Lordship and Life of Jesus Christ. The church lowered God’s standard of holiness in order to increase church attendance and membership rolls, and church leaders became carnally focused on their clergy status to protect, promote and profit from their religious positions. They nullified the Scriptures and wrongly interpreted and divided the Biblical role of elders into three separate, tiered offices – bishops, pastors and elders. The Catholic church later added two more layers – cardinals and the pope – to this pyramidal hierarchy. By the fifth century, this religious monarchy had completely destroyed the New Covenant’s priesthood of all believers and replaced it with a special caste of paid professional priests (now called “pastors” in the Protestant church). This self-serving false priesthood then reinstated the obsolete Old Covenant practice of tithing to support themselves and their “temple” cathedrals.
Note: the tithe (“a tenth” in Hebrew) was the Old Covenant Mosaic Law that required giving a tenth of your profit (crops or animals) to support the Levitical priesthood. However, with the New Covenant, God fundamentally changed His divine priesthood. The Old Covenant had a separate and distinct priesthood – the Levites who were in charge of temple worship and were supported with tithes by the rest of God’s people. With the New Covenant, however, the temple worship ceased because the body of Christ, His church, is now the temple of God (Ephesians 2:19-22). The specialized, full-time priesthood that performed the temple service also ceased since all believers now constitute God’s holy priesthood who have direct access to know God and serve Him (Hebrews 4:16; 8:11; 10:19; 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6). And the practice of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law of tithing ceased because there was no longer a need for God’s people to give ten percent of their income to support the temple and its priesthood (Romans 7:4; Hebrews 7:5, 12). For these reasons, the New Covenant church never practiced tithing nor ever taught tithing.
This protracted decline into unbelief and spiritual darkness continued until the sixth century when the State-sanctioned, institutional church (also known as the Catholic church by this time) eventually lost even the first key to enter the kingdom of heaven – the basic truth of saving faith in Christ’s Atonement. The monarchal and monolithic Catholic church had become a spiritually empty cathedral of pomp and ceremony guarded by unsaved, self-ambitious, self-profiting, corrupt clergy who gave lip service to God but whose deeds denied the reality and power of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (2 Timothy 3:5). In the case of these false shepherds, Jesus’ rebuke is fitting: “Woe to you… for you have taken away the key to knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you have hindered those who were entering (Luke 11:52).” However, throughout these centuries of church apostasy, God continued to reveal His Son and the fullness of His completed work on the cross to any believer who earnestly sought to know Him and obey Him. While the false church was steeped in darkness, this faithful remnant of Christ’s bride served as God’s lamplight in the world and “suffered reproach with Christ outside the camp,” and often endured severe persecution since the false church born of the flesh always persecutes the true church born of the Spirit (Hebrews 13:12; Galatians 4:29). It is no wonder that historians have called much of this era “the Dark Ages.”
Then, in the early 1500s, a momentous event occurred. God’s divine sunrise dawned once again as the Holy Spirit began to restore the liberating truth of Christ’s gospel and the keys of the kingdom to the church at large. This major breakthrough came when God mercifully gave a Catholic monk named Martin Luther divine revelation on Romans 1:17: “The righteous will live by faith.” The movement that arose from this divinely restored truth of the gospel of Christ became historically known as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation restored the authority of the Scriptures and illuminated man’s need to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. This brought into focus once again Christ’s Atonement for the forgiveness of sins and the need to be born again of the Spirit. Thus, by God’s grace, this key to the kingdom, which had been largely lost for nearly a millennium, was miraculously recovered. This key to entering the kingdom of heaven – salvation by faith in Christ alone – became the torch that spread the fires of evangelism to the whole world. Yet the Protestant Reformation only partially restored the mystery of the cross to the church. For the past five hundred years, the church has only acted on half of the gospel. In practice, the Protestant Reformation restored the gospel of how “the righteous are saved by faith,” but never restored the whole gospel of how “the righteous will live by faith.” As a result of the work of the Reformation, the church knows Christ’s Atonement has provided believers with forgiveness from the penalty of their sins. Yet because of the Reformation’s critical shortfall, most Christians do not know that Christ’s death has also provided believers with freedom from the power of sin by removing their sinful nature. Note: In Biblical terms, “knowing” God’s truth does not mean merely mentally assenting to it. It means believing and acting on it and wholeheartedly obeying it (Romans 6:17).
The result is most Christians believe their sins are forgiven, but they do not know how to stop practicing sin and live by faith in Jesus Christ who indwells them by His Spirit. Yet this is the central purpose of Christ’s Atonement and the cornerstone of His New Covenant church. Without possessing this crucial key to God’s kingdom, many Christians are compromised by sin and are spiritually weak and sick to the point of perishing. Because of their spiritual ignorance, most Christians mistakenly believe they still have a debilitating sinful nature even after they have been born again of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, they trust Jesus as their Savior and hope one day to go to heaven but, in their daily lives, they inwardly struggle in frustration and resigned discouragement beset with entangling sins. And yet what sort of salvation would we have if God only saved us from the penalty of our sins, and then left us on our own to deal with the demonic power and deception of sin? This would be a pitiful and incomplete redemption that would not fulfill God’s eternal purpose to have a pure and uncompromised bride who wholeheartedly loves Son. Yet most Christians are defeated by sin and the devil because they think this is as far as God went when, in actuality, this is as far as their faith and knowledge of the truth of the gospel has gone.
Since the Protestant Reformation did not recover the whole gospel of Christ, its followers did not know (and believe and act on) the truth that they had died in Christ to the world, including religious worldliness (Galatians 6:14). Therefore, they did not know how to lose (or lay down) their psychē soul-life daily by faith in order to find their spiritual identity and resurrection zoē-life in Christ. As a result, the Protestant church carried forward many of the carnal religious traditions and practices identified with the Catholic church. Consequently, many Protestant churches today still practice a form of cathedral or temple worship. When most Christians say they are going to church, they mean they are going to a special building (or temple) to worship. However, under the New Covenant, God’s people do not go to church; they are the church – they are God’s building and God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:4: Ephesians 2:19-22). This is not just semantics; it reveals a certain mindset and the way people think about church. Much of the church today also practices a separate and distinct paid priesthood (or professional clergy). And many churches also practice tithing (the ten percent income tax for membership). All of these practices are throwbacks to the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Law. Even the single pastor (and senior pastor) system is a reversion to the Old Covenant high priest system when a single “anointed” man was needed to intervene and interpret God for the rest of the congregation. But under the New Covenant, the church has only one High Priest, Jesus Christ, who effectively intercedes for us and teaches us all things by His Spirit who lives in us (Romans 8:26-27; Hebrews 3:1; 4:14-15; 7:23-28; 10:21; 1 John 2:27). In effect, many churches today say they preach a New Covenant salvation but, in actuality, they practice a form of Old Covenant religion. Whenever a church practices a form of temple worship; supports a salaried professional clergy separate and distinct from the laity; practices the law of tithing; and suppresses the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit from being freely expressed by the priesthood of believers, it is a sure sign that church does not love God and is not submitted to Christ’s headship. It is also a sure sign that church is not walking by faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross and its spiritual life and identity are not found in Christ. In other words, based on the clear instructions of Scripture, that church is not a legitimate New Covenant church. Why would God ever pour the precious new wine of His Spirit into that old, brittle, unyielding and corrupted wineskin? (Matthew 9:17)
The Old Covenant religious practices of the false church may seem harmless to the undiscerning because they have now become “institutionalized,” “traditional” and “normative.” However, being immersed week after week in religious practices that are rooted in Old Covenant Mosaic Law is spiritually harmful, and can even be spiritually deadly to those who continually participate in them. This is why the Bible calls practicing the Old Covenant Law the “ministry of death and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:6-9).” This is why Peter called practicing the Mosaic Law “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear (Acts 15:10).” This is why Paul wrote concerning the Mosaic Law: “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be burdened again by a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).” This is also why Paul warned others that they must never allow themselves to come under the yoke of the Law, not even a part of the Law: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the Law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).” The Bible goes as far as to say that anyone who practices even a part of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law is under a curse and subject to God’s wrath (James 2:10; Romans 4:15; Galatians 3:10). The Bible further states, “’The righteous will live by faith,’ however, the Law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices these things will live by them’ (Galatians 3:11-12).” In other words, those who practice even parts of the Old Covenant Law will be judged by the Law and not by grace. For a professing Christian to practice even parts of the Old Covenant Law (whether it is the false church’s version of the Levitical priesthood; or the law of tithing; or a form of temple worship that takes the place of the true New Covenant church) in order to be righteous is to “nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21).” Note: even if those in the false church say they consider their religious practices to be based on principle rather than law, it has the same effect as the law in their lives since their church practices are unchangeable (because of their own misguided religious conviction and self-determination). Many false churches today stubbornly hold on to their rigid and harmful religious traditions and practices as zealously as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day held on to their inflexible and inhumane rules of the Sabbath. Not only are these false brethren outwardly practicing a form of Judaism, they are inwardly practicing a form of Judaism by trying to be righteous and holy by the best of their natural ability and self-discipline. As Paul admonished: “Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now trying to perfect yourselves by your human effort? (Galatians 3:3).” These false brethren in our day are similar to the Judaizers in the first century who tried to lead new believers astray from Christ by telling them they must follow aspects of the Mosaic Law and practice certain Old Covenant traditions in order to be Christians. Paul’s exhortation to the naïve Christians who were being deceived by the false brethren is still appropriate: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel, which really is no gospel at all. Some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to distort the gospel of Christ. But if even we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:6-8) The false brethren who promote and practice a different gospel in our day will be judged because they have hardened their heart to hearing and obeying the New Covenant truth that Jesus Christ died to set His people free from obsolete religious practices, so that all the members of His body would be a royal priesthood who have direct access to know God and serve Him (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 6:9-10). For under the New Covenant, everyone who is in Christ (whether Jew or Gentile) has been freed from the Old Covenant Law so they can serve God by the Spirit as His holy priesthood (Romans 7:4, 6; 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Ephesians 4:12-16; 1 Peter 2:5). How were we freed from the Old Covenant Law? When we were saved, we not only died to sin, we also died to the Law. “Therefore, my brethren, you have also died to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4).” Practicing Old Covenant religion is spiritual death, whereas living by the Spirit in the New Covenant is life and peace. There is so much more we could say about how spiritually deceptive and deadly it is for anyone to profess they believe in a New Covenant salvation, but then practice a form of Old Covenant religion that is both hostile and heretical to the New Covenant, and a gross misrepresentation of the resurrection zoē-life that Christ died to freely give His church.
Thus many of the Old Covenant-based religious traditions and practices that have developed over the centuries in the false church are the result of men not knowing (and believing and acting on) the grace and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His New Covenant. Jesus said, “You nullify the Word of God by your tradition that you have handed down (Mark 7:13).” When you do not believe and act on the gospel that you were crucified with Christ and have died to the world (since you no longer have a sinful nature), your “Christian” identity and “church” identity will, by the natural course of events, be based on worldly religious principles that are contrary to the resurrection zoē-life of Christ. In the beginning, this may only seem like a little of the world’s way of doing things; however, if not spiritually dealt with, it eventually compromises the whole church. As Paul said, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? (1 Corinthians 5:6).” Thus the counterfeit church’s clerical aristocracy; its programmed and tightly controlled order-of-service; its ever-expanding building programs; and its constant appetite for more and more money are soulishly inspired and driven. The “fully-matured” false church is like a diseased and cancerous body, and many of its religious practices are the malignant symptoms of a deeper soul-sickness caused by not having its identity rooted in Christ, which is a direct consequence of not being submitted to Christ’s sovereignty. In the first century, the foundation or ABCs of the church was simply, but powerfully, the gospel of “Christ crucified.” There was no other foundation. However, as someone has aptly said, the ABCs of the false church are Attendance, Buildings and Cash.
To sum up, if the church is to have Christ’s resurrection life, it must “stay connected to the head (Christ), from whom the whole body, being supported and held together by its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God (Colossians 2:19).” From this Scripture, we can conclude that when a church truly loves God and is properly submitted to Christ’s sovereignty, it will have Christ’s resurrection life that enables it to be spiritually held together by its joints and ligaments, and God will cause the whole body to grow and produce spiritual fruit. What are these spiritual joints and ligaments that hold the true church together? The New Testament Greek word for joints in this verse is haphe, which are the points at which parts of the body are connected together. As members of the body of Christ, we are joined and connected together by our Christian fellowship (the New Testament Greek word is koinonia, which also means communion with one another). The New Testament Greek word for ligaments in this verse is syndesmos, which are the connecting bands that hold our joints together. Without these strong bonding ligaments, our joints would separate under stress. These ligaments are a picture of the spiritual bonds of love and peace which hold our Christian fellowship (koinonia) together. The Bible says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond (syndesmos) of peace… beyond all things, put on love, which is the perfect bond (syndesmos) of unity (Ephesians 4:3; Colossians 3:14).” Therefore, when the New Covenant church stays connected to its head Jesus Christ, the members of His body will have the spiritual bonds of love and peace needed to hold their Christian fellowship together in unity even during difficult times, and God will cause their church to spiritually grow and multiply. If, however, a church does not love God and does not stay connected to Christ, it will not have the spiritual bonds of love and peace needed to keep its fellowship spiritually together and alive. Does this sound unworkable and impractical? Based on the world’s way of doing business, it is impossible. However, in God’s kingdom, this spiritual dynamic is profoundly wise. Jesus said, “What is highly esteemed by men is detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16:16).” In the eyes of men, relying on the bonds of love and peace to hold the church together is weak and fragile; however, in the eyes of God, this guarantees His New Covenant church – the bride of Christ – will always be dependent on the headship of Jesus Christ to be nourished by His zoē-life, and be able to produce the spiritual fruit of love and peace that binds the church together in true koinonia fellowship.
Once again, this does not necessarily mean that a spiritually dead church that is not submitted to Christ will cease to function, since the nature of the false church is such that it can operate without Christ’s zoē-life and without the spiritual bonds of love and peace. As long as the false church maintains a physical building, a paid pastor and is financed by weekly tithes (religious taxes), it will continue to appeal to less than sincere, so-called “Christians” that are attracted to an outward form of Christianity and the false security of a “religion” and “community” that does not demand them to surrender their lives daily to Christ’s sovereignty. The spiritual bankruptcy of these false churches would become very apparent if they ceased collecting the tithe taxes. As soon as this unBiblical cash flow stopped, almost all of these churches would cease doing business and close their doors.
Now let us take a closer look at the true church. According to the Scriptures, the New Covenant church has the following features:
- The New Covenant church normally meets in the saints’ homes and whenever the church grows too large to meet in one member’s home, its simply multiplies from house to house throughout its geographic locality (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). This eliminates the need to raise large amounts of money to buy, build and maintain church facilities. This helps ensure that God (not men and their money) will cause the growth of the church (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). This informal, home setting also encourages open participatory meetings; helps the church function in a more personal and loving way as God’s family; and enables the saints to practice hospitality toward other believers and visitors (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9. An exception to weekly home meetings would be to occasionally rent a building, hall or auditorium for a city-wide meeting of house churches and/or facilitate the outreach ministry of a visiting apostle, prophet, evangelist or teacher (Acts 19:9).
- The New Covenant church experiences rich spiritual fellowship with the Father and His Son and experiences close-knit community life among the saints who are committed to laying down their self-will and giving up their natural unconverted soul-lives in agape love for one another (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-33; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:15-16; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 John 1:3; 3:16). As members of God’s household, the saints’ lives are intimately intertwined with one another as brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in Christ. This encourages mentoring and discipleship relationships to naturally develop (1 Timothy 5:1-2; Titus 2:3-4). On the Lord’s Day (Sunday), the local believers often meet together in homes to share “the Lord’s Supper” as a full fellowship meal (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:20). The primary purpose of eating this communal meal together is to remember (with thanksgiving and rejoicing) the New Covenant provisions of the Lord’s death by sharing “the bread and the cup” together, and to reaffirm the believers’ bonds of love and peace with one another as God’s family (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This is why this fellowship meal is also called a “love feast” (Jude 1:12).
- The New Covenant church does not practice Old Covenant tithing to subsidize a special, paid priesthood (Hebrews 7:5, 12); instead its members practice voluntary giving (according to their means as God has blessed them) to further the outreach of the gospel and help those members of the body who are financially suffering and in need (Acts 4:34-35; 11:29; Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 1 John 3:17). This eliminates the mandatory Mosaic religious tax placed upon God’s people to finance a professional clergy who are separate from the laity. It also helps ensure the basic material needs of each member of God’s family are not lacking while others are experiencing abundance (2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:6-7). This fulfills the divine command: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ… when one members suffers, all members suffer together (Galatians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 12:26; see also 1 John 3:17).”
- The New Covenant church has a vibrant, functioning priesthood of all believers (men and women) who passionately love our Lord Jesus Christ and are gifted and equipped by the Holy Spirit to do the work of the ministry together and build up the body of Christ in love. Every member of this royal priesthood personally knows and serves Jesus Christ, our High Priest, and has a vital and unique ministry role in His body (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-12; Ephesians 4:11-13, 15-16; Colossians 2:19; 1 Peter 2:9; 4:10-11; Revelation 1:6; 5:10). Consequently, when the church meets together under Christ’s headship, one member might be led by the Holy Spirit to share a prayer or a song; another member a word of knowledge or wisdom or prophecy; another member an exhortation or a teaching; another member the gift of healing or miracles; and another member might share a message in tongues and its interpretation – all done in an orderly, peaceful and loving manner for the benefit of the whole church (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). This dynamic priesthood of all the believers is one of the fundamental building stones (“living stones”) of the New Covenant church (1 Peter 2:4-5). This spiritual freedom and responsibility in the New Covenant church enables every member to grow into fully knowing God, and also helps each member learn how to exercise their individual spiritual and natural gifts to effectively serve and care for God’s family. It also enables Christ, as the head of the church, to lead His body through a variety of members with a variety of gifts as all the saints learn to fix their eyes on Jesus and hear and obey His voice.
- The New Covenant church has a compassionate and creative commission to reach others with the gospel of Christ (Matthew 8:28; Mark 16:15; Acts 4:20; 11:20-21; Philippians 1:5). This reflects the heart of God for the lost and enables Jesus Christ to employ the multi-gifted members of His church as coworkers to advance His gospel and bring His elect into the kingdom, and this also helps keep the church from becoming insular and isolated.
- The New Covenant church is normally shepherded in each locality by spiritually mature and humble brothers called elders, who as servant-leaders are unpaid and accountable to the church and to Jesus Christ, the head of the church, to be godly examples of faithfulness; provide wise oversight (not micromanagement); help train and equip the priesthood of believers to do their God-given ministries; and provide loving pastoral care for members of God’s local flock (Acts 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11-13; 2 Timothy 3:1-7; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Since Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, He personally calls, trains and, at the right time, appoints these shepherds within the local church. When a church reaches a certain size and spiritual maturity, these elder brothers will emerge and be recognized by the saints, and may sometimes be confirmed by the “laying on of hands” of visiting apostles and prophets (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-9). This plurality of shared leadership helps prevent carnal authoritarian rule; stifles a “personality cult” from developing around a sole or senior pastor; and helps keep the church singularly focused on Jesus Christ as the Chief Shepherd who personally leads His body by His Spirit. This New Covenant form of local church leadership only works if the elders are truly submitted to Christ their head and to one another in the humility of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:1-5). This law of the Spirit ensures these elders (shepherds) in the New Covenant church must stay vitally connected to Christ to have His resurrection life, so they can stay united in Spirit to properly care for God’s flock with His wisdom, power and love; and be spiritually sensitive to discern and follow (not interfere with) the Holy Spirit’s prompting and leading of the saints.Note: many Christians have been “burned” by the false church and are now wary of having any kind of spiritual leaders. Because of past wrongs they have experienced, they have a natural mistrust of authority. Consequently, they would prefer to have no elders at all, or else to “emasculate” the Biblical role of elders and relegate these elder brothers to a passive, and preferably invisible role. Others maintain the only leadership oversight the local church needs can simply be met by the occasional visit of an itinerant apostle. However, this way of thinking is reactionary and not spiritually healthy and goes against the clear instruction of Scripture and God’s design for the New Covenant church. The Bible says that Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, has given elders (shepherds) to the New Covenant church as His “gifts” to feed, train, equip and protect the saints (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-12). The elders are to lead, not lord; serve, not dominate; and persuade, not force. It could be said that, ultimately, the goal of an elder is to work himself out of the ministry by training and equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry until the whole body spiritually matures into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; see also Galatians 4:19). For this reason, Paul wrote that the work of an elder is a noble undertaking for brothers in Christ to aspire to (1 Timothy 3:1; see also 5:17). Jesus Christ, the head of the church, hates the teachings and practices of Nicolaitans (“those who lord it over the laity – the people”) even more than we do (Revelation 2:6, 15). With this in mind, Peter exhorted the elders who shepherd God’s flock to never lord it over the saints (1 Peter 5:4; see also 2 Corinthians 1:24). This is why Jesus expressly forbids ministers from being called by formal “honorific” titles, (Matthew 23:6-12; see also Mark 10:42-45). And yet the false church violates Jesus’ command and insists on using formal titles such as Pastor, Reverend, Father, or Bishop that set the clergy apart as the “chosen few” who are above the priesthood of believers. In the first century New Covenant church, the believers simply called each other by their first names, such as Peter, Paul, John, Barnabas, Aquila, Pricilla, Mary, Elizabeth and Lydia. Jesus is well aware that no man, even an elder, is infallible; therefore, He has instituted checks and balances in the New Covenant church to protect His body if an elder soulishly abuses his leadership role and tries to religiously lord it over others. Consequently, the Bible instructs us that no one should ever be appointed as an elder unless he is above reproach and first meets all the rigorous qualifications of an elder, and his faith and character have been tested and proven (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:6; 5:21; Titus 1:5-9). Paul also warns that a new or spiritually immature Christian should never be appointed as an elder. Furthermore, if the local church at any time finds an elder guilty of abusing his leadership role, our Lord Jesus has established a somber but simple way for the church to counsel the elder; and, if he is unrepentant, to “fire” him (1 Timothy 5:19-21; Matthew 18:15-17). We completely emphasize with and pray for every Christian who has been spiritually and emotionally hurt by ungodly pastors and ministers; however, at the same time, we cannot throw out “the baby with the bathwater.” Jesus Christ wants His body to come into spiritual health and freedom from all past hurts and injustices, and this is one of the reasons why He gives the New Covenant church godly shepherds to protect His flock from “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and lead them into “green pastures and quiet waters.” Another safeguard the Lord has installed to protect His church from the abuse of authority is the New Covenant leadership system of plurality of elders. There is no religious rank in the New Covenant church; however, there is a divine order based on differences in ministry roles and levels of spiritual maturity. Within the New Covenant church, mutual submission for Christ’s sake is the general rule. All members of Christ’s body are to “submit to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21).” Within that framework of mutual submission, the younger members are to honor and respect the older members, and all the saints are to submit to their spiritual leaders in the church. The Bible exhorts us to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority, for they keep watch over your souls as men who will give an account (Hebrews 13:17).” This divine order within the context and balance of mutual submission among all the saints is well-stated by Peter: “You younger men, in the same way, be submissive to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).” In the New Covenant church, true spiritual authority is derived from each member’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The degree to which a member intimately knows our Lord Jesus is the degree to which Jesus can speak with authority and power through that member to the rest of His body, whether through that believer’s life example or their words. Of course, this vital spiritual dynamic is conditional upon each member’s ability to hear Jesus’ voice in other members. And so just as the elders themselves are members of the priesthood of believers and not above them in religious rank, the New Covenant church does not have any “head elder” or “senior pastor” who is above the other elders in rank. All the elders are co-equal with each other in their shared leadership function. They may have different spiritual gifts and roles, such as teaching, prophecy, counseling or administration, but no single elder has positional authority over the other elders. Christ has wisely designed this checks and balance system in the New Covenant church to safeguard His flock and prevent anyone with a charismatic or manipulative personality (no matter how spiritually gifted they are) from gaining a position of carnal power and influence over the priesthood of believers. Once again, if any elder abuses and exceeds their authority with the other elders and the priesthood of believers, Christ has established a mechanism for the other elders and the local church to effectively discipline, and, if necessary, remove that dominating and overbearing elder from the congregation – the same mechanism that can be used to discipline or remove any member who is unsubmissive, rebellious and lawless. Some Christians think a co-equal plurality of elders who share collegial leadership in the church is unworkable. As a comparison, they argue that Moses was the head of the elders of Israel under the Old Covenant. However, the Old Covenant was only a shadow and copy of the spiritual pattern of things to come in the New Covenant where the reality is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17). Under the Old Covenant, Moses was appointed a prophet in God’s house and his brother Aaron was appointed as high priest. However, Jesus is far greater than Moses or Aaron; therefore God has appointed Jesus as the Apostle, Prophet, and High Priest over His house, the church (Hebrews 3:1-6). Consequently, under the New Covenant, no man can stand in the place of Christ as the Chief Shepherd and Head of God’s church (Colossians 1:18; 1 Peter 5:4). Some Christians also argue that the business world could never work without a head boss so how could Christ’s church ever function this way. That is precisely the problem with the false church; it is modeled after the world’s example and it is run like a business, instead of a spiritual body with a spiritual head boss, Jesus Christ, whom every saint freely submits to. Others contend that the institution of marriage (where the husband is the head of the wife) shows how the church should function with a senior pastor who is the head of the elders and head of the church. Once again, this is not a proper analogy. The only comparison the Bible makes to the marriage covenant (where the two become one flesh) is to Jesus Christ and His church (where Jesus is the head of the church and the two become spiritually joined into one). Using the precious and holy example of the marriage covenant to justify having a senior pastor or head elder who spiritually rules over the church is illogical and unBiblical. It is just plain wrong to compare the sacred relationship between husband and wife with the relationship between a pastor and the members of Christ’s body – Christ’s bride. The Bible declares that Jesus Christ is the only head of the church (Colossians 1:18). Once again, this is why no man can ever stand in the place of Christ as the spiritual head of the priesthood of believers. The Bible also says that every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1). There are two holy witnesses that confirm the truth of co-equal plurality of elders. One witness is God’s Word which records the New Covenant pattern of plurality of elders in the Book of Acts as well as in the Epistles (Scripture citations have already been given). From these Scriptural accounts, two facts are established whenever elders are mentioned: 1) Each local church had a plurality of elders; and 2) There is never a head elder or senior pastor in any local church. The other witness is the heavenly pattern revealed by the Spirit in the Book of Revelation. The Holy Spirit revealed to the apostle John that a plurality of elders (twenty-four to be exact) are seated around God’s throne (Revelation 4:4). The Holy Spirit showed John this plurality of elders a dozen times, and there is not a head elder or senior pastor among them. In fact, the only Chief Shepherd ever mentioned in John’s spiritual vision is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is in the center of God’s throne (Revelation 5:6-14). These two witnesses (the Word and the Spirit) confirm the New Covenant pattern of co-equal plurality of elders. However, let me repeat my earlier exhortation: although this is God’s design and was the practice of the first century church, this New Covenant form of local church leadership only works if the elders (indeed all the saints) are truly submitted to Christ their head and to one another in the humility of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 5:5). A final word: the New Covenant church is not a democracy in which every member has a vote; it is a spiritual body sovereignly governed by its head, Jesus Christ, to whom every member freely submits their self-will and soul-life. If the priesthood of believers stays connected to their head Jesus Christ and hears and obeys His voice, they will have resurrection life and spiritual unity, and the kingdom of God will be advanced through them. However, if the priesthood of believers does not stay connected to their head Jesus Christ, there will be selfish ambition, strife and disorder and their church will fail.
These are the basic features that form the New Covenant church. We believe the Holy Spirit led the first century apostles to establish the New Covenant church on these few basic principles to protect the simplicity and purity of the gospel of Christ, and safeguard the church from worldliness as much as possible (2 Corinthians 11:3). However, just following a New Covenant church pattern is not enough. A church that looks like it has the form and features of the New Covenant church may still not have Christ’s zoē-life. No, there is far more required than just New Covenant form: as we have said earlier, the church – the bride – must steadfastly abide in union with Christ, her bridegroom. In the Scriptures, Jesus Christ inseparably links abiding (staying rooted) in Him with carrying our own cross. Jesus said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow Me, cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:27).” What does it mean to carry our own cross? The cross of Christ, which was the implement of His death, must now become the implement of our own death (the death of our self-willed, self-governed soul-life). Therefore, the cross is not just His; it must by faith become ours as we turn away from fulfilling our psychē soul-life daily. Jesus said, “The man who loves his soul-life in this world will lose it, while the man who hates (turns away from) his soul-life in this world will find eternal zoē-life (John 12:25).” Let us be clear: God does not want to destroy our soul; He wants to restore our soul to His original divine purpose. God wants our soul to be governed by His Spirit and transformed by His Word as each day we put off any sinful thoughts that originate from our unrenewed mind, and instead put on the mind of Jesus Christ who lives in us (1 Corinthians 2:16).
The issue is simply one of ownership: will we continue to be enslaved to our unconverted soul’s natural desires, or will we be enslaved to God in sanctification? This means that when we are faced with a choice of doing God’s will or our will, we will obey (if we have the heart of the bride) the Holy Spirit within us instead of following our natural soulish (psychikos) temperament, preferences and inclinations (Romans 6:13-19). Allowing God’s Word (His Sword of the Spirit) to have this decisive authority and transforming power in our life has a far-reaching, penetrating and pruning impact over all our natural affections, associations and activities. As Paul taught, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh (our unconverted soul-life), to live according to the flesh. For if you are living according to the flesh (your unconverted soul-life), you will die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:12-14).” This is the only way the church can fulfill God’s eternal purpose to be Christ’s overcoming bride (Revelation 21:7). The Bible says “They overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11).” The blood speaks of Christ’s triumph on the cross, by which He completely destroyed Satan’s power over God’s elect. For by His death, Christ disarmed Satan’s power to not only accuse us of sin, but to even arouse us to sin (Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Indeed, the only way we can obey Jesus’ command to lose our unconverted soul-life is to believe and act on the New Covenant truth that sin has no power over us because our sin nature died when we were indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:6-7; Galatians 4:6; Colossian 1:27; 2:11). Once we know that we have died with Christ, we are capable of truly loving Him and submitting to His authority so that God can transform and restore our soul. My brothers and sisters, the Son of God died instead of us, and He now wants to sovereignly live in us and through us! Therefore, it is our obligation, privilege and devoted service as Christ’s bride to triumphantly take up our own cross and “put to death” our unconverted soul-life, so that by the sanctifying work of the Spirit within us, we might be transformed into Christ’s image and adorn ourselves as His pure bride (2 Corinthians 3:18; Revelation 21:2). And this we do – for Christ’s sake and His body’s sake!
Jesus said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit (Matthew 7:17-18).” When the church is planted and stays rooted in the whole truth of the gospel, it is like a healthy branch growing on the tree of life (Jesus Christ), and that branch will produce good fruit (John 15:1-8). As the Bible says, “If the root (Christ) be holy, so also are the branches (Romans 11:16).” The New Covenant church will then experience community (koinonia) resurrection life together as the living body of Christ instead of organizational or institutional life, which is really no life at all. However, if a church has not been planted in the true gospel of Christ, it cannot produce good fruit. For if the members of a church do not know (and believe and act on) the divine fact that they died in Christ, they cannot expect to live in Christ nor can Christ be expected to sovereignly live in them. They then have no alternative than to try to live and function together as a church by the best of their soulish (psychikos) ability and understanding. They will tragically mistake their soulish enthusiasm for faith and their soulish energy for Christ’s zoē-life. As the Bible says, “Only the Spirit gives zoē-life; our soulish energy has no spiritual value (John 6:63).” Until we know that we have died in Christ and have found our life in Christ (Colossians 3:3), our soul’s irresistible need is for self-identity and self-fulfillment instead of walking in obedience to God and His Word by faith. Tragically, much of what the false church has done in Jesus’ name has been to satisfy this driving soulish need for identity since its spiritual life and identity are not in Jesus Christ.
Consequently, the false church has failed to fulfill God’s divine purpose because it has tried to do in the power of its soul what it could only do in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. Once again, this is not harmless; the Bible says that whatever is not done from faith is sin, and whoever practices sin is under control of the devil (Romans 14:23; John 8:34 & 44; 1 John 3:8). The natural psychē soul-life that is not submitted to the Holy Spirit is a gateway leading to demonic deception (James 3:5). If we do not live daily by faith in the grace and truth of the cross (by putting off our unconverted soul-life and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ who lives in us), we will not have God’s discernment to recognize the difference between what is soulish and what is spiritual (Romans 13:12-14; Hebrews 4:12; 5:14). In the beginning, this deception may seem harmless because the deception is subtle. But over time, this deception leads to greater darkness and even greater deception and eventual enslavement to Satan. This is the way deception works: well-meaning new Christians who zealously want to serve God do not envision they will end up serving the false church of Satan. For the true church is the bride of Christ and belongs to the kingdom of God whereas the false church is, by its very nature and functioning, the harlot of Satan and belongs to the kingdom of Babylon. Some might ask: how can the errant, unbelieving false church be the church of Satan when it seems to be filled with so many “good” people doing “good” deeds? However, remember the road to hell is paved with “good” intentions, and the Bible says an unbelieving heart is an evil heart (Hebrews 3:12). The Bible also says that the face of evil is often masked with a false “goodness,” since Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light and his agents masquerade as ministers of morality (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). True goodness is demonstrated by faithfully obeying the whole truth of Christ’s gospel and walking in the freedom and power of the New Covenant.
Therefore, if you are in a false church that is practicing an Old Covenant religion (even remnants of it), get out and find a New Covenant church! We pray that every true child of God would heed the Holy Spirit’s warning and come out of the false church and its curse before they are overcome by deception and perish with it (Revelation 18:4). We fully recognize that finding a true New Covenant church these days is as difficult as finding a treasure hidden in a field. However, it would be far better to meet with just two or three other Christians who sincerely want to obey the whole gospel of Christ and live in the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant than to be part of the false church and its practices. Jesus said, “Wherever two or three gather together in My name, I am there with them (Matthew 18:20).” And if you cannot find another Christian of true faith, it would even be better to be alone with the Lord than to participate in the sins and deception of the false church and eventually experience God’s wrath against it. The Bible says that in the last days difficult times will come: men will be lovers of self, lovers of money and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – “having a form of godliness, but denying its power. From such men turn away (2 Timothy 3:1-5).”
In closing, building the church is just like building a marriage and a family. It might sound daunting, but God has fully enabled each one of us to participate in such a family and “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Just as the marriage covenant can only survive and thrive when both husband and wife are properly submitted to their spiritual head, Jesus Christ; in the same way, the New Covenant church can only survive and thrive when she is properly submitted to her bridegroom, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:23). Thank God that we are now able, by the Spirit of our Bridegroom who lives in us, to lay down our unconverted natural soul-life (with its self-will and selfish desires) in love for the sake of building the New Covenant church, which is God’s family and Christ’s bride. For as someone has insightfully remarked, “In God’s service, what matters most is the man; not the methods. Unless the man is right, right methods will be of no use to him or his work; for carnal men to use spiritual methods will only result in failure… the real danger to the work of God is our soul-life and natural energy, untamed and uncontrolled by the Holy Spirit.” For ultimately, it is not New Covenant principles and methods that matter; it is whether the work of the cross has accomplished its divine purpose within us. Therefore, everyone who aspires to build the Lord’s house, His church, should ask themselves: “By faith in the power of cross (knowing that I am a new creation in Christ and no longer enslaved to sin), am I putting to death daily the sinful attitudes and actions of my unsubmitted soul-life, so that I might love Christ Jesus and serve His church by the Spirit and not by the flesh?” Otherwise, we will only produce soulish converts and soulish churches and, in doing so, render the cross of Christ void of its power. As the Bible says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1).”
What then is a New Covenant church? Is it a church that applies New Covenant principles to how it meets together? Yes, but much more. Above all, a New Covenant church exalts the Lord Jesus Christ by believing and acting on the divine provisions of the New Covenant that Christ purchased for us by His death, so that the saints can fellowship and function in the freedom and power of Christ’s resurrection life. For Christ not only died to set us free from the penalty of sin, He also died to set us free from the power of our sin nature (by removing it), so that He might sovereignly live in us – His church and bride. This is the gospel of Christ that empowered the New Covenant church in the first century, and this should be the normal Christian church life in our day. My brothers and sisters, let me be very direct and clear: it is not enough to change our church system from an Old Covenant style of meeting to a New Covenant style of meeting. No, much more than just changing the way we do church is needed. If you have the heart of the bride, you will not be satisfied with just joining a church that has a New Covenant style of meeting. Your heart’s desire will only be fulfilled when you are joined together with other passionate, like-minded saints who have been entrusted with the true gospel of Christ and are committed to carrying their own cross and laying down their soul-lives daily for Jesus Christ, our bridegroom, and for one another, His precious bride. For it does not matter whether a church tries to meet together according to a New Covenant pattern: if that church is not planted and rooted in the true gospel of Christ and has Christ’s resurrection life, it will not bear good fruit, even if New Covenant principles seem to be present. As Jesus warned, “Every plant that My heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted… if anyone does not abide (stay rooted) in Me, he is thrown away like a branch that dries up; such branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire and burned (Matthew 15:13; John 15:6).” However, to those believers who stay rooted in union with Him, Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove yourselves to be My disciples… I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last (John 15:8 & 16).”
The Protestant church was founded in an attempt to reform the Catholic church. However, what is required is far more than mere reformation. What is needed is a complete restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For as long as the gospel that is preached is distorted, anemic and corrupted, it has no power to transform the church into Christ’s glorious image. How can we possibly restore the church to its God-ordained place of purity and power if we ourselves are still practicing sin? Even if we attempt to restore the church to its New Covenant pattern and principles, how can we possibly restore the church to its right place with God if our own souls are not right with God? How can we claim to be the virgin bride of Jesus Christ when our own spiritual garments are stained by the sin of the world? How can we be wholeheartedly devoted in love to Jesus Christ, our bridegroom and our “magnificent obsession,” if we are double-minded in the affections of our heart? How can Christ sovereignly live in us if we do not believe and act on the truth of the gospel that through Christ we have died to sin and the world? Five hundred years have now passed since the Holy Spirit began to restore the power of the cross of Christ and the keys of the kingdom to Christ’s church. The first key – the righteous are saved by faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross – has been restored. We believe God, in His great mercy and eternal wisdom, will soon restore the last key – the righteous will live by faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross – so that His church might walk in the power of His Son’s resurrection life during the dark and turbulent days that lie ahead (Revelation 7:9-14). For the restoration of Christ’s gospel and the restoration of Christ’s church go hand in hand. To this end we pray that God would open the eyes of everyone who fears Him, so they might find the divine key to truth and knowledge of the cross that opens the door to the fullness of their glorious inheritance in the New Covenant as the bride of Christ. This God has promised: “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will reveal His covenant to them (Psalm 25:14).” Until that time, let those who are faithful and forerunners in Christ’s church continue to be faithful and devoted to their divine Bridegroom, their true Love and Lord, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Once the gospel of Christ and the keys to God’s kingdom are fully recovered, the New Covenant church will be wholly restored in all her power and glory, and the gates of hell will not be able to stop the church from fulfilling God’s divine purpose (Revelation 11:15; 12:10-11). The Holy Spirit will then write the final triumphant chapter of church history. And heaven and earth will see the new Jerusalem – the consummation of God’s eternal purpose through the ages – the full expression of Jesus Christ revealed in His church, His bride (Revelation 19:7-8; 21:2-3). “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen! (Ephesians 3:21).”
Once Saved Always Saved
Is Always Wrong
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He cuts away…
if anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is
thrown away and dries up, and those branches are gathered
up and cast into the fire and burned.” John 15:2-6
The Bible says that, during Jesus’ ministry on earth, “many of His disciples turned away and did not follow Him anymore (John 6:66).” Jesus never said that any of those one-time disciples who stopped following Him were guaranteed eternal salvation and had a secure place in heaven reserved for them. In fact, Jesus clearly said the opposite: only those disciples who do not fall away from Him have the security of knowing eternal salvation. Yet, in spite of this, many professing Christians mistakenly believe that once they have received Christ, they will go to heaven when they die no matter how they live here on earth. This myth is one of Satan’s greatest lies. As early as the first century, the devil tried to undermine the true gospel of Christ with this heresy, which the authors of the New Testament strongly refuted. However, in the 16th century the church began to swallow this lie, which now seems to grow with popularity every year. As a result, the church has now become compromised and corrupted by the world to the point that it has lost its saltiness (ability to influence society), and is being overrun by the enemy.
The Root of this Lie
Even though there is no support in the Bible for the myth of “once saved always saved,” there are many root causes for its wide acceptance in today’s church. The primary reason why this lie of Satan has found open ground to grow and strangle the life out of the church is because most of the people who presently go to church are not submitted to Christ’s authority. Because Jesus Christ is not their Sovereign Lord, they do not really know Him nor do they really know the truth of His Word. As a result, most churchgoers lack spiritual discernment and do not know the difference between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. In fact, many people who attend church today are not even born again of the Spirit. The church is filled with these “tares” or false Christians (many of them also false shepherds) who distort the Scriptures for their own gain and to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). These are the false Christians that the Bible warns us to stay away from because they have an outward form of godliness, but (by their lives) they deny the power of the crucifixion and the resurrection (2 Timothy 3:5). These hypocrites have leavened the church. Furthermore, many of those who are saved in the church do not know how to stop practicing sin because they do not know (believe and act on) the whole truth of the gospel of Christ. And because they do not know (believe and act) that they died to sin when they were saved (Romans 6:3-11), they can be easily deceived and defeated by sin.
Many professing “Christians” are not submitted to Christ’s authority because they want to enjoy the pleasures of sin while they are here on earth, yet still believe they will go to heaven when they die. The “once saved always saved” lie provides a false religious cover for them to keep practicing sin and yet not have to worry about the eternal fires of hell. The apostle Peter addressed this evil motive when he wrote, “Act as free men and do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil but use it as bondslaves for God (1 Peter 2:16).” In their case, the Scripture is true: “They are godless people who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and (by their behavior) deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (Jude 4).” The “once saved always saved” teaching falsely gives many disobedient and rebellious Christians a blank check to sin and a false sense of eternal security. This myth has also “inspired” many people, who are not really true believers in Christ, to falsely “confess” Christ as their Savior as a cheap way to buy “fire insurance” to protect themselves from hell. However, millions of these so-called Christians are going to be shocked and horrified when they find out they gambled away their soul to gain the world. They believed the devil’s lie and lost.
Most Christians Do Not Know the Power of the Cross
Another reason for the ready acceptance of this lie is because many Christians are plagued by a deep insecurity about their eternal salvation. There are many Christians who cannot stop practicing sin because they do not know what Christ has accomplished for them on the cross. They do not know that when Christ died, their old self died with Him and their sinful nature was removed, so that they would be freed from the power of sin (Romans 6:1-11; Colossians 2:11-12). As a result of their spiritual ignorance, they are harassed with besetting sins, which compromise their faith and create nagging doubts about their eternal security. It is very common for these defeated Christians to seek reassurance from their pastors that they will still go to heaven. But since many pastors also do not truly know that they have died with Christ and, therefore, also do not know how to stop practicing sin, the only comfort they can give these discouraged Christians is that God loves and forgives them and they need not worry about their salvation. Concerning these struggling Christians’ failed attempts to live a sanctified or godly life, most pastors will counsel them to not give up but just try a little harder (read the Bible more, pray more, go to church more, and get involved in ministry more, etc., etc.). They will also superficially comfort them by saying they are not alone in their struggle – everyone else is also in same process: nobody’s perfect, we are all just sinners – only forgiven. In other words, we are all in the same leaky boat together. Can this possibly be the triumphant Christian life we read about in the Bible? No!
This counsel of man is based on defeat and is the “lowest common denominator” standard of holiness, which falls far short of God’s standard of holiness as expressed by Jesus’ instruction: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48),” and Peter’s exhortation: “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy in all your behavior, for it is written, ‘Be holy for I am holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).’” Man’s wisdom of “once saved always saved” may be soulishly comforting but it is misleading, ungodly and unBiblical. Since it is not based on the truth of God’s Word, it does nothing to inspire true faith in immature Christians. Nor does it provide discouraged believers with practical Biblical teaching so that they might know how to stop practicing sin and be sure of their eternal security. As Peter said, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:10-11).” This sanctified or holy life – “without which no one will see the Lord” – is possible to live because of Christ’s death on the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2, 14). According to the gospel, Christ not only died for us; God spiritually included us in Christ’s death. When Christ was crucified and buried, our sinful nature was also crucified and buried (removed) so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6-7; Colossian 2:11). Thus Christ’s death became our death so that His resurrected life might become our life.
God Gives Grace to the Humble But Rejects the Proud
The Father’s desire is that all His children who are weak and fainthearted and overcome by sin would see what His Son accomplished for us by His death so that we might walk in “the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21).” Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the cross so that we might reign in life and overcome sin through Him (Romans 5:17; 8:37; 1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Corinthians 2:14). Jesus, the Great Shepherd, has great compassion for all God’s sheep that are distressed, discouraged and ensnared by sin. There is a difference between how God regards someone who is humble in heart and poor in spirit compared to someone who is self-righteous and proud in spirit (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill… for I did not come to call the righteous (those who think they need no Savior) but sinners (those who know they need a Savior) (Matthew 9:12-13; Mark 2:17).” God has mercy on those who are bruised by besetting sins and whose light is dim because of spiritual ignorance, but who are repentant and want the truth of Christ to deliver them from sin. The Bible says, “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish (Matthew 12:20).” But God opposes the proud who willfully and unrepentantly practice sin. Because they have rejected God’s grace and authority, God will reject them in the Day of Judgment. The Bible says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever and the righteous scepter is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness (Hebrews 1:8-9).” Jesus said, “I wish you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).” This reveals how much the Lord despises and vehemently rejects those whose hearts are not faithful toward Him.
The Bible Strongly Refutes “Once Saved Always Saved”
There are hundreds of Scriptures that refute the “once saved always saved” lie, but we will look at just a few. The Bible has two overarching themes or principles that completely contradict this lie. Jesus declared the first principle when He said, “Every good tree bears good fruit… every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:17-19).” John the Baptist also preached this divine principle: “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).” In other words, the proof or evidence of our faith is spiritual fruit. If there is no evidence of spiritual fruit in our life, our faith is worthless (James 2:17-26). Jesus expounded on this when He said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away… if anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is cut away and dries up, and those branches are gathered up and cast into the fire and burned (John 15:2-6).” These are born again Christians (who were in Christ) but they did not abide or remain in Christ. Since they did not bear the fruit of sanctification, which confirms and seals their faith, they will be cut off at the end of this age and thrown into the fires of hell. The Biblical principle is this: anyone who does not bear spiritual fruit (since they lack true faith) proves that they are unworthy of entering the kingdom of heaven. Someone may ask, “What about a person who dies before they can bear any spiritual fruit, such as the thief on the cross?” In these situations, we can trust that God knows the spiritual condition of every person’s heart and whether their saving faith was genuine, to the point that their heart would have remained true to Jesus Christ and they would have produced lasting spiritual fruit.
Only Enduring Faith Produces Fruit Leading to Eternal Life
This first Biblical principle (you must bear fruit) leads to the second principle, which also refutes the “once saved always saved” false doctrine. The second divine principle is this: only those who have persevering faith will be saved. Jesus addressed this second Biblical principle when He said, “He who endures to the end will be saved (see Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:19).” Just as we are only saved by our faith in Christ and His completed work on the cross, we must also be sustained by our faith in Christ and His completed work on the cross. The Bible says, “For in the gospel a righteousness of God is revealed, from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17).’” The Bible makes it clear that we need sustaining or enduring faith to enter the kingdom of heaven. These two Biblical principles are actually two sides to one divine truth: enduring faith produces spiritual fruit (without which no one will inherit eternal life). In Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed, two out of three people who received the gospel of the kingdom did not bear any spiritual fruit because they lacked persevering faith (see Luke 8:15). God said, “But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of our soul (Hebrew 10:38-39).” Our salvation, therefore, must be based on persevering faith from the beginning to the end in order to save our soul and receive eternal life. As Peter wrote, “As the outcome of your faith, you receive the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:9).” Otherwise, we would end up being “an unbelieving believer,” or someone who actually is not a believer at all! This is the divine law: since your soul can only be saved by your belief in Christ’s grace, your soul can also be lost by your unbelief in Christ’s grace. The Bible says, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Hebrews 3:12-1).”
It is How You Finish the Christian Race that Counts
The “once saved always saved” doctrine falsely claims it is not how you finish the Christian race that counts but only how you begin it. The Bible strongly refutes this myth. “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you (1 Corinthians 15:2).” And as Peter wrote, “If they have escaped the corruption of this world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the holy command that was passed on to them (2 Peter 2:20-21).” The Bible indicates the spiritual condition of a person at the end of their life determines what their condition will be throughout eternity. In other words, if a person dies in faith while abiding in Christ, they will always be with Christ and they will rise from dead when Jesus Christ returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). However, if a person does not die in faith because they had fallen away from the truth of Christ and, therefore, did not (and could not) hear and obey the voice of Jesus Christ while living, how will they hear and respond to the voice of Jesus Christ on the Day of Resurrection when He returns? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (John 5:25).”
Faith Without Works is Dead
It is a serious and deadly mistake to willfully and unrepentantly practice sin. Many Christians are doing this and thinking that because at one time they have “received Christ,” they are now “covered” by the blood of Christ and will always be right with God, and will have eternal life despite the way they lawlessly and rebelliously live. Nothing could be further from the truth. The blood of Christ is only effective for those with a humble, repentant heart of faith; it is not effective for those who claim to have faith, but do not validate it by their life’s actions. The Bible clearly says that the blood of Christ is only effective for those who walk in the light and do not practice sin (1 John 1:6-7). John the Baptist warned, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).” And the apostle James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has not deeds? Can that faith save him? … faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14, 17).” Therefore, Paul taught, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I warn you, just as I have warned you, that those who practice those things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). And God declares, “If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done (Ezekiel 33:13).” The Bible clearly states that only those who faithfully endure to the end will be saved. Those who endure to the end are the overcoming bride whom God will join together with Jesus Christ in eternal union and companionship at the end of this age.
Only Those Who Do the Will of the Father Will Enter In
Jesus Christ knew the devilish lie of “once saved always saved” would try to creep into His church and try to lure His people away from faithful devotion to Him; therefore, He directly confronted it before He ascended to heaven. Jesus told His disciples that, in the Day of Judgment, He would reject all those who pretended to profess faith in Him (even those who called Him Lord), but who willfully and unrepentantly practiced sin. Jesus warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23).” Jesus intentionally used the example of Christians who ministered in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit to illustrate this point. The disciples knew from their personal experience and observation that anyone who performed genuine miracles in the name of Jesus Christ was a professed follower of Christ (Mark 9:38-40). But Jesus told them that He would not allow anyone into heaven who willfully and unrepentantly practiced sin; even if they did perform miracles and called Him Lord! Jesus said “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46).” The Bible speaks with great clarity on this issue: to know Christ is to obey Him; if you do not obey Christ, you do not know Him. The Bible says, “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him… no one who abides in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has seen Him or knows Him (1 John 2:3-4; 3:6).” On another occasion, Jesus said, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:41-42).” This is the case of those lawless Christians who “have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).” In the end, God warns they will be burned (Hebrews 6:8). What a warning this is to all of us!
The author of Hebrews continues, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice to atone for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the rebellious. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he has been sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).” These are not sinners who have never been saved; these are born again Christians who will lose their salvation because they keep willfully and unrepentantly practicing sin. The author of Hebrews further declares, “He (Jesus) became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:9).” Once again, this is the spiritual lesson: to know Christ is to obey Him; if you do not obey Him, you do not know Him. And those who do not know Him will not inherit eternal life. Paul warned Christians that they must live sanctified, obedient lives to the Lord. He wrote, “If you live according to the flesh you must die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).”
Jesus Will Erase Their Names From the Book of Life
In the Book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ warned Christians who have willfully and persistently practiced sin and “soiled their garments,” that unless they repented, He would erase their names from the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). These are born again Christians whose names were recorded in the Book of Life, but who will lose their salvation if they do not repent from practicing sin and begin to walk in Christ’s sanctification. Paul taught, “But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people… 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. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes upon those who are disobedient (Ephesians 5:3-6).”
The Bible even describes the actual case of a Christian who will lose his salvation if he does not repent from practicing sin. This is the case of the Christian brother in the Corinthian church who was having immoral sexual relations with his stepmother. As Paul wrote, “I have decided to deliver this man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5).” Paul’s hope was that without God’s protective hedge around him, this Christian would tormented by the devil until he repented of his sin and turned back to following Christ in sanctification (so that his spirit might be eternally saved). Jesus Christ made it very clear in teaching His disciples that anyone who willfully continued to practice sin would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell (Mark 9:43-47).” In this passage, Jesus did not mean that sin resides in your physical body like a malignant tumor, and that you must now mutilate your body to become free of sin and escape the fires of hell. Jesus meant you must decisively stop (cut off) practicing sin if you want to be His disciple and enter the kingdom of heaven.
God’s Divine Heart Transplant Saves Us From Sin
Jesus revealed where sin resides in unregenerate man when He said, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things come from within man and defile man (Mark 7:21-23).” Once again, Jesus did not mean that sin resides in our physical heart; otherwise we would need a physical heart transplant to be freed from sin. Jesus meant that sin dwells in man’s unregenerate heart since everyone is born with a heart of sin (a sinful nature). This was our spiritual condition before we were born again (Psalm 51:5). Therefore, God’s solution to save us from the malignant cancer of sin and certain spiritual death and doom was to perform a divine heart transplant. God used His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross to remove our terminally sin-sick heart and replace it with His Son’s divine heart when we were born again (Romans 6:1-6; Colossians 2:11-12). By this divine exchange, God completely delivered us from all indwelling sin, so that Christ could now dwell in us by His Spirit. The Bible says, “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6).” This is the miracle of our new birth, made possible by the divine operation of the cross of Christ. Now that we have Christ’s new heart within us, we do not have to keep practicing sin. For through His death, Jesus once and forever dealt with the “sin factory” that was within us, by destroying and removing our sin nature. When we “carry our own cross” daily as Christ’s disciples, we affirm our faith in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ that we have been crucified to this world of sin (Romans 6:3-11; Galatians 2:20; 6:14). In this way, we can by faith “cut off” the members of our body from sin and become conformed to Christ’s death, so that we can experience the power of His resurrection life (Philippines 3:10).
Jesus Will Not Marry a Harlot
Some Christians naively think that once you are under the New Covenant, God would never break His covenant with you. The truth is that God will never break His covenant with you unless you first break covenant with Him. Jesus said a spouse who is unfaithful and practices adultery is guilty of breaking the marriage covenant and can be divorced according to God’s Law. In fact, when the nation of Israel practiced spiritual adultery and broke their covenant with Him, God gave them a certificate of divorce (Jeremiah 3:8; see also 11:10). In the same way, when Christians prove themselves unfaithful and break their covenant with Jesus their Bridegroom, God will give them a certificate of divorce rather than have His Son marry a harlot. The Bible says, “God keeps His covenant with those who love Him and obey Him (Daniel 9:4).” Some Christians mistakenly think that once you become a child of God, you are always guaranteed your spiritual inheritance, including the promise of eternal life. However, even in the natural, if a child grossly dishonors his father by willfully persisting in despicable and disgraceful behavior, he can be disinherited from his father’s will. In the same way, if a child of God repeatedly dishonors and shames His heavenly Father by willfully and unrepentantly practicing sin, he proves himself unworthy of eternal life and can be disinherited. The Bible says, “If we disown Him, He will also disown us (2 Timothy 2:12).”
Other Christians quote 1 Corinthians 3:15 to conjecture that you can still be saved even if you continue to willfully practice sin, but as through a cleansing fire. However, this verse does not address God’s judgment of a Christian’s sanctification to Christ; it only addresses God’s judgment of a Christian’s service to Christ. Paul teaches here that any ministry work, which is not based on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ and is not a product of God’s initiative and power, will not stand the test of God’s approval. That Christian will still be saved, but he will receive no reward for his self-inspired and self-accomplished ministry. This particular Scripture does not have anything to do with God’s judgment of a Christian who willfully practices sin and who will lose his salvation if he does not repent. Some Christians also think that at the end of the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the bridegroom (Jesus Christ) should open the door for the five foolish virgins to also join the wedding feast. This is presumptuous and wrong! Jesus concludes the parable of the ten virgins by saying the bridegroom will not let the foolish virgins into the wedding feast! Instead, the bridegroom tells them, ”I do not know you.” This is the very same judgment Jesus pronounced in Matthew 7:23 when He said He would not allow Christians who willfully and unrepentantly practice sin into the kingdom of heaven. The five foolish virgins are those Christians who received the Holy Spirit when they were saved but then persistently quenched the Holy Spirit from filling them by not obeying the Lord, even though Christ’s death on the cross made it possible for them to obey Him. Once again, we see God’s divine law: to know Christ is to obey Him! Because they did not obey Him, God will not allow them to wed His Son at the wedding feast of the Lamb!
The Worthless Slave is Cast into Hell
Some Christians think the parable of the worthless slave who made no use of the one talent his master gave him is a picture of a Christian who will get no heavenly reward but will still get into heaven (Matthew 25:14-30). Once again, this is presumptuous and wrong. For at the end of this parable, Jesus said the worthless slave not only had his one talent taken away from him, he was then thrown into outer darkness where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus called this slave wicked and lazy. The worthless slave is a picture of a Christian who made no use of the seed of the kingdom that His Master, Jesus Christ, deposited in him. Therefore, this person bore no spiritual fruit (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:18-19; Luke 8:14). At the end of this age, this deposit of Christ’s seed will be taken away from him and he will then be cast into hell (see also Matthew 25:40 for a continuation of this theme in Jesus’ third parable in this series). Jesus’ parable of the worthless slave has the same lesson as His parable of the worthless salt: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).” By this parable, we see the Lord’s judgment is that those Christians who have lost their saltiness or sanctification will be overcome by the sin of the world and be thrown out of the kingdom of heaven (see also Matthew 13:47-50).
You Can Take Yourself Out of God’s Hand
Some Christians also foolishly argue that since Jesus said no one could take them out of His hand (John 10:28), they are guaranteed eternal life. However, God will never violate your free will. Although no one else can take you out of Jesus’ hand, you can take yourself out of His hand through your own unbelief and disobedience. Others mistakenly argue that “eternal” life means that you are ”eternally” guaranteed a ticket to heaven. However, this is not the correct interpretation of the word “eternal,” which is used to describe the nature of God’s divine zoe life given to every born again believer. Just as God gave us divine zoe life, He can also take His zoe life away if we prove ourselves unfaithful and unworthy of His kingdom. And finally, some Christians ignorantly and foolishly say it is physically impossible for God to make you spiritually unborn once you have been born again of the Spirit. This is the height of arrogance to presume to tie God’s hands and limit His Sovereign power. If God could do a miracle to make someone born again and a member of His family, is it too difficult for Him to also remove His Holy Spirit from that person and expel them from His kingdom on the Day of Judgment if they willfully and unrepentantly practiced sin? As Paul wrote, “You say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off (Romans 11:19-22).” And James wrote of Christians who had fallen away from the faith, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19).” In other words, any Christian who has fallen away from the truth of Christ and is practicing sin is destined to spiritual destruction and death, unless they repent and turn back to the Lord.
In closing, we believe God sees a vast difference between a Christian with a repentant heart and one with a rebellious heart. God, who knows the secret motives and attitudes of men’s hearts, will judge each person justly and accordingly. The Bible says, “(God) is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart… all things are open and laid bare to His eyes… on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Hebrews 4:12-13; Acts 2:16).” The sins of some who profess to be Christians are obvious, whereas others’ sins are hidden and will be revealed in the Day of Judgment. Therefore, since only God can discern the hidden secrets of our hearts, the outcome of each person’s eternal destiny is not always evident while they are living here on earth. For example, if a Christian with a humble and repentant spirit dies while he is still struggling with besetting sins and he only bears a little fruit because of his spiritual ignorance and immaturity, we believe (based on the totality of the Scriptures) that God in His mercy will grant that person eternal life. On the other hand, if a Christian with a rebellious and unrepentant spirit dies while he is willfully and persistently practicing sin and he bears no spiritual fruit, we believe that person will not inherit eternal life because they have proven themselves lawless and disqualified themselves from inheriting the kingdom of God. The Bible is very clear on this: God will not allow any rebels into heaven. So then how can you be sure of your eternal salvation? We believe the only way anyone can confidently know that their election and salvation is secure is if they walk by faith in Christ’s sanctification, which was made possible by Christ’s death on the cross on our behalf. Our sanctification (our obedience) to Christ is the proof and seal of our saving faith in Christ. Considering all that the Bible teaches on the need for persevering faith and bearing the fruit of sanctification, why would any Christian want to walk a tightrope of disobedience that puts them dangerously close to falling into the abyss of eternal separation from God? The Bible soberly warns us, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).”
Once Saved Always Saved is Always Wrong
Once saved always saved is always wrong! Some ministers teach that disobedient and lawless Christians can look forward to being in heaven along side every obedient Christian who laid down their life for Christ. They teach that the only difference is those who are unbelieving and rebellious will not receive the same heavenly reward as those righteous saints who faithfully obeyed Christ. Anyone who teaches others to believe this gross lie will face an even stricter judgment from the Lord. The Bible rejects this heresy and declares the only thing rebellious and lawless Christians have to look forward to after they die is the terror of being judged by a just and wrathful God. Jesus warned, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).”
Since we have died with Christ (and no longer have a sinful nature), we have been freed from sin and enslaved to God (Romans 6:6-18). Paul taught that if we submit to Christ’s authority and obey His commands, we will bear the fruit of sanctification and receive the reward of our obedience, which is our inheritance – eternal life (Romans 6:22). Jesus Himself said that those who are sanctified by faith in Him would receive their eternal inheritance (Acts 26:18). Jesus also said, ”Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him… if anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:21, 23).” The only way you can make sure of your salvation is if you believe you have died with Christ (and no longer have a sinful nature), then trust and obey Christ to sovereignly live in you. As Paul testified, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).” This is God’s sanctified life in Christ, the outcome of which is eternal life. Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death (John 8:51).”
In the Garden of Eden, the devil’s original lie to man was, “You surely will not die” if you partake and eat of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:4). Adam and Eve disobeyed God and swallowed Satan’s lie and, consequently, died for their sin. Millions of Christians today still believe the devil’s lie that they too will surely not die if they partake of the world. However, the Bible says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him… The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).” Unless Christians who willfully and persistently practice sin repent from loving the world and the things of the world, many of them will face the just wrath of God and perish in their sins. The Bible warns, “Now I want to remind you that, after the Lord saved His people out of Egypt, He subsequently destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 5).” In view of our grave concern and compassion for all Christians who are overcome by sin and whose souls could be forever lost, our prayer to God is if you are one of those Christians, you would repent and turn back in faith to the true gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who died for you and included you in His death (in order to remove your sinful nature) so that He might sovereignly live in you. Repenting and believing in the true and eternal gospel of Christ is always the way of deliverance for anyone who is walking in unbelief and disobedience and sincerely wants to come under Christ’s Sovereignty and inherit eternal life!
The Biblical Meaning of “Flesh”
One factor contributing to Christians’ misunderstanding on how God has dealt with their old sinful nature is the translation of the Greek word sarx, which appears 147 times in the New Testament. The King James Version (KJV) translated sarx simply as “flesh.” Most versions of the Bible since then have followed the KJV’s lead and also translated sarx as “flesh.” However, the word “flesh” is not only archaic; it is ambiguous and confusing. When the apostle Paul and other authors of the New Testament used the Greek word sarx, they often used it within the context of explaining profound spiritual subjects critical to the Christian faith. For example, in the Book of Romans, which is the most important doctrinal book in the New Testament, Paul used the Greek word sarx 26 times. And, in the Letter to the Galatians, which is also a very important doctrinal book, Paul used the Greek word sarx 13 times. Paul certainly did not intend that the Greek word sarx would be misunderstood just because it is simplistically translated into English as “flesh.” In fact, the English word “flesh” is only appropriately used to describe “skin” one-tenth of the time where the Greek word sarx is used in the New Testament.
Consequently, when Christians read the New Testament today and they come across the word “flesh” in the Scriptures, they are not able to truly understand what many of these verses actually mean. This has had tragic and severe consequences for the body of Christ since the proper translation of the Greek word sarx is critical for Christians to be able to understand the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross. When Christ died, He died not only to forgive us from the penalty of sin; He died to free us from the power of sin. Therefore, when Christ died on the cross, He bore not only our sins on the cross; He also bore our sinful nature on the cross with Him. Consequently, when Christ died, our sinful nature died with Him and when Christ was buried, our sinful nature was buried (and removed) with Him (Romans 6:3-6). The divine outcome of Christ’s death is that we have been freed from sin and enslaved to God (Romans 6:7, 18, 22).
Now let’s first clear up the confusion about the word “flesh” and see what the Greek word sarx really means. Then we will look at a number of different Scriptures to see how the Greek word sarx should be translated to accurately convey the Biblical truth about Christ’s completed work on the cross. In actuality, the Greek word sarx has four basic meanings depending upon the content and context of each specific verse in the New Testament. The first possible meaning of sarx is “flesh” or “skin,” the thin, soft living membrane that covers the body. As we previously mentioned, the word “flesh” is only appropriately used in one-tenth of the Scriptures that contain the Greek word sarx. The second possible meaning of sarx is the physical or natural body. The third possible meaning of sarx is the human or natural soul. This can also be described as the natural man (with his will and inherent abilities) or the natural mind, which is also called the unrenewed, carnal mind. The fourth possible meaning of sarx is the sinful nature. This is man’s fallen spiritual nature (before he is born again of the Spirit) which he inherited from his spiritual ancestor Adam. This sinful nature, which the Bible also refers to as the old man or the old self, is hostile and rebellious to God. Since this is man’s inward nature before he is born again of the Spirit, it controls man’s attitudes and actions and compels man to sin. This is like a “sin factory” inside unregenerate man that continuously produces sinful thoughts and behavior.
To help shed light on key New Testament Scriptures, which contain the Greek word sarx, we have listed a number of these verses below. In each verse, we have translated sarx using one of the four definitions described above as is appropriate to best understand the proper meaning of the verse.
1 Corinthians 15:50 – “Flesh (sarx) and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” This is one of the few verses where sarx is accurately translated as flesh. The term “flesh and blood” means mortal. In other words, mortal man cannot inherit the immortal kingdom of God unless he is born again of the Spirit (John 3:3-7).
Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh (sarx) and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Sarx is again accurately translated as flesh in this verse. Our spiritual warfare is not against a mortal enemy but against the devil’s evil spiritual forces.
John 3:6-7 – “That which is born of the natural body (sarx) is natural man (sarx), and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” The word sarx appears twice in this verse and, from the context of this Scripture, the natural body and the natural man are the accurate translations. Jesus Christ here is telling Nicodemus that the natural man, who has been naturally born from a woman, cannot enter the kingdom of God. Instead, you must be born again of the Spirit of God to enter the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 5:31-32 – “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body (sarx). This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” The best translation for sarx here is body. Just as a man is physically joined to his wife and they become “one body;” Christ is spiritually joined to the church and they become “one body.” What a beautiful metaphor!
Philippines 3:3 – For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the natural man (sarx).” From the context of this Scripture, it makes sense that this is the proper translation of sarx. No other definition of sarx (the skin, physical body, or sinful nature) would fit. The apostle Paul here declares that those who are true Christians worship God in spirit, boast in Jesus Christ’s glory and do not rely on their natural ability to serve Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:1 – “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual men, but as men with carnal minds (sarx), as to infants in Christ.” In this Scripture, the apostle Paul uses sarx to refer to the carnal or natural mind. This is the natural mind that has not yet been spiritually renewed by God’s Word (Ephesians 4:23). These Corinthians were born again believers who no longer had a sinful nature; however, they were still spiritually immature and beset with carnal attitudes. Paul goes on to say, “For you are still carnal-minded (sarx). For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not carnal-minded (sarx), walking like mere men (1 Corinthians 3:3)?”
Colossians 2:11 – “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the sinful nature (sarx) by the circumcision of Christ.’’ Sarx in this verse cannot possibly mean anything but the sinful nature. Our natural body, soul or carnal mind certainly were not removed and done away with through Christ’s death on the cross. This Scripture is one of many that testify that when a person is born again of the Spirit, their sinful nature is removed from them.
Now we will look at the Book of Romans (Chapters 6, 7 and 8)
Romans 6:19 – “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your unrenewed mind (sarx).” In Romans 6:6, the apostle Paul had just instructed these believers that their old self had been crucified with Christ and their sinful nature had been removed from them. Therefore, the appropriate translation for sarx here is the unrenewed carnal mind. Evidently, the Christians in Rome had to be reminded that when Christ died on the cross, their sinful nature died with Him and, as a result, they had been freed from sin (Romans 6:7).
Romans 7:5 – “For while we had a sinful nature (sarx), the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” Note Paul’s use of the past tense: “we had a sinful nature.” This was our spiritual condition before we were born again of the Spirit. In this passage, Paul is specifically talking to his fellow Jews who were trying to be righteous by keeping the Mosaic Law (see Romans 7:1). Paul tries to persuade them that their zeal to keep the Law will not produce the righteousness of God but only frustration and futility. “They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2).” This was Paul’s own personal testimony before he received Christ as His Lord and Savior and he was born again of the Spirit. Paul explains to them that in Christ they not only died to sin; they also died to the Law (Romans 7:4 & 6).
Romans 7:14 – ”For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I have a sinful nature (sarx), sold into bondage to sin.” Based on his own past experience, Paul now shifts into the dramatic use of first person to emphasize the anguish and futility of trying to keep God’s Law before you were born again and you still had a sinful nature that was hostile toward God. When reading Romans Chapter Seven, it is important to remember that Paul wrote this epistle in the Greek language, a precise and expressive language which often strategically uses the present tense to dramatically describe a past action and experience. In Chapter Seven, Paul made effective use of this historical present tense, as it is called in the Greek language, to vividly describe the futility and misery of a person who wants to serve God but finds himself continually frustrated and sabotaged by his rebellious sinful nature. In writing this chapter, Paul drew from his own past personal experience as a devout Pharisee before He became a born again Christian.
In this passage of Romans, Chapter Seven (verses 5-25), Paul is expressing how an unbeliever who wants to serve God is driven to frustration, futility and failure in his attempts to obey God because he is still a slave to sin and his sinful nature. Paul writes this passage in the first person since this was an experience he himself had passed through. However, from Paul’s personal testimony in Galatians 2:20, it is clear Paul knows sin no longer dwells in him because his sinful nature has been crucified with Christ (see also Romans 6:6). These two contrasting statements (Galatians 2:20 and Romans 7:14) illustrate the great divide between a believer who is freed from sin and an unbeliever who is enslaved to sin. It would be a serious mistake to think Romans 7:14-24 is how the apostle Paul viewed himself after he was born of the Spirit in light of God’s personal revelation to him (“God was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I may preach Him (Galatians 1:15-16).”) It is inconceivable that Paul, who was a bondslave to God and so fully indwelt by Jesus Christ, would declare he was also a slave to sin (Romans 7:14) because evil indwelt him (Romans 7:21). If this were the case, Paul would have suffered a form of religious schizophrenia. If this were Paul’s spiritual condition, it would deny the power of Jesus Christ’s work in him. It would also directly contradict his own previous statement in Romans 6:6 where he clearly declared our old man was crucified with Christ and our sinful nature (this body of sin) has been removed. Paul further adds that since our sinful nature is dead, we have been freed from slavery to sin (Romans 6:7, 14, 18, 22). In Colossians 2:11, Paul also declares Christ has removed our sinful nature. Finally at the end of Romans Chapter Seven, Paul solves the dilemma of this confused and conflicted person by answering his own rhetorical question, “Who will set me free from this sinful nature (this body of death)?” with the triumphant response, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25).
Romans 7:18 – “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my sinful nature (sarx); for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” Paul continues his dramatic argument that the sinful nature of a person (who is not born again of the Spirit) is always prone to do evil, which prevents him from doing what is right before God.
Romans 7:25 – “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the Law of God, but on the other, with my sinful nature (sarx) the law of sin.” Paul here summarizes the dilemma of the individual who is religious-minded and wants to serve God but still has a sinful nature, which drives him and enslaves him to sin, because he has not been born again. In this verse, Paul also introduces the One who has delivered mankind from this moral conflict by His death on the cross – Jesus Christ!
Romans 8:3 – “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was because of our sinful nature (sarx), God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful man (sarx), and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the body (sarx).” In this key Scripture, the Greek word sarx appears three times. The correct translation for sarx, the first time it is used in this verse, is the sinful nature. God was not able to impute righteousness to man because man’s sinful nature prevented him from keeping the Law. The second time sarx is used in this verse refers to how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth in the form of man. Since Christ was not born with a sinful nature, it would be blasphemous to translate sarx as sinful nature here. The third time sarx is used in this verse addresses how Christ, as the Lamb of God, took the condemnation for our sins upon His own body through His death on the cross and fulfilled the Law for us so that we might have the righteousness of God in Christ. Therefore, sarx in this last instance refers to Christ’s body.
Romans 8:4 – “So that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the sinful nature (sarx) but according to the Spirit.” The appropriate translation of sarx within the context of this entire passage (Romans 8:3-13) is the sinful nature. Paul teaches here that those who have a sinful nature cannot keep the Law but those who walk in the Spirit fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law by depending on Christ to fulfill the Law for them. This is what Jesus promised when He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).” God fulfilled this promise by performing a divine heart transplant. When Christ died on the cross, God exchanged our terminally sin-sick heart with His Son’s divine heart to make it possible for Christ to sovereignly live in us (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, when we walk in the Spirit and Christ sovereignly lives in us, we fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law through Him.
Romans 8:5 – “For those who are according to the sinful nature (sarx) set their minds on the things of the sinful nature (sarx), but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Sarx is used twice within this verse. The appropriate translation of sarx in both cases is the sinful nature. Paul is continuing to contrast the difference between an unbeliever who is controlled by his sinful nature and a born again believer who is indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:6 – “For the mind controlled by the sinful nature (sarx) is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Again, sarx is appropriately translated in this verse as sinful nature. Paul is contrasting an unbeliever whose mind is controlled by his sinful nature (for he is spiritually dead) with a born again believer whose mind is governed by the Holy Spirit (who is now capable of obeying God).
Romans 8:7 – “Because the mind set on the sinful nature (sarx) is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the Law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” Again, sarx is properly translated as sinful nature in this verse. Paul declares that the mind of the unbeliever, who is enslaved and controlled by his sinful nature, is in rebellion toward God and cannot subject himself to the God’s Sovereignty because he is not even able to do so. Paul earlier had said that before a person is saved by Christ, they are a helpless, ungodly sinner and enemy of God (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). This is in marked contrast to a born again believer who is able to subject himself to God’s Sovereignty because he no longer has a sinful nature and the Holy Spirit indwells him.
Romans 8:8 – “and those who are in the sinful nature (sarx) cannot please God.” Again, sarx is properly translated as sinful nature in this verse. Unbelievers who have a sinful nature cannot please God and are not even able to do so. This is why the Bible says we needed Jesus Christ to take our sinful nature upon His body on the cross so that when He died, our sinful nature died with Him. In a divine exchange, God then imparted Christ’s holy nature into us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:4-6). “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:8, 10).”
Romans 8:9 – “However, you are not in the sinful nature (sarx) but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Paul’s use of the word “however” in the beginning of this verse signals a clear shift in the direction of his teaching. Before this verse, Paul had been contrasting unbelievers who have a sinful nature with believers who are born again of the Spirit. Now, in this key verse, Paul makes a clear statement that anyone who is born again of the Spirit does not have a sinful nature. It is obvious that sarx cannot mean anything but the sinful nature in this verse. No other definition of sarx (the skin, the natural body or soul) would properly fit. In this Scripture, Paul also confirms other Scriptures that clearly declare that Christians cannot possibly have two natures indwelling them. Paul declares that anyone who has the Spirit of God indwelling them cannot also have a sinful nature Therefore, from this verse onward in Romans, Chapter Eight, whenever Paul uses the Greek word sarx, he will be referring not to the sinful nature but to a believer’s unrenewed soul or carnal mind.
There is a great difference between the unrenewed mind and the sinful nature. Because a Christian no longer has a sinful nature, he has been totally freed from the power of sin. Therefore, he no longer is captive to sin and he is free to choose not to sin. The unrenewed mind of a believer has no power in itself; it is like the body – a tool that must come into subjection to the Spirit of God within us. The unrenewed mind simply needs to be transformed in accordance with the truth and authority of the Word of God (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). As Paul declared, “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).”
Romans 8:12 – “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the carnal mind (sarx), to live according to the carnal mind (sarx).” Sarx is used twice in this verse and in both instances; it means the unrenewed, carnal mind. By the free gift of God’s grace (at Christ’s expense), we have been set free from sin. Our spiritual and joyful obligation to God is to now live submitted to Christ who indwells us and not allow ourselves to be dominated by the unrenewed, carnal mind. Our duty in Christ is to present ourselves each day to God and meditate on His Word so that we will be a living and holy sacrifice and our mind will be renewed and our soul transformed (Romans 12:1-2).
Romans 8:13 – “For if you are living according to the carnal mind (sarx), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Once again, sarx is properly translated as the carnal mind in this verse. Knowing we have already died with Christ and that we no longer have a sinful nature, it is not by soulish willpower; but solely by faith in the facts of the divine truth of the cross of Christ that we put to death all carnal attitudes and activities. Carnal-mindedness or soulish-mindedness was also the condition of the Corinthian Christians. Although they were born of the Spirit and they no longer had a sinful nature; they were living according to their unrenewed, natural thinking. Consequently, Paul calls them worldly and still spiritual infants.
Finally, we will look at the Book of Galatians
Galatians 1:15-16 – “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh (sarx) and blood.” Sarx is properly translated as flesh in this verse since the term “flesh and blood” means mortal man. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul said that he received the gospel he preached not from mortal man, but directly from Jesus Christ by divine revelation. In this verse, Paul says that he did not immediately consult with mortal man after he received the revelation of the gospel, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).”
Galatians 2:16 – “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no man (sarx) will be justified.” Sarx in this verse means the natural man. Paul here teaches that no man can be righteous before God by keeping the Law; only faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, can justify us in God’s eyes.
Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live in the body (sarx), I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Sarx is properly translated as body in this verse. This verse is one of the most important verses in the New Testament. If John 3:16 best conveys the basic gospel message of salvation based on faith in Christ’s Atonement; then Galatians 2:20 best conveys the rest of the gospel, which is how a born-again believer walks in sanctification based on faith in Christ’s Atonement. By this verse, we see that Jesus purchased for us not only forgiveness from the penalty of sin but deliverance from the power of sin. Paul personally testifies that his old self was crucified with Christ. As a result, his sinful nature no longer lives. Paul then declares that he now lives by faith in Jesus Christ who sovereignly indwells him. It is clear from a review of Paul’s teaching on this subject in his letters to the Romans, Galatians and Colossians, that Paul believed that God did not reserve this Biblical experience of being indwelt by Jesus Christ and freed from the power of sin for only a special class of super Christians. When Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” he declared what God intended to be the normal spiritual life for every Christian who is submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
Galatians 3:3 – “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by your natural ability (sarx)?” Paul chastens the Galatians, who had started their Christian life by faith, for now trying to be righteous before God through their own human effort. This is a common mistake for many Christians. They know their salvation did not require any work on their part; yet they think their sanctification (holiness) demands their best efforts and they actually believe sanctification can be brought about through their own willpower! However, Jesus Christ is not only the author of our faith; He is also the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). When we were saved, God sanctified us (made us holy) by exchanging our sinful nature with Christ’s divine nature (2 Corinthians 5:21). After we are saved, our rightful obligation is to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ and present ourselves each day as a living (alive in Christ from the dead – Romans 6:11) and holy (holy in Christ – 1 Corinthians 11:30) sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). Then God will renew our minds and transform us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29; 12:2). This does not mean we do not apply ourselves. What it does mean is that we apply ourselves first and foremost to believe the facts of faith in the cross of Christ; then the righteous works will spring from our faith (not the other way around).
Galatians 4:23 – “But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the natural man (sarx), and the son by the freewoman through the promise.” The best translation for sarx in this verse is the natural man. In this verse, Paul introduces the theme that Isaac was born according to the will and promise of God; whereas Ishmael was born according to the will and self-effort of man.This can also be a metaphor for the true church and false church. The true church is made up of those who are born of the Spirit and are living by faith in God’s promises; whereas the false church is made up of those who are trying to accomplish God’s will by man’s effort. This is what Jesus meant by His parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-32; 36-43). The wheat and the tares both grow up together and to the undiscerning can appear to be very much alike but, at the end of the age, when God separates the tares and throws them into the fire, it will be evident that they were children of the flesh (the natural man not spiritual) and sons of the devil.
Galatians 4:29 – “But as at that time he who was born according to the natural (sarx) persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” Those who are born of the Spirit and submitted to the Spirit are the true sons of God (see also Romans 8:14). This means they are under the Spirit’s Sovereignty in everything they do; whereas those who are not under the Spirit’s Sovereignty seek to establish their own righteousness through works initiated by their own will and energized by their natural strength (calling them “works of God”). Paul declares that those who live lawlessly by walking in the natural man under their own rulership actually persecute and are hostile to those whose righteousness is based on walking in the Spirit under the rulership of Christ. “This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic (James 3:15).”
Galatians 5:13 – “For you were called for freedom, brethren, only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the carnal mind (sarx), but through love serve one another.” After we are born again of the Spirit, we are no longer in Adam; we are in Christ. Therefore, the decision we must make after we are born again is this: “Will we live according to the Spirit or according to the unrenewed, carnal mind?” Another way of expressing this daily challenge for each Christian is, “Will we be submitted to the power and rulership of the Spirit or enslaved to the power and rulership of our soul (our natural personality)? If we are living by the power of our natural personality, we are not serving God or one another in love. But if we lay down our soul-life daily by submitting wholeheartedly to Christ so that His resurrection life may be expressed through us, we are serving one another in love (John 15:13; 1 John 3:16). We are also serving God who only recognizes works accomplished by faith and through submission to Him.
Galatians 5:16 – “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the carnal mind (sarx).” Sarx in this verse is correctly translated as the unrenewed, carnal mind. The Bible says if we live by submitting to the Sovereignty of the Spirit, we are practicing righteousness. However, if we live by submitting to the power of our soul (or unrenewed mind), we are practicing lawlessness. The way to walk in the Spirit is to know (believe and act on) the truth that you have died with Christ and by presenting yourself each day as a living and holy sacrifice to God to do His perfect will (Romans 6:6-11; Romans 12:1-2). Now that we no longer have an old, sinful nature and Jesus Christ lives inside us, practicing doing His will daily is possible.
Galatians 5:17 – “For the carnal mind (sarx) sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the carnal mind (sarx); for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The unrenewed, carnal mind sets its desire on earthly things instead of heavenly things (Colossians 3:1-3; see also Philippines 3:18-19). Earthly things are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:5). When a Christian is carnal-minded, his thoughts are hostile to the Holy Spirit because his mind is set on man’s interests and not God’s interests (Matthew 16:23). “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly (carnal-minded) lusts which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11).”
Galatians 5:19-21 – “Now the deeds of the carnal mind (sarx) are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This section is addressed to born again believers or brethren (Galatians 5:13). Therefore, once again, the best translation for sarx here is the carnal or soulish mind. Any born again Christian who does not submit himself to Christ’s Sovereignty will not have his mind renewed according to the Spirit of truth (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23). Consequently, a Christian may no longer have a sinful nature but if his mind is still carnal, he will continue to practice lawlessness of the kind described above. Paul in this verse strongly warns any Christians who are practicing lawlessness that they will not enter the kingdom of God. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on the same subject when He said that anyone who claims He is Lord but who does not do what He says and continues to practice lawlessness will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).
Galatians 5:24 – “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the natural man (sarx), with its passions and desires.” Once again, the proper translation for sarx in this verse is the natural man with its unrenewed carnal mind. Paul here teaches that anyone who truly belongs to Jesus Christ puts to death the carnal desires and deeds of the natural man (the unconverted soul or the carnal mind). Paul reiterates this truth in the Book of Romans: “By the Spirit we put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13).” The way we put to death every sinful attitude and action is to abide (stay rooted by faith) in Christ and His death and resurrection (John 15:4-8). Once again Paul clearly states, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5).” This Christian life of sanctification is possible because the divine truth is when Christ died, we died with Him and God exchanged our sinful nature with His Son’s holy nature. Our sinful nature has already been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) and, as we now abide in Christ and He abides in us, our soul will be submitted to Him and conformed into the image of His death (Philippians 3:10).
This obligation to live a holy life separated to God if you call yourself a Christian is confirmed by other Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, which declares that if God is your Father, you will purify yourself from everything that contaminates your spirit, soul and body and you will perfect holiness in the fear of God. With this in mind, Paul instructs Timothy, “Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from evil (2 Timothy 2:19).” Thus God has two seals that authenticate His people. The first seal is the deposit of the Holy Spirit given to each person when they are initially saved (Ephesians 1:13). The second seal is the evidence of sanctification in that person’s life after they are saved. Sanctification is the proof that a person has true and enduring faith in Christ and His Atonement. You cannot be saved by your works; however, after you are saved, your faith in Christ must produce works of sanctification or you prove yourself unworthy of being Christ’s bride. “Without sanctification no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” Consequently, anyone who does not have this seal of sanctification on their life does not belong to Christ and will not inherit the kingdom of God. “For if you are living according to the carnal or soulish mind (sarx), you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).” Of course, the only way to walk in sanctification is by faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross. The sanctified life is not a changed life but the exchanged life, or as Paul put it, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).” (For more information on the exchanged life, see our Teaching Tract: The Divine Exchange).
Galatians 6:8 – “For the one who sows to his own carnal mind (sarx) will from the carnal mind (sarx) reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” The proper translation for sarx here is the carnal or soulish mind. Here Paul continues his theme that a Christian who continues to live in carnal-mindedness will not inherit eternal life; only those who obey the Holy Spirit will enter the kingdom of God.
Galatians 6:12 – “Those who desire to make a good showing in the natural man (sarx) try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.” The best translation for sarx here is the natural man. In the first century, the issue of dead works born of the natural man versus true works born of faith was about circumcision. False teachers were pressuring the Gentile believers to make a good outward impression that they were following God by getting circumcised. In our day, the dividing issue between true and false teachers is still over dead works. From a Biblical perspective, dead works include any works that we do to establish a religious or moral identity outside of Christ. Many works of service done by Christians today fall under this category. Dead works originate from our natural wisdom, are empowered by our natural ability and result in men’s approval. Good works originate from the mind of God, are empowered by the Spirit of God and result in God’s approval. False teachers desire to establish an outwardly religious image based on dead works rather than submit themselves to the righteousness of God, which only comes through the cross of Christ. This is lawlessness and these lawless thoughts and actions are hostile to God! Paul warned the church to beware of these false teachers who masquerade as ministers of morality (2 Corinthians 12:15). “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision (Philippines 3:2).”
Galatians 6:13 – “For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your natural man (sarx).” Again, the appropriate translation for sarx in this verse is the natural man and his efforts. This seems to be a timeless rule: false teachers, who do not obey God themselves, always want to pressure their followers to maintain an outwardly religious image so they can boast in their followers’ dead works. “For they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43).” As Jesus said of these false teachers, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are (Matthew 23:15).”
This concludes our study of the Greek word sarx. If the gospel you are hearing and trusting in is not increasingly permeating your entire being with its truth and radically transforming you from the inside out, so that your whole being is craving and delighting in Christ’s Sovereignty, you are not receiving the true gospel. We pray this study has helped clarify the Biblical truth that a born again Christian does not have a sinful nature. Jesus Christ died to remove our sinful nature so that we would no longer be slaves to sin but instead be enslaved to God. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened to see the whole truth of Christ’s Atonement on the cross and may the truth of Christ’s gospel set you free from slavery to sin so that you might truly know Jesus Christ. “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free… so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:31-32, 36).”
Jesus Can Be Your Savior But Not Your Lord
This is another one of Satan’s lies that has greatly compromised and weakened the church. Before we expose this lie, let’s see what Jesus said it means to follow Him. Jesus said if you want to follow Him, you must take up your cross, deny yourself, lay down your life, and give up everything for His sake (Matthew 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:33; John 12:25). In other words, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, you must turn over complete ownership and control of your life to Him. It means you acknowledge Jesus Christ is your Lord and Master and you are His bondslave. It means you must give up your personal interests, attitudes and desires for Jesus’ interests, attitudes and desires. It means in every area of your life and in every decision you make – where you will live, your choice of friends, your pursuit of education and career, your money, your choice in marriage – you will seek and obey Jesus Christ’s will for your life. It means you want to know Jesus Christ and identify with His kingdom more than anything this world has to offer, even if it means your persecution and death.
Many people who consider themselves Christians think as long as they asked Jesus to be their Savior sometime during their life, they are guaranteed a ticket to heaven. They say that they believe Christ died to forgive them for their sins, but as far as Christ’s Lordship is concerned, they say they are “working” toward that goal. However, the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not an option for Christians. If you believe in the gospel of Christ, then Jesus Christ must be your Lord right now and not in the remote future. The Bible teaches that Jesus is your Lord and you are saved or He is not your Lord and you are not saved. Some Christians think that receiving Christ is like buying a car – you can get the basic model or the more expensive model. In other words, you can choose basic Christianity with Jesus as your Savior or you can choose the more costly, discipleship option with Jesus as your Lord. The Bible recognizes no such option. The Bible says Jesus Christ must be both your Lord and Savior. “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).” The first century church also did not practice any such option. The early disciples clearly proclaimed that Jesus Christ was Lord (Acts 10:36: Romans 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:5). In fact, in the New Testament, the title “Lord” is used in conjunction with Jesus Christ nearly 600 times; whereas the title “Savior” is used only 15 times.
The Bible Declares Jesus is Lord and King
The Bible declares Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1, 14; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20; Isaiah 9:6). Since Jesus Christ is God, then He most certainly is Master, Lord and King (Luke 2:11; 19:38; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Therefore, we cannot know Jesus Christ unless we know Him as Lord and King. Jesus said, “You say correctly that I am a king… for this reason I have come into the world (John 18:37). The Bible says Jesus Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:20-21).” The Bible calls Jesus Christ “the Lord of lords and the King of kings (Revelation 17:14).” Jesus Himself said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 8:18).” The Bible proclaims that, at the end of this age, everyone will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippines 2:11). “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living (Romans 14:9).”
Jesus Cannot Be Your Savior Unless He is Your Lord
The Bible clearly says you cannot be saved unless Jesus Christ becomes your Lord (Romans 10:9). You cannot ask Jesus to save you if you are unwilling to turn complete control of your life over to Him. Jesus must be your Lord for you to be saved and, once you are saved, Jesus must be your Lord for you to be sanctified. The Bible says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God (Matthew 9:35; Mark 1:14). This is the message of the Sovereignty of God and the Kingship of Christ in our life. Once again, the Kingship of Christ is not an option for Christians. Jesus said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say (Luke 6:46)?” God wants to give His kingdom to you but you cannot receive it unless Christ is your King (Luke 12:32; Acts 4:12). You cannot receive Christ’s Spirit apart from also receiving Christ’s Sovereignty. The Bible is clear: if we say we believe in Jesus Christ and love Him, we must obey Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey what I command… Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me… if anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching… he who does not love Me will not obey My teaching (John 14:15-24). Our obedience to Christ’s commands is the proof that we really are His disciples.
The focus of the early disciples was on Christ their risen King and His Sovereign Kingdom. They knew when they were born again they had changed kingdoms; God had rescued them from Satan’s dominion and transplanted them into Christ’s Kingdom (Colossians 1:13). They didn’t merely have a cultural change. They didn’t just outwardly change their old worldly lifestyle for a new “Christian” lifestyle. They knew Christianity meant Christ reigned in their lives. They knew discipleship meant they were bondslaves of Jesus Christ because He had ransomed them with His own blood (Romans 6:22; 1 Peter 2:16; 1 Corinthians 6:20). Out of their love for Jesus Christ, they gave Him their entire being – their whole heart and soul and body. This is what it means to make Jesus your Lord.
Every Child of God Should Desire Christ To Be Their King
A deep, spiritual desire to submit to Christ’s Kingship should increasingly motivate every child of Christ’s kingdom. But here is the dilemma, which every citizenof His kingdom must face: the unrenewed mind or unconverted soul is an unsubmitted soul. Therefore, self-preservation, self-autonomy and self-fulfillment are deeply ingrained habits. They cannot be overcome by sheer willpower. They can only be overcome by trusting in the truth of God’s Word that we have already been delivered from our self-sovereignty by Christ’s death on the cross (Romans 6:3-11). Jesus Christ has gone before us and made our absolute surrender to God’s will possible. We not only have been delivered from sin so that we might go to heaven; we have been delivered from sin so that Christ might rule right now in our hearts by faith while we live here on earth. This is the wonderful and powerful deliverance, which Christ has purchased by His death for all those who truly believe in Him. Christ’s death on the cross has made possible this great and glorious deliverance of our whole being – spirit, soul and body. All that is needed for us to receive this deliverance is to believe that Christ has already procured this deliverance from sin for us. When Christ died on the cross, he made the way possible for us to become free of our own self-rule and enter fully into the kingdom of God, in which each citizen is joyfully and lovingly submitted to God’s perfect will.
Jesus told His disciples a parable of a king who was far away and whose servants didn’t want him to return and reign over them (Luke 19:11-27). As long as the king remained away, his sovereignty didn’t threaten them. In the same way, many professing Christians want Jesus to remain a far off King so they can honor Him with their lips from a safe distance but not be threatened by His Sovereign demands on their life. They want to enjoy the benefits of belonging to Christ’s kingdom without the cost of losing their soul-life to serve Christ the King (Matthew 10:38-39). At the end of the parable, Jesus said when the king finally returned, he ordered all those who rejected his reign over them to be slain. This is really a story about the end of the age. When Christ returns, He will gather out of His kingdom all those who practiced lawlessness and never allowed Him to become King in their lives and throw them into the eternal fires of hell (Matthew 7:21-23; 13:36-42; 47-50; 25:41). “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power when He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).”
The Cross is the Secret to Coming Under Christ’s Kingship
The revelation of what happened on the cross of Christ is the secret to coming under the Lordship of Christ. When you see that God has included you in His Son’s death on the cross, you are freed to be Christ’s bondslave (Romans 6:6-22). When you know your old sinful nature has been crucified with Christ, then Christ your King can reign in you (Galatians 2:20). If you do not yet know that you have died with Christ and that you no longer have a sinful nature, you will never fully experience Christ’s Sovereignty. Jesus said His kingdom would be given to a people who produce its spiritual fruit (Matthew 21:43). Jesus warned that anyone who calls Him Lord but still willfully and persistently practices sin would receive no entrance or inheritance in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). You cannot just say Jesus is your Lord and not mean it. This would be, in effect, taking Christ’s name in vain, or uselessly without sincere faith. “The Lord declares, ‘These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me (Isaiah 29:13).” Christ’s Sovereignty must permeate your entire being and Jesus must become your Lord in all your thoughts, words and deeds. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened (Matthew 13:33).” If you truly believe Jesus is your Lord, then the fruit of your faith will be sanctification that leads to eternal life with Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. The Bible says, “Now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to sanctification, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6:22).” The only way you can be born again of the Spirit is if you receive Jesus Christ as both your Savior and your Lord. If you have not made a clear decision to ask Jesus Christ to be your Lord, the Bible clearly says you are not saved. This is the whole gospel of Christ. If this is not yet your experience, believe in God’s word of deliverance right now: make Jesus your Sovereign Lord and King by faith in His completed work on the cross, and fulfill the destiny which God has ordained for every true citizen of His eternal kingdom.
God’s Love Is Unconditional
This falsehood is closely related to the “once saved always saved” lie and has also done great harm to the church. Once again, this lie would have no foothold in the church if God’s people really knew Jesus Christ and the truth of His Word. Nowhere in the Bible does it say God’s love is unconditional. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation, both the Old and New Testaments clearly state that God’s love is conditional. The Bible emphatically says of God: “You love those who love You and obey You (Daniel 9:4).” In the Old Testament, God promised His people a long life and fruitfulness if they loved and obeyed Him; otherwise His wrath would burn against them and He would wipe them off the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 6:1-15). God also warned His people, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot out of My Book (Exodus 32:33).” In the New Testament, God also promised His people lovingkindness and eternal life if they continued to be faithful to Him; otherwise He would reject them, cut them off and erase their names from His Book of Life (Romans 11:22; Revelation 3:5, 16).
Above All God is Holy
In order to understand the conditional nature of God’s love, we must understand the very nature of God Himself and the reason for Christ’s Atonement. Above all, God is holy. God Himself says, “I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2).” A study of the Bible confirms that “holy” is the primary word which the Scriptures use to describe the Person of God. The Bible says, “There is no one holy like the Lord (1 Samuel 2:2).” In fact, the Bible uses “holy” and its related words holiness and sanctification more than one thousand times to describe the nature of God. The Hebrew and Greek words for “holy” in the Old and New Testaments mean separate and pure. Our triune God is holy – completely pure and void of evil. “God is Light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). God the Father is holy, God the Son is holy, and God the Spirit is holy.
God Hates Sin
Because God is holy, His love is a holy love; His justice is a holy justice; and His anger is a holy wrath. Because God is holy and pure, He hates the evil of sin (Psalm 5:5; 45:7; Proverbs 6:16-18; 8:13; Hebrews 1:9). The Bible says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men (Romans 1:18).” The Bible says everyone who does evil hates God and is separated from God (John 3:20; Isaiah 59:2). “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12).” The Bible defines sin as unbelief (Romans 14:23), unrighteousness (1 John 5:17), disobedience (Hebrews 3:18-19; 4:6) and lawlessness toward God (1 John 3:4). In essence, sin is rebellion against God’s righteousness and sovereignty. The Bible says everyone has sinned against God. “There is none righteous, not even one… for all of have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10, 23).” Sin is the rejection of God’s love. Sin is the rejection of God’s Person. That is why sin is so evil and deserves eternal separation from God in hell.
The Soul that Sins Will Die
The Bible says we have all sinned against God because we were born sinners (Psalm 51:5). All of us inherited a sinful spiritual nature from the first man, Adam, who disobeyed God (Romans 5:19). Consequently, the Bible says men’s hearts are desperately sinful and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9) and that men are by nature children of wrath, which means they deserve the wrath of God for their sins (Ephesians 2:3). The Bible says that the outcome or the sentence for our sins is physical and spiritual death (Romans 6:23). “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).” The Bible declares this to be a universal spiritual law that no man can escape: “The soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4)” and “man is destined to die once and after that to face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).”
Therefore, all of us were separated from God because of our sinful nature and were destined to face God’s judgment and wrath and certain doom. But God in His great love sent His Son who offered to die in our place so that we might live through Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16; see also 1 John 4:9).” Only the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who was perfectly sinless (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26), could save us from God’s wrath. The Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him (Romans 5:8-9)!” When Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, God in His mercy performed a divine heart transplant and replaced our sinful heart with His Son’s divine heart (Romans 6:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:11; 3:3-4). Therefore, at Christ’s expense, the free gift of eternal life is now available to all who receive Him into their hearts as their Lord and Savior (John 1:12; Romans 6:23; 10:9).
The Whole Gospel Includes Both the Mercy and Wrath of God
But Christ’s blood cries out for our repentance. God gave His only Son so that we would have a chance to repent and be saved from eternal damnation. Jesus said, “If you do not repent, you will perish in your sins (Luke 13:3). If you do not repent from your sins and receive God’s mercy available to you through His Son’s death, you will face God’s wrath. The Bible says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient (Ephesians 5:6).” But God’s love is longsuffering and He desires that no one would perish (2 Peter 3:9). The Bible says that God’s lovingkindness is intended to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). But if we do not repent, God’s love is also a jealous love. “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24; see also 1 Corinthians 10:22; James 4:5).” The Bible says if you reject God to serve other gods, He will not forgive you of your sins because He is a holy God and a jealous God (Joshua 24:16-19). Thus the whole gospel includes both the kindness and severity of God (Romans 11:22).
If We Reject God’s Mercy, We Will Face His Wrath
If we reject God’s mercy, we will face His wrath. Therefore, we cannot preach on the love of God to the exclusion of preaching on the wrath of God. If we do so, we are accountable to God for not preaching the whole gospel. The gospel has not changed God’s hatred of sin but the gospel has made it possible for the sinner to now be reconciled to God. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ reveals both the mercy of God and the wrath of God – mercy to those who submit to Christ’s authority and wrath to those who rebel against Christ’s authority. Jesus said if we love Him, we must obey Him. “Whoever obeys My commands is the one who loves Me (John 14:21).” The Bible says if we do not obey Jesus, we will face God’s wrath. “He who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).” The Bible also says, “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a terrifying expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10:26-27).” Jesus loves sinners and died for sinners but He is also going to judge sinners. Therefore, if you reject Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior now, you must face Him later as your Judge. “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5).”
The myth that God’s love is unconditional has become widely accepted in the church today. Once again, the primary reason this lie has gained such a foothold in the church is because most Christians do not experience the overcoming, sanctified Christian life, which is the fruit of believing and acting on the entirety of Christ’s completed work on the cross. Since most Christians’ normal experience is to be defeated by sin and then seek God’s forgiveness, they do not want to hear Biblical teaching on the judgment of God that specifically pertains to them as Christians. In other words, they only want to hear messages on the mercy of God instead of the severity of God. Consequently, “there is no fear of God before their eyes (Psalm 36:1).” Yet Jesus said, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that they have no more that they can do. But I will warn you who to fear: Fear the One who after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him (Luke 12:4-5)!” Because many Christians do not fear God, they do not even try to stop sinning. The Bible says, “The fear of God is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13).” If God’s people feared Him, God would bring them into His deliverance from sin and death. “The eye of the Lord is on those that fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death (Psalm 33:18).”
If God’s people feared Him, He would divinely reveal the full meaning of the power of Christ’s Atonement to them: when Christ died, He included us in His death so that He might sovereignly live in us. This is both the promise and fulfillment of the New and Eternal Covenant (Hebrews 13:20). The Bible says, “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him; and He will make His Covenant known to them (Psalm 25:14).” What Adam lost for us by his disobedience, Christ regained for us by His obedience to the point of death. “For if, through the death of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17).”
Repentance and the Wrath of God Are No Longer Preached
Every Sunday, many pastors reassure their flocks that God loves them, forgives them and is pleased with them. But this is only true if God’s people repent from practicing sin. Yet God’s command for His people to repent from practicing sin and believe in Christ’s completed work on the cross is hardly ever heard from the pulpit. If God’s love were unconditional, then all those who are rebellious and unrepentant would go to heaven because God would have no requirement of repentance necessary for anyone to enter His kingdom. However, this is clearly not Biblical. John the Baptist preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2).” And Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).” The lie that God’s love is unconditional has spawned a dozen other lies. Perhaps the most poisonous lie that has grown out of this one is the falsehood that all of mankind will be eventually saved. Another gross lie that stems from the lie that God’s love is unconditional is that sinners will face annihilation when they die and not eternal punishment.
Still another deadly lie that has sprung up from the false belief that God’s love is unconditional is that we must never offend others with the gospel because that would not be love. This Satanic lie has caused many of God’s people to stop witnessing to the lost with a clear and bold gospel. Instead, many Christians have adopted a passive form of witnessing in which they wait for sinners to approach them and ask what makes their life different. And if any sinners ever do eventually ask you about your life, you then invite them to attend church instead of offending them by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. This type of passive or lukewarm “witnessing” is no witnessing at all! It only cowardly tries to avoid the offense of the cross and gives the false impression to all that hear it that becoming a Christian means you merely start going to church. If everyone practiced this type of secular witnessing, at least 99% of those who are lost would never hear the gospel of Christ before they go to hell. Another devilish lie that has sprung up from the lie that God’s love is unconditional is that we should not confront people in church who practice sin, otherwise they might be offended. This deception has even led many churches to adopt the informal “fellowship” greeting that “we accept you into our church family just as you are.” The truth is God never accepts anyone in His family who does not truly sincerely repent from sin and turn to Him.
A Little Leaven Leavens the Whole Church
When Christians turn away from God and the truth of His Word, they become unrighteous. As a result of the lie that God’s love is unconditional and the refusal to deal with sin in the church, many Christians are now practicing sin and there is virtually no difference between churchgoers’ behavior and those of unbelievers outside the church. In fact, hypocrisy and lawlessness have become so common in the church that many ministers have now invented a variety of bizarre rationalizations to explain it away such as “All of us are hypocrites but only those of us in church will admit it“ and “None of us are perfect, we’re just all in process” and “We’re all sinners just like everyone else, only forgiven.” These are the thoughts of a church defeated by sin and Satan. The Bible clearly teaches us to lovingly but firmly confront fellow Christians who are practicing sin (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1). The Bible also clearly states that because a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough, we should not fellowship with any Christian who does not repent and continues to practice sin (1 Corinthians 5:6-13). Tragically, the leaven has already leavened the church and the resulting apostasy is nearly ripe for God’s judgment.
Today is still the great day of God’s amnesty although the fading hours of His mercy are soon coming to an end. If you are a rebel, God offers to forgive you and restore you if you will submit to His Son’s authority. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).” You can repent and choose His blood for the forgiveness of your sins today or you can face His fire in the coming Day of Judgment. It is your choice: we beg you on behalf of Christ and His cross – be reconciled to God!