A Progressive Experience
As our salvation from the pleasure of sin is the consequence of our regeneration, and as salvation from the penalty of sin respects our justification, so salvation from the power of sin has to do with the practical side of our sanctification. The word sanctification signifies “separation” — separation from sin. We need hardly say that the word holiness is strictly synonymous with “sanctification,” being an alternative rendering of the same Greek word. As the practical side of sanctification has to do with our separation from sin, we are told, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Co_7:1). That practical sanctification or holiness is a process, a progressive experience, is clear from this: “Follow . . . holiness without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb_12:14). The fact that we are to “follow” holiness clearly intimates that we have not yet attained unto the Divine standard which God requires of us. This is further seen in the passage just quoted: “perfecting holiness” or completing it.
This is a present and long-drawn-out process, and is as yet incomplete. It is the most difficult part of our subject, and upon it the greatest confusion of thought prevails, especially among young Christians. Many people, having learned that the Lord Jesus is the Saviour of sinners, have jumped to the erroneous conclusion that if they but exercise faith in Him, surrender to His Lordship, commit their souls into His keeping, He will remove their corrupt nature and destroy their evil tendencies and predispositions. But after they have really trusted in Him, they discover that evil is still present with them, that their hearts are still deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and that no matter how they strive to resist temptation, pray for overcoming grace, and use the means of God’s appointing, they seem to grow worse and worse instead of better, until they seriously doubt if they are saved at all. They are not being saved.
Even when a person has been regenerated and justified, the flesh or corrupt nature remains within him, and ceaselessly harasses him. Yet this ought not to perplex him. To the saints at Rome Paul said, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (Rom_6:12), which would be entirely meaningless had sin been eradicated from them. Writing to the Corinthian saints he said, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Co_7:1): obviously such an exhortation is needless if sin has been purged from our beings. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1Pe_5:6): what need have Christians for such a word as this, except pride lurks and works within them. But all room for controversy on this point is excluded if we bow to that inspired declaration, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1Jo. Rom_1:8).
No Good thing in the Flesh
The old carnal nature remains in the believer: though a saint in Christ, but he still sins while “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Co_7:1). What, then, is the young Christian to do? Is he powerless? Must he become indifference and passive, and make up his mind there is nothing but a life of defeat before him? Certainly not! The first thing for him to do is to learn the humiliating truth that in himself he is “without strength.” It was here that Israel failed: when Moses made known to them the Law they boastfully declared “all that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient” (Exo_24:7).
How little did they realize that “in the flesh there dwelleth no good thing.” (Rom_7:18 ) It was here, too, that Peter failed: he was self-confident and boasted that “though all men be offended because of thee, yet will I not deny thee — how little he knew his own heart. This complacent spirit lurks within each of us. While we cherish the belief we can “do better next time” it is evident that we still have confidence in our own powers. Not until we heed the Saviour’s words “without me ye can do nothing” do we take the first step toward victory. Only when we are weak (in ourselves) are we strong.
Two Antagonistic Neighbours
The believer still has the carnal nature within him, and he has no strength in himself to check its evil propensities, nor to overcome its sinful solicitations. But the believer in Christ also has another nature within him which is received at the new birth: “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Joh_3:6). The believer, then, has two natures within him: one which is sinful, the other which is spiritual. These two natures being totally different in character, are antagonistic to each other. To this antagonism or conflict the apostle referred when he said, “The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh” (Gal_5:17).
Now which of these two natures is to regulate the believer’s life? It is manifest that both cannot, for they are contrary to each other. It is equally evident that the stronger of the two will exert the more controlling power. It is also clear that in the young Christian the carnal nature is the stronger, because he was born with it, and hence it has many years start of the spiritual nature, which he did not receive until he was born again.
Work-Out Your Salvation
Nourishments for Spiritual Growth
Further, it is unnecessary to argue at length that the only way by which we can strengthen and develop the new nature, is by feeding it. In every realm growth is dependent upon food, suitable food, and daily food. The nourishment which God has provided for our spiritual nature is found in His own Word, for “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mat_4:4). It is to this that Peter has reference when he says, “As newborn babes desire the sincere (pure) milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (1Pe_2:2). In proportion as we feed upon the heavenly Manna, such will be our spiritual growth.
Of course there are other things besides food needful to growth: we must breathe, and in a pure atmosphere. This, translated into spiritual terms, signifies prayer. It is when we approach the throne of grace and meet our Lord face to face that our spiritual lungs are filled with the ozone of Heaven. Exercise is another essential to growth, and this finds its accomplishment in walking with the Lord. If, then, we heed these primary laws of spiritual health, the new nature will flourish.
Starve the Old Man to Death
But not only must the new nature be fed, it is equally necessary for our spiritual well-being that the old nature should be starved. This is what the apostle had in mind when he said, “Make not provision for the flesh, unto the lusts thereof” (Rom_13:14). To starve the old nature, to make not provision for the flesh, means that we abstain from everything that would stimulate our carnality; that we avoid, as we would a plague, all that is calculated to prove injurious to our spiritual welfare. Not only must we deny ourselves the pleasures of sin, and abstain from everything upon which we cannot ask God’s blessing. Our affections are to be set upon things above, and not upon things upon the earth (Col_3:2). Does this seem a high standard, and sound impracticable? Holiness in all things is that at which we are to aim, and failure to do so explains the leanness of so many Christians.
Let the young believer realize that whatever does not help his spiritual life hinders it.
Here, then, in brief is the answer to our question, what are we to do in order for deliverance from indwelling sin. It is true that we are still in this world, but we are not “of’ it (Joh_17:14). It is true that we are forced to associate with godless people, but this is ordained of God in order that we may “let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven” (Mat_5:16). There is a wide difference between associating with sinners as we go about our daily tasks, and making them our intimate companions and friends. Only as we feed upon the Word can we “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Pe_3:18). Only as we starve the old nature can we expect deliverance from its power and pollution. Then let us earnestly heed the exhortation “put ye off concerning the former conversation (behaviour) the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph_4:22-24).
To this end, we have dealt only with the human side of the problem as to how to obtain deliverance from the dominion of sin. Necessarily there is a Divine side too. It is only by God’s grace that we are enabled to use the means which He has provided us, as it is only by the power of His Spirit who dwells within us that we can truly “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb_12:1). These two aspects (the Divine and the human) are brought together in a number of scriptures. We are encouraged to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” but the apostle immediately added, “for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Php 2: 12-13). Thus, we are to work out that which God has wrought within us; in other words, if we walk in the Spirit we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal_5:16). It has now been shown that salvation from the power of sin is a process which goes on throughout the believer’s life. It is to this Solomon referred when he said, “The path of the just is as a shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Pro_4:18).
God is working in You
We must now enter into a little fuller detail of the Divine side of our salvation from the power and pollution of sin. When a sinner truly receives Christ as his Lord and Saviour, God does not then and there take him to Heaven; on the contrary, he is likely to be left down here for many years, and this world is a place of danger, for it lieth in the Wicked one (1John. 5:19) and all pertaining to it is opposed to the Father (1John 2:16). Therefore the believer needs daily salvation from this hostile system. Accordingly we read that Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God our Father (Gal_1:4).
Not only is the sinner not taken to Heaven when he first believes, but, as we have seen, the evil nature is not taken out of him; nevertheless God does not leave him completely under sin’s dominion, but graciously delivers him from its controlling power.
He uses a great variety of means to accomplish this:
- by granting us a clearer view of our inward corruption, so that we are made to abhor ourselves. By nature we are thoroughly in love with ourselves, but as the Divine work of grace is carried forward in our souls we come to hate ourselves (our corrupted nature); and that, my reader, is a very distressing experience — one which is conveniently avoided by most of our modern preachers. The concept which many young Christians form from preachers is, that the experience of a genuine believer is a smooth, peaceful, and joyous one; but he soon discovers that this is not verified in his personal history, but rather is it completely falsified. And this makes him confuse: supposing the preacher to know more about such matters than himself, he is now filled with disturbing doubts about his very salvation, and the Devil promptly tells him he is only a hypocrite, and never was saved at all.
Only those who have actually passed through or are passing through this painful experience have any real conception and understanding of this matter: there is as much difference between an actual acquaintance with it and the mere reading a description of the same, as there is between personally visiting a country and examining it first hand and simply studying a map of it. But how are we to account for one who has been saved from the pleasure and penalty of sin, now being made increasingly conscious not only of its polluting presence but of its tyrannizing power? How explain the fact that the Christian now finds himself growing worse and worse, and the more closely he endeavours to walk with God, the more he finds the flesh bringing forth its horrible works in ways it had not done previously? The answer is because of increased light from God, by which he now discovers immorality of which he was previously unaware: the sun shining into a neglected room does not create the dust and cobwebs, but simply reveals them.
So it is with the Christian. The more the light of the Spirit is turned upon him inwardly, the more he discovers the horrible plague of his heart (1Ki_8:38), and the more he realizes what a wretched failure he is. The fact is, dear discouraged soul, that the more you are growing out of love with yourself, the more you are being saved from the power of sin. Wherein lies its fearful potency? Why, in its power to deceive us. It lies to us. It did so to Adam and Eve. It gives us false estimates of values so that we mistake the glitter for real gold. To be saved from the power of sin, is to have our eyes opened so that we see things in God’s light: it is to know the truth about things all around us, and the truth about ourselves. Satan has blinded the minds of them that believe not, but the Holy Spirit hath shined in our hearts “unto the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Co_4:4-6).
But further: sin not only deceives, it puffs up, causing its infatuated victims to think highly of themselves. As 1Ti_3:6 tells us, to be “lifted up with pride” is to “fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Ah, it was insane egotism which caused him to say, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the Most High” (Isa_14:13-14). Is there any wonder then, that those in whom he works are filled with pride and complacency! Sin ever produces self-love and self-righteousness: the most abandoned of characters will tell you, “I know that I am weak, yet I have a good heart.” But when God takes us in hand, it is the very opposite: the workings of the Spirit subdues our pride. How? By giving increasing discoveries of self and the exceeding sinfulness of sin, so that each one cries with Job “Behold! I am vile” (Job_40:4): such a one is being saved from the power of sin — its power to deceive and to inflate.
- by painful chastenings.This is another means which God uses in delivering His people from sin’s dominion. “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their pleasure: but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness” (Heb_12:9-10).
Those chastening assume various forms: sometimes they are external, sometimes internal, but whatever be their nature they are painful to flesh and blood. Sometimes these Divine chastisements are of long duration, and then the soul is apt to ask “why standest Thou afar off, O Lord? Why dost Thou hide Thyself in times of trouble?” (Psa_10:1), for it seems as though God has deserted us. Earnest prayer is made for a mitigation of suffering, but no relief is granted; grace is earnestly sought for meekly bowing to the rod, but unbelief, impatience, rebellion, seems to wax stronger and stronger, and the soul is hard put to it to believe in God’s love; but as Heb_12:11 tells us, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceful (peaceable) fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
This life is a schooling, and chastening is one of the chief methods God employs in the training of His children. Sometimes they are sent for the correcting of our faults, and therefore we must pray, “Cause me to understand wherein I have erred” (Job_6:24). Let us steadily bear in mind that it is the “rod” and not the sword which is smiting us, held in the hand of our loving Father and not the avenging Judge. Sometimes they are sent for the prevention of sin, as Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, “lest he should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of the revelations” given him. Sometimes they are sent for our spiritual education, that by them we may be brought to a deeper experimental acquaintance with God: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes” (Psa_119:71). Sometimes they are sent for the testing and strengthening of our graces: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Rom_5:3-4); “count it all joy when ye fall into varied trials: knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas_1:2-3).
Chastening is God’s sin-purging medicine, sent to wither our fleshly aspirations, to detach our heats from carnal objects, to deliver us from our idols, to wean us more thoroughly from the world. God has said to us “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers . . . come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2Co_6:14, 2Co_6:17); and we are slow to respond, and therefore He takes measures to drive out the lie that has captivated us “love not the world,” and if we disobey we must not be surprised if He causes some of our worldly friends to hate and persecute us. God has commanded us “mortify ye therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Col_3:5): if we refuse to comply with this unpleasant task, then we may expect God Himself to use the pruning-knife upon us. God has commanded us “cease ye from man” (Isa_2:22), and if we will trust our fellows, we are made to suffer for it.
“Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb_12:5). This is a salutary warning. So far from despising it, we should be grateful for the same: that God cares so much and takes such trouble with us, and that His bitter physic produces such healthful effects. “In their affliction they will seek Me early” (Hos_5:15): while everything is running smoothly for us, we are apt to be self-sufficient; but when trouble comes, we promptly turn unto the Lord. Own, then, with the Psalmist “In faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me” (Psa_119:75). Not only do God’s chastisements, when sanctified to us, subdue the workings of pride and wean us more from the world, but they make the Divine promises more precious to the heart “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, . . . when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned” (Isa_43:2). Moreover, they break down selfishness and make us more sympathetic to our fellow-sufferers: “Who comfortest us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble” (2Co_1:4).
- By bitter disappointments.God has plainly warned us that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit, and there is no profit under the sun” (Ecc_2:11), and that by one who was permitted to gratify the physical senses as none other ever has been. Yet we do not take this warning to heart, for we do not really believe it. On the contrary, we persuade ourselves that satisfaction is to be found in things under the sun, that the creature can give contentment to our hearts. As well attempt to fill a circle with a square! The heart was made for God, and He alone can meet its needs. But by nature we are idolaters, putting things into His place. Those things we invest with qualities they possess not, and sooner or later our delusions are rudely exposed to us, and we discover that the images in our minds are only dreams, that our golden idol is but clay after all.
God so orders His providences that our earthly nest is destroyed. The winds of adversity compel us to leave the fluffy bed of carnal ease and luxuriation. Grievous losses are experienced in some form or other. Trusted friends prove unpredictable, and in the hour of need fail us. The family circle, which had so long sheltered us and where peace and happiness was found, is broken up by the grim hand of death. Health fails and weary nights are our portion. These scorching experiences, these bitter disappointments, are another of the means which our gracious God employs to save us from the pleasure and pollution of sin. By them He reveals to us the vanity and vexation of the creature. By them He weans us more completely from the world. By them He teaches us that the objects in which we sought refreshment are but “broken cisterns,” and this that we may turn to Christ and draw from Him who is the Well of living water, the One who alone can supply true satisfaction of soul.
It is in this way we are experientially taught to look off from the present to the future, for our rest is not here. “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” (Rom_8:24). Let it be duly noted that this comes immediately after “we ourselves groan within ourselves.” Thus to be “saved by hope” respects our present salvation from the power of sin. Complete salvation is now the Christian’s only in title and expectation. It is not here said that we “shall be saved by hope,’ but we are saved by hope — that hope which looks for the fulfilling of God’s promises. Hope has to do with a future good, with something which as yet “is seen not:” we “hope” not for something which is already enjoyed. Herein hope differs from faith. Faith, as it is an assent, is in the mind; but hope is seated in the affections – the heart, stirred by the desirability of the things promised.
And, my reader, the bitter disappointments of life are nothing but a dark background upon which hope may shine forth the more brightly. Christ does not immediately take to Heaven the one who puts his trust in Him. No, He keeps him here upon earth for a while to be exercised and tried. While he is awaiting his complete blessedness there is such a difference between him and it, and he encounters many difficulties and trials. Not having yet received his inheritance, there is need and occasion of hope, for only by its exercise can things future be sought after. The stronger our hope, the more earnestly shall we be engaged in the pursuit of it. We have to be weaned from present things in order for the heart to be fixed upon a future good.
- By the gift of the Spirit and His operations within us.God’s great gift of Christ for us is matched by the gift of the Spirit for us, for we owe as much to the One as we do to the other. The new nature in the Christian is powerless apart from the Spirit’s daily renewing. It is by His gracious operations that we have discovered to us the nature and extent of sin, are made to strive against it, and are brought to grieve over it. It is by the Spirit that faith, hope, prayer, is kept alive within the soul. It is by the Spirit we are moved to use the means of grace which God has appointed for our spiritual preservation and growth. It is by the spirit that sin is prevented from having complete dominion over us, for as the result of His indwelling us, there is something else besides sin in the believer’s heart and life, namely, the fruits of holiness and righteousness.
To sum up this aspect of our subject. Salvation from the power of indwelling sin is not the taking of the evil nature out of the believer in this life, nor by effecting any improvement in it: “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (Joh_3:6) and it remains so, unchanged to the end. Nor is it by the Spirit so subduing indwelling sin that it is rendered less active, for the flesh not merely lusts, but “lusteth (ceaselessly) against the spirit:” it never sleeps, not even when our bodies do, as our dreams evidence. No, and in some form or other, the flesh is constantly producing its evil works. It may not be in external acts, seen by the eyes of our fellows, but certainly so internally, in things seen by God — such as covetousness, lust, discontent, pride, unbelief, self-will, ill-will towards others, and a hundred other evils. No, none is saved from sinning in this life.
Present salvation from the power of sin consists in, first, delivering us from the love of it, which though begun at our regeneration is continued throughout out practical sanctification. Second, from its blinding delusiveness, so that it can no more deceive as it once did. Third, from our excusing it: “that which I do, I allow not” (Rom_7:15). This is one of the surest marks of regeneration. In the fullest sense of the word the believer “allows” it not before he sins, for every real Christian when in his right mind desires to be wholly kept from sinning. He “allows” it not fully when doing it, for in the actual committing thereof there is an inward reserve and check — the new nature consents not. He “allows” it not afterwards, as Psa_51:1-19 evidences so plainly of the case of David.
The force of this word “allow” in Rom_7:15 may be seen from “truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they killed them (the prophets) and ye build their sepulchers” (Luk_11:48). So far from those Jews being ashamed of their fathers and abhorring their wicked conduct, they erected a monument to their honour. Thus, to “allow” is the opposite of to be ashamed of and sorrow over: it is to condone and vindicate. Therefore, when it is said that the believer “allows not” the evil of which he is guilty, it means that he does not seek to justify himself or throw the blame on someone else, as both Adam and Eve did.
That the Christian “allows not” sin is evident by his shame over it, his sorrow for it, his confession of it, his loathing himself because of it, his renewed resolution to forsake it.