How do Christians overcome sin? We are taught to behave a certain way according to Christ’s example. With the help of the Spirit, we are able to do so. However, Christians still commit sins and sometimes knowingly (defined usually by their conscience). So how do Christians overcome sin?
First, we have to understand a few issues with sin. In the Bible, ‘sin’ and ‘sins’ refers to two different things. ‘Sin’ refers to the nature of sin that is in us. It is what makes us commit ‘sins.’ The ‘sins’ man commits are the same as his trespasses. That is why there are two different sacrifices related to sin(s) in the Mosiac laws: the fourth sacrifice is the sin offering, (Lev. 4:1-35; 6:25; Rom. 8:2; 2 Cor. 5:21) for unintentional sins, dealing with the sinful nature of man, and the fifth sacrifice is the guilt offering, (Lev. 5:1-18; 7:1; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18) for known trespasses, dealing with the sins that man commits. By dying on the cross, not only has Christ Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, his sacrifice dealt with our nature of sin, freeing us from its bondage. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Rom. 8:2) “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11)
Overcoming sin is not something that people do, it is something that Christians realize. Sin is a part of our human nature once Adam took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Discerning the difference between good and evil is an attribute of God, (Gen. 3:22) not man. Imagine a situation where we could not tell good from evil, we would hold God as the only authority, there would be no reason not to love our father and mother, we would not know why something is better, good, than something else that is worse, evil, so we would not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not give false witness, and not covet. (Exo. 20:3-17) If we could not separate the difference between good and evil, there would be no envy, no one wronged, no anger, no jealousy, no anything. [However, the small differences we see between good and evil eventually, over time, escalates to massive insurmountable differences that polarizes us to extremes resulting in behaviours that are truly evil. That is why, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eyes?’ (Mat. 7:3)] With no differences between good and evil, we would appreciate whatever we have. We would not be any wiser – “that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” (Gen. 3:6) Though this seems simplistic, it is the bases of all the struggles in the world today. If we do not know good from evil, we would abide by the laws of God. There would be no need to struggle. When Adam took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he gained an attribute of God that is divine. “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:22) Adam was human, but he gained this divine insight into knowing what is good from what is evil. He knew what was better for himself, so he commits the evil to get it. Cain was the first affected by this. He saw his brother’s offering was ‘better,’ leading him not only to lose his love for his brother, but to kill him. He no longer loves his neighbour as himself, (Luke 10:27) as all the specks in their eyes are amplified. He no longer bows down to the higher authority of God. He no longer loves God with all his heart, all his soul, all his strength, and all his mind. (Luke 10:27) He gained the nature of sin. He knew what was right, but being human and knowing good from evil, he could only do what was wrong. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:18-19) This is the nature of sin that dwells in us. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Rom. 7:20) The nature that dwells in our flesh is sin. We need to die to this, so Christ came in the flesh, (John 1:14) condemning sin in the flesh, (Rom. 8:3) releasing the divine nature as the life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45) to dwell in us. (Rom. 8:9) We need the divine nature to come into us to give us the ability to overcome sin. “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14-15) As long as we ‘share in flesh and blood’, humans are ‘subject to slavery all their lives’ because we have a ‘fear of death’ when we break the law. So God came and became human, ‘partook of the same,’ dying for us so he could ‘render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,’ who keeps accusing us, and makes us accuse each other of doing evil. That is why this age will end, when “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Rev. 12:10) Through the cross, realize we are no longer “slave[s] to sin,” (John 8:34) but have “come to [our] senses and escape[d] from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:26) Through Christ’s death on the cross, we have died to sin. “For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3) “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 6:11) “And having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:18) So it is not a matter of doing right in our flesh, it is a matter of being right in our spirit with his Spirit. It is not a matter of trying to be right by ourselves, it is a matter of living in righteousness in Christ. We need to realize that we are not alone, but Christ now lives in us.
The reason we fail so often in overcoming sin is because we are trying to overcome sin. As human beings, we cannot overcome sin because we are human. So even after we are saved, we continue to be tempted to commit sins and fail. Only Christ can overcome sin. Not only can Jesus overcome sin, he has already done so in his human living on this earth. He was perfectly obedient to God. “I can do nothing on my own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30) “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:28-29) “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” (John 6:38) Only He had the ability to follow the will of God. As a man, he not only had the knowledge of good and evil, he had the ability to follow it, because he was also God. He was human and divine. He was the only man who was able to submit his will to God’s will. Even at his crucifixion, Jesus prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) As a human, he wondered, if the Father was willing, if he could avoid his crucifixion; as God, he was always obedient to the will of his Father – ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ By his crucifixion, he condemned sin, removing its power and eliminating the nature of sin, once for all by dying on the cross. By being totally obedient to the Father, he finally bruised Satan’s head. (Gen. 3:15) This person of Christ, with all the attributes of his being, in resurrection, has come to live within us as the life-giving Spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45) “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) Realize this. Realize that Jesus Christ lives in you. Realize that we have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live. We died with Christ and our sinful nature no longer lives. It is not us that has defeated our sinful nature, it is because we have died to it with Christ. Christ has defeated it by dying on the cross. We are united with Christ in his death. Being dead, it is no longer I who live. It is only the resurrected Christ who now lives in me. Realize Christ Jesus now live in us. “And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
For those who have known Christ for sometime, it is not uncommon that when we think we have done something for Him, something negative seems to happen to us. Whenever we think we have done something wonderful for God, he is there to empty us again, to humble us again, (Phi. 2:5-12) so that the “surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7) “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:21) In maturity, we realize we can only manifest the life of Jesus by dying to ourselves. “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.” (2 Cor. 4:10-12) So that is how we work out our own salvation, (Phi. 2:12) by constantly dying to ourselves, so Christ could live out of us. “So death works in us, but life in you.” (2 Cor. 4:12) “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phi. 2:13)
Following our conscience and living a righteous life before God is not supposed to be a struggle. It is a mere consequence of us realizing we have died with Christ and are now manifesting the active and living Christ that is in us. That is why it is the fourth and fifth offerings for the children of Israel, not the first, which is the burnt offering. (Lev. 1) The burnt offering is completely offered to God as a sweet aroma to him. It is for God’s pleasure. The offering is skinned and the entire animal, cut into pieces, is offered to God. This is a picture of Christ, as the ultimate sacrifice. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phi. 2:5-8) Realize Jesus was ‘in the form of God,’ but he emptied himself, submitting to the Father’s will, humbling himself to the point of death. He was the only human that was completely obedient, completely righteous, yet when he was accused, he kept silent, not saying a word in his own defence. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isa. 53:7) It is impossible for any of us to do. He was brought to the point of death, and still did not fight for his ‘good,’ because he was following the Father’s will. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Realize we are not able to, but this person of Christ, who is now living in us, He is able to. We can do nothing apart from him, but he abides in us, and we abide in him. (John 15:5) “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19) “Do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor.13:5)
Christ was absolutely for God. He was a human with his own will, yet he submitted it totally to God. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.'” (John 4:34) Jesus compares the will of God to the very basic element that sustains his life, food. He was absolutely, a hundred percent for his Father’s will. Everyday he lived to accomplish the Father’s work. He did everything according to God’s will, not his own. Although we often think we are standing up for the ‘good,’ or doing the ‘good,’ realize it should not come from ourselves, from our own wills, but from Christ who is living within us. Even when we love, it should not be from ourselves, but from God. Only then is our enemies loveable. Christ loves all of us sinners. In our living, whatever we do, realize it must not be us doing it, but Christ. This is how we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God.” (Rom. 12:1) The fire of the burnt offering was kept burning continually, “Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out,” (Lev. 6:13) indicating every moment of Christ’s life was to do the Father’s will. His entire being, including his will, was burnt continually as “a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” (Lev. 1:9) We need to have Christ living out of us every moment of our lives. When we allow Christ to live out of us, then whatever we do, even the ‘good,’ has been tested by fire. Only the work of Christ will withstand God’s test by fire. “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:12-15) Realize we should not think we are doing ‘good,’ we just need to allow Christ to live out of us. That is why we should not touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We need to eat from the tree of life. The bread of life is what sustains us today. (John 6:32-35) That is why the opening of the gospel of John reminds us of Genesis by saying, “In the beginning…” (John 1:1; Gen. 1:1) In Genesis, man was supposed to eat Christ, symbolized by the tree of life, daily to transform him intrinsically and make him one with God. Today, we are supposed to eat Christ, symbolized by the bread of life, daily to transform us intrinsically and make us one with God. Because man fell, sin entered into man, so God could no longer come into us. We knew what was right and wrong but had no ability to carry it out. (Rom. 7:18) “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—“ (Gen. 3:22) To restore man to eat from the tree of life, receiving the divine life, because God so loved the world, he gave us his only Son, so whosoever believes in Christ, who receives him (John 1:12) into their spirit, (Rom. 8:9) “should not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16) “and live forever.” (Gen. 3:27) “In him was life, and the life was the light of man.” (John 1:5) The divine life shines within us because it has a divine nature, shining in our human nature. When the light shines in us, even the darkness of our hearts cannot overcome it (John 1:5) — “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor. 5:4) Christ is our bread of life. (John 6:35) “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Mat. 4:4; Deu. 8:2) The Word of God is the bread we need to eat today. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (John 6:64) Lord, give us this day our daily bread. (Mat. 6:11; Luke 11:3)
The Lord said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat. 5:48) How can we be perfect like our heavenly Father? It is impossible for humans to do. We need to eat of the bread of life. We need him continually. The children of Aaron ate of the grain offering. A portion was offered to God, as “a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the rest of it Aaron and his sons shall eat.” (Lev. 6:15-16) “Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from the Lord’s food offerings. Whatever touches them shall become holy.” (Lev. 6:18) When we take Christ as the bread of life into our beings, realize it is no small matter. Realize he is living in us to transform us, expressing his holiness through us, so we become perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” (Rom. 12:1) Christ, dwelling within us, is the reality of our holiness that is acceptable to God. That is how we overcome sin.