CHRISTIAN LIFE & GROWTH
Backsliding Saint vs. Unregenerate Sinner
Fredric A. Carlson
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Continued from Page One
An Assured Hope
Therefore, when I sinned again, I first had to determine whether I truly had been born from above, or whether I only performed a religious act by which someone told me that I became a Christian. As I examined myself, I knew that the Holy Spirit had changed my heart. He had changed the object of my faith from myself to God and His Word. What mattered now was not merely that I had faith, but who was the object of that faith! Now my hope is in who Jesus is, and what He did on the cross in my place. I no longer trust in myself, or even in my ability to believe, but simply in God's ability to keep his word, to keep his promises. He had changed the core direction of my heart, turning it to Christ (2 Corinthians 6:2; John 1:12; Romans 8; 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:36; 6:34-40; 10:15-16 and 25-30; and 1 John 5:13). Along with this, He had put deep inside me a real desire and intention to live a life that is truly set apart to God for his sake, a God-centered life (1 Peter 1). I had begun to seek God's kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). I knew that such faith in God is God's gift. It can come from no other source, not from Satan, not from the old nature, and not from the world. God honors faith in him and his word because such true faith honors him above all.
I found another piece of the puzzle in 1 John. John wrote much of that letter to help doubtful believers gain assurance and peace about God's saving work in their behalf and in their lives. I found that John uses the word sin in two ways. Most often he means "to commit a sin." But in chapter 3:4-10, he means "to keep on sinning habitually." What John says is that when the Holy Spirit gives the new birth to a lost person, he installs a new nature in that person's heart (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). A changed heart shows in a new character. While the old heart essentially loves sin and hates righteousness, the new heart essentially loves righteousness and hates sin. The transformation is obvious. By implanting the new nature, the Holy Spirit transforms the heart, and therefore, the new believer's characteristic lifestyle. The believer's new nature hates it when he sins, and wants to get free of it, get clean of it, and avoid it. The old man's worst sin was failing to keep the first law of life, to love God supremely (Matthew 22:37-38). The new heart loves God, and characteristically wants to please Him. That explains why I feel so guilty and ashamed when I fail Christ now, when sometimes my old habits, aggravated by Satan, catch me up. Sooner or later, falling into some sin reminds every saved person that he is a rescued sinner. But his heart hates the failure, for the Holy Spirit has installed the new nature that loves righteousness. The new heart wants to give God the joy of a righteous life that loves Him. The new heart deeply wants to be good and to do good. The old heart doesn't care, and continues reveling in its lifelong habits of selfish, self-serving, lustful sinning, disbelieving, denying, disobeying, and disregarding God.
The Puzzle's Main Piece
Then why did I not automatically stop sinning when God saved me? Why can sin still victimize the true believer? I learned that when God gives a new nature through the new birth, He does not remove that person's old nature (Galatians 5:13-26) until the believer's death (Revelation 21:1-8; 22:14-15). Even the godly Apostle Paul wrestled all his life with his old nature (Romans 7:18-25; 1 Corinthians 9:27). That explains why all true believers sometimes still sin. Even those who think they are practically perfect still have room to grow out of their pride. Only God Himself is perfect: "There is but One who is good" (Matthew 19:17).
Why does God leave in place our sinful old man? Wouldn't He get glory from eradicating that old nature so that believers will not even be tempted to sin? The New Testament does not give us a straight-up answer to that question. Yet, it gives us several hints. Over many years, I have learned several of the factors that helped me to understand this, while I was learning how to deal with that old nature in my life:
The Old Nature
1. It is only in struggle that God can demonstrate His power that gives us the ability to say "No" to the old nature and "Yes" to Him. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Apparently, God knows that when Christ gives a believer victory in the struggle, He gets more fame than He would if He just prevented the struggle. Who cheers a football team's "victory" when the opponent doesn't show up? The struggle lets us demonstrate His power as in it we say "Yes" to the new man and "No" to old man.
2. In that struggle, our Lord gives us the opportunity to experience joyful victory in the battle, joy we cannot feel if we never get off our spiritual couch.
3. In the Divine-human cooperative, the struggle with temptation keeps us depending on Him. Victory over sin is a shared victory, demonstrating the living Christ's work in us, enabling our cooperating choices. It's sort of a repeat of Eden's probation, proving that the resurrected Christ can preserve His believers. This battle has to take place during life, not just after death.
4. The struggle keeps us from getting cocky. Each failure reminds us of our utter dependence on Him. And it reminds us of the consequence of failure, loss of confidence in witness. If Christ's power is not enough to keep us from sin, how can we confidently preach it to others?
5. Our mastery over our old nature is a necessary step in restoring His name in us before finally removing our old nature at our death. For example, we could not practice forgiveness as Christ does unless others also demonstrate their old nature to us.
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Published on 4-11-16