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Abstaining from Sin
1 Peter 2:11–12
1 Peter Lesson #064
September 22, 2016
“Father, we’re thankful we can come together to study Your Word this evening. As we watch the news and reflect upon the events that are going on in this nation, we see more and more evidence of the complete failures and breakdowns of all the different systems in this nation. But all of that is simply the symptom of the spiritual breakdown that has taken place in this nation from a people who have rejected the truth of Your Word, rejected the gospel, and are consistently led by people who are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
Father, the only hope is the light of Your Word, and the only hope is Jesus Christ Who is the Light of the world. Until we focus on that, we are discovering an unrest and chaos that is just exactly what we deserve. And until the pulpits in this country return to a focus upon Your Word, there will be no real hope, real peace, or real stability. That’s the only hope that we have.
Father, tonight we are here to study Your Word. We pray that You will help us to understand that which we study and that God the Holy Spirit will drive these truths deep into our soul. We pray this in Christ's name. Amen.”
Tonight we’re going back to 1 Peter 2. We’ve talked about some of the elements within the passage about the sin nature warring against the soul, understanding the basic anthropology—that means what the Bible teaches about the makeup of man.
When I started into this about three lessons back, in my introduction I talked about the fact that among many Christians that we run into today we hear—and I’ve heard this for 30 or 40 years—that it’s not grace oriented to talk about not sinning. You hear this rationalization that goes on with people, “Well, I’ll just confess my sin. I don’t need to struggle with my sin nature because Christ died on the Cross for my sins.” There are a number of these kinds of rationales that go on, and yet this really isn’t biblical. And, therefore, it’s not grace oriented.
Tonight we’re looking at what the Bible teaches about abstaining from sin. Much of this is going to be a review and a really good summary on what the Bible teaches about sin in the believer’s spiritual life.
Let’s just look at the passage again just to put our focus on the text. There’s a switch here that is taking place in terms of Peter’s argument as he introduces the next major section that begins in 1 Peter 2:13. What’s interesting is the next major sections each relate to orientation to authority in the spiritual life.
He begins this by saying that “as sojourners and pilgrims”, terms that would especially resonate among Jewish-background believers, but they are true for Church Age Gentile believers as well in the world system.
“I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having ...” That is an instrumental participle there.
How do you abstain? It’s by “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles.” What we see there is the focus isn’t primarily on not sinning—I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to do this other thing. It’s focused more on the positive: living an honorable, spiritually virtuous life.
By “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
So we look at the terminology that’s used here. The word for “fleshly” is the Greek word SARKIKOS, built on the word SARX for flesh, which is a term often used for the sin nature. We’ve talked about this and the role of the sin nature in the life of every human being, that before you’re saved everyone’s a slave to the sin nature. After you’re saved you don’t have to be a slave to sin nature—that’s your choice.
These are fleshly lusts, a phrase that is often used to describe the operation of the sin nature, and that this is involved in a war against the soul. This is part of spiritual warfare. The three enemies of the Christian life are the flesh, the world, and the devil.
We fight in each of these areas, but the only arena where we engage in active spiritual combat is in the arena where we’re fighting against our sin nature. In the world system, it’s passive; we avoid being influenced by the sin nature. In the area of demonism we are to resist the devil and let God deal with those things that are taking place in the invisible realm.
There is a war. This clearly shows that the sin nature is distinct from the soul because it wars against the soul, that is, a summary of the immaterial nature of the believer. We talked about trichotomy last week, that we are composed of body, soul, and spirit. The immaterial part enables us to interact with the world around us, to think, to reason, our mentality, the self-consciousness, our ethics, morality flowing out of a conscience, and our volition. This is the soul. But we have a human spirit when we’re regenerated that enables the elements of the soul to interact with God.
In this diagram we have the physical material brain that works via an immaterial entity known as the soul made up of these four elements: the self-consciousness, mentality, conscience, and volition. But there is something external—the sin nature—that inflames the passions of the soul. That’s the intersection that takes place there. Before you’re saved, that’s all you have is this sin nature and sin nature control. Afterwards you have a choice.
But often because of the power of the sin nature, even though it’s broken, we don’t feel like we have a choice. We have to learn that we have volition and we have to choose how we respond. You don’t have to have anger. You don’t have to gossip. You don’t have to react to the world on the basis of the sin nature. You can choose and should choose to walk by the Spirit.
Negative volition gives the sin nature control and then we are walking in darkness, we are walking according to the flesh, and the sin nature seeks to control all of the aspects of the soul. This is warfare that were talking about here.
That introduces us to understanding that there is this conflict that has to be dealt with. Here we have a diagram of the sin nature, and the sin nature is driven internally by the fact that we are totally self-oriented and so these desires that we have that we call the lust patterns are designed to feed the self, feed what we think will make us happy. That’s the core driving mechanism, the sin nature. It’s all about me.
The sin nature has two areas of operation. The upper one we call human good, because the sin nature can produce morality. According to the Bible, everybody’s born spiritually dead and because they are spiritually dead, they operate only on the sin nature, but they do relatively good things. They can produce very moral religious systems. Ultimately they will break down into the categories of the works of the flesh, because that’s the nature of religion.
That’s what Paul talks about in Romans 7. As much as he’s trying to do the right thing, he didn’t understand, at that point, the role of the Holy Spirit. The end result was that he didn’t do what he wanted to do, and he did what he didn’t want to do, and the result was always some sort of sin that becomes manifest.
The other area is the area of weakness where we produce personal sins. Both are products of the sin nature; both are the result of corruption. We tend to trend in one of two directions. Everybody here tends to either trend towards asceticism and legalism, or you go in the opposite direction towards licentiousness.
This is always a problem. Asceticism is the idea that if I give up something, if I limit the enjoyment of the pleasures of physical life—food, friendship, society—if I somehow give that up, that impresses God. That was manifested in the early church in forms such as monasticism, where if I just leave the world and go live either in a closed community or in isolation as a hermit …
You had hermit monastics, then you had the pillar saints. These are the ones who said, “Well, I’ll be really holy, I’ll go live for the next six months—or year, or two years—on top of a pillar.” And people thought, “Oh, they are really holy.” So they would come out and they would watch them, and it bordered on some sort of worship. They would preach. But it’s all based on this kind of legalism and asceticism, and it’s a moral degeneracy.
We see the same thing manifest in the Pharisees. They were very moral. They were very religious. They prayed seven times a day. They went to Temple. They did all of these things. They memorized the Torah. But they were morally degenerate. This is why Jesus announces these curses on them in Matthew 23.
Then on the other hand we have the immoral degenerates. We can pretty much picture them. Those are the easy ones for people to think of. We can think of those who are sexually perverted, those who are licentiousness. This is the idea that, “I just do whatever I want to do.” When it comes across into Christianity, it’s that, “Well, Christ paid for my sins, so now I can just do what I want to do.” Licentiousness is that “I have a license to sin.”
Lasciviousness is another word emphasizing the sensual pleasures.
And antinomianism, “There’s no real moral ethical law; I just do whatever makes me happy.” That leads to immoral degeneracy.
This is the warfare that we see in passages like Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” These are contrary to one another. As a believer, there is this inner conflict that occurs between the Holy Spirit, Who’s indwelling the believer, and the sin nature as to who’s going to be the dominant influence in the life.
This is where Paul ends up saying that you don’t do the things that you wish. That’s the same phrase that Paul uses in Romans 7 when he says that as much as he tried to do the things that he wanted to do, he didn’t do them. It shows that when you’re not walking by the Spirit—no matter how much you try to be good, you try to be perfect, you try to please God—that ultimately it is going to manifest itself in the works of the flesh, because that’s all that’s in control.
We have this command in 1 Peter 2:11 to, “Abstain from fleshly lusts.” We’ll see this word again and it’s here. It’s a present middle infinitive; it’s an infinitive of purpose. It completes the verb, to beg you to do something. It’s in the middle voice, and that voice has the idea of keeping away from something, abstaining from something, refraining from something.
This was popularized in an anti-drug campaign back in the 80s called, “Just say no.” That’s basically what it is for the Christian life. Just say no—by the power the Holy Spirit. You can’t just do it on your own.
Slides 11 and 12
What I want to look at tonight is this doctrine of abstaining from sin. First of all, just in terms of general understanding, every believer continues to have an active sin nature. I want to add that it is just as active in every category as it was before you were saved. Regeneration doesn’t minimize your sinfulness. It doesn’t minimize your potential to sin.
There’s a view out there in Reformed Theology that if you’re really saved, you won’t commit certain sins, or you won’t do it as much, or there’s some kind of difference, because you can’t be quite as bad when you’re saved as you could when you weren’t saved. They look at regeneration not as the addition of some new element to your life—that something is given birth to—but that your sin nature is somehow limited.
Every believer continues to have an active sin nature and numerous passages worn about continuing in sin. These passages become meaningless if a believer can’t live just like an unbeliever. I think that’s one of the great arguments against lordship salvation. They think that these passages are warning passages against those who think they’re believers. They’ve made a profession of faith. But Paul is talking to those who are actually believers and telling them to stop doing certain things because they continue to live just like they did when they were unsaved. This is what happened to the Corinthians.
Just like a lot of Christians today, they hear the gospel, they get saved, but they just continue living like they did before, because they get no information about the spiritual life. They are never taught anything about the spiritual life. Without the truth of God’s Word to tell them what God’s provided for them in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, they’re just going to continue in the default mode they’ve been in for all of their previous life. That’s their comfort zone.
In fact, we could develop a whole line of thinking that the reason that we continue to sin so easily is because that’s our comfort zone. That’s where we feel most comfortable. The sin nature works for us. At least it deceives us into thinking that it works for us. “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)
There are these numerous passages that continue to warn every believer about sin, which tells us that sin is just as much a problem for every believer. Whether they are walking by the Spirit or not, whether young, whether old, sin is always the battle. I listed some of these passages: the whole section of Romans 6–8; Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16–27; Ephesians 4:22; and much of Ephesians 4 and 5 as well; Colossians 3:5–10; 1 John 1:10–2:2. All of these passages emphasize this.
We’ll look at a number those passages as we go through these points tonight.
The second point, also by way of general introduction and understanding background on this, there are two extreme positions that developed in the early years of Christianity to deal with sin after a person is saved. One of the great problems in theology and in Christianity is, “What do you do with sin after you’re saved?” If you don’t understand grace and you don’t understand cleansing, then there are all kinds of problems that enter in.
The one extreme, that is, the licentious position, is the idea that, “Well, sin is paid for, so it doesn’t really matter if I go out and commit all these sins or not, because they’re paid for.” So if they are paid for, what does it matter? Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1 when he asks a rhetorical question, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” “If I got this much grace with the sin I’ve already committed, then I’ll just go commit a lot more sins and I’ll get even more grace.” He completely rejects that in his answer, “No.” He uses the strongest way possible to deny that.
So licentiousness is one. Notice they fit the trends of the sin nature.
The other is legalism—that the way to deal with Christians who are sinful is you put them under some sort of rigorous code of ethics that will prevent them from sinning. This is what happened under the Mosaic Law under the Pharisees. When the Israelites came back from the captivity in 538 BC, they began to think, “We disobeyed God, we got into idolatry, so what can we do to prevent future idolatry? We have to get everybody to obey the Law.”
“There are 613 commandments in the Law, and so in order to protect those 613 commandments from being violated, let’s build a ‘fence’.” You find this language over and over again in the Mishnah and in the Talmud. “Let’s build a ‘fence’ around those 613 commandments.” Each commandment had a series of secondary commandments built around it to prevent breaking that law.
For example, the Law related to the prohibition not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk. That’s not a problem for us, but that apparently was done in the paganism in Baal worship. You would boil a calf in its mother’s milk; that was part of the pagan worship. So that’s prohibited in the Mosaic Law. In order to keep a person from doing that, they prohibited mixing dairy and beef.
If you have a kosher kitchen, you have one set of dishes, one set of pots and pans, that are all related to the meat kosher diet; and you have another set that’s all related to dairy. One of the hotels where we’ve stayed in Israel has a dairy kitchen. So when you go downstairs and you eat, there’s no beef; it’s a dairy kitchen. You have pasta, you can have fish, but that’s it; no meat, no chicken, no beef.
Then if you call room service to order a hamburger, you’re ordering from another kitchen. Totally different set of pots and pans, totally different kitchen, different location in the hotel so they don’t mix, they don’t blend.
If you go to McDonald’s, you can’t order a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake because that’s mixing beef and dairy. You can’t do that. So if you never mix beef and dairy, then you’ll never risk the possibility of having the calf meat being prepared with the mother’s milk. So you just completely separate it.
These secondary commandments were set up as a fence to protect the Law, and they’re referred to by Paul as the “traditions of men.” Every one of those 613 commandments had another series of commandments that were built as a fence. Later on, after the first century period, as you get into the second and third century, they have a second set of fence prohibitions that are established. This is the development of legalism. How do you keep people from sinning?
Let me give you another historical illustration. In the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 debating points on the local bulletin board, which is the front door of the church in Wittenberg. That starts the Protestant Reformation. We’ll be celebrating its anniversary here at the end of October. When he does that, he doesn’t quite yet understand justification by faith; he is really close.
But he had a really bright young man who was a lawyer theologian under him named Philip Melanchthon. Within the next couple of years Philip Melanchthon had Luther fully grasping the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He understood free grace.
Because Luther’s writings influenced a young French lawyer named John Calvin, Calvin came initially to an understanding of free grace. He had a clear understanding in the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which at that time was relatively short, it was just about 60 or 70 pages. It went through a number of different editions and grew and grew and grew to where, in the English translation, it’s a two-volume work. It was dedicated to Francis I who was the king of France at the time. But he understood free grace in those initial additions.
The Roman Catholic Church reacts to both Luther and Calvin and says, “Well if somebody is saved by grace, like you say, then what’s going to keep them moral? How are you going to keep the peasants from being licentious libertines?” The Catholics kept pounding this and pounding this. “See, the grace gospel will produce civil disorder and it will destroy civilization because there is no mechanism to threaten people with eternal punishment if they’re adulterous, if they fornicate, if they get involved in all of these other sins. So we have to hold this as a threat that if they sin like this, then they will have eternal judgment.”
Calvin yields on that so that by the time he gets into his later years, he begins to hold to the position that if you’re genuinely saved, then you will live a moral life that will conform to your new spirit. This is what gives birth to what we now call “lordship salvation.” Now that’s a lot of oversimplification, but the point I’m making is that they didn’t know how to handle sin after salvation.
So you have licentiousness—and that’s just, “Well, let’s just keep on sinning.”
Then you have the legalistic position. Now in legalism I got six different ways this was manifested. One is the idea that if you are really saved you can’t do that. Especially we love to do this with political figures. Fill in the blank, pick your favorite bad guy. “How can they be a Christian? Look at what they’ve done! They’ve done this, and they’ve committed that sin, and they’ve committed that sin, and how in the world can they be a Christian?”
Well, we have had, in this country as well as in England, quite a few politicians who were reared by their parents on the Bible, or they were invited by some friend in junior high or high school to go to church, and they trusted the Lord. There is clear evidence that they have believed at one time that Jesus died on the Cross for their sins. But then they didn’t grow, they gave into their sin nature, and they became licentious.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t saved; it means they never grew. They were born again, they’re alive, but they’re still like one second old. They have never gone any more than that.
So legalism says true Christians can commit certain sins. That’s were Calvin ended up. The early Catholic Church—and this became a part of the Roman Catholic Church—invented the idea of penance. If you commit certain sins, it’s not just enough to confess your sin, you have to do something about it. You have to do something aesthetic about it: you have to crawl on your knees, you have to light candles, you have to say so many prayers, you have to do all these kinds of things, you have some sort of human work to deal with sin.
A third idea was that baptism literally cleansed you from sin. You have people like Emperor Constantine who was converted to Christianity and then he passed a law that made Christianity the only legal religion in the Roman Empire. But he didn’t want to get baptized until right before he died because he wanted to make sure that most—if not all—of his sins were covered and cleansed by that baptism.
That was not uncommon—the way they thought about it in the early church. So baptisms were postponed to make sure people were really cleansed from sin. You get elements of this in a lot of different Christian denominations today.
Fourth, you have the rise of asceticism and monasticism which I’ve already mentioned.
Fifth, you see ritualism. This is part of the Judaizers that came to Galatia, came to some of the other places after Paul was there. “You’re never going to make it. You’re never going to be able to deal with sin unless you’re circumcised, unless you apply the Mosaic Law, you observe the Sabbath and all of these other rituals that were part of the Mosaic Law.”
So they have rituals. You have rituals in the Roman Catholic Church—penance, candlelight; all of these other things are all part of a ritual approach to cleansing from sin.
Number six, which is the big, big, big, big way to deal with personal sin in the believer’s life, to threaten them with the loss of their salvation. That is the Arminian solution, “If you keep sinning like that, you’re going to lose your salvation, and you can’t ever get it back.” This is a denial of eternal security.
Those are the two extreme views on how to deal with sin. Notice how they mirror the trends of the sin nature.
Third, there is a never-ending battle with the sin nature. We have to recognize that Christians are positionally cleansed and forgiven of all sin at the instant of salvation. That’s the difference between our position in Christ and our ongoing day-to-day experience. We’re positionally forgiven, but we have to experience ongoing cleansing and forgiveness through confession of sin. That’s the struggle—we always have this fight with the sin nature.
How do we deal with that? Some people just give up; they say, “Well, I’m just not going to confess my sin anymore. I’m just tired of being so self-reflective and always trying to think about what I did that was wrong. I’m just going to give up on that and let God deal with it however He deals with it.”
They make light of the need for confession and sometimes they just give in and say, “Well, I’ve just gotten really comfortable with my favorite sins. I can’t win. So I just hope nobody makes a big deal about it.” We all do that in different ways. We have these blind spots because the sin nature is very comfortable; we find that it works for us.
Don’t think about somebody else and say, “Oh, I can’t believe they just make light of their sin nature.” Even the most rigorous legalist avoids that, because the most rigorous legalist is very comfortable with his arrogance, and he doesn’t see it. We all have this problem. Galatians 5:17 talks about this struggle between the flesh—sin nature—and the Spirit.
The fourth point. Scripture is very clear in terms of how we start the Christian life. We hear the gospel, “Jesus Christ died on the Cross for your sins. Do you believe this?” Understanding the basic core of the gospel: Christ died for your sins; if you believe in Him you have eternal life.
The result of that is that we’re born by the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” So the Holy Spirit regenerates us and makes us a new creature in Christ in the Church Age.
This is what Paul’s talking about in Galatians 3:2–3. You might want to turn to Galatians with me because I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about Galatians before we move on to some other passages.
In Galatians, the first two chapters deal with understanding the gospel. The big problem in Galatia is that after Paul was there, he was followed by Judaizers, who were challenging what he taught. This is the opening chapter. He’s just excoriating the Galatians, and he says, “I’m amazed that you turned away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel,” that is, a gospel of a totally different kind, “which is not another of the same kind”—it wasn’t just another way of talking about the gospel, it is a false gospel.
He said, “But there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” And then he said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Twice in this section he announces his judgment on those who preach another gospel.
Galatians 1 and 2 talk about the gospel of grace. It’s by faith alone in Christ alone. Galatians 2:16, we’re justified not by the works of the Law but by faith in Christ. Judaizers came in and were saying, “You are justified by the works of the law.”
So Paul says in Galatians 3:2–3, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit …” That is, “When you first got saved and the Holy Spirit indwelt you, was it the result of the works of the Law or hearing by faith—that is, responding to the gospel—which was it?” Well, the answer is obvious; it was hearing by faith.
Then he goes on to say, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being made perfect—or made complete—are you trying to grow spiritually—by the flesh?” By the sin nature.
If we translate this we could say, “Having begun by the Holy Spirit, are you now trying to grow spiritually by the sin nature?” Now, not by personal sins, but by the works of morality and religion and ritual. “Are you now trying to grow by doing the works of the Law—getting circumcised and following the 613 commandments, plus the tradition of the fathers?”
They understood that they were justified not by the works of the Law. Galatians 2:16, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” So if we’re not saved by works, we’re not going to grow by works. That’s his essential argument.
If you’re trying to grow by works, what that verse indicates is that is an attempt to grow spiritually by your sin nature. You may be very comfortable with it; you’re thinking that your morality, going to church every week, taking notes, keeping a doctrinal notebook—all of those things—that somehow that is impressive.
I’ve heard people think that, “Look at all my notes.” Yeah, but what happens in Romans 12? “I don’t know. I don’t read my Bible. I might get confused. I just listen to what the pastor says.” Well then, you’re not growing.
David said, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” It’s the Word of God that is significant; we have to learn it and internalize it, not learn it and take notes. Not that taking notes isn’t part of the process. But with too many people that’s where it ends—taking notes.
Fifth point. Sin nature control can be manifested through religious ritual and observance. This affects so many Christians over the history of Christianity. Sometime if you get a chance to go to Israel and travel through the eastern part of Europe, go to Eastern Orthodox Churches. Don’t go to a Greek Orthodox Church here in the United States; that’s been sanitized. Even the Roman Catholic churches here are sanitized and reshaped to market them more effectively to an American mentality.
If you go to a Roman Catholic Church or a Greek Orthodox Church here in the US, they’ll have Bible study. They’ll have Sunday School classes. They got the idea from the Baptists. Because if they didn’t do that, then they were going to lose too many people to the Baptists and to the other evangelical groups.
So if you want to see what Eastern orthodoxy is really like, go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, go to a Greek monastery in Greece, go to one of the large Orthodox churches in Kiev. I’ve been there, and in these churches they don’t have any pews. They have these candles that are set up, and so you have all the smells. Then when the priest comes in, he’s waving his incense. So you have the incense, and he’s got bells; so you have the smells and bells.
But you also have little caskets. They have all these patriarchs and former priests who died, and they put their bodies in these little caskets and they’re mummified. There is a glass top and you can see the little black gnarled hands and faces. I remember the first time that we were there, at a New Year’s Eve service, you would see people crawling up on top of these caskets and kissing them—slobbering all over them. Then they get off and somebody else gets up there!
In Kiev there’s a place called the Lavra which is an Orthodox monastery and seminary that’s down by the Dnieper River. There are all these caves that were cut out in the riverbank. You can go down and go through all these caves, and the passageways are just lined with these caskets. People go through there, they have their candles, and they crawl up on top of the caskets. This is the ritual of Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s a combination of asceticism and mysticism and ritual and all of these kinds of things.
This is how they think that they become spiritual. The Roman Catholic Church is not quite as extreme as that, but they have their own rituals and things that somehow merit the grace of Christ. So it’s all a product of the sin nature—no understanding of the role of God the Holy Spirit.
Paul, in Galatians 5:1–2, is speaking to the Galatians who have been convinced by the Judaizers of this moralistic approach to the spiritual life that is a product of the sin nature. They have been trying to be perfected by the flesh, the sin nature. He says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free [it’s completed], and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
The yoke of bondage. We talked about this in Matthew not long ago. There were two yokes in Pharisaism. There is the yoke that’s related to the Shema that is for children and for women and for everybody that’s young, and that is to love. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
But then once a male entered into his bar mitzvah, he takes on a second yoke, the yoke of the commandments. So every Jew, if they’re going to experience the blessing of God, they have to take on this yoke of the commandments. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He says, “Take My yoke, for it is light.” He is contrasting it to the yoke of the Pharisees.
Paul is talking about the same thing here. He says, “Don’t entangle them again under this yoke of bondage [putting them under the Mosaic Law].” “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised,” which is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. But it had a different significance in the Mosaic Law and so they were emphasizing this as someone who was a Law follower.
It says, “If you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.” The word there is OPHELEO, which has the idea of gain or benefit. He won’t mean anything to you, because you have cut Him off. You are estranged from Christ. That doesn’t mean you’re not saved, but you’re cut off from Christ if you follow this path, because you’re letting the sin nature run your life in terms of morality rather than not.
It goes on to say, in verse three, “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole Law.” Not just circumcision, but you have to keep all 613 commandments if you’re going to go that way.
He says, “You have become estranged from Christ.” This is an interesting word. It’s the word KATARGEO, which means to abolish or nullify something. It doesn’t mean that you lose your salvation; it means that your spiritual life is being nullified by the sin nature. This is what Paul then explains when it gets down to Galatians 5:16–17. It is a result of attempting to be justified by Law, and he says, “You have fallen from grace.” Again, it’s not that you lose your salvation, it’s that you’ve departed from grace into legalism.
Then he concludes by saying, “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith,” not by the works of the Law.
The sixth point. As you go through Galatians you come to Galatians 5, especially verse 16 and following, and that gives a solution, which is to walk by the Spirit. How do you deal with sin in the life? You “walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
What do you do when you quit walking by the Spirit? You confess your sins and you recover. That’s Galatians 5:16–27. We’ve spent a lot of time there.
Point number seven. At the point of salvation we are identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection so we should no longer be slaves of sin. It’s another way of talking about abstaining from sin. All of these next few verses are going to take us back to Romans, Chapter 6, and summarize what we’ve studied there many, many times. It’s all built on the baptism by the Holy Spirit, that at the moment we trust Christ we’re identified with Him instantly. This is our position in Christ: we’re identified with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection.
Paul answers the question, “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” See, what he is saying to every believer is, “You have died to sin. You can’t live in it anymore.” It isn’t legalism to say that you should abstain from sin. It is consistent with your new position in Christ. You are dead to sin, so why shouldn’t you be abstaining from sin?
What does it mean to “die to sin?” Remember, in the Scripture the idea of “death” is always separation. The primary idea isn’t the cessation of existence with separation. For example, in physical death the immaterial part of man separates from the physical body. In spiritual death we’re separated from God. In positional death we are separated from the power, or the authority, or the tyranny of the sin nature. So the primary idea there is separation.
Let’s plug that idea in every time we see the word “death” here. “How shall we, who are separated from the power of the sin nature, continue to live in it?” See, his whole argument here is that at salvation the power of the sin nature is broken when were identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
In verses seven and eight he says, “For he who has died [died to sin] has been freed from sin.” I’ve always want to get in front of a huge audience of maybe 1,000 or 2,000 Christians and say, “How many people here feel like they are freed from sin?” Because most of them are going to raise their hands and say, “I don’t feel like I’m freed from sin.” That’s because you are ignorant of what actually happened.
You’re never taught that you’re free from the sin nature. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have a sin nature; that doesn’t mean that that’s not your comfort zone. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to continue to live just like an unbeliever at times, but you have the volitional capability now to choose not to sin. Until you were saved, you could only choose to operate on the sin nature. That’s the only capacity that was there. Now there is the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:17 says, “The Spirit wars against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit.” If you’re growing, sometimes you feel like you’re two people; you’ve got this split personality thing going on. You’ve got your sin nature who wants to do one thing and when it’s in control you’re like Hyde; and then when you’re walking by the Spirit you’re like Jekyll. You go back and forth. Dr. Jekyll’s the good guy and Hyde’s the bad guy.
Paul says, “He who has died has been freed from sin.” Now “if” we died with Christ. He built that argument—first class condition. “Now if [if, and it’s true] we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
So he develops that and builds on that. This is the same thing that is said in Galatians 5:24, “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” positionally. Now, experientially, we know we all struggle with those passions and desires of the sin nature; but positionally it’s been crucified, that power has been broken.
In Colossians 2:11–12, Paul says the same thing. He says, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” Circumcision is the removal of the flesh, the foreskin; that is a depiction of the removal or separation of the power of the sin nature.
That is how he describes it, “By putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.” That’s what happens in the baptism by the Holy Spirit. “By the circumcision of Christ.” It is that relationship with Christ at the instant of salvation that severs the power of the sin nature.
Romans 6:11 builds on that. “Likewise you also, reckon [old English] [consider] yourselves to be dead.” We’re to think in terms of that. It’s the Greek word LOGIZOMAI. We’re to reason this out, to consider ourselves to be dead to sin. Think about it, when the sin nature wants to exert its control, you say, “You’re not in control anymore.” Think through what the Scripture says! Don’t respond in emotion and just go with the flow because that’s what makes you comfortable.
In verse 12 Paul says, “Do not let sin reign.” That’s just another way of talking about abstaining from sin. “Do not let sin [rule] reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it its lusts.” Remember, the fleshly lusts war against the soul. We’re not to let that happen.
Romans 6:13. He then goes on to say, “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin.” That is, the members of your body, whether it is the tongue, the brain, your hands, your feet, or whatever, “But present yourselves to God.”
The word here is PARISTEMI, which is the same word that we have in Romans 12:1, that we’re to present our bodies “a living sacrifice.” You see how all of this intersects and is interrelated. The apostles, because of the Holy Spirit, just stay right on target there; they never drift off course.
Eighth point. Further Paul assumes that we are to put to death the deeds of the body. When you get into Romans 8 where he talks about the spiritual life in terms of “the walk according to the Spirit,” he says, “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh,” not to the sin nature. It’s not the sin nature that makes your life work. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die.”
What kind of death is that? That’s carnal death. In carnal death, when we sin we’re putting the sin nature in control and we’re separated from the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re separated from that walk by the Spirit.
If you live according to the flesh, you will die. Not die spiritually. But it’s carnal death—you’re living like an unbeliever.
“But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body.” Think about that. How do you put to death the deeds of the body? You separate yourself from the works of the sin nature. That’s the idea—you put it to death. It doesn’t mean you take out your invisible spiritual MACHAIRA and slash it. You do it metaphorically; you say, “I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to follow that.” If you do, you live; you have a full spiritual life. That uses the metaphor of putting something to death or separating from its power or influence.
Another metaphor that Paul uses, and one he uses pretty consistently, is this idea of putting on clothes and putting off clothes. We studied this in 1 Peter 2:1, but because of the grammatical structure there, the putting off and putting on related to confession of sin. It was a prerequisite to taking in the milk of the Word in verse 2. That’s a different kind of metaphor.
This is a metaphor related to the spiritual life. It uses that same imagery of taking off one set of clothes and putting on another set of clothes, and he’s summarizing it. The problem that we have here is that a lot of people thought that “old man” and “new man” related to the sin nature—that the “old man” was the sin nature. But you never put off your sin nature—not until you die.
So “old man” isn’t your sin nature. The “old man” is everything you were as an unbeliever, and the “new man” is everything you’re supposed to be as a new creature in Christ.
Paul uses this idea that when we are walking by the Spirit, we’re to be taking off and removing the sinful characteristics and sinful traits and sins from our life. We’re to, “put off, concerning your former conduct [how you lived before you were a believer].”
“Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt.” When you’re living on the sin nature—like you were before you were saved—you’re just going to become more and more corrupt. You’re to be, “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” How do you do that? You take in the Word of God. Jesus said that we are to be sanctified by the truth. “Thy Word is truth.”
So it’s thinking. It’s not, “be renewed by your emotions.” Then he said, “Put on the new man which was created according to God.” It uses this imagery that in the process of our spiritual growth we’re removing the old baggage and putting on the new clothes.
Same thing in Colossians 3:5–6. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth [quit doing these sins]: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” That’s divine discipline.
It goes on to say, “In which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these.” Then it gives you another sin list.
Practical guidelines. Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” This verse has absolutely nothing to do with salvation, nothing to do with justification. Yet one day a young North African, Carthaginian by background, named Augustine was up in Milan outside of a church and he thought he heard a voice that said, “Take up and read.” He picked up his Bible and it plopped open to Romans 13:14 and God used this—or he read this wrong— and this was his salvation verse.
I’ve always wanted to do a series on how great people in the history of Christianity got saved by misreading verses that had nothing to do with salvation. It is really interesting. So this was Augustine’s salvation verse; it has nothing to do with salvation.
It is the spiritual life—put on. It’s the same word that we have in those other verses. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.” That’s “abstain from sin.” That’s “reckon yourselves dead to sin.” Don’t fulfill its lust.
So what’s the idea? Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to fulfill the lusts of the flesh. If you’re on a diet, don’t fill your freezer up with Blue Bell ice cream and chocolate cake. Don’t make any provision for the flesh.
People do that. They shoot themselves in the foot all the time in the spiritual life as well as in real life in terms of diets and things like that. Don’t put yourself in a position where you know you’re going to yield to the sin nature.
“Abstain from every form of evil,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:22. It’s the same word. It’s used here as an imperative. It’s also in the middle voice, which means it has that idea of avoiding contact with something. Abstain from—I think one translation says “every appearance of evil.” That is misleading. It’s a Greek word that means kind or form.
“Abstain from every kind of evil.” By “evil” he means sin—anything that’s a product of the sin nature.
Now let’s wrap this up by going back to 1Peter 2:12. We are told to abstain from sin. How do we do it in that context?
By having what is translated as “honorable conduct.” You do it by having good conduct—focusing on the application of Scripture.
Having good conduct among the Gentiles. Now the term “Gentiles” isn’t a term that is used as a synonym for unbelievers; it is a term that is used throughout the New Testament as a term for those who aren’t Jews. This again is showing that Peter is primarily talking to Jewish-background believers who are living in the Diaspora among pagan Gentiles.
He is saying, when you’re out there have honorable, spiritually virtuous conduct among the pagan Gentiles, “that when they speak against you as evildoers [when they bring you up on false charges, or they slander you, they ridicule you], they may, by your good works which they observe."
Notice—not by verbal retaliation. You’re going to see the same thing a little later on, and women always have a problem with it. Sarah is the example that’s used; she is submissive to Abraham. That by your obedience you will convince your husband.
Peter uses the same idea here—that when you are reviled and ridiculed by the Gentiles, the good works which they observe, it’s that witness of the life that’s convicting. “By your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
That word “honorable” is a stretch. That’s usually related to a different Greek word. This is the word KALOS, that which is good or noble. It’s just living a good life, an obedient life, walking by the Spirit.
Good works are central to the believer’s life. We always quote Ephesians 2:8–9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Then Paul goes on to say in verse 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” We’re created for good works—that is abstaining from the sin nature. Those good works were prepared by God, that we should walk in them. We are to walk in good works.
The last thing to point out is that these Gentiles here are unbelievers, but the term “Gentiles” doesn’t get us that, it’s their reviling of believers as evildoers. It says in the day of visitation they will glorify God.
What is the day of visitation? There are some who try to argue that this is related to when they hear the gospel. But the term is EPISKOPE, which is related to the word EPISCOPOS, which is translated “bishop” or “overseer”. It has the idea of when they are called to account before an authority. That’s the idea.
They’re going to be called to account. This is a day of judgment. And they’ll glorify God. Because at the final day of judgment, what happens? “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess,” that’s believer and unbeliever. The unbelievers will go to the Lake of Fire, but they will glorify God before they go to the Lake of Fire.
This same phrase is used in Luke 19:44, which is a judgment passage. There it’s talking about the judgment that comes in AD 70—not knowing the time of your visitation, when God’s judgment would come.
The point of this section is to introduce what’s going to come up in the subsequent verses in three or four long sections dealing with submission to unjust authority. But the submission to unjust authority is introduced as this honorable conduct among the Gentiles. That is critical to understand in an era when we have so many people in this country who do not understand why authority orientation is important and necessary.
“Father, thank You for the opportunity to study these things and to be reminded of Your provision for the spiritual life, that we have been separated from the tyranny of the sin nature through the baptism by the Holy Spirit. We are not to yield to it. We are to consider ourselves dead to the sin nature. We are to abstain from the fleshly lusts that war against the soul.
Father, help us to understand this as a priority, a mandate, part of Your plan for the spiritual life, that we may press on and go forward. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”