Familiarity with Sin (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post I discussed the need uncage the gospel. Jesus is the only person worthy of the risk to which Christians are called, a risk that involves everything (Matthew 10:38-39). On the flip-side of the sin of familiarity is my often too familiar relationship with sin.

But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:7)

In the same way that I try to maintain and manage the gospel (to avoid its totalizing demands), I often try to manage my sin. My point is simple: sin is not to be tamed, it is to be killed. I have learned to regulate my sin so as not to be caught or not let it interfere with my life. Even when I have my sin “under control” I am not often experiencing the reality of the freedom from sin that God promises (Romans 8:2).

Even with the most positive intentions, I find that most strategies regarding sin are centered around management rather than victory. The Bible clearly tells us to flee from temptation (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:18, 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). However, avoidance is not a strategy for overcoming sin. In fact, there is a time to not only flee but to fight (e.g., James 4:7).

When our lives are connected to Christ we are not managing our sin or hoping to avoid situations over which we have no control but are actually fighting our sin.

If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).

John Owen, the seventeenth century Oxford theologian and churchman, is famously quoted in reference to this verse: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Now, this post could easily devolve into a hodgepodge of strategies for “sin-killing.” I suspect there is a place for such strategies but the focus in Romans 8 (and 7 for that matter) seems to be clearly focused on the reality of salvation and the hope of redemption. We have been set free from sin and death by the Spirit (v. 2). Sure, there is a fleshly way to live and a Spirit way to live (vv. 5-8) but, as Paul says, you “are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (v. 9).

So, whatever battle exists between the flesh and Spirit occurs in the “in between” of the “already” and “not yet” (as so many theologians have reminded us). Therefore, the outcome of our spiritual war is not in question though the battle continually rages. Our sure victory provides all the more motivation and confidence that we can, in fact, destroy our sin. Our sin is not something we have to learn to live with.

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