We live in an age of electronic marvels. One of those is the television. Television has been showing programs having to do with “extreme makeovers”. People who are plain and common in appearance are made over into people who are beautiful and extraordinary. People who dress in clothes that do not flatter them are made over into wearers of higher fashion that dramatically improves their image. Houses where people live in poor conditions are made over into houses providing comfort and many modern conveniences. All of these makeovers are intended to help people have better lives, feel better about themselves, and be happier. Certainly, such changes do help people feel better about themselves. And, we enjoy being entertained, and encouraged, by seeing other people’s lives improved. Although these kinds of makeovers may meet some valid needs, they can be very surface oriented, and rarely, if ever, touch people at the level of their deepest needs?
Our deepest need is not to have our outer circumstances changed, but to have our total being made right. To accomplish this, people need to know that they are loved for who they are, regardless of their performance, and people need to be open to having their performance checked by those who love them. People need to be able to genuinely love others rather than being overly self-centered. People need freedom from guilt, shame, anger, depression, and feelings of worthlessness that plague them because of past or present sins. Christians, as much or more than non-Christians, can suffer from the ill effects of their sinfulness. Many do not like themselves or their situations. People need truth, wisdom, and understanding to guide them. One of my favourite songs has these words expressing what it is like when Jesus comes into our lives: “All I’ve ever done before won’t matter anymore…I’ll never be the same again.” Only God is the ultimate makeover artist, and His desire, like ours, is that our total being be made new. (Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 10:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5)
Sin that hinders our makeover is not only a problem for unbelievers, but also for Christians. Paul could not help some believers become mature and enjoy a healthier life because, just like many non-Christians, they were still wrapped up in themselves and in their sinful behaviours and attitudes. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) There are two problems Christians may have with sin: (1) they cannot stop being a certain way, even though they know they are hurting themselves and others, and (2) they experience sin’s effects – pride, damaged self-image, guilt, shame, anger, hatred, resentments, inability to love, feelings of worthlessness, failure, denial or their evils, and possibly depression. How many times have we heard about the fall of respected Christians due to sin in their lives? Rather than be surprised, critical, and condemning, we need to have the attitude of helping each other, and most of all, being concerned about the sin in our own lives. It is encouraging to know that Jesus is concerned about our being free from sin and tells us that we can be. (John 8:31-36) The apostle Paul knew the agony and defeats of sin in his own life. He understood God’s truths and teaches us in Scripture how to deal with the sinfulness in our lives.
Genuine followers of Christ Jesus must understand that two opposing forces are within them, not good versus evil, but fleshly versus spiritual. All humans are created in the moral image of God and therefore all of us have a sense of right and wrong, a sense of goodness. Originally we knew only good, but because humanity is fallen away from God, evil has become a part of who we are, so that we are now a mixture of good and evil, and these forces oppose each other within us. The Bible calls this evil nature within us, our “fleshly nature”. (1 Corinthians 3:3) The word flesh, although at times refers to our physical body, mostly refers to our inner evil nature. Jesus said that our physical body is not the problem; evil comes from within, from the heart. (Mark 7:20-23) This “fleshly” nature within us is described by lists of attitudes and behaviours that include things like lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, malicious gossips, without self-control, murder, disobedient to parents, ungratefulness, immorality, drunkenness, jealousy, forsaking the church, and so forth. (2 Timothy 3:2-5; Romans 1:24-32, 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:20-21; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 10:24-26) We are not all guilty of all of these destructive attitudes and behaviours, but we are guilty of many of them. The apostle Paul honestly acknowledges that there is a principle of evil within him preventing him from being the good person he wants to be. (Romans 7:21) Our natural self has only our God-given sense of moral goodness with which to fight against the evil. Unfortunately, our goodness is not enough to eliminate evil’s power and corrupting work within us. This is because the natural person does not have God’s Spirit and so cannot understand the things of God that make for victory over evil. (1 Corinthians 2:14) Therefore, the battle in any natural person is only between the inner forces of good and evil, and even though we want to be good, and try to be good, our goodness is unable to win the battle. Our fleshly nature is too strong and sin controls us in too many ways.
As Christ followers, by faith and the gift of God’s grace, we are given a new resource - the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of God creates a spiritual dimension within us by bringing us to life in a miraculous way. Being spiritual this side of heaven does not mean we are sinless, but that we now have a new identity, a new way of thinking and a new power within us that we can rely on for a changed life. When persons operating in this new spiritual dimension realize that their fleshly nature is in control, they consciously move into relying on their spiritual nature to take over. Here is one example of how this works: If I am being impatient and getting angry, and find myself talking nasty to someone, I say to myself, “You are operating in the flesh; you must switch over to your spiritual self.” As I let the spiritual in me, that is, Christ in me, be in control, my thinking and behaviour changes to patience, kindness, and gentleness. This is one way to keep putting off that fleshly nature and to be living by the new nature. (Romans 6:12-13; 8:12-13; Colossians 3:5-17)
I have long puzzled over a statement made by the apostle Paul. After confessing that he sins, he said, “no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (Romans 7:17) Did Paul have a mental disorder? Was he deluded? By claiming that the evil part of him was not really him, was he saying that he had a split personality? When I sin, I say that I did it; but Paul says he did not do it, but that the sin in him did it. No, he was not deluded, but what does he mean? Your true self is your new nature – the spiritual self. The new you is the one who has been newly created, who loves God, wants to do things His way, and who wins in the end. The new you is the one who will inherit all of God’s promises, be bodily resurrected, and live forever in God’s new and righteous kingdom. The sinful part of us will one day be gone and no longer bother us. That is why Paul could say when his fleshly nature acted out, “it is no longer I doing these things”. “I” is Paul’s mind and body being controlled by his spiritual nature. It is not his spiritual nature doing these fleshly things, but rather his “sin which dwells in me” nature. I once heard of a used-car salesman who was dishonest and cheated people. He became a Christian by faith and the receiving of Christ’s Spirit and thus acquired a new spiritual nature. He now wants to please God and do things God’s way. He is now honest and deals with people fairly. Others, who knew him in the past, accuse him of being dishonest and a cheat, but he claims that he is no longer the same person, but has been changed. Other people, who know him as he now is, say he is honest and fair. So, who is he, really? He is no longer the person he was, but is now the new person God created him to be. (1 Corinthians 6:11) As Christians, we are not to see ourselves as sinful beings, incapable of living God’s way. We are to see ourselves as spiritual people, saints of God, able to live to please God, seeking to give up our fleshly ways and not let them control us. Our will to be good is not what fights our battles, but our Spirit-motivated will to rely on the powerful spiritual life within us. There is a very real sense in which we cannot control our new spiritual nature; we can only let it happen and marvel at the results.
God’s truth, written by Paul, tells us that we have been baptized into Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-4) Our baptism consists of two elements – Spirit and water. (1) All who believe in Christ Jesus are baptized with God’s Holy Spirit. This Spirit baptism was promised to us as an act of Jesus. (Luke 3:16; John 1:33) Paul made it clear that all who have faith in Christ Jesus have been baptized by one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13) This is the miracle of being born again, born of God, born of the Spirit, as recorded in John’s gospel. (John 1:12-13; 3:3-8) Without it, no one can see or enter the kingdom of God. (2) Concerning water baptism, believers in Christ are instructed to be baptized with water to mark the fact that they are cleansed disciples of Christ Jesus; part of the new people of God. (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38-41; Galatians 3:27) The important point Paul makes about our faith-in-Christ baptism is that to be baptized into Christ Jesus is to be united with Him in His death and resurrection. (Romans 6:4-5) What does this mean? One meaning is that our physical bodies, like His, will die; and like His, will rise, never to die again. (Romans 6:8-9) But that is not the primary meaning because, although the Bible says we die with Christ, we are still living, and although it says we rise with Christ, we are not yet bodily raised from the dead. Rather, like Christ, we have died to sin, and like Christ, we have risen to live unto God – for His purposes.
What does being dead to sin mean and how does it help us deal with our sin problem? Christ died to sin and we who are united with Him have also died to sin and therefore are dead to sin. (Romans 6:2, 10-11) Perhaps it will help us to understand if we think about what it means when we say that another living person is dead to us. We mean that, even though that person may still be a part of our lives, we no longer choose to have anything to do with them, and we will not allow them to affect our lives in any way. When we say that we are dead to sin, it could have the similar meaning that we will no longer have anything to do with it and will not let it affect our lives. Ideally, this is our wish, but we do not experience being dead to sin in this way, for sin still “rears its ugly head” and we find ourselves sinning. Therefore, we are not dead to sin in the sense that we cannot, or will not, sin any more. We still do sin and we still suffer its ill effects in our lives. So in what sense are we dead to sin? Certainly, we can say we are dead to sin in that it no longer has the power over our lives that it used to have. What power did it have? It had the power to condemn us to death because all who commit sin are judged by God and are under God’s penalty of death. (Romans 6:23) But if we consider ourselves to be dead to sin, we can say that we are dead to its power to condemn us. This is because Christ Jesus was condemned in our place and all who are forgiven through faith in Him are no longer under the punishment of death. We are accepted by God as His beloved children and our sins can no longer condemn us and cause God to be against us. (Romans 8:1-2)
Paul tells us how to treat sin in our lives when he tells us to consider ourselves to be dead to it. (Romans 6:11) It is a matter of how we think about it. (Romans 12:2) If Christ is dead to sin and is raised to new life, so am I. “It is finished”, said Jesus, (John 19:30) and so I have no business letting sin still control my life and feelings. If I am guilty of sin, whether intentionally or not, and I feel guilty, and a failure, I confess it to God with a repentant spirit and acknowledge His forgiveness by thanking Him that Jesus paid for my sin. (1 John 1:9) I rehearse in my mind that God still loves me and does not hold this against me, nor does He seek to punish me for it. (Psalm 103:10) I tell God that I want to do better and not repeat my sin. And, if I do repeat it, even again and again, I follow this same mind set. In this way I am practicing what Paul says, “consider yourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) Sin no longer has the power to destroy my life by separating me from God. Sin no longer has the power to create feelings of guilt, shame, or self condemnation, for by my confession and God’s forgiveness I am free from such accusations against myself, and God accepts me in spite of it. As Paul says, “he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:7) We may not always be free from committing sin, but we are free from its eternal consequences and its resulting feelings of guilt and failure. To consider yourself dead to sin is to remind yourself after every sin you commit that it cannot make God love you less, or forsake, or condemn you. Sometimes, because of the sin that is still in our life, a Satanic voice likes to accuse us of not being a good Christian, or maybe not even a Christian at all. We just tell Satan that Christ paid for the sin and we are forgiven, so “get lost; you have no power to use my sin against me”. (Revelation 12:9-11) What Jesus did on the cross destroyed sin’s power over me and also Satan’s power over me. Do not let your sin make you feel guilty, ashamed, or depressed. Claim your victory in Christ and keep on living for God. This way of thinking also affects our feelings of worthlessness because God totally accepts us as we are and loves us. Once we know this, nothing can make us feel unworthy, even the fact that we are imperfect and fail. If we mess up, so what; put it behind you and resolve to do better. Reckon it true that you are dead to sins penalty and its effects. This is why Paul can say that we have a new freedom, freedom from sin; not in the sense that we can never sin, but in the sense that sin can no longer destroy us, not in death, nor in our emotional well-being. In my own life I have discovered that as I keep practicing this kind of thinking, I begin to wonder how God can keep forgiving me. But I believe that he does and this greatly deepens my sense of how much God loves me. His love motivates me even more to love Him and be done with sin. I seriously look for ways to stop sinning in areas that are problematic for me, but regardless, forgiveness never stops and I must never stop believing in it. Relying on the Spirit of God to motivate my right living, and to save me in the end, is always key to overcoming.
Objection by some has been made to this, saying that if we are so easily forgiven, then it doesn’t matter if we sin, we can just keep claiming that we are forgiven. Paul deals with this problem by telling us that this is a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian. Shall we continue to sin that God’s grace to us can abound even more? May it never be. (Romans 6:1-2) Why go back to things that were destructive to us? The Bible encourages us to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. (Galatians 5:16-17) The fleshly self must be put to death, first by reckoning it so, and then by learning to let the spiritual self dominate our life. (Romans 6:1-8:39) By becoming a Christian, we now have a spiritual dimension because the Spirit of God dwells within us. (Acts 2:39; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12) This is God’s answer to our inability to be rid of the sin in our lives – we become a new creation in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The natural or fleshly person becomes the old, used to be person; and we are now a new person, having acquired a new nature – a spiritual nature. The spiritual person cannot be corrupted and so our goal as believers in Christ is to lay aside the old, or former fleshly self, which still resides in us; and to put on our new self, our spiritual self, created by the Spirit of God for righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24) We overcome evil, not by our sense of goodness and our will power, but by the mighty Spirit of Christ residing within us. When we act as spiritual persons, we cannot be fleshly, for the spiritual nature within us can only do what is good and right. The spiritual nature cannot sin; sinning is what your fleshly nature does. (1 John 3:9) As Peter says, “you have become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4) But even so, the flesh can rise up. The flesh and Spirit battle for dominance so that sometimes we do not do what we want or should.
One of the things the Spirit does in my life is to help me confess my sin to others whom I offend. Since the fleshly nature still operates within me, and I do not always act in the Spirit, I must obey the Spirit in what He tells me to do after I sin. For example, I sometimes struggle to respond properly or with the right attitude to critical things people say to me, especially if I feel I must defend myself by justifying my actions. I can become harshly defensive and cause people to feel put down or unaccepted. When I do this, the Spirit says to apologize, thus enabling the relationship to continue in unhindered love. Another example is when after I have told a lie the Spirit tells me to confess it to the person and make right the relationship. Ouch! In other words, I must take responsibility for my sins and not let them go without correction and restoring relationships. This, for me, takes a lot of courage and swallowing of pride. I need God to help me do it. Sometimes, He has to patiently wait quite awhile for me to come to the point of obeying Him. But God the Spirit does not let me hide or get away with sin in my life. Having to confess and make things right with people can be a good thing as I do not like the pain and humility of confessing my weaknesses and failures; so it helps me not repeat the offences. And, if I do repeat certain offences, eventually I get to a point of disgust with myself at how it is hurting me and others, and so I come to hate the sin so much that I develop a deeper desire to be more diligent in doing something about it.
Our makeover starts with yielding our lives to Jesus. This means being born from above and acquiring a new heart that no longer wants to be part of the sin in our lives. We then learn from Scripture how we are to think about ourselves and this issue of winning the battle over sin. Movement toward victory is achieved in our minds, emotions, and actions by how we think. (Romans 12:2) Furthermore, we deal with putting off bothersome sins by turning for help to our spiritual self and to Christ in us. (Romans 13:14) And importantly, not dwelling overly much on the negatives, we keep focusing on the positive ways that God intends for life to be lived. We seek to enjoy the life God gives us and we concentrate on the needs of others and on doing good. There is much more that would be helpful to say on this subject. We could consider the theology which says that a special work of God’s grace can purify our hearts (2 Timothy 2:22), or we could examine the essential role of the church in helping us to enjoy a successful Christian life (Hebrews 3:13), but we shall leave such topics as ones remaining to be considered.