So, I was reading through Colossians recently, and I came across the passage Colossians 2:20-23. It really inspired me to go ahead and write this (which I’ll actually share with my discipleship group this Wednesday). I hope you guys get something out of this. Maybe it will even help you. 🙂
In Genesis 4:1-10 we have the story of Cain and Able.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”
And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground,
and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,
but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.
We see in this passage the deadly trap of sin. After Cain committed one sin, he added another and another to his list. It happens to everybody. Yet, as Christians and servants of God, we are called to be obedient to him and subject ourselves to his will. This means not sinning as Cain did. But sometimes this task feels impossible, and verses from the Bible would seem to agree with this statement.
Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Follow that up with Genesis 8:21, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” and we start to get a pretty ugly picture. And not only is this in the Bible, but we see it in the world around us. I follow the news, and it runs rampant with people arrested for murder, theft, sexual offense, and other sins, and the age group ranges from children as young as elementary school students to older people in their sixties and up. In fact, according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, an average of 293,066 people are sexually assaulted every year, and every 107 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. This frightening statistic points to the following truth:
Being obedient to God and subjecting ourselves to his will is impossible.
And yet people try to combat sin left and right. From nation-level laws to household rules, people design restrictions to battle this human nature that drives us to sin. But 1 Corinthians 3:19 says otherwise. It tells us, “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” If we cannot combat sin, then how are we supposed to succeed against the world’s evil?
Now, before I continue, I’d like to mention as a quick aside that, as Christians, it’s very easy to dismiss this and say, oh no, sure, I get tempted, but in general I fight sin off and I’m a “good” Christian. Of course, if you look in the Bible, God calls us to be perfect, so the occasional sin is nothing short of disobedience. Returning to the path to success against sin, we must look to Colossians 2:20-23.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–
“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”
(referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teaching?
These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
“…they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” How true this is! To paraphrase an example my Dad once gave, if you tell a toddler in a room of toys that it can have anything but the toy on the table, what’s the toy it’s going to want now? The toy on the table. So, obviously rules do not work when trying to combat sin. Sure, they make good boundaries for where we should stay, but they do nothing to help us stay there. The solution lies in Galatians 5:13 which says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
This verse shows us that we’re free. We’re free from the rules. What then constrains us? Love. And in love is the key to overcome all sin, for it was through love that we were saved. It is through this love that we are able to obey the commandment in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 which tells us to control our own bodies in holiness and honor. With the Holy Spirit in us, we are able to be holy as God is holy.
Now we move on to understanding sin.
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:6.
This verse demonstrates a few things. Firstly, note that Eve saw the fruit. A lot of sin starts with the eyes and our corrupt heart. After listening to the half-lie told by the father of lies, satan, she started to rationalize her sin. “It was a delight to the eyes” and “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” show the thought process she went through. Finally this rationale (human rationale, which God repeatedly dismisses) caused her to decide on the sinful course, and she took of the fruit and ate. But was that where the sin started, or had she started sinning long before?
The truth is that when Eve listened to the serpent, she already had rebellion in her heart. It was that rebellion that was truly the first, small sin. After her rebellion, she then listened to the counsel of the wicked, contrary to Psalm 1. Not stopping there, she sinned even more when she started to consider what the Serpent had said, and the lust of desire came into her eye. The only thing ever wrong with looking at something is what lies in the heart. For Eve, she was succumbing to temptation. Finally, Eve finished her considering and rationalizing, decided to sin, and committed an act that forever cursed the human race. But the sin does not stop there.
We see in a very well-placed clue that her husband, Adam, was with her at the time of this. He too committed sin. First he did not defend her from the vices of the serpent as the Bible commands a husband to defend his wife. Following that, he too listened to what the serpent had to say, but he went a step further and decided to let his wife be his guinea pig. When he saw her considering the fruit and rationalizing with herself, he did not bother to stop her, as any Christian believer should do when he or she sees a fellow brother or sister in Christ falling. And then to top it off, he partook of her grievous sin.
For the person who has not yet repented and been filled with the Holy Spirit thus vanquishing the desire to sin, it all starts with temptation. If the temptation is not combated and resisted in prayer and supplication, it leads to small sin. At this point the person can repent, but if he or she chooses not to, the sin moves on to bigger sin. This is sin that others could potentially see. In the example of Adam and Eve, Adam should have stepped in when he saw Eve succumbing to the serpent, but he didn’t. Once again, there is a chance to repent, but if that chance is not taken, the person moves on to critical sin.
As a child the consequences of sin weigh much lighter than the consequences as one gets older. Either way, the consequences of critical sin are very high, and almost always lead to punishment in some form. It is at this point that the person is either convicted by a God-given desire to repent, or his or her heart hardens further and leads to more rebellion, starting the cycle over again. The sin loop is provided with multiple “break points,” given the person stuck takes advantage of them. It takes God’s strength though, because we are too imbibed in our human nature.
Once we have broken the loop, the next step is to repentance. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 says, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” The death of Judas best demonstrates this principle. He “repented” after seeing Jesus taken away, returned the money he had been given, and then promptly went and hung himself. This was not true repentance, this was guilt weighing on his conscience. Only God can grant true repentance, and when he does, it is up to us to take it.
But, how exactly does one fight sin? Romans 6:2 gives us a clue saying, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Colossians 3:3 says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We have died and been born again, as the gospel message describes. Because of this death, sin no longer has power over us. The wages of sin is death, but once we have conquered death through our belief in Christ Jesus who beat death, sin has lost its hold. We see that in Romans 6:3-4 which tells us, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
The verse tells us of how through our baptism, we represented symbolically the change that had occurred in our hearts when we accepted Jesus. Through that baptism we were symbolically buried with him in death, so that just as he was raised, we too were raised. Because of this, sin has no power over us, thanks to God’s mercy, and it is this knowledge that is key to defeating sin.
Not only this, but one must be constantly wary. It’s no good to have the knowledge and just sit back and let your defenses get penetrated. Genesis 4:7 says that “sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Sin literally waits for the tiniest slip-up, then dives in to take advantage, and unless we beat it back, it will gain a foothold. If we do maintain our defenses though, and actively combat sin (with God’s help) we will beat it, as we are meant to.
The defenses I’m talking about are defenses built through the strength God gives us to resolve as Daniel did in Daniel 1:8 not to sin. It is this resolution that removes rebellion from our hearts, the first stage of the sin cycle, and shows true submission to his will and authority. At this point we can then understand why physical laws, rules, and restrictions seem to do so little.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
– Ephesians 6:12
Even secular movies and culture understands the concept that supernatural forces cannot be dealt with by earthly means. But with Jesus on our side, our Lord and Savior, who freed us from the chains of death, we now have a fighting chance. And Colossians 3:5, 8, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth,” no longer seems so impossible.
I can testify to all of this through my own life. As a guy, a big natural weakness is lust. But I’ve always struggled with it with especial difficulty. Maybe it’s my equivalent of Paul’s thorn. Anyway, I wrestled for three years, wanting to do what was right, but wanting it wasn’t enough. I had to change my heart and fully repent and understand that what I was doing was completely wrong. Because, despite “wanting” to do what was right, a small part of me still wanted the guilty pleasure of lust.
I was essentially looping around through that sin cycle over and over and over again. Until one day God convicted me through the arrival of a girl who is now my girlfriend of over eleven months. At that point I realized what I was doing was truly evil, and suddenly I recoiled form it with pure disgust, and no longer wanted any part of it. That was the first step.
It took me a while, but finally I opened up to her, and God used her to help keep me accountable and fighting. Through God’s grace, I started to build up the resolution-ry defenses I talked about. It was not easy, and several times I slipped to the “Bigger sin” stage where I then confessed to my girlfriend, and we came before God together to ask for help. Now it never gets further than the small sin stage, where an inappropriate thought I might have for a split second gets kicked out, and now even the inappropriate thoughts are disappearing, and the physical reactions are easier to battle.
However, the truth is that like Paul I am glad for my weakness, because through it Christ’s glory shines, and the effect of his blessing of allowing me to overcome sin shows through. Colossians 3:17 commands, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” And it’s true, even in my recovery from sin, all the glory goes to God.
I have had no part in my recovery apart from choosing to put God (and consequently my girlfriend) in front of my own selfish flesh. Through the love between the my girlfriend and I, which Song of Solomon 8:6 reveals to be “the very flame of the Lord,” I overcame my sin. God infused us with his love for us, and through that we then loved each other, and now we have a physical manifestation of his heavenly perfectness.
To sum it up, I would like to mention a few more things. Why do people try not to sin? Not because of earthly law. Galatians 2:16 tells us that a person is justified “through faith in Jesus Christ,” not by “works of the law.” It is my faith in Jesus who pulled me through my time of trial that causes me to have a desire not to sin. It is my love for the Heavenly Father who looked down on my broken self and decided to rescue me that makes me strive to battle my human condition.
Finally, do I regret having sinned? Yes. Do I wish I was perfect? No. Through my imperfections, God’s glory shines. If it had not been for my weakness and my sinful nature, God would not have manifested himself in this way through me, and I would have been lacking a very vital lesson, and more than likely not up here sharing. But I tend to agree with Paul when he says, in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”