Overcoming the
Power of Sin
Overcoming the Power of Sin


Lesson 5

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

Tribulation Propels Sanctification


First, though, let’s backtrack to Romans 5:3-5, where Paul plainly tells us what sanctification does not entail - the absence of tribulation ...

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;
And perseverance, character; and character, hope:
And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.

Romans 5:3-5

Indeed, here in Romans 5:3-5 we’re clearly told to expect tribulation ...

  • that tribulation is an inevitable part of sanctification;
  • that it actually propels forward our sanctification;
  • that without it, sanctification won’t occur.

And that’s another truth we need to wrap our minds and hearts around very, very tightly - because all too often we’re led to believe that becoming a Christian guarantees us a life devoid of tribulation and suffering; a life free of stress and anxiety; that becoming a Christian guarantees us a happy marriage, well behaved children, an exciting and well paying job, good physical health, a spacious home in a well-kept neighborhood, and, of course, lots of goodies and trinkets. And that’s totally false.

Tribulation and Its Relationship to Sanctification

Screenshot20130624at110531PMLet’s look closely at Romans 5:3-5. What we have here are four stages ...

  1. perseverance
  2. character
  3. hope
  4. confidence

... each of which evolves from the one it follows; thus, perseverance produces character; and character gives rise to hope; and, of course, what eventually emerges is confidence - which the phrase “makes not ashamed” obviously means.

Clearly, what we have here is a process - a process of growth and spiritual maturity. And what kicks the whole process off is tribulation.

Let’s probe a bit further ...

  • The word “perseverance” translates the Greek word “hypomonē” - “ὑπομονή” - which in this context is better translated “endurance” - the wherewithal to bear up under pressure.
  • The word “character” translates the Greek word “dokimē” - “δοκιμή,” which in 1 Corinthians 9:27 is translated “approved” or “qualified.” Someone who’s designated “qualified” is spiritually mature - meaning he has cultivated the fruit of the spirit in his life - all the virtues Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  • The Greek word that’s translated “tribulation” is “thlipsis” - “θλῖψις” - and it’s a translation that leaves a little to be desired as well. That’s because the word “tribulation” focuses on the object or incident causing the trouble; whereas, the word “anguish,” which is what it’s elsewhere translated, focuses on the “feeling” that’s aroused; and here in Romans 5:3-5 that is what’s at issue - the anguish and distress that sanctification inevitably entails.

Think hard about it - and consider just how far some segments of American Christianity, though by no means all, have veered away from the truth so clearly delineated here. God is not promising us a life that’s free of trouble; quite the contrary: he’s telling us that trouble is, in one sense, a necessary expedient that should be embraced - indeed, we should “glory in it” ...

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations ...

Romans 5:3

And why? Because we know what tribulation produces if we’ll but submit patiently to it ...

knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;
And perseverance, character; and character ...

“Knowing” translates the word “eidō” - “εἴδω” - meaning “know with certainty.” It’s not a mere intellectual assent that Paul is getting at here; whenever Paul uses the word “eidō” he means “know with no second thoughts to the contrary” - to the point of being able to walk out what we know regardless of whatever fears, anxieties, and suffering may result therefrom - even occasionally to the point of struggling against depression and despair. Otherwise, Paul is more apt to use the word “ginōskō” - “γινώσκω.”

In short, Paul is calling on us to change the way we think about trouble - and the anxiety it often produces ...

  • that trouble is not necessarily a judgment that God imposes on recalcitrant believers;
  • that even when trouble is the result of poor judgment and even sinful behavior, it can be used to prompt spiritual growth if we’ll submit to its discipline; and, most especially,
  • that trouble is to be expected - that believers are not immune to trouble.

Tribulation God’s Workout Program

Screenshot20130624at110915PMAnyone who wants to develop himself physically knows that his muscles will grow bigger and stronger if he enrolls himself in a carefully planned weight program. He knows too that while enrolled in the weight program, he will be submitting his body to a great deal of painful stress - but that the stress he will undergo can’t be avoided if he’s at all serious about developing himself physically.

And so it is spiritually. God has enrolled each of us in a “weight program” consisting of tests and challenges that he carefully measures out to each of us every day.

God is faithful, and will not allow you to be (tested) beyond what you are able.

1 Cor. 10:13

Those tests aren’t meant to make life miserable for us; they’re the “weights” - meaning the resistance - our spiritual muscles need to work against in order to grow bigger and stronger. Yes, those tests will often subject us to stress, but that can’t be avoided if we want to develop ourselves spiritually - to the point that we’re able to overcome the power of sin in our lives.




Lesson 6

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

A New Way of Dealing with Sin


Moving on to Romans Chapter Six

Now, let’s move on to Romans Chapter Six. Paul begins Romans Six with a rhetorical question ...

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

Romans 6:1

The obvious answer is given in verse 2 ...

Certainly not!

Romans 6:2

The reason prompting both the question in verse 1 and the answer he so emphatically gives in verse 2 should, with just a little thought, be quite obvious. Paul has so decisively insisted ...

  • that we now live in a state of grace,
  • free from all condemnation, and
  • no longer in any danger of God’s wrath,

... that we might be tempted to think our sins don’t really matter anymore - either to us or to God; that they’re little more than a foil God uses to reveal his grace. And that’s totally false ...

  • Though we don’t stand in jeopardy of God’s wrath, our sins will indeed prompt him to chasten us - often quite severely.
  • And not only that, but, once again, continuing, chronic sinfulness on our part will thwart our spiritual growth, keep us from cultivating an intimate relationship with Christ, and will disqualify us from ruling and reigning with Christ in the coming Kingdom.

That our sins are a trifling matter of little consequence - that’s not at all the conclusion Paul wants us to infer from Chapter Five. What he’s really after is radically altering ...

  • the way we handle sin;
  • how we think about sin;
  • indeed, our whole approach to sin;

... that’s what’s at issue. And that’s exactly the issue he takes up in Romans Chapters Six through Eight. There Paul tells us ...

  • that our regeneration makes it possible for us to now resist the power of sin; that we’re no longer its slaves and can actually overcome it;
  • that our resistance to sin must no longer revolve around the law; that the law speaks only to the “old man” - and using it in our struggle against sin serves only to arouse sin, strengthen the “flesh,” and stir up condemnation - which, once again, always aborts the whole process of sanctification;
  • that our resistance to sin must now revolve around an altogether new governing principle: not the law, but grace ministered through faith.

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:14

We Don’t Get It

It might seem readily apparent that Paul has made his case here in Chapter Five, leading into Chapter Six; specifically, that sanctification is built around the truth that God has put us in a state of grace; that we now actually “live” there and draw our being from it. After all, he has been so pointed, so unbending, so intractable, so uncompromising in elucidating this new principle that he tells us in Romans 6:1-2 he’s a bit worried we’ll misunderstand him - that we’ll think our sins serve only to cast God’s grace in ever bolder relief.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

Romans 6:1

Still, the history of the Christian church indicates otherwise ...

  • that, in point of fact, we don’t readily catch on to the principle of grace Paul summarizes in Chapter Five, verses 1-11; that it somehow continues to elude us;
  • that, consequently, the truths he spells out in Chapters Six and Seven, because they’re based so utterly on that principle, fall on deaf ears;
  • that, therefore, instead of using grace to direct our struggle against sin, we continue to use the law.

Whatever the besetting sin might be - alcoholism, drug addiction, homosexuality, pornography, gambling, poor work habits, isolation - we all too frequently bear down on it with a mega dose of the law - forcing believers into corners where there’s no wiggle room - locking them into “safe-houses” and all but putting ankle bracelets on them to track their “comings and goings.”

Too often what passes as a Biblically based “sanctification therapy” is little more than a relentless, heavy-handed, double-down use of the law. And that’s exactly what Paul wants to steer us away from.




Lesson 7

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

Baptized into Christ: What Does It Mean?


Back to Romans Chapter Six

If the first verse of Romans Chapter Six clarifies the truth spelled out in Romans 5:1-11 - that peace with God should not be misconstrued to mean that sin no longer matters - the verses that follow through to the end of Romans Chapter Eight clarify the truths Paul spells out in Romans 5:12-21 ...

  • that our lives are now found in Christ, not in Adam;
  • that in Christ we now have the wherewithal to resist sin; and
  • that because we are now in Christ, not Adam, we are through with the Law and the Law is through with us.

Baptized into Christ

... How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

Romans 6:2b-3

Paul, here in Romans 6:2b-3, is taking us back to the truth he has just delineated in Romans 5:12-21 - that we have been transferred from Adam and put into Christ. He’s asking ...

“Having been taken from Adam and put into Christ, don’t you realize that you’ve died to sin - and in light of that fact, your whole destiny has been radically altered - meaning, you’re no longer bound over to sin; you are now bound over to righteousness? Haven’t you grasped this truth yet - along with the ramifications it entails?”

The Word “Baptism” Its Meaning Here in Romans 6:3

Screenshot20130625at43428PMFirst, though, let’s make sure we understand the meaning Paul gives to the word “baptize” here in Romans 6:3. A good many commentators restrict its meaning to water baptism - and, by and large, leave it at that. And, to be sure, linking it to water baptism is valid up to a point; but we seriously truncate its meaning if that’s as far as we take it. What Paul has in mind far eclipses water baptism, which, after all, is merely a “sign” attesting to a much more fundamental reality.

The meaning of any word must be tied down to its context - and here in Romans 6:3, it’s quite clear that the word “baptize” should be interpreted ...

  • less in terms of a particular Christian rite, though, once again, that’s not altogether out of line, and, instead,
  • more in terms of what Romans 5:12-21 so obviously calls for: that we have been taken from Adam and “put into” (i.e., “baptized into”) Christ;

... and because here in Romans Chapter Six Paul’s focus is Christ’s death and resurrection, he’s telling us that ...

  • having been put into Christ,
  • we have been put into his death and resurrection;

... and not just figuratively or symbolically, but actually - meaning when Christ died on the Cross, we died with him; likewise, when Christ rose from the dead, we rose with him.

Think hard here: it’s not merely that Christ died for us - meaning he died in our place or that he suffered vicariously for us; there’s much more to it than just that. It’s that we were in Christ when he died on the Cross. His death is our death - just as his life is our life ...

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

It’s this very truth that forms the basis of Romans Chapter Seven - where Paul tells us that ...

  • the law is through with us, and
  • we are through with the law;

... and a little thought reveals why. The law condemns only the living, not the dead - and we are dead in Christ.

The Law first measures us against its just requirements; and then, finding that we don’t measure up, condemns us, meaning it turns us over to death. But in Christ, we’re already dead. There’s nothing more the law can do to us. It’s finished with us.

From Romans 6:4 through Romans 6:11, which is itself a corollary of Romans 5:12-21, Paul painstakingly draws out the implications arising from the glorious truth delineated in verse 3 ...

  • that we have been taken from Adam and put into Christ;
  • that, in being put into Christ, we died with him on the Cross - freeing us from the power of sin;
  • that, furthermore, in being put into Christ, we rose with him in the Resurrection - enabling us thereby to “walk in newness of life.”




Lesson 8

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

Regeneration Does Not Rule Out Choice


Let’s probe a little more deeply ...

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Romans 6:4-7

In verse 4, where Paul tells us that we can now walk in newness of life ...

... even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Romans 6:4

... he casts the verb “walk” in the Greek subjunctive mood - which tells us that “walking in newness of life” is not robotic. It’s a possibility that requires our cooperation - an act of our will, arising from a conscious choice on our part.

Yes, we have been freed once and for all from the power of sin - which is why the word “freed” in verse 7 ...

... he who has died has been freed from sin.

Romans 6:7

... is cast in the Greek perfect tense - telling us that ...

  • our deliverance from the power of sin was completed in the past, once and for all,
  • not needing ever again to be repeated,
  • and the consequences arising therefrom continue forever into the future.

Nevertheless, that fact - that truth - will remain forever dormant until we choose, consciously and deliberately, to walk it out.

Let’s go over it again ...

We have been freed from the power of sin - once and for all. We are no longer bound over to sin - no more its helpless “zombies.”

  • That means we can now walk in newness of life; that it’s now possible to do so.
  • Nevertheless, doing so is not mechanical; regeneration does not transform us into androids. The freedom from sin that regeneration entails still requires that we make conscious, deliberate choices to resist sin and walk in obedience. In short, God has designed sanctification around the inviolability of our personhood.
  • The good news, however, is that we can now make such a choice; and, then, actually make good on it - meaning, actually walk out our decision to be obedient.

More about the Importance of Choice

Once again, fellowship is why God created mankind; and genuine fellowship can take place only between persons endowed with a well developed and well defined sense of self - and the freedom to choose underlies that sense - it’s what gives rise to it. Therefore, God, both in redeeming us and then in sanctifying us, never violates that freedom.

In short, we cannot evade the responsibility of choosing to obey God - of shouldering the responsibility it imposes and feeling the pain it entails. That’s exactly what Jesus means when he tells us to pick up our cross daily.

Choice: A Difficult Truth for Addicted Personalities

My own experience with believers from troubled backgrounds - believers who are beset with destructive addictions - has convinced me that what we have here is an extremely difficult obstacle for them to overcome - specifically, the need on their part to choose obedience - and then to make good on that choice. What they desperately want instead is a sanctification methodology that, in effect, circumvents their need to choose - that obliterates their ego - a sanctification methodology that substitutes God’s will for their own - that transforms them into robots - that enables them to sleepwalk through sanctification. And that God will never do!

Again and again - with monotonous frequency - I’ve heard them complain, “I can’t help myself.” But that’s not true; and until they confess, “Yes I can,” they will never make good on their sanctification. They will remain “pinioned against the gates of redemption” - having been freed from the penalty of sin, but not from its power.

It’s plain and simple: God has freed them from the tyranny of sin, but it’s up to them to walk out that freedom - to, in short, exploit their new-found freedom to choose the good and resist (See pg. 7) the evil.




Lesson 9

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

Ready Now to Act on What We Know


Ready Now to Act on
What We Know

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:11

Let’s now back up to the truth Paul so carefully sketched out in Romans 5:12-21 (pg. 5); specifically, that (1) Christ is the father of an uncorrupted humanity, and (2) that in Christ grace reigns - leading to righteousness and eternal life (Romans 5:21). Once again, it’s a truth Paul elaborates on in Romans 6:1-10 (pg. 11), explaining ...

  • that we have been put into Christ;
  • that, in being put into Christ, we died with him on the Cross - freeing us from the power of sin;
  • that, furthermore, in being put into Christ, we rose with him in the Resurrection - enabling us thereby to “walk in newness of life.”

It’s a truth absolutely vital to our sanctification; and missing it - failing to grasp it - will abort our spiritual growth. And Paul is well aware of that possibility. So, beginning in Romans 6:3 and continuing through Romans 6:9, he spells out a progression consisting of three distinct steps leading to its full acquisition - transforming it from a truth to a conviction ...

  • In verse 3, Paul asks rhetorically, “Are you ignorant?” or “Don’t you know?” It’s the Greek word “agnoeo” (“ἀγνοέω”).

... don’t you know ... ?

Romans 6:3

Here Paul is simply asking us to call to mind this vital truth. He’s asking us to pull it out of our grab-bag of Christian truths and lay it down on “the table of our consciousness” for thorough scrutiny.

  • In verse 6, Paul takes us one step further. He uses the Greek word “ginosko” (“γινώσκω”) - meaning “intellectually acknowledge.” He’s asking us to concede the validity of the truth we’ve just laid out on the table - to agree that it’s a fact; that it’s not merely a supposition or an hypothesis, but, instead, an actual fact - to lend it that kind of credibility.
  • Next, in verse 9, Paul presses us to take still another step. He uses the Greek word “eido” (“εἴδω,” pg. 7) - a word that, like “ginosko” (“γινώσκω”) is ordinarily translated “to know,” but which, unlike “ginosko,” is freighted with a sense of urgency; it’s knowledge that calls for a concrete, tangible response on our part. It’s not the kind of knowledge we turn over in our minds and curiously examine. It’s truth that calls for a decision - a decision that will affect our whole life.
  • That brings us now to verse 11. Here, Paul uses the word “logizesthe” (“λογίζεσθε”) - meaning “to count on” or “to reckon.” It’s an accounting term, a book-keeping term. In short, Paul is saying,
    1. begin “drawing upon” this truth - the truth that you now have the power to resist sin;
    2. it has, so to speak, been credited to your account and it’s waiting for you to spend.
    3. Furthermore, Paul casts the verb “logizesthe” in the Greek “imperative mood” - meaning it’s a command.

Screenshot20130625at90808AMPaul’s Exhortations

Having now established the truth that we can resist the power of sin and having led us step by step to the point that it has been transformed from a fact to a conviction, Paul, in a series of hard-hitting exhortations, admonishes us to do exactly that; specifically ...

  • to no longer allow sin to reign in our lives (verse 12);
  • to cease obeying sin in its lusts (verse 12)
  • to no longer present our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness to sin (verse 13);
  • but, instead, to present ourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and our bodies as instruments of righteousness to God (verse 13).

Once again, think hard here what an exhortation implies: it presumes the freedom to choose. It’s an appeal to someone whose freedom to choose is being both respected and underscored. In short, the choice is ours to make.

Promise Based on Fact

He now finishes up his exhortations with a sweeping proclamation ...

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:14

What we have here is not merely a promise. It’s much more than that. Some promises are based on little more than a nebulous and not very well founded yearning. But the promise here is grounded in more than a baseless yearning; it’s grounded in the single most important premise of the Christian Faith: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  • The PROMISE is that “sin shall not have dominion over us” - but it’s a promise that we must work out in our own lives through the choices we make.
  • The FACT sustaining that promise is our regeneration - that we have been “born again;” that, consequently, the power of sin has been broken once and for all in our lives - its tyranny has been irretrievably shattered - meaning we now have the wherewithal to resist sin and to actually overcome it.




Lesson 10

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

Choose Your Paymaster


Once again, though, Paul is fearful that he’ll be misunderstood. His worry here in Romans 6:15, however, is bit different from the concern he raised back in Romans 6:1-2a. There, he warned us ...

  • that sin is not a mere foil that reveals God’s grace - or, put a little differently,
  • continuing in sin does not serve the “higher purpose” of casting God’s grace into ever bolder relief.

Here in verse 15 Paul warns us that grace does not sanction chronic sinfulness ...

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!

Romans 6:15

More about Choice Choose Your Paymaster

Screenshot20130625at91319AMThe answer Paul gives to verse 15 is found in verse 16 ...

  • and, once again, it’s not because God will love us any less if we fail to press forward our sanctification;
  • nor is it because we’ll once again fall under God’s condemnation;
  • nor is it because God will withdraw his grace from us.

It’s more subtle, more finely drawn than that. Let’s look closely at verse 16 ...

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves servants to obey, you are that one’s servants whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?

Romans 6:16

The meaning Paul has in mind here in verse 16 is clarified when we skip ahead to verse 23 ...

For the wages of sin is death ...

Romans 6:23

The emphasis on “wages” here in verse 23 tells us that the relationship he’s depicting in verse 16 is a master/servant relationship and not a master/slave relationship - notwithstanding Paul’s use of the word “doulos” (δοῦλος) which we’d ordinarily translate “slave.”

In short, Paul is telling us in verse 16 that we are servants - put before two masters:

  1. one is sin;
  2. the other is godly obedience - here in verse 16 simply called “obedience;”

... and we are being called upon to choose between the two.

Both pay a “wage” - whether it’s sin or godly obedience. However, the medium of exchange is very much different. The wage sin pays out is death, meaning it “ruins” our lives; whereas the wage obedience “pays out”2 is righteousness - meaning it propels forward our sanctification.

More about Choice

Paul has already gone to great lengths to underscore the importance of choice ...

  • first, in making it clear that sanctification pits us against real resistance - what he calls “tribulation” in Romans Chapter Five; that our spiritual growth is actually facilitated when we choose to pit our will, empowered now through regeneration, against that resistance (pg. 7); and
  • second, in making it clear that sanctification is not robotic - that it requires us to a make deliberate, conscious decision to be obedient - each and every day (pg. 11).

Therefore, verse 16, which puts us before two masters and invites us to choose between the two, one that ruins our lives and the other that propels forward our sanctification, should come as no surprise.

Sanctification Strategies that Ignore the Importance of Choice

All too often, sanctification programs are developed around an attempt to shield believers from temptation - to insulate them from the need ...

1. to confront temptation, and

2. to resist sin, choosing instead godly obedience;

... and that won’t work. Choice is at the very heart of sanctification - the need to stand squarely before sin, knowing that sin’s power over us has been shattered, and then to consciously, deliberately turn away from it, choosing instead godly obedience.

It’s this very thought that lies at the heart of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4 to put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” ...

... put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,
and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24

Only Two Masters

We need to take careful note that Paul stands us before only two masters, sin on the one hand and obedience on the other ...

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves servants to obey, you are that one’s servants whom you obey ...
  1. whether of sin leading to death, or
  2. of obedience leading to righteousness?

Romans 6:16

... there is no third option. No provision is made for “serving ourselves” - of putting ourselves first. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding himself. The choice is real; but it’s limited to God on the one hand and sin on the other. Anyone who puts himself first is in fact serving sin.

Pay Attention Here

I have found it necessary in my forty years of ministry to remind believers I’m discipling to think hard about what Paul is saying here in Romans 6:16. That’s because too many of them let its significance slip by. They think that occasionally giving into temptation isn’t that consequential; that, in light of God’s grace, they can quickly pull themselves together and pick up where they left off.

But that’s not altogether true. Yes, God will always restore us to his fellowship if we truly confess our sins and repent of them .

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Screenshot20130625at92154AM... however, we may well find ourselves scarred by the consequences of our sin. Sin is always “faithful” to pay us with death for whatever service we render it - sometimes even slipping a “bonus” into our “pay-packet.” And whenever sin touches us with death, it scars us - sometimes seriously - and sometimes even grotesquely ...

  • Infidelity can inflict terrible trauma - breaking up marriages and leaving children to ferry back and forth between mother and father, shattering their lives and casting them adrift in a sea of blame and recrimination.
  • Alcoholism and drug addiction can ruin careers and lead to a whole score of physical disabilities.
  • Pornography and promiscuity can trivialize sex and forever undermine the profound intimacy it’s meant to produce between husband and wife.
  • Anger, left to fester, always produces bitterness - which defiles everyone it touches - consigning us to lives of loneliness and regret.
  • etc.




Lesson 11

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

A Warning: You Can Slip Back


And there’s more. Just as obedience produces “endurance” (Romans 5:3-5), so disobedience always weakens our resistance to future temptations - often transforming those temptations into what “feels” like compulsions. (See graphic on next page.)


Disobience Always Weakens Our Resistence To Sin


No, it’s not that giving into sin will cause God to ...

• love us less, or

• withdraw his grace, or

• expose us to his wrath;

... it’s that we may well find ourselves horribly scared and terribly weakened.

Yes, we can regain our walk with the Lord and recommit ourselves to being sanctified; but the wounds left behind are real and frequently heartbreaking. We do well to heed the example of David, who, following his adultery with Bathsheba, was forgiven by God, but who, beloved as he was, nevertheless bore the scars of that sin throughout the rest of his life.




Lesson 12

Initial Strategy

Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin

Brief Summary


From the heart

But God be thanked that (though) you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

Romans 6:17

Here we have a verse that calls to mind the process Paul so carefully spelled out for us in verses 6-11; specifically the need for believers to transform the principles of scripture from simple truths to heart-felt convictions (See pgs. 12-14).

  • We must first lay out a scriptural principle on “the table of our consciousness” for thorough scrutiny; and then
  • intellectually acknowledge its validity - meaning lend it genuine credibility; next,
  • we must acknowledge that it’s calling for a decision on our part - that we are being told to act on it; in short, we must transform it into a conviction that seizes our heart; and, finally,
  • we must “reckon on it” - meaning actually walk it out in faith.

It’s a process - a step-by-step methodology - that Paul here in verse 17 calls a “form of doctrine,” or “a pattern of teaching” - the end result of which is our transformation into the image of Christ, not just the dissemination of information - however rooted in truth that information might be. It’s the kind of teaching - once again, what Paul calls the “form of doctrine” - that should characterize all Christian teaching.

The exact doctrine or scriptural principle Paul has in mind he has already carefully spelled out; specifically ...

  • that we have been taken from Adam and put into Christ; and, consequently,
  • we have been delivered from the power of sin and given over to righteousness to walk in newness of life;

... but which he once again repeats in both verse 17a and verse 18 ...

... though you were once slaves of sin,
(you have been set free and have become) slaves of righteousness.

Romans 6:17a, 18

Continuing explanation

Verse 19 ...

I speak in human [terms] because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members [as] slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness [leading] to [more] lawlessness, so now present your members [as] slaves [of] righteousness for holiness.

Romans 6:19

When Paul tells us here in verse 19 that “he’s speaking in human terms because of the weakness of our flesh,” it’s fairly clear that it’s the metaphor of slavery he has in mind; that, more specifically, the metaphor is not altogether fitting; that though it serves a useful purpose, it falls short of conveying exactly the point Paul is trying to sketch out for us. How so?

It’s because the two slaveries are so markedly different - with one, slavery to godly obedience, tantamount to actual freedom.

What we have here is a mode of thinking common to all pre-modern cultures, but almost wholly alien to the post-Enlightenment thought here in the West, and most especially here in America: teleology, meaning men and women are bound to a fixed destiny, and they are genuinely free only to the extent that they conform their lives to that destiny.

Biblical freedom, then, is never cast in terms of “freedom from,” i.e., “freedom of the void,” but “freedom for” - meaning “freedom to conform our lives to God’s design.” It’s in this sense that Paul tells us that the use of a “slavery metaphor” is a bit deficient ...

  • slavery to sin is “galley” slavery - in short, a despotic, grinding slavery that prevents men and women from consummating God’s design for their lives; whereas
  • slavery to obedience is tantamount to actual freedom - in that men and women are able to consummate the purpose (i.e., the “telos”) underlying their creation - and in so doing become fully human.

Why Paul acknowledges the inadequacy of the slave metaphor becomes clear in the two clauses that follow ...

For just as you presented your members (as) slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness (leading) to (more) lawlessness ...

Romans 6:19b

and ...

... so now present your members (as)slaves (of) righteousness for holiness.

Romans 6:19c

In verse 19b, the slavery Paul has in mind is “galley slavery” - impossible to resist - with no provision made for free choice. Moreover, death is its inevitable consequence. It’s the kind of slavery that characterizes the lot of every unregenerate man and woman.

However, in 19c, the “slavery” Paul has in mind is quite different. Here Paul tells us to submit ourselves to righteousness - knowing we have been given the power to resist sin and choose instead godly obedience; that, in short, we are no longer impotent zombies bound over to sin and compelled to do its bidding; that we can at last consummate our purpose and become fully human. But that’s not all. There’s a deeper truth imbedded here - a truth that’s often overlooked, and tragically so. It’s that Paul is actually appealing to us to resist sin. Think about it! Though regeneration has indeed bound us over to Christ and made us “slaves of righteousness,” we are not stripped of our choice to say, “No.” In short, God, unlike sin, respects our personhood and, in so doing, both ...

  1. clothes us with infinite dignity; and
  2. establishes the indispensable foundation that gives rise to genuine fellowship: choice (See pgs. 11-12; 15-16).

How so frequently we believers cry out to God to strip us of our responsibility to choose obedience! How so frequently we’d prefer God to reduce us to the very level that sin once reduced us to: the level of galley slaves - with no provision made for our personal autonomy - with no need on our part to actually choose to obey! And, yes, on the one hand doing so would indeed spare us the struggle of resisting sin - and the pain and anguish it entails; but if God were to do so, he would thereby strip us of the dignity that fits us for genuine fellowship with him. How awe-inspiring is God’s plan of salvation - how much it reveals the depths of his love and the breathtaking, unimaginable grandeur to which he beckons us!