Building a fence against besetting sin
A Darkened Heart - A Seared Conscience
We begin with Romans 1:16-21 ...
The word “suppress” means to “hold down.” The truth about God and his hatred of unrighteousness is inherent - and to avoid facing it requires effort; it’s not easily done. The truth must be restrained forcefully. It’s not possible to simply walk around it - to ignore it.
What truth? The truth sketched out in Romans 1:16 – 18 ...
The phrase “suppress the truth” doesn’t necessarily imply that the whole truth is being “suppressed.” In the case of a hypocrite (Romans 2:1 and 2:17), it’s his own sinfulness that’s being suppressed, not the sinfulness of mankind generally (cf. Calvin on the Ropes).
The spiritual fact you've got to grapple with is simple, but profoundly meaningful: anyone who over many long years has excused his sin - meaning rationalized it - whatever it might be - suffers from a darkened heart - meaning a desensitized, seared conscience; it doesn't prompt sufficient revulsion and disgust to turn him back from committing the sin that has him so terribly entangled and trapped. That means he can't enlist it in his struggle against sin, at least not in the short run.
What this means for you
In your struggle against whatever besetting sin is plaguing you, you can't rely upon your conscience to be of much help. When "push comes to shove," it's by and large useless. What, then, can you enlist in the war you're waging?
Building a fence against besetting sin
Overcoming the power of sin - what the Bible calls “sanctification” - is the topic Paul takes up in detail beginning with Romans Chapter Six - and extending through to the end of Romans Chapter Eight. However, its basis is laid out for us in Chapter Five (1), the last chapter Paul gives over to the topic of justification, meaning deliverance from the penalty of sin. Consequently, we’ll begin our study there ...
Verse 1 sums up the meaning of justification - that it puts us at peace with God. What exactly that means is encapsulated in a single word Paul uses in verse 10: “reconciliation” ...
... we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.
In short, when Paul tells us in verse 1 that justification puts us at peace with God, he means that ...
Think about it ...
A human judge might pardon us, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he will become our friend. Not true, however, with God. Fellowship is why God created us. Therefore, when God redeems us - meaning when he pardons us - it’s for the purpose of restoring his fellowship with us. That’s what Paul means when he tells us that justification entails peace with God.
Verse 2 adds to the meaning of verse 1. It tells us that we’ve been put into a “state of grace” - which is what Paul means in the first clause of Romans 5:2 ...
... we have access by faith into this grace ...
It’s not simply that God has tendered us grace; it’s that we now live in grace - that grace, meaning God’s unmerited favor, is now our state of being. We have, in short, been taken from a state of wrath (6) ...
... and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
... and translated into a state of grace - what Paul, quoting David in Romans 4:6-8, tells us is tantamount to the forgiveness of sins ...
The verb tenses here in Romans 5:2, though they don’t often draw our attention, provide further elaboration. Verb tenses in Greek add a dimension that’s missing in English. In English, verb tenses denote only timing - whether an event is occurring in the present, has occurred in the past, will occur in the future, has occurred in the past and is continuing to occur in the present, etc.
In Greek, however, verb tenses often denote not only timing, but a state of “consummation” as well (8) - that an event has not only occurred, but that the result arising therefrom is in a final state - nothing more can be done to take it any further.
And so it is with the Greek perfect tense (9). When an event is cast in the Greek perfect tense, the consequences arising therefrom continue indefinitely into the future (10); they’re final. And that’s what we have in Romans 5:2 ..
... through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Both the verb “we have” (ἐσχήκαμεν) and the verb “we stand” (ἑστήκαμεν) are cast in the Greek perfect tense. The meaning of Romans 5:2 is, therefore, much better rendered ...
... through whom also we were put into a state of grace and are now forever established in it, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
We are forever established in a state of grace - meaning we have forever escaped God’s condemnation and are no longer in danger of his wrath; we now live in that state - and draw our being from it.
Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin
The Love of God Is not What's at Issue in Sanctification
Let’s now probe a little more deeply. Romans 5:8-10 tells us plainly that God’s grace - meaning, once again, his unmerited favor - arises from his love of mankind; in short, it’s his love that prompted God the Father to send God the Son to the Cross - unfathomable mercy - incomprehensible - a divine mystery we’ll never get to the bottom of - that will stagger us throughout eternity ...
Look closely now at verse 8: God sent Christ to die for us while we were still his enemies - still covered in sin and corruption, repulsive and filled with hate, still shaking our fist at him in defiance. Infinite love bestowed on mankind at the very moment we were hanging him on the Cross.
And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
The point here is this: What’s at issue in sanctification is not the love of God. If God loved us infinitely at the Cross, that settles the whole matter of his love.
No, now that we’ve been justified, it’s not that God will love us any less if we fail to press forward our sanctification ...
God can never love us any less or any more than he loves us now. That’s the truth Paul wants us to wrap our minds and hearts ever so tightly around before taking up the topic of sanctification. Why? Because we can’t press forward our sanctification unless we truly believe it - unless we’re able to walk in it.
Let me underscore that again: unless we’re convinced - truly convinced - that we’ve been delivered from all condemnation - meaning we’re forever safe from God’s wrath - and that God himself guarantees it - we’ll find ourselves unable to overcome the power of sin in our lives.
Condemnation Aborts Sanctification
The reason is clearly highlighted throughout the Bible, beginning with Genesis Chapter Three ...
... and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God ...
Likewise, we have Jesus’ own admonition ...
... men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
In short, condemnation drives us into darkness - away from the presence of God; and because sanctification is all about abiding in God’s presence, there’s no way we can walk it out if condemnation is always nipping at our heels.
Once again, that’s ...
There is therefore now no condemnation to whose who are in Christ Jesus ...
In my own ministry, I’ve counseled hundreds of believers struggling to overcome besetting sins - a bad temper, gluttony, inordinate fears of various kinds, alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography, outright adultery, bitterness, and a whole host of other specific sins. And always the primary obstacle impeding their sanctification has been condemnation. That’s because when they fail - and failure will occur - they flee back into darkness. Rather than facing God, confessing their sins and believing that God doesn’t love them any less, they run from his presence and hide from him; and that always aborts sanctification.
Building a Fence against a Besetting Sin
Two Fathers - Two Humanities
The rest of Chapter Five spells out not only the vast difference between Adam on the one hand and Christ on the other, but also their one point of similarity ...
Therefore, to be in Adam is to be in a state of sin - always under the threat of death - living in guilt and fear. To be in Christ, on the other hand, is to be in a state of grace, justified and free from all condemnation - leading to joy and peace.
Salvation, then, consists of transferring us from Adam to Christ - which, of course, is exactly what Jesus means when he tells us in John 3:3-6 that we must “be born again” ...
Chapter Six builds upon this truth - that we have been “born again,” meaning we have been regenerated. But what exactly does that mean? And how does knowing what it means help me to overcome the power of sin my life? That’s what Chapter Six is all about.