Overcoming the
Power of Sin
Overcoming the Power of Sin
Links for each of the lessons are listed below.
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#1 A Darkened Heart - a Seared Conscience

#2 Peace with God

#3 Love of God Is Not at Issue in Sanctification

#4 Two Fathers - Two Humanities

#5 Tribulation Propels Sanctification

#6 New Way of Dealing with Sin

#7 Baptized into Christ: What Does It Mean?

#8 Regeneration Does Not Rule Out Choice

#9 Ready Now to Act on What We Know

#10 Once Again Choice: Your Paymaster

#11 A Warning: You Can Slip Back

#12 Brief Summary

Lesson 1

Initial Strategy

Building a fence against besetting sin

A Darkened Heart - A Seared Conscience


We begin with Romans 1:16-21 ...

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

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.

“The Truth”

What truth? The truth sketched out in Romans 1:16 – 18 ...

  • Man is a sinner;
  • he’s guilty of unrighteousness;
  • his only hope is to throw himself on God’s mercy.

ScreenShot20141022at104752AMThe 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).

  • That alone, however, is enough to prompt the rationalizing Paul describes in verse  21a,
  • which, in turn, leads inevitably to the hardening he describes in verses 21b-23 – a hardening which is entirely of his own making.
  • That, in turn, may, though not necessarily, lead to the still further hardening described in verses 24-32. Whether or not it does is up to God. Some men God hardens; others, he doesn’t. It’s his call – which is the meaning of Romans 9:18 (cf. Calvin on the Ropes).

Spiritual Fact

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?

  • Bathe yourself in Bible Reading. Let God's Living Word cleanse you and strengthen you. Not just ten minutes or so in the morning - scanning one or two chapters, but at least a whole hour - reading through entire books - both in the morning and in the evening. To get you started, press this link. It will take you to a Bible reading program. Use it every day. Remember, however, that it alone won't be sufficient. It's a start; but you must commit yourself to more time in the Word than this program provides. I suggest that you double up on what the program suggests - doing two days of Bible reading rather than just one day.
    For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,
    piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints ..
    ~Hebrews 4:12
    Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
    ~John 15:3
    Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to your word.
    ~ Psalm 119:9
    Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word ...
    ~ Ephesians 5:25-26
  • Memorize the Word - specific passages of scripture - hide them in your heart. To get you started on memorizing verses, press this link. It will take you to a verse memorization program. Use it daily. Memorize at least one new verse each and every day.
    Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.
    ~ Psalm 119:11
  • Listen to Christian hymns and songs. Download them to your android or ipod. Listen to them when you're alone or in your car.
  • Break off old friendships that facilitate sinning on your part.
  • Establish new friendships with fellow believers.
  • Confess your sins to one another - your temptations and your struggles. Hiding the truth has seared your conscience so that you can no longer enlist it in your struggle against sin. Facing up to the truth - the truth of your temptations and struggles - will gradually reverse this process - reviving your consience. This, however, is a long and drawn-out process. But you must start.





Lesson 2

Initial Strategy

Building a fence against besetting sin

Peace with God


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 ...

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2

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.

Rom. 5:10

In short, when Paul tells us in verse 1 that justification puts us at peace with God, he means that ...

  • it not only terminates our enmity with him - a truth highlighted in Romans 5:9 by the phrase “saved from his wrath” (2) - but, in addition,
  • it restores us to fellowship with him as well - which, of course, is the meaning of the word “reconciliation” in verse 10.

Think about it ...

  • How astonishing it is that God, under no moral obligation to do so and at such infinite cost to himself (3), redeemed us - meaning delivered us from the penalty of our sins (4).
  • But even more so - how utterly incomprehensible it is that he restored us to his fellowship as well - and not just that: he made us his sons and daughters (5).

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.

Eph. 2:3

Screenshot20130625at32143PM... 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 ...

But to him that works not, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Even as David also describes the blessedness (7) of the man, unto whom God imputes righteousness without works,
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Romans 4:5-8

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.

Romans 5:2

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.

Romans 5:2

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.


Footnotes for Lesson 2
  1. Justification, as a whole, extending all the way back to Romans 1:16, is, of course, its actual basis, not just its summary in Romans 5:1-11.
  2. The word “wrath” in the New Testament, when applied to God, is a technical term meaning “execution of the sentence of death.” Anyone “under the wrath of God” is awaiting execution of that sentence.
  3. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
  4. For a complete explanation of redemption - its Biblical meaning, see Douglas Shearer, Calvin on the Ropes (Xulon Press, 2009), pp. 165-188.
  5. Romans 8:15
  6. Once again, anyone “under the wrath of God” or “in a state of wrath” is awaiting execution of the sentence of death pronounced against him.
  7. The word “blessedness” is more accurately translated “blessing.”
  8. ... which, of course, is entirely in keeping with the teleological mind-set of the ancient Greeks; cf my book Calvin on the Ropes, pages 17 ff.
  9. Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, The Language of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965) 293-6.
  10. Ibid., pp. 293-6.



Lesson 3

Initial Strategy

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 ...

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Romans 5:8-10

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.”

Luke 23:33-34

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 ...

  • it’s that we will fail to develop a personal relationship with Christ;
  • it’s that we won’t grow spiritually;
  • it’s that we won’t overcome the power of sin in our lives;
  • it’s that we will be disqualified from ruling and reigning with Christ in his coming kingdom - a privilege and responsibility only the spiritually mature will be entrusted to carry out.

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 ...

Gen. 3:8

Likewise, we have Jesus’ own admonition ...

... men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

John 3:19

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 ...

  • why Paul at the very outset of his teaching on sanctification stresses so insistently - so forcefully - the importance of believing we’re at peace with God - that God is not our enemy, threatening to hurl us into hell; and
  • why, in addition, he starts off Chapter Eight, the climax of his exposition on sanctification, with the unforgettable declaration ...

There is therefore now no condemnation to whose who are in Christ Jesus ...

Rom. 8:1

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.



Lesson 4

Initial Strategy

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 ...

  • Both Adam and Christ are fathers of a human race: two fathers, two humanities. That’s their one point of similarity.
  • The human race fathered by Adam is inherently corrupt and condemned. Death reigns over it. The human race fathered by Christ, on the other hand, is inherently righteous. Life reigns over it. That’s their difference.

Screenshot20130625at43428PMTherefore, 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” ...

Jesus answered and said unto him, Truly, truly, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus said unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say unto you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh (meaning born in Adam) is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit (meaning born in Christ) is spirit.

John 3:3-6

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.


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