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It is written:
Ephesians 1:11 (Message)-It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.
There is a common misunderstanding among people that if you are saved, then your struggle with sin just “vanishes.” As a result, many believe that when they sin after becoming a child of God in repentant faith and baptism (Acts 2:37-38), then they were never saved to begin with.
Of course, any study of the New Testament shows that is not the case. John wrote to baptized believers and told them that if a Christian denies that he sins, he is a deceiver and the truth is not in him (1 John 1:8). He says that we must continue to walk in the light to have the promise of the continual cleansing of the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7), even as we continue to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9) and have our hope in Jesus as our Advocate (1 John 2:1-2).
The Christians at Corinth were guilty of several sins (just read 1 and 2 Corinthians), yet they were never told that they had not been saved. Indeed, they were identified as saints and members of the church of God (1 Corinthians 1:1-3), and Paul says in no uncertain terms that they had been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11), even though they were also told that they could forfeit salvation if they did not repent of the sins in which they were living (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Likewise, the Colossians were guilty of practicing several sins that they were exhorted to repent of lest the wrath of God fall upon them (Colossians 3:5-11). Despite this, Paul identifies them as believers who had been saved from their sin, having had such “cut off” (circumcised) in the work of God in baptism (Colossians 2:12). They had died to sin, and had been hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).
The recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews were exhorted to lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensured them (Hebrews 12:1-2), even as Paul reminded them that Jesus was their faithful and merciful High Priest Who could perfectly understand their temptations and provide continual forgiveness and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). Despite the continuing struggle with sin, they had been saved of their sins when they were baptized into Christ Jesus (Hebrews 10:22).
The struggle with sin does not mean that a person has not been saved: instead, it means that salvation is not only an act, but a process. We have been saved; but we are also being saved. Salvation takes places when we are baptized into Christ, but it is an ongoing process in which we grow and are refined. This touches on the topic of sanctification (which we will look at more in depth in another study).
Years ago, I worked with a lady who had been on drugs. After several Bible studies, she decided to humble herself and be baptized into Christ (Mark 16:16). She was ecstatic! Her sins were washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22;16), and she had the Holy Spirit living in her to help her and encourage her (Galatians 4:6). She had a new church family who would do what they could to help her and encourage her (Galatians 6:1-2).
Then, she met with her (blood) family. When she tried to tell them about her newfound redemption in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), they told her that they didn’t believe it. Ever since she had taken her first hit, they said, she was an addict. “That is who you are, and no matter how many times you are baptized, that will never change! That’s all you ever will be!”
I still remember as we talked that night in jail ministry and she asked me if they were right. Had she been saved? After all, part of her stills anted to go out and get high when she served her time. If she continued to struggle with temptation to get high, did that mean that she was just destined to always be an addict?
We had the following conversation (we will call her Bonnie).
Mark: Bonnie, I am sorry that you are facing this struggle. But I want you to see something. Look with me in Romans 7. The Apostle Paul writes this:
Romans 7:19-25-For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
What is Paul saying?
Bonnie: Well, it sounds like what I am feeling. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay clean off drugs. It’s like there is a war going on inside of me. Maybe I am just born to be evil-and the evil is my addiction. Maybe there just isn’t hope for me. I’ll always be an addict. If I was saved, why would I still want to do these things?
Mark: I feel ya my friend. But notice something: when Paul writes this, he says that he had not been born with the sin that he faces. Look at verse nine:
Romans 7:9-I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
Paul was alive. What does this mean?
Bonnie: It can’t be talking about physical life and death. So he was spiritually alive before he died?
Bonnie: Well, what does that mean? I thought we were born as sinners?
Mark: Not at all. Remember how we saw that Ezekiel said we are perfect in all our ways until sin is found in us?
Ezekiel 28:15-You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you.
Now, Paul was alive spiritually-and then he learned the Law and chose to sin, so he died (was separated from the Lord by his sin). But what happened when Paul obeyed the Gospel? Do you remember what he wrote?
Romans 6:3-4-Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 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.
Bonnie: He died and was buried with Christ.
Mark: Yes! He died and arose to walk….
Bonnie: In newness of life.
Mark: So, Paul sees himself as a new person. Do you remember what he had done before as a non-Christian?
Bonnie: He killed Christians.
Mark: Yes. Let’s look at what Paul says.
Acts 8:1-3-Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Acts 9:1-2-Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Acts 22:4-I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,
So Bonnie, Paul was guilty before God. And not just with this: in Romans 7, he talks about the “wretched man” that he found himself to be. He struggled with lots of things, just like we all do. But did Paul see that as his identity?
Bonnie: I’m not sure. I mean, didn’t he stop struggling when he was baptized and saved?
Mark: Let’s ask him.
Philippians 3:12-15 (ERV)-I don’t mean that I am exactly what God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal. But I continue trying to reach it and make it mine. That’s what Christ Jesus wants me to do. It is the reason he made me his. 13 Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me. 14 I keep running hard toward the finish line to get the prize that is mine because God has called me through Christ Jesus to life up there in heaven. 15 All of us who have grown to be spiritually mature should think this way too. And if there is any of this that you don’t agree with, God will make it clear to you.
Bonnie, Paul says that he not yet been “perfected” (NKJV). The work had reference to spiritual and moral issues (that’s how the word is used all through the Book of Hebrews). He knew that he had a long way to go, and he still struggled. Did that mean that Paul was not saved?
Mark: So then, does being saved mean that we will no longer struggle with sin?
Mark: Did Paul see himself as the person he had been, or did he see himself as the person that he was in Christ?
2 Corinthians 5:17-Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Galatians 2:20-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.
Bonnie: He didn’t see himself as his sin (or his struggle).
Mark: That’s the takeaway here my friend. God’s Word has declared that He made you alive with Him when you were baptized into Christ.
Colossians 2:11-14-In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
That’s God’s Word. You may have family and friends (and even demonic spirits) telling you, “You are just an addict, that’s all you ever have been and all you ever will be!”
Who are you going to believe?
Bonnie: I am going to believe God. So if I still am tempted to do wrong, then that doesn’t mean I haven’t been saved? I can still be saved and ant to do wrong?
Mark: Was Paul perfected yet he wrote Philippians? Not at all. He was still tempted to do wrong and he had to constantly remind himself to walk in the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16-17-I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Your struggle does not invalidate the work of God in you.
My friends, the struggle with sin continues throughout the Christian life. That is part of being a child of God (1 John 1:8)!
No matter your struggle, hold on to God and keep walking with Him.
Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.