From the Book Free To Serve God
By J. Oliver Jones
1. The Mystery of Our Death in Christ
(Freedom from Sin)
Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
2. The Mind of Humility in Our Cross
(Freedom from Pride)
Philippians 2:5-8 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
3. The Majesty of Christ in Our Comparisons
(Freedom from Worldliness)
Philippians 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ…
4. The Miracle of Focus in Our Commitment
(Freedom from Distractions)
Philippians 3:13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before…
5. The Mark of Determination in Our Calling
(Freedom from Wandering)
Philippians 3:14 …I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
6. The Message of Faith in Our Contentment
(Freedom from Anxiety)
Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
7. The Might of Christ in our Challenges
(Freedom from Self-sufficiency)
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
The First Principle
The Mystery of Our Death in Christ
(Freedom from Sin)
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)
Lying right beneath the surface of this brief verse is a revelation that must be understood if we are ever to be free. What did Paul mean when he stated, “For me to live is Christ“? Before we try to answer this question, read these two additional statements of Paul for more insight.
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 NKJV)
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. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:5-11 NKJV)
Let us go ahead and name the greatest hindrance to being free to serve God – SIN. Isn’t it strange that the Bible tells us that we are all sinners, that there is none righteous, and that all have fallen short of the glory of God, yet most of us do not like to admit our struggles with sin? But this is an issue we must face and, with the help of God, conquer if are to be truly free. We will begin by defining sin. Then we will examine what sin looks like in the life of the Believer.
A working definition of sin is, “the transgression of God’s will, either by omitting to do what God’s law requires or by doing what God’s law forbids.” This transgression can occur in thought (I John 3:15), word (Matthew 5:22), or deed (Romans 1:32). Quite frankly, sin is that which separates us from God. God is a holy God. He created mankind to be holy, but when sin entered into the human race through Adam’s failure to remain holy, we all became sinners, born with a sinful nature. That sinless image of God in man became distorted by sin, the result being that man could no longer think, feel, or act in a way pleasing to God. It is God’s plan to restore His image in man through Jesus Christ. He has predestined that every one of His children will be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Jesus did not die just so we can go to heaven, but so that we can be freed from the bondage of sin; delivered from sin that we may be free to serve God. So what does sin look like in the life of a Believer? There is not space to give all the examples that could be considered, but by giving a few, most of us will find ourselves without too much difficulty.
Examples of Sin in the Life of a Believer
Some Believers are liars. They lie to cover their tracks for having been involved in other sinful behavior. They lie to their spouses about inappropriate behavior with a co-worker. They lie to their bosses by calling in sick so they can do other things. They lie to their children by not keeping promises made to spend time with them. They lie to their pastor by making excuses for not attending services. They lie to their neighbors about whose dog it was that got into the trash. They lie to their customers about the quality of the product they are selling. They lie to the police about how fast they were going. And they lie to God every January by resolving to spend more time in His Word!
Some Believers are cheats. They cheat on their wives or their husbands after vowing to be faithful. They cheat on their timecards so they can steal their employer’s money. They cheat on their taxes rather than “rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” They cheat their friends while playing a “friendly” game of cards. They cheat at school to get a grade they did not earn. They cheat at work to get a promotion they do not deserve. They cheat playing ball on their church league team to win a trophy their talent alone cannot obtain. They cheat the cashier when they are given back too much change. They cheat the grocer by eating the grapes before they get to the checkout. They cheat the insurance company with inflated claims. And they cheat God by not giving to Him the tithe!
Some Believers are sexually immoral. They engage in pre-marital sexual relations, which God calls fornication. They engage in extra-marital sexual relations, which God calls adultery. They engage in homosexual relations, which God calls an abomination. They fill their minds with pornography, which God calls uncleanness and wantonness. They secretly lust after all types of sexual fantasies, which God calls lasciviousness. They have taken the gift that God intended to be shared between a husband and wife and have perverted it into “sexual freedom.” Indeed, they have become “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4) and have itching ears to hear of God’s love while denying His holiness!
Let us hasten along by simply proclaiming that some Believers are idolaters, some are greedy, some are selfish, and some are envious. Some Believers are always involved in strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, and dissensions. Some Believers even allow their anger to grow into hatred, which God considers murder. Some Believers have given place to alcohol and drugs in their lives and have succumbed to its control. Some Believers seek to make an easy buck by gambling with money that could be given to the work of God. And yes, some Believers still use the name of the Lord our God in vain! Should we continue, or have you already found yourself in this short list? Do you see why we must be delivered from sin in order to be free to serve God?
God’s Command to be Holy
We have all heard messages preached that proclaimed the day would come when we would be set free from sin. I have preached them myself! At the resurrection, when we receive our glorified bodies, when we see Jesus face to face, when this mortal has put on immortality, in other words when this flesh has died and we are resurrected, we shall be like Jesus. No more sin, no more temptation, no more failure; what a wonderful day that will be! Do not misunderstand; there is nothing wrong with this message. At that time we shall receive the total redemption that Jesus purchased for us on the cross of Calvary, both physical redemption and spiritual redemption. The problem with that message is that it does not deal with my need to be set free from sin now, before I die! How do I deal with sin while I exist in this mortal flesh? For it is now, while in this flesh, that I am to serve God, not just in eternity. Read these New Testament verses regarding God’s expectation concerning sin and holiness in the life of a Believer.
- Because it is written, be holy for I am Holy. (I Peter 1:16)
- Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts. (Romans 6:12)
- Awake to righteousness, and sin not… (I Cor 15:34a)
- Be angry and sin not… (Ephesians 4:26a)
- My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. (I John 2:1a)
I believe that it is possible to obey and apply every instruction and command that God gives to us in His Word. I cannot believe God instructs us to do something that is impossible for us to do. Therefore, if God expects us to be holy and to be victorious over sin, then there must be a way for that to be accomplished.
Now before I begin to lose some of you, let me reassure you that I understand that we are not capable of becoming righteous by keeping the law. We are not justified by works, but by the grace of God through faith. We are born in sin, we all have a sinful nature, we are all sinners through Adam, and we are all sinners through personal sin. Indeed we are all dead in trespasses and sin, and there is no one who is righteous!
How then do we reconcile these simple verses that are instructing us to be holy and to not sin with the verses that tell us that we are all sinners and there is no one who is righteous. Add to that I John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” and the problem increases. So here we are born with a sinful nature, sinners by race and sinners by practice, instructed by God to “sin not,” but if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
“He Who Has Died Has Been Freed From Sin”
Go back and read the verses at the beginning of this first principle (Phil 1:21; Gal 2:20; Romans 6:5-11). Notice how many times Paul mentions his death in and with Christ. In particular notice the following from Romans 5:6-7.
…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. (NKJV)
It goes without explanation that Paul did not literally die on the cross with Jesus. It is obvious that every Believer is not literally crucified with Christ. But it is this death with Christ that Paul directly connects to our being set free from sin, and that not in some future sense (i.e. the resurrection), but now, in this present life. Paul did not say that we would someday be set free from sin. He stated in Romans 6:22 “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become servants to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” This is not looking forward to some event in the future but looking back to an event in the past; you have been set free! “How have I been set free?” you ask. “Through your death,” Paul replies. “But I am still alive,” you argue. “Then consider yourself dead!” says Paul. The mystery of our death in Christ lies in our understanding of what happens when we accept (become one with) Jesus as our Savior. It should by now be obvious that in the eyes of God something occurs that can be considered our death.
God’s Work of Redemption
It is important now to review the process that brings us to the moment of our conversion. This will not be an exhaustive list and is not intended to be a doctrinal statement. It will simply show the process of our coming to Christ for salvation.
- I am a sinner apart from God, dead in my trespasses and sins, totally unable to seek and find God on my own.
- God loves me as His special creation and desires to have fellowship with me and to restore in me His image that sin has so totally distorted.
- Through grace, God sends His Son to become my perfect sacrifice; He who knows no sin takes my place to die for my sin. Through His sacrifice the penalty of death for sin is provisionally paid for all mankind.
- God sends His Spirit to convict me of sin and to draw me to Jesus who has paid the penalty of death for sin.
- I accept by faith God’s free offer of salvation. I believe in my heart that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God. I confess and repent of my sin. I confess with my mouth that Jesus is my Savior, and I receive Him into my life and make Him Lord.
Most of the time this is where we conclude the story of our redemption. But this is not where God stops His wonderful work of grace in our lives. If we will continue to see this event through the eyes of God, we will understand how it is that we are set free from sin.
- God sees His Son Jesus and the new believer as becoming one. The sin of the believer placed upon Jesus has been paid in full. The righteousness of Christ covers the believer so that God sees him as sinless.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (II Corinthians 5:21 NKJV)
- As a seal of our redemption God sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us. We actually become the temple of God because the Spirit of God dwells in us.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (I Corinthians 3:16 NJKV)
- The old sinful nature (the nature of Adam by whom we all die) that has ruled over us throughout our lives is not removed, but a new nature (the nature of Jesus, by whom we all have life) is placed within us. We actually have the nature of Christ within us.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (I Corinthians 15:22 NKJV)
- God confirms His New Covenant with us by the writing of His Law on our hearts. We have no need for someone to tell us what is right and what is wrong because God’s Law dwells in our hearts.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; andI will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Hebrews 8:10 NKJV)
Do you understand how it can be proclaimed, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”(II Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). In the eyes of God we are not the same old creatures we once were. We are a new creation, a holy priesthood, and the dwelling place of God. We have been given everything we need to be free from our old nature. We have been justified from sin and sanctified (set apart) for righteousness. God has certainly done His part. It is now time for us to apply these truths to our lives. God has prepared us to be a holy people. Now we must live like the people He has created us to be!
Reckoning Oneself to Be Dead
In this section I will run the risk of being misunderstood, but I trust you will bear with me before you draw your conclusions. As I have stated previously, I know all too well that within myself there is no ability to be sinless. I also totally understand that I am a sinner saved by the grace of God and that my salvation is not due to any work or merit of my own. Without doubt you also know and understand these truths in your own experience. However, the Scriptures we have just reviewed tell us that we are no longer alone. We have the Spirit of God indwelling us, the nature of Christ influencing us, and the law of God instructing us.
I have often heard Christians, in an attempt to show humility, say that they are just sinners saved by grace, that they just can’t keep from sinning every day, but that their sin drives them to God in prayer for forgiveness. In fact this sounds very much like the issue Paul addressed with the Church in Rome, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2 KJV). I have always wanted to shout, “Well stop sinning, and pray thanking God for victory!”
For I believe that while in ourselves
we have no choice but to sin,
as that is our nature,
we have the ability to not sin,
as that is His nature.
The choice as to which nature we follow is now ours!
Read the following Scriptures that support this conclusion:
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:11-16 NKJV)
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2 NKJV)
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-13 NKJV)
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 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. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. (Gal 5:16-18 NKJV)
But I keep control of my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (I Corinthians 9:27 KJ21)
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. (Colossians 3:2-7 NKJV)
We could continue with such passages that instruct the Believer to put off the old life (or the old nature) and to walk in the new life (or the new nature). It seems to be obvious that what Paul is saying is that once we have become joined with Christ, we then have the ability through the power of the Spirit and the nature of Christ in us to choose not to sin. Both natures dwell within us, and they war against one another. But it is up to us to choose to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. It is up to us to live in the light and not in the darkness. It is up to us to die to our old selfish nature, and allow the nature of Christ to live in us. When Paul says that he no longer lives but Christ lives in him, this is a statement of his choice. When Paul says that he dies daily, that is a statement of his choice. When Paul says that he keeps his body under subjection, that is a statement of his choice. We must not use the excuse that we are sinners by birth, as true as that may be, because we have been born again, and that birth is unto righteousness!
What I am proposing is not the doctrine of a second work of grace where one proclaims he is totally and finally sanctified, and therefore can no longer commit sin. What I am proposing is a work of grace that allows him to proclaim, “By the grace of God, I am able not to sin!” In the eyes of God, my old nature is dead, crucified with Christ. When Paul declares that I am to reckon (consider) myself dead, he is stating that I am to see myself as God sees me. This will require self discipline, self control, and the breaking of old habits. The old nature will not give up peaceably. It has been in control too long to go without a fight. But every battle fought and won over the old nature causes it to weaken, and the new spiritual nature to grow stronger. But until we acknowledge the conflict, declare war on the enemy, and take up the full armor of God, we will live in defeat. And there is no place in all of Scripture that declares that we are to live defeated!
The Bible tells us that to whom we submit ourselves to obey, it is to him that we are slaves. We must not submit ourselves to sin, but we must submit ourselves to Christ. While I do not believe it is prudent to list steps in this process, these four truths must permeate our hearts and minds before we are free from sin.
- We must understand that through Christ’s sacrificial death He provides the means whereby we can be set free from sin.
- We must acknowledge that while God has provided the means for us to be set free, in His sovereignty He has placed the choice upon us as to which nature we will submit to. In other words, after conversion, willful sin is a choice!
- We must determine that our sin is offensive to God and make the willful choice to die to that sin. This means we make the choice that we will not submit ourselves to obey the desires of the flesh (See Joshua 24:15 “Choose you this day whom you will serve…“).
- We must reckon ourselves to be dead since he who is dead is free from sin.
In conclusion, it is the understanding of this principle, The Mystery of Our Death in Christ, that is perhaps the most important of all. For until we are free from the bondage of sin, we will never be free to serve God.
So think clearly and exercise self-control.
Look forward to the gracious salvation
that will come to you when
Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.
So you must live as God’s obedient children.
Don’t slip back into your old ways of
living to satisfy your own desires.
You didn’t know any better then.
But now you must be holy in everything you do
just as God who chose you is holy.
For the Scriptures say,
“You must be holy because I am holy.”
(I Peter 1:13-16 NLT)