A Scriptural Investigation
As the Christian advances in spirituality he increasingly recognizes his own weaknesses and failings. We all have our peculiar temptations, trials, and difficulties to overcome, and there are times when, to many believers, the tide seems so adverse, and the battle so fierce, that victory appears to be away in the distance. The adversary knows our vulnerable points, and he therefore pays the greater amount of his attention to these weak defences.
Although no doubt “the sin which does so easily beset us,” mentioned in Hebrews 12:1, refers to the sin of unbelief (in contrast to the victories of faith recorded in the previous chapter), yet with all of us there is a weakness which overcomes us more easily than any other, and which may be known only to God and to ourselves — one of those secret faults to which David alludes in Psalm 19:12.
The word VICTORY is one of the grandest words in our language, and when the Apostle mentions the phrase “more than conquerors,” he surely suggests the possibility of complete victory for every believer.
This is only possible insofar as we realize two things, namely, our own utter insufficiency on the one hand, and the all-sufficient grace and power of God on the other. The reason why Goliath was defeated was simply because he foolishly trusted himself; and the reason why David was victorious was because his entire confidence was in the Lord. The Holy Spirit’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall” should be ever remembered by God’s people. Peter thought he was able to stand when he boasted that whoever might prove unfaithful he would maintain his loyalty to Christ, even though such devotion should mean prison, yea, death itself. Poor Peter! It was not long before he proved by bitter experience that, however willing was the spirit, the flesh was weak — far weaker than he ever imagined.
With every believer there is an unceasing internal warfare waging between the flesh and the spirit, each one endeavouring to obtain the ascendency. Therefore, no Christian can say truthfully that he has attained to such a high spiritual altitude as to be beyond the power of the flesh. Although it is wonderfully true that we are perfect in Christ, it is also true that we are by no means perfect in ourselves. The flesh (which is another word for “self”) is ever with us, and refuses to be improved.
A Divine Standard
It is quite true that the Lord Jesus said on more than one occasion, “Go and sin no more,” and this was quite necessary, since the only standard He recognised was that of perfection. We could not imagine Him saying, “Go and sin a few times more,” nor was it possible for Him to say, “Go and sin once more.” Obviously, the only injunction He could give was “Go and sin no more.” Moreover, this is the only standard revealed in the Scriptures for the believer, as the Apostle John states so clearly, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not” (1 John 2:1). That this should be the aim of every Christian no one would be foolish enough to deny. When we read carefully these words by the same writer, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8), what is the use of our boasting that we live a sinless life? The root-principle of sin is in every believer, and this will never be eradicated until we are perfected in Heaven.
The Principle of Sin
Moreover, in 1 John 1:10 are recorded these words: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.” If ever you hear a Christian say that he is sinlessly perfect, or if you ever hear of one adopting that attitude, you may safely conclude that he is anything but perfect, for the simple reason that if he were perfect he would be the very last person to spread the matter abroad.
The most serious aspect of all is this — that if we say that we have not sinned for a specified period, we constitute God a liar. We may argue for days endeavoring to vindicate our position, but all the time we are faced with these solemn words, “We make Him a liar.” Surely the possibility of adopting such an attitude is sufficient to make one tremble.
We all agree that the Apostle Paul was an outstanding Christian, not only in effective service, but also in holiness of life. And yet this devoted servant of Christ states in Philippians 3:12, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” a statement which was made about thirty years after his conversion.
Possibly the reader will reply; “Does not the Bible say, “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” Yes, indeed, but why isolate this passage from its context? The words quoted are in Romans 6:14. In verse 13 of the same chapter Paul says, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin,” which clearly refers to the liability to evil which is latent in every believer, but which can be thwarted by yielding ourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead; and it is only as we yield ourselves to God that sin can be overcome. This act of “yielding to God” is not a once for all transaction. There should be a constant yielding to Him which is clearly implied in the opening verse of Romans 12.
The Two Natures
As believers we have two natures, the old and the new. The new nature is sinless, whilst the old nature is sinful. As we abide in Christ (enjoying constant fellowship with Him), we shall be victorious; but when we lose touch with Him and are self-occupied, we shall be overcome.
The words in Hebrews 7:25, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,” are not only applicable to unbelievers, but also to Christians. Only those who come unto God through Christ His Son know the uttermost of His saving grace. It therefore follows that if we are to experience the completeness of salvation daily, there must be a continual coming to God on our part (See also Hebrews 4:16).
From one viewpoint we are always in His presence for has He not promised neither to leave nor to forsake us? And yet there is another sense in which we should ever be coming to Him for assistance because of our proneness to wander.
The Holy Spirit
There is, unfortunately, a tendency on the part of many zealous believers to press certain divine truths at the expense of others. This is even possible with so great and important subject as that of the Holy Spirit. Let it ever be remembered that the pre-eminent office of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ. He never speaks of Himself: He never glorifies Himself (much less does He glorify the believer): He is the most unobtrusive Person in the universe. He makes everything of Christ, as the Lord Jesus said, “He shall glorify Me,” and this He accomplishes by revelation. His great delight is to take of the things of Christ, and to show them unto us, and, as all we want to know about Christ is in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit uses those Scriptures for this purpose. Therefore, if our knowledge of the Holy Spirit does not tend to make Christ increasingly real to us, we may be certain that our understanding is at fault.
God willeth not that we should be discouraged, but He does will that we should have a well-balanced apprehension of His truth.
There was only One who never succumbed to temptation — who was sinlessly perfect — the Lord Jesus Christ. None other could say truly as He could, “Which of you convicteth Me of sin?”
Our High Priest
Where is He now? In Heaven. In what capacity? As a merciful and faithful High Priest. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Real sympathy is something which we all need, and the Lord Jesus is able to sympathize with us in all our sorrows, difficulties, and temptations; and the reason is because He trod the path of trial and sorrow Himself. He knew what it was to be hungry, weary, and thirsty. He was tempted in all points like unto ourselves — sin apart — which means that He understands us perfectly. We never pass through a cloud alone; we never bear a trial alone; we never experience a burden alone. “He is able to succour (run to the aid of) them that are tempted (Heb. 2:18 ) .
If the question is raised, wherein lay the advantage of His temptations seeing it was impossible for Him to yield? The answer is, that He might be able to feel with us in all our manifold trials. “For such an High Priest became us” (Heb. 7:26), Such an One was absolutely essential, and “such a High Priest we have” (Heb. 8:1). This is a part of God’s gracious provision for His people. Immediately connected with the present office of the Lord Jesus is the “throne of grace” to which we may come with boldness in every emergency, and thereby obtain MERCY for the past and present, and GRACE for the present and the future.
Although God never tempts us to do evil, He allows us to be tempted for the formation and development of our Christian character. What poor weaklings we should be if we had no trials to confront, no battles to fight, no difficulties to overcome! A country without hills and valleys is generally dull and uninteresting, and the Christian experience minus its temptations would be robbed of much of its charm and dignity.
Mr. Moody’s definition of character, “What a man is in the dark,” is one which we would well take to heart. It is not so much what we appear to others that counts, but what we are behind the scenes in our private life.
One of the most encouraging verses relative to the subject of temptation is James 1:12. The first part of the verse, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation” refers to the present. The latter part of the verse “For when he is tried (approved), he shall receive the crown of life” refers to the future.
We are not told to run away from temptation, but to resist it, and this act of resistance involves two things —faith and patience. God never allows us to be tempted beyond our endurance, and moreover, when the temptation comes (however severely or unexpectedly) He has promised to make a way of escape, thus making victory gloriously possible.
When through the exercise of faith and patience, we succeed in overcoming the enemy, rather than taking any credit to ourselves, let us gratefully acknowledge that we owe every conquest to the grace of God.