When we consider the sin in our life and our constant failure to gain victory over it, the way we do battle against it is not first and foremost to raise our mind and will against it. Our victory over sin has, astonishingly, already been accomplished.
This is the incredible fact that Paul labors to establish in his book, Romans. Victory over sin has been won. It has been slain. It’s dead. In fact, Paul’s view is so radical of the victory over sin and God’s grace towards us sinners that for some it looks like he opens the door to licentiousness. So great is this victory over sin in the life of a believer that some take it to mean that we experience God’s grace the more we sin – so sin all the more, they say.
The ‘freeness’ and totality of the death that Christ achieved when he was crucified for our sins was of such a degree that Paul says, we are “dead to sin”. Though our experience argues so frequently to the contrary, that sin is mightily alive in us, Paul boldly a unashamedly says, “It’s dead.”
And this freeness and totality is of such a degree that a Christian might mistake that now there is no consequence to our behavior and choices, because God can, and does, forgive all sins.
It is an absolutely astounding thought that God should say to you, “Your sin is dead. I killed it.” The problem is that we often don’t take our belief far enough in the victory that God has actually accomplished. We don’t enjoy it.
We so often experience the failure with sin in our lives that the statement, “we who died to sin” seems almost to be a lie. We can’t bring ourselves to enjoy the victory over sin in our lives because we are so accustomed to experience our failure to it.
This brings the ultimate question to the surface – “How can I be dead to sin, but still experience life to the contrary?” The way we answer this question is absolutely crucial to how we understand and perceive not merely our failings in sin but also our own personal victories over sin.
If we are simul justus et peccator (“Simultaneously Justified and yet Sinner”, to borrow Luther’s famous phrase), how are we to conceive of ourselves? This is where the life of faith and the role of faith takes on it’s most prominent role in our daily experience of life.
The key truth that we must understand is that the reality that we lay hold of through faith overrides our current experience. The life that we lay a hold of by faith is, in reality, more true and more real than what our experience tells us. Our sin declares us failures. It condemns us, judges us, and imprisons us in guilt. But that which we grasp by faith and hold to firmly declares something that is above and beyond what our frequent, daily experience with sin dictates to us – namely, you, in reality are victorious over sin.
But how am I victorious over sin? Paul guides us through this in the first 8 chapters of Romans. He is building his case that shows us that we are now now longer determined by the failure we experience but by what God has done in and through Christ in our behalf.
God’s declaration is now “Righteous” and “Sinless” when he beholds us. This is not because of anything in ourselves, for we agree with Paul when he states, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18) but because God has laid the charge due unto those sins upon Christ.
Some might think that God laid the actual sins themselves upon Christ. This is not precisely where Paul carries the teaching on this doctrine of imputation (reckoning or counting/considering). God can not lay the actual sins themselves upon Christ. This is not what our primary problem is. God charges Christ with the guilt of these sins. God reckons Christ as the one who has committed these sins. He takes the guilt and punishment due unto those sins and placed it upon Christ.
What does this mean? This means that the punishment that is due to your sins, the wrath and fury that God rightly must carry out against your sins is lifted off of you. The sin that you commit on a daily basis, you will no longer will be punished for. Really, it’s as if you’ve gotten away with sinning. Simply put, it’s you committing a crime, the judge hearing and concluding that you indeed committed the crime, and then declaring you will not receive punishment for it. That is the astounding truth that cuts the throat of sin’s power and declares you victorious over sin.
Sin’s power is in it’s condemnation. When you are declared a Sinner, you are helpless. You are victorious over sin because the very thing that it ultimately defeats you with – it’s condemning death – is stripped away and brought to nothing. When sin loses it’s condemning power it is now weak and useless. Satan’s accusations then lose all their power. What can he say to you that will defeat you? Have you been treacherous today, have you injured and maligned another? Have you been evil in your thoughts? What sin(s) can you conjure up in your mind that Satan will scream at you “Guilty!” for?
You wicked sinner, I saw what you did today when you spoke to that person at work, I saw the way you treated that person who you live with, I heard the murmurings of your mouth… You are evil and damned…
There is Satan and sin’s power: condemnation. They declare, “This is all you are and this is all you can and will amount to. Don’t you see it is futile to fight and war against it? You fool…”
This is the battle that God has fought on our behalf. He has taken the charge due unto those sins that we war against and has laid their guilt on Christ, declared him to be guilty instead of us for them, as if he were the one who actually committed them, and then poured his judgment due to those sin not on us but upon Christ. This judgment climaxes in the slaying of the body. Sin’s offense demands that life of the offender be taken from them, “the wages of (or payment for) sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). So God poured out his judgment in to the ultimate degree, slaying his Son to death on account of our very sins.
Here we see that God fought our battle against sin for us. God won the victory over sin. He defeated sin’s great power by stripping it of it’s weapon (or “sting” – 1 Cor. 15:55-56). Sin may still exert it’s influence (cf. Romans 7) but it is ultimately powerless in the life of a believer.
So when sin rears it’s ugly head in your life and declares to you that you are nothing but a filthy sinner, agree with it – accept it’s charge – it is certainly true. But do not leave yourself there. Counter the accusation with the new declaration that has been made:
(1)”God put Christ forward as the propitiation (wrath-bearer) in my behalf (Rom. 3:25)
(2) and judged and condemn my sin completely and entirely there (Rom. 8:1-3),
(3) so that even though I live with the influencing power of sin in my life (Rom. 6:12, 7:17, 20)
(4) it’s terrible condemning power has been stripped (Rom. 8:33).
(5) Being released from it’s condemning power, I have now been given a new power at work in me, the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:10-11).
(6) Though I may toil and struggle and suffer in this battle against the influencing power of sin (Rom. 8:18),
(7) God has supplied every manner and means of support that I may not only resist but overcome this influencing power of sin in my life. These manners and means are [a] the Spirit who intercedes for us (Rom 8:26-27) [b] Christ’s intercession for us (Rom. 8:34) [c] which all flow out of Christ and God’s immeasurable love for us (Rom. 8:35, 37) and even more so, [d] God is working all the events and circumstances in our lives for our good, and our good is conformity to Christ (Rom 8:28-29).
So, sin can now be seen to be the powerless enemy that it is in the life of a believer. It’s influencing power may still be great and terrible, but this influencing power cannot damn us now. We will be conformed to the image of Christ, no matter how great the struggle against sin may be. If God has decreed it so, there is nothing that can stand in the way (Rom. 8:37-39)
Sin is dead, God killed it in his Son.
And when Christ rose from the dead he demonstrated definitively that sin’s power, death, is gone. In Christ we are not simply victorious, but we are “More Than Conquerors.”
(Note: For a poetic version of this truth, here’s a poem I wrote 3 years ago about this – The War)