Do you know anyone who never struggles or has never struggled with sin since their conversion? It is a rhetorical question. However, that being said, how do we walk in victory in this ongoing battle?
I think a large part of the answer to that question lies in where we put our focus. If I focus on sin and failure I cause it to grow in my life. If I focus on walking with Jesus His presence grows in my life (2 Cor. 3:18). To be clear I am not suggesting there is no need for repentance when we sin, we need to be sensitive to conviction from and by the Holy Spirit and address issues. However, we will never overcome sin by giving most of our time and attention to it. Imagine being locked in a hold in Greco-Roman Wrestling. Even if you pin your opponent to the mat and hold him there you are still in contact with him and focused on him. That is not how we walk in spiritual victory.
We walk in spiritual victory by focusing on Jesus and addressing any issues the Holy Spirit highlights as they come up through ongoing and immediate repentance. In theory this is simply profound and profoundly simple yet we are often drawn away to the wrong focus. Why is that? I think we need to recognize what Romans teaches us, even though we are no longer in the ‘flesh’ once we are born again, there is still ‘flesh’ in us. What dominates is really a matter of what we feed and nurture. To understand how to nurture and feed our spirits we need to understand something about ‘flesh.’
In Romans 7 and 8 and other places the Greek word sarx is translated as flesh, carnal or carnally. Some translations refer to our ‘flesh’ in Romans 7 and 8 as our ‘sinful nature.’ However I think this translation is one reason for so many in the church failing so often in dealing with temptation. I believe strongly that our beliefs empower our behaviour. If we believe our very nature is sinful we will expect to fail. Yet we do not have two natures, we have a new nature at conversion (2 Cor. 5:17-21). There is still something in us that has a propensity toward sin but it is not our nature or identity.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. Rom. 7:18 (NKJV)
However, Paul, like us, had Christ within him and so he taught the value of a right focus.
6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:6 (NKJV)
The word ‘carnally’ above is again the Greek sarx. Paul’s says if we focus our minds on our flesh we produce death, if we focus on the things of Christ we experience life and peace. A clear choice with clear consequences.
Paul in his letters often focused on our identity as being ‘in Christ’ or similar phrases. He focused on our new identity and new nature and thus empowered his readers and hearers to walk in victory. When in faith they applied his teaching they could be victorious and thus their expectation and experience would be walking in intimacy with Jesus and victory over sin.
Paul was perhaps at his most pointed in his shortest letter
4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. Philemon 1:4-6 (NKJV) – emphasis mine. See also Eph. 4:20-24, Col. 3:1-2, 2 Cor. 5:17
Again, Paul’s point is that we walk in victory by focusing on who and what Jesus is in us. Focusing on sin and failure only leads to more of the same. So let us lock in our focus on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).