Sin and the Christian
The Apostle Paul did not deem himself the chief of sinners because he was the most outwardly manifest sinner; he declared in 1 Corinthians 9:27 “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” His walk and manner of life was not filled with debauchery because he could, without hypocrisy, instruct others to “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Even in those so-called “grey areas” of the Christian life, he declared in 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.”
Yet, despite the upright nature of his walk, the Apostle Paul knew himself to be wretched. He was not wretched in the sense of having a perverse or immoral course of life; he was not wretched in his God-given heart nor in the new spirit God put in him; He was not wretched after that Spirit-born inward man, which after God was created in righteousness and true holiness, and which was created in the image of Him that created him; but he was, nonetheless, wretched in the light of the sin that indwelt his members — and that indwelling sin, the same sin that indwells all mankind (including every other regenerate child of God) is nothing but absolute filth, vileness, and wickedness.
Though that indwelling sin does not have dominion over the Christian, it is present with him, and it will cause him to ‘fall seven times’ – though God, in His deep and everlasting mercy, causes him to rise back up. This ever-present sin, and the effects and sorrows that it produces, rightly caused the Apostle Paul to identify himself as the chief (protos, first in rank) of sinners. Why? because of past sins and his persecution of the elect church? I am sure that played a heavy role; however, I believe that the main reason was because he understood that every sin he committed as a regenerate saint was a sin against the ever-increasing revelation of:
(1) THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD: knowing who He is, what He is, and how holy, just, and righteous He is. John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” -and- Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty [man] glory in his might, let not the rich [man] glory in his riches: 24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I [am] the LORD which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these [things] I delight, saith the LORD” -and- Job 42:5-6 “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. 6 Wherefore I abhor [myself], and repent in dust and ashes” -and- James 4:7-10 “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse [your] hands, ye sinners; and purify [your] hearts, [ye] double-minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and [your] joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
(2) THE WISDOM OF GOD: that is, how infinitely perfect His counsel, purpose, precepts, and truths are, and how foolish we are to walk contrary to them. Psalm 119:1-7 “ALEPH. Blessed [are] the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD. 2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, [and that] seek him with the whole heart. 3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. 4 Thou hast commanded [us] to keep thy precepts diligently. 5 O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! 6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. 7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments” -and- Psalm 119:103-105 “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! [yea, sweeter] than honey to my mouth! 104 Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. 105 …Thy word [is] a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” -and – Romans 7:22-25 :For I delight in the law of God after 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 shall deliver me from the body of this 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” -and- Psalm 19:7-10 “The law of the LORD [is] perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD [is] sure, making wise the simple. 8 The statutes of the LORD [are] right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD [is] pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD [is] clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD [are] true [and] righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired [are they] than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”
(3) THE LOVE OF GOD: even all that it entails: the grace, mercy, forgiveness, long-suffering, loving-kindness, nurturing, comforting, communing, sustaining, chastening, turning, instructing, and all of the other blessings given to us by God the Father, procured by the Lord Jesus Christ via His finished, propitiatory work, and made effectual in our lives by the Holy Spirit of God. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead 15 And [that] he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” -and- Romans 8:36-39 “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” -and- Jude 1:20-21 “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” -and- too many other glorious passages to list here.
The same that was true for the Apostle Paul is true for all of God’s quickened elect; the more revelation we have concerning the Person, nature, goodness, grace, and love of God, in/through Christ, the greater each sin becomes, the more sinfully evil each appears. Why? because we are sinning against revealed grace, mercy, and love, and because of the principle that the ‘…servant, which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.’ (Luke 12:47-48). All of the sins of the elect were taken away, purged by Christ on the cross – ultimately, He bore our stripes for us if we are His. However, every sin we commit in our sojourn is (by default) an affront to the goodness and mercy of God and is more and more worthy of such stripes (which should humble us and makes us all the more careful, watchful, and thankful, as we consider all that Christ endured for us, and in our stead). So though our outward walk may be pristine in the eyes of saint and sinner alike (though I cannot say this of myself sadly), the Christian knows who and what he is by nature and must confess that he is (we are all) still — sinners saved by grace. The more we have a sight of that indwelling sin (especially in the light of a holy, just, and perfectly-loving God and Saviour), the more we can say with the Apostle, that we (individually, in our own hearts and minds) are the CHIEF of sinners.
None of the above negates what happens at the new birth. When we are quickened, we become (and remain) new creatures in Christ. There was, and continues to be, real, substantive, change in our lives; “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” We do not walk (as a course of life) after our former, unregenerate, ways and lusts. We will have our struggles, battles, and falls, but we ceased to be spiritual gentiles; we do not remain as we were — there is a reality called growing in the love and grace of God and bearing the fruit that He has ordained for us and that He brings forth in us. The Christian does not walk in sin; it does not dominate him; it does not blind and harden him as it does this fallen and wicked world. Yet, if we were indeed honest with ourselves, before God, we would have to admit that we do go astray at times; we are taken captive for a season; we are blinded and hardened at times — and yet God always recovers us, delivers us, brings us back to the fold. If we were honest about our thought life, our daily emotions, our day to day natural inclinations, temptations, slips and falls, and pronenesses towards spiritual dullness and sloth, we would have to admit that sin is, indeed, ever present with us despite the very real change God has wrought in us.
1 John 1:8 states “If we say that we **HAVE** no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That word “have” is a “present indicative” verb which denotes a state of persistence. It is a “having” that is up to, including, and beyond the present time; in fact, in this life, whenever the present “is,” that is when we have this sin. Thus, it is a continuously present “having” and this having, when felt by a sin-sensitive soul (and only God can make one so), can be quite a burden. This is especially true when we walk for a season, or seasons, in a manner contrary to God’s revealed word. In such a state, that sensitivity can wax and wane, but at its height, it can be most oppressive, and at its lowest point, it can still be enough to keep us from finding any real joy or satisfaction in our foolish and wayward ways. Moreover, many times, until the light of the (manifest) forgiveness and mercy of Christ shines in our hearts, we can be quite weighed down with our sin, the sense of the guilt it deserves, our inability to overcome it as we desire, and the affront that our current course is, by nature, to the Saviour – even to Him that loved us, bought us, giving His life for us.
Finally, though we are new creatures in Christ, though we have the victory, though we are not slaves of sin but slaves of Christ, there is a reality, what Paul calls a law, that we must ever deal with until we die or until Christ returns. This law of sin is yoked to our daily experience to such a degree that we cannot forget it, cannot free ourselves from it (experimentally-speaking), and we cannot over come it except through eternal, vital union with Christ and His effectual working in us through the Spirit. We must continue to endure the vileness and loathsomeness of it until our Lord fully delivers us from it come glory. Until then, in Christ, we already have the liberty, we already have the victory, we already have the grace, love, and mercy, that we need; and we already have a storehouse of deep treasure, and mighty, mighty arms, to see us safely through to the end of our Christian pilgrimage. We are more than victors and conquerors in Him; there is nothing that can separate us from Him; and there is nothing that can overtake us, or overcome us, to our eternal peril. God in Christ is all that we need; in Him we can do all things as He strengthens us; we are thoroughly equipped to fight the good fight of faith until the end. All we must do, as God enables (and only as He enables), is keep our eyes, hearts, and minds focused squarely on Him; rest in Him; hope in Him; wait on Him; and Love Him all the more. May every victory over sin and carnality be attributed to His grace and mercy, and not to anything that arises from us or that stems from us. Without Him, and Him alone, we can do nothing; in Him, we can do all things.
To God alone be the glory.