To live a victorious Christian life one must recognize the sources of all of his temptations. These include the world, the flesh, and the devil. This makes him wise enough to realize that, as Paul said, We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
Still, regardless of the source of temptation, God's plan of salvation has provided for a believer to experience victory in every battle with evil. Indeed, every follower of Christ has a potential to sin, but at the same time he has the possibility to live after the Spirit rather than after the flesh as an over-comer in his conflict with evil.
FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN
Then, to live a life of victory over Satan and sin necessitates being freed from the guilt and power of sin in salvation. Biblical salvation includes justifica¬tion where heaven declares one right in the sight of God. This frees him from all guilt over past sins.
That New Testament experience also brings one regeneration. This frees him from the power of sin. He is no longer under sin's dominion.
Biblical salvation also involves sanctification where the believer is separated from a life of sin and dedicated to the service of the Lord. This comes at the instant one is justified and born again. Paul notes this in writing to the Corinthians. After listing several sins including stealing, drunkenness, and homosexuality, he writes, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:10,11).
Further, the Greek verb sodzo, with its basic meaning "to save," is often translated "to make whole," and one who is still bound by Satan and sin could hardly be declared whole. In like manner, the Greek noun soteria, almost always translated "salvation," has the double meaning of deliverance and preservation.
In view of this, what Unger says sounds strange. He writes that he:
. . . has often noted that some believers are delivered from evil spirits when they are saved, others are not, and must be delivered later by fasting and prayer. Others struggle on in the Christian life, never completely set free from demon power (Merrill B. Unger, Demons in the World Today [Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1971], p. 185).
Biblically, it is a contradiction of terms to speak of one being "saved" yet not being "delivered" or "set free," since the very word "salvation" declares one is both delivered and preserved from the power of Satan and sin.
THE BELIEVER'S POTENTIAL FOR SIN
Being delivered from the guilt and power of sin does not remove the believer's potential for committing sin. Paul addressed the issue in writing to the Galatians in Chapter 5:16-25.
In his comments to the Galatians the apostle shows Christians experience temptations to sin. The believer is tempted, tested, and tried.
However, in the Galatians passage Paul says nothing about the role of Satan in temptation. The source for prompting to sin is the flesh. It contains a sin principle, especially since the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
John joins Paul in declaring this fact. In his first epistle he writes, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1:8). The apostle's use of the present tense ekomen shows he speaks of the believer's current state rather than warning of denying he ever sinned. To claim a condition of sinless perfection portrays one is ignorant of the truth. Both the potential for and the pull toward sin are ever present with the Christian.
At the same time John states emphatically, "He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). He uses the present participle poioon to speak of continuing in sin. The professing Christian who habitually commits sin is simply not of God. Further, the believer who thinks he can willfully engage in sin occasionally, as long as he repents, presumes on the grace of God. Ananias and Sapphira displayed hypocrisy with immediate physical and spiritual death following (Acts 5:1-10).
In his address to the Galatians Paul recognized the conflict which exists between flesh and Spirit in the life of the believer (5:17). The apostle wrote, "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" (17). Though the believer is a new creature, he still wrestles with the old. Sometimes he has a tendency to do things he knows he cannot do and still please his Master.
Thus both Paul and John say the believer has the potential for and a propensity toward sin, but neither excuses him to live a life of sin. Nor should their teaching lead one to conclude the Christian resists sin to the extent he is tortured to engage in it. Indeed, the new birth breaks the power of sin in his life. He knows no constant yearning to sin, but when wrong desires momentarily raise their ugly heads, he must deny them expression. He does not deny their momentary existence, but he dares not yield any portion of his being as an instrument of sin.
Recognizing the conflict a reality, in writing the Galatians Paul says it is possible for the Christian to live his life after the flesh or the Spirit. The choice is his.
To Live After the Flesh: In Galatians 5:19-21 the apostle explains the flesh would like to manifest itself in specific ways. In every case he describes the sin as a work of the flesh rather than of the devil.
One way the flesh sins is in the sexual realm. Here Paul lists the well-known evils of adultery and fornication. Fornication (porneia) includes all illicit sexual relations: intimacies outside of marriage, homosexuality, prostitution, bestiality, pornography, and masturbation. Uncleanness is also a sexual sin. It speaks of a mind that is full of impure thoughts which lead to impure actions. Jesus warned of feeding the passions through the eye gate. To look on one of the opposite sex with a drooling longing to be intimately near is to be guilty of fornication (Matt. 5:28). Further, lewdness is a sin in the sexual realm. Those who commit it come to a place where they have thrown off all restraint. They have abandoned themselves to lewdness, caring not what man nor God think of their sexual misconduct.
A second category of sins in Paul's list is in the religious realm. It includes idolatry and sorcery or witchcraft. Some think such practices but harmless activities of the ignorant heathen; therefore, the missionary should leave him alone. What harm can it do him to bow before carved wood or stone? The apostle declares elsewhere "that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons" (1 Cor. 10:20). He explains further they actually have fellowship with devils in the process.
A third area of the works of the flesh is the social evils committed in the realm of human relations. These include hatred, including the attitude, and strife, the outcome of the attitude. Here also is contention (zeelos, zeal or ardor in a bad sense). By it one feels jealous of others who hold positions of leadership. Paul continues to list wrath, rage, and outbursts of anger as social sins as well as strife, selfish ambition, or self-seeking of a leadership office by unfair means.
With the source of these temptations clearly identified as the flesh, how can some claim they come from the invasion of demons into the believer? For example, Ensign and Howe write, "Another Christian found that he had evil spirits controlling such parts of his life as greed, rage, deception, and close-mindedness" (Grayson H. Ensign and Edward Howe, Bothered? Bewildered? Bewitched? [Cincinnati, Ohio: Recovery Publications, 1984], p. 146).
Next Paul lists dissensions and heresies, both of which relate to causing divisions or factions among a group of people. Included, too, is envy or hatred of another because he has something one wishes he had. Finally comes the sin of murder. Taking the life of another is not only a crime against the State but also a sin against God. And how could one be so deceived as to think the only solution to his problems is to take his own life, since suicide is obviously self-murder?
Paul's list continues with sins of a more personal sort. Drunkenness and revelries, or wild drinking parties with ecstatic dancing stand condemned here.
However, the apostle does not claim his is an exhaustive list of all possible sins. Rather, he closes with a reference to "and the like." For example, an application of this expression pinpoints the abuse of drugs as a sin, since they affect the human mind and body "like" alcohol. Paul leaves no believer in the dark as to the consequences of living his life after the flesh. He repeats here what he had told the Galatians many times before saying, "Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:21).
To Live After the Spirit: The apostle then offers the Galatians the possibility of living their lives after the Spirit (22,23). If allowed, the Spirit will grow some of the most delicious fruit of the human experience within believers. With such help they live on a high plane where they need no law to control their behavior. Paul wrote, "But if you are led of the Spirit, you are not under the law" (18) They break neither the laws of God nor man. Thus Paul challenged the Galatians with, "I say then: Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (16).
Recognizing the conflict, and discussing the two possibilities for Christians, the apostle concluded with a declaration of their responsibilities. They must crucify the flesh. Indeed, for true believers that has happened. The apostle says, "Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (24). Yet on a daily basis they continue to reckon the old man dead (Rom. ¬6:11). If he seeks to raise his head from the grave, by acts of the will and the power of the Spirit they don't allow it. He will express none of his wicked desires through any part of their being any more.
The Galatians also bore the responsibility to walk after the Spirit (5:16). Further, they must be led by the Spirit (18). Daily choices take them only down the moral path where He leads. They must also follow after the Spirit. In the words of the apostle, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (25). To be blessed by the Spirit and not let Him affect one's behavior in a manner pleasing to God is pathetic. Paul's use of stoikoomen for "walk" in this verse suggests staying in step with the army of the Spirit, marching according to His orders along life's way.
Clearly, then, God's plan of salvation has provided for a believer to experience victory in every battle with evil. He can live free from both the guilt and power of sin. Though every follower of Christ has a potential to sin, at the same time he has the possibility to live after the Spirit rather than after the flesh as an over-comer in his conflict with evil. His responsibility is to crucify the flesh at conversion and to reckon it dead in his daily walk ever after.
Ensign, Grayson H., and Edward Howe. Bothered? Bewildered? Bewitched? Cincinnati, Ohio: Recovery Publications, 1984.
Unger, Merrill B. Demons in the World Today. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1971.