Answers from Heaven
Section 3 - Victory (Basic)
(Click for Advanced)
This third section of Answers from Heaven contains questions that are designed to look at our motivation for seeking the goals of the previous section. It continues the examination of the concept of sin, and shows us what the Bible says about overcoming temptation. The Advanced category looks at some of the more popular Christian teachings about victory over sin, and analyses them from the perspective of Scriptural statements.
What is victory? It is achieving the goals that have been set for us. If our goals are in harmony with God's will for our lives, then His victory is ours. His success is our own, and while God's goals are eternal, and may seem strange at times to the earthly mind, the ultimate victory is clearly stated in the Bible. Humans are, through faith, to become like Christ, and inherit everlasting life. The victories we obtain along the way are preliminaries, each a critical step along the road to God's Kingdom and - like bricks in the wall of a house - none may be missing if the house is to be considered complete.
Question 1: What are mankind's spiritual challenges?
Bible Verses: Proverbs 14:34, Isaiah 59:12, John 8:34, Romans 7:18, Romans 8:8, Galatians 5:19-21
Notes: Sin, which we have seen is the "transgression of the Law" is the great tragedy of mankind. The legacy of Adam is the sinful nature, the inborn tendency of humanity to turn away from righteousness, and to seek one's own good above that of others.
The Apostle Paul explains that sin dwells in the "flesh," in the physical body with its needs and desires. It is the carnal, or fleshly, aspect of man that blinds him to spiritual truths, and works against the principles of righteousness. As he lays out in Galatians 5, the mind that is focused on the flesh and its leanings will manifest corrupt words and deeds, and it is this that has "defiled" us as a people, (Mark 7:20) separating us from the Father and Son, and their glorious Kingdom.
Question 2: How does God respond to mankind's struggles?
Bible Verses: Exodus 3:7, Psalm 25:22, Jeremiah 15:21, Hosea 13:14, Matthew 1:21, John 1:29, Titus 2:11-14, Romans 3:23-26, Philippians 2:5-11
Notes: As the Messiah has said, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (John 8:34) The bondage into which sin places mankind is compared to the slavery that the nation of Israel endured in the country of Egypt. Seeing the suffering of Israel, God appointed a prophet, Moses, to rescue them and restore them to freedom. Moses was a "foreruner," or "type" of Yahshua the Christ in that his faithful actions foreshadowed the appearance of the Messiah whose ministry, death, and resurrection were designed by the Father to give all of mankind freedom from sin.
In sending His own Son to die on our behalf, Yahweh demonstrates absolute love in response to the fate of fallen humanity.
Question 3: What is the result of accepting Yahshua's sacrifice on our behalf?
Bible Verses: Romans 10:9-10, John 3:16-17, John 6:47, 1 John 3:4-6, Romans 8:9-13, 1Peter 4:1, Romans 6:1-7, Romans 14:17
Notes: There are some who believe that, once an individual accepts Christ as his/her Savior, this is the "end" of the plan of salvation. The Bible, however, takes care to explain that the life of the believer is transformed, not merely in grand and dramatic ways, but in the way that the daily events of that life are experienced. All that is anchored in the carnality of the former life is destroyed at the point of conversion; "therefore, if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Yes, the end result of accepting the Gospel is everlasting salvation, but from the moment one is truly converted righteousness is reflected in the life. The "mind" of Christ directs the decisions that the believer makes, so that actions, words, and thoughts are brought into harmony with the perfect Law of God, and sin - which characterized the life before Yahshua - no longer stains the character. A life that has been set free from sin is "free indeed," (John 8:36) meaning just that; not merely free in theory, or free in "spirit," but free in "deed."
Question 4: Does the Bible really teach us that those who are genuinely converted to Christianity do not commit sin?
Bible Verses: 1 John 3:6-9, 1 John 5:18, Psalm 4:4, 1 Corinthians 15:34, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, John 4:14, 1 John 1:9
Notes: Those in Christ are "free from sin," and are made whole. Sin is no longer a part of the life of the believer. This is a great miracle, and one that is sadly disbelieved even by many who consider themselves to be redeemed, saved, and Christ's own people. The Word of God is clear, however, that those who are born again do not commit sin.
Care must be taken in explaining this to those who have never heard such words before. Even though they are written just this way in the Bible, many have accepted traditions and doctrines that have weakened the impact of the plainest declarations of the Scriptures. It needs to be understood that "temptation" is not the same as "sin;" merely having bad thoughts is not the same as "committing" sin. The wording here is important. Whosoever is born of God does not "commit," or willfully carry out, acts of transgression. A lack of clarity here is one of the reasons why some are confused about this doctrine.
For example, the Bible says in a couple of places, "there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Read at face-value, this might seem to contradict the verses listed in answer to this question, and also other Scriptures that say clearly, that Noah, (Genesis 6:9) Joseph, (Matthew 1:19) John the Baptist, (Mark 6:20) and Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10:22) were "just" men.
The Bible speaks of righteous men; therefore, are we left to conclude that the author of Ecclesiastes was incorrect? The context here is, as always, important. When speaking of justice and sinlessness, the Bible makes a distinction between acts committed willfully, and those performed in ignorance. In the Old Testament, for example, we read, "And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering." (Num 15:27) John the Apostle speaks of sins that are "unto death" and those not unto death, again showing a difference.
The wages of all sin is death, (Romans 6:23) but the born-again Christian does not commit those actions that he or she knows is contrary to the will of God. If, through the process of spiritual growth, one discovers a sin being done in ignorance, then there is repentance, a turning-away from the sin, and the soul is not polluted. This also explains John's own apparently contradictory statement:
"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1John 2:1) John does not say, "but if any man sin;" rather, and if any man sin. In other words, the writings of John are to instruct us in righteousness, so that we do not commit sin; and if we discover that we are sinning inadvertently, or through pre-formed habit, we have an Advocate. Note what the Advocate does: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
The same author resolves the apparent discrepancy; those born of God are without deliberate sin. If a sin being committed in ignorance is revealed then we are forgiven, but that is not all! Not only are we forgiven but we are also "cleansed" of those sins truly confessed and forsaken. This being the case, that sin is no longer present within us, and no longer repeated. If discovered sins are actually "cleansed," as the Bible says, then there is no question of returning to, and therefore "committing," known sins. On this point, as all others, the Bible is consistent.
Question 5: Why do so few religions and Churches speak of overcoming sin in the flesh?
Bible Verses: Acts 20:28-30, Revelation 2:12-14, Revelation 2:18-20, 2 Timothy 3:1-8, Jude 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 4:2-4
Notes: Many religions and Churches speak of accepting the Gospel as a "spiritual" victory, but believe that little change in the outward life may be seen thereafter. Where did this doctrine come from, since the Bible teaches so clearly that this belief is incorrect, and presents only an incomplete view of the effect of Christ on the believer?
Even in the days of the Apostles, God's workers were warning the believers across the various congregations to be wary of false teachers. Some taught that there was no judgment coming. Some taught that Christ had already returned in an invisible way, and that the Holy Spirit in believers was all that the world would ever see of the Second Advent. Some taught that believers were changed inwardly, but their outward works were not necessarily affected. This last doctrine persists to this day, even though the book 1 John was written as a direct response.
Because of false teachers, because of corrupted traditions, the judgment of God came to be seen as something to be feared, and the idea that we are held to a divine standard was considered to be a threat or warning, rather than a promise of success. The truth is that the standard of Christ's perfect life is infinitely high; nevertheless, we meet it because He dwells within us. As Paul wrote, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Galatians 2:20) More directly, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13)
Any false doctrine that attempts to limit what we can do in Christ may be firmly met by this last verse. Through faith, the Apostle Peter walked on water, and loved ones received their dead returned to life. Through faith, the believer overcomes not only the sins of the flesh, but also the compromised, degraded traditions that resulted from the infiltration of the early Church by those who were not truly converted from a life of sin to a life of holiness.
The statement that those who are born of God cease from sin is good news. It is a most blessed promise; we are called to experience this great miracle for ourselves, and then testify of it to the world.
Question 6: What is the difference between temptation and sin?
Bible Verses: Hebrews 4:15, James 1:12-15, Genesis 22:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13
Notes: As stated above, a human being, even a converted one, will experience "bad thoughts." This does not mean that a sin has been committed. In fact, Christ Himself was "tempted;" he was presented with various enticements by Satan, (Matthew 4:3) and yet was guilty of no sin.
James lays out the pattern clearly. Temptations are enticements to commit transgression, and until the final Judgment they will not be completely avoidable; rather, they are to be endured. They are to be met with resolve and firm purpose, with the righteousness of Christ that dwells within the believer, and then faith is triumphant. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)
Now, the Scriptures do use the term "temptation" in a couple of different ways. For example, James says that God does not tempt anyone, yet Genesis records that God tempted Abraham. (Genesis 22:1) As it is used in Genesis, God did not attempt to get Abraham to sin; the "temptation" in this context was a trial of faith to prove His servant's loyalty. The temptations of demons and the flesh are toward evil words and acts, and it is this type of temptation that the Father does not impose upon His children.
Satan will attempt to discourage those who claim victory over sin by inspiring thoughts of doubt or rebellion, and then insinuating that they have already fallen by merely experiencing the enticement. This is not so. If the thought is not cherished, if it is rejected in the name of the Lord, then a life of consistent and increasing victory is experienced. This is the will of God for His children, a life of joy in salvation, a life of beauty in holiness.
Question 7: How do we overcome sin?
Bible Verses: John 14:30, 1 John 5:4, Romans 8:37-39, Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:1-16
Notes: The truth is this: we do not overcome sin. There is no power in mankind that gives us the ability to stand against the mysterious, cosmic force that is rebellion against the divine Law of Yahweh. The spiritual enemies of mankind, Satan and his fallen angels, are more intelligent, powerful, and experienced, than any human may hope to be - and this is the reason why every person ever born needs the Savior.
The Gospel is that we have a Savior, sent by the all-loving Father of Creation. The Gospel, the good news, is that Christ Yahshua has overcome sin. We read, "God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." (Romans 8:3)
If we, through our acceptance of the Gospel, receive Yahshua as our individual Savior, then He - by His Holy Spirit - takes from us the life that has been ruined by sin. We consider ourselves to be "dead" to the person that we were: the helpless victim of sin. We consider ourselves "buried" in the waters of baptism, (Colossians 2:12) by which we enter into the holy family, and the new life that we have been given is one free from sin.
We overcome sin in Christ, who dwells with us, motivating us by His perfect character; and so it is more properly said that Christ overcame sin in His flesh and then, when we become His followers, He overcomes sin again in ours. In surrendering our lives to Christ, we become free. It seems like a contradiction; but Christ, upon receiving our lives, purifies it and returns it to us purified, so that we are no longer condemned to choose sin when it is placed before us, or fall to temptations when we are subjected to them.
Because of our faith in the Savior, He is able to heal us from both cultivated and inherited defects of character, so that we may say, as Christ Himself says, "Satan has no place in us, to lead us astray."
Question 8: What effect does doubt have on victory over sin?
Bible Verses: Matthew 14:28-31, James 1:5-8, Mark 6:1-6, Luke 18:42, Matthew 21:18-22
Notes: Ultimately, it is God that does miracles, not human beings. And yet, because of His love for us, our Father responds to our desires when we ask Him in faith. In this sense, the miracles of healing, of victory, and of deliverance, occur "because" of our faith, because of the love of our Father by which He responds to our faithful prayers.
When there is doubt, prayers cannot be effective. The earnest expectation that our requests will be heard and favorably addressed is what allowed the Son to perform His miracles among the people of Israel, and this principle has not changed in this current age.
Faith gives prayers their power; by contrast, doubt limits the things that Yahweh can do on our behalf. Those who are born again are faithful - literally, full of faith. Because they are filled with the Spirit, they know that the Father loves them, and that all things work together for their best good according to His will. (Romans 8:28)
Because God loves all mankind, and because His grace has appeared to all men, (Titus 2:11) anyone may choose to receive the Savior, may choose to believe in Him and reject their doubts. The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews is an excellent discussion of the power of faith and we, by trusting in the promises that the Creator has made to us, may "doubt not" and receive the benefits of His love, including the freedom that He offers us from the bondage of sin.
Question 9: Doesn't the Bible say that some of God's people sinned in the Old Testament?
Bible Verses: Hebrews 11:1-2 & 37-40, 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, Romans 1:20, Matthew 5:48, 1 John 4:17, John 21:20-22
Notes: As Paul tells us in the Book of Romans, there is no excuse for sin. Light, however, is progressive, and each generation receives a greater revelation of the glory and perfection of Yahweh than the one before. In ages past, before the appearance of Christ, mankind was guided by the Law as revealed through the prophets and delivered to Moses on tablets of stone.
In this sense, they were "under the Law," and without the clearest possible revelation of righteousness. For those who operated under the best of their understanding, and yet fell short, into fornication, idolatry, or other transgressions, we read, "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30) The "ignorance" was of the full revelation of the perfection of Yahweh's own character, and how that character was represented in the Law.
During the ministry of Christ, He gave the admonition to "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Does this mean that God has changed, that His standards are now higher or His mercy any less? Not at all; the truth is that Yahweh has given us a higher standard to meet, because He has given us greater power, clearer light, by which we may meet it.
The expectation is that, because of His love for us, and our love for Him, we will be "as One" with Him, sharing in Christ's own divine power, (2Peter 1:4) and overcoming thereby all sin, resisting all temptation, and choosing always the path of righteousness.
The Bible faithfully records the experiences of those who have gone before, pointing out, repeatedly, that they are examples for us so that we may avoid those things in which they fell short. Anyone, then, who regards a Biblical figure and says, "My sins are less than theirs; therefore, I am ok," does not understand the nature of righteousness, and presumes upon God's mercy to his or her own destruction. (Numbers 15:30, Deuteronomy 17:12)
By contrast, those who know and love the Savior banish thoughts of sin from their minds, and live according to the promises they have accepted, that they can do all things in Christ, that those who are genuinely born again do not commit sin, and that they will be kept always from falling. The experience of others in the past should not define our individual walk with Christ, who alone is our perfect Example.
We will each be accountable for our own choices, not the decisions of anyone else; therefore, it is the duty of all who claim to be a follower of the Messiah to learn from the experiences of others, and then walk before Him in perfect righteousness - this is the power of grace. As the Savior said to Peter, who asked about what John's experience would be, "What is that to you? You follow me."
Question 10: Doesn't the Bible say that some of God's people sinned in the New Testament?
Bible Verses: Romans 3:23, Acts 5:1-11, Matthew 27:3-5, Hebrews 6:1-9
Notes: As Paul points out in Romans, all have committed sin, and have therefore fallen short of God's glorious expectations. All need a Savior, and must accept Him in order to be forgiven and redeemed.
Those who accepted Christ were admonished by the disciples to go on unto perfection, but we do read of those who did not do follow through with their calling. We read that they perished, either being subjected to immediate judgment, or being condemned to destruction in the universal judgment to come.
Some have said that the "God of the Old Testament" was a harsh Judge, and the God of the New Testament is a loving Father by contrast. Both views are wrong in a sense, and both views are correct. The God of the Old Testament is the God also of the New and, while the Old Testament spends much time on the Law, and the New Testament spends much time explaining grace, some of the harshest of divine punishments are actually recorded in the New Testament.
This is a fact of the Bible that is commonly overlooked by those whose traditions allow them to minimize and excuse sin. This is evidence that our actual knowledge of the Bible is determined, to a large extent, by our desire to obey the perfect will of the Father.
Even "new" students of the Bible do not need to be intimidated by the "experts" in the Scriptures, because the truth is that falsehood and non-Biblical traditions make it very difficult to really understand the Bible from a purely theoretical viewpoint. Those who approach it with an open mind and a heart truly desiring righteousness quickly surpass the knowledge of Yahweh held even by those who have studied it for years. It is more important to have faith, and to obey the righteousness we know, than to spend months and years in the pursuit of formal theology.
"Thou through Thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep Thy word." (Psalm 119:98-101)
Some did sin in the New Testament, and the Scriptures faithfully record what became of them. This was not done to scare the saints into obedience, for fear can never truly motivate righteousness. It does show us, however, that Yahweh is just as well as merciful, and He will accept no excuse for transgression when He has sacrificed all that we may be righteous.
Those who will endure to the end, and see their intended, eternal destinies are those who have rejected the very idea of failure. They have faith, hope, and trust in God's goodness, not looking for ways to excuse sin, but rather finding sufficient strength to overcome, so that their fate will be among the righteous for ever more.
Question 11: How does having victory over sin affect our lives?
Bible Verses: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Romans 8:1-17, Galatians 5:19-25, James 1:22-25
Notes: In short, our lives are affected in every way by receiving the gift of a life free from sin. In every way, our lives are transformed so that what we think, and what we say, and how we act, are made "new." Those experiencing victory over sin will, by their nature, exercise control over their desires and impulses, demonstrating self control, or temperance, with regard to the daily activities of life.
They will live "in the Spirit" as Paul describes it, rejecting the claims of the flesh on their decisions, and making choices that enrich their spiritual experiences, in this way preparing for everlasting life in the age to come. They are set free from the weight of guilt and the fear of condemnation, and therefore they experience what King David called "the joy of [Yahweh's] salvation." (Psalm 51:12)
The Bible gives a clear contrast, in Galatians 5, between the actions of those who are in the flesh, and those who are in the spirit. This, like many other passages, explains that salvation and victory are not merely "spiritual" changes, but directly affect the words and actions of the believer. Those who claim to be born again, and yet continue in sin, are revealed to be deceiving themselves - they are victims of a false gospel, one with no power to truly save. Remember that if one is truly set free by the Son, that individual is set "free indeed."
James counsels the saints to be doers of the Law, not merely hearers, and then their very actions will be blessed. This is the life of the born-again believer.
Question 12: Should we be afraid of failing to find victory in Christ?
Bible Verses: Matthew 6:25-34, 2 Timothy 1:7, 1 John 4:18, Hebrews 10:22-23, 2 Peter 1:2-11
Notes: The Savior has said clearly to mankind that we are given all that we need to succeed in the life that He intends for us. We are given, most importantly, the Holy Spirit as the indwelling presence of the Father and Son, and this is not a Spirit that inspires fear, but rather love, reason, and righteousness.
Perfect love casts out all fear; therefore, we as the redeemed have no fear of failure, or anything else that may possibly do us harm. We may be confident in the One who had made us the most precious promises recorded in the Bible, for it is His victory in which we are participating, not one born of our own efforts.
Peter tells us, with direct and powerful language, that we are not left on our own to "earn" salvation, for such a thing would be impossible. Rather, we confidently place the outcome of our eternal experience in the capable hands of the Savior. He shares with us His very divine nature, the power of perfect godliness, so that we cannot fail as we abide in Him. It is impossible that anyone who truly trusts in Christ will be overcome by temptation and sin; therefore, we may confidently climb that ladder of piety. We add virtue to our faith, temperance to our virtue, patience to our temperance, godliness to our patience, brotherly love to our godliness, and charity - divine, perfect love - to our brotherly love. In doing so, we may trust in the apostle's inspired words: "Ye shall never fall."
Here are some questions that a teacher may ask a Bible student in order to facilitate a discussion on the major topics of this section. By telling of their own experiences, and giving their testimony, Bible teachers can use these to guide the conversation toward the upcoming chapters of the study series.
Note that these do not have to be taken in order, and not all need to be asked. The conversation should be natural, free, and with the purpose of discovering the needs of the student that the Biblical faith can meet.
1) What have you been taught about overcoming sin?
2) Have you ever read 1 John 3:9, 5:18 before? Have you ever heard a sermon taught about them?
3) What do you think about the verses that say a Christian does not commit sin?
4) Are you willing to let the Bible interpret your life, and not let your experiences interpret the Bible?
5) What were the experiences of the Apostles after they were filled with the Holy Spirit?
6) What are some of the Bible's promises regarding victory over sin?
7) Are you willing to trust in the Word of God, and His desire for you to be free, and let your testimony be, from this day forward, "Through the grace of God, I have ceased to sin?"