Do I have freedom in Christ from stubborn sins?
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” - John 8:31-36
INSIGHT: Jesus says we must be free from slavery to sin, in order to go to heaven. Read Romans 7, which confuses so many people because Paul is speaking in present tense about his “struggle” with sin. When he says in v.14, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin”, he is describing who he “is”, on his own, apart from the Spirit of Christ in him, not his actual and total present spiritual condition. Notice the words law /commandment appear 16 times in Rom 7:7-25, but “Spirit” is not mentioned once. Then notice in Romans 8, the Spirit appears 13 times in just 17 verses. Why is the Spirit missing in Rom 7? The reason is that Paul is only describing who he is apart from the Spirit.
A born again, Spirit filled Christian is actually two people simultaneously. Right now, I am part Michael and part Jesus. I too can say in the present tense, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin”, and that perfectly describes me, Michael (the sinful nature) and who I am without the Spirit. However, Michael has been put to death through obedience to Jesus, who now lives in and controls Michael (Rom 6:6 8:2, 8:9). That is why I can reckon my sin nature (me) to be dead (Gal 5:24). Paul is not saying that his total present condition is still a slave to sin. Otherwise he is completely contradicting what Jesus taught above, and what he himself wrote in Rom 6 & 8. He is only talking about the part of him that is Paul (who lacks the power to obey), not the part of him that is Jesus (Gal 2:20).
A Romans 7 “Christian” either does not have the Spirit of Christ yet, or like the Jews above, don’t yet know they can be free through obedience to Jesus, and so they will continue to do the evil they do not want to do (Rom 7:19). However, a Romans 8 Christian is under the control of the Spirit, and thus free from repeating the evil he does not want to keep doing (Rom8:9). He may still stumble occasionally, but he is not a slave.
A slave to sin cannot go to heaven, which means Paul would not be there right now if he were still a Romans 7 believer (John 8:31-36, 1 Jn 3:6-8). Contrary to false teaching, Rom 7 does not provide justification for us to continue to live in sin. When I hear a pastor say, “See, even Paul struggled and couldn’t stop sinning” I know that man is still misinformed or not free himself. I used to attend church where the pastor would try to be humorous and transparent about his struggles, like anger toward other drivers, etc. A few years later, it came out that he had been living in adultery for three years. Thus, the “road rage” type sins were “fruit” of his even deeper slavery to sin. We do not have a weak Savior who is unable to break the power of sin in our lives. True freedom from sin is available in Christ!
I heard a well-known, but deceased pastor say that any Christian who says he is not a Rom 7:19 Christian is self-righteous and deceived like the Pharisee in Luke 18. I thought, “Are you kidding me???” My friend, please listen to me! It may not be your experience yet, but I myself am not a Rom 7:19 Christian any more. For the first two decades of calling myself a “Christian”, I was a Romans 7 Christian. I couldn’t stop doing many of the things that I hated doing. Today, however, I have freedom and I thank Christ more for that, than anything else He has ever done for me. Can you imagine a pastor saying that Christ didn’t really set me free and that John 8:36 is a lie! Would we call Jesus a liar to his face? Because if we preach Romans 7 “Christianity”, we are doing just that! No, let God be true and every man a liar!
Let me be clear; I can’t stop temptation or my flesh’s desire to still sin, because my sin nature is still there, but it is not the “boss of me” anymore. I still have the capacity to be tripped up into sin (just wait till you read the story on Day 58), but it is out of character for me to do so. The Spirit of Christ in me is stronger than my sin nature, and I access that power (grace) by daily humble dependence on God. As a result, I am able to no longer do what I (my sin nature) want to do. (Gal 5:16-17, 24-25). If I said I never sin anymore, I would be a liar, but I would also be a liar if I said there was some ongoing sin that I just can’t stop doing. I may occasionally get caught off guard, but I can no longer say, “I hate it that I just can’t stop doing that!” If that sounds like self-righteousness to someone, they will have to take it up with Jesus since it’s His command that we all live this way, and His power (grace) that is enabling many to do so. It takes time, and I certainly did not get here without lots of disciplining from the Lord, but we are all called to be holy and free from sin like this (2 Cor 7:1, Eph 5:3-7, Phi 2:15, Heb 12:14, 2 Tim 2:19). Freedom comes as we continue this journey of obedience to his teachings, empowered by His grace!