Today on the blog, we have an article by Fabrice Katembo.
Fabrice Katembo is a member of Redeemer Bible Church, and he initially studied Electronics and Electrics Engineering. He later moved into the field of Biblical Studies. Katembo is fascinated by the interaction between the African culture (or African traditional religions) and the Bible and writes regularly on these themes.
“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps;” says William Hazlitt, “for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what ought to be.” Hazlitt presents us with a dichotomy in human nature, i.e., a contradiction found in every human essence. Hazlitt’s observation is in line with Publius’ words, “Video meliora proboque deteriora sequor (“I see and approve of the better, but I follow the worse”)”. In other words, good and evil strongly exist in us, side by side. Both authors explain something about human nature, i.e., a dichotomy hidden in each one of us. We know the good we are supposed to do, but we end up doing the bad. What is wrong with us?
Likewise, the Bible presents human beings as both created in the image of God and fallen in nature. Biblically, human beings are creatures of self-contradiction. They are God’s image-bearer and yet, fallen. However, the Bible’s storyline does not stop at our fallenness. It does not only present the problem of sin as part of our nature but also offers a solution to that problem.
One of the most soothing truths found in the Bible is that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). What the law could not do, God did it by condemning Christ in our place. Strict obedience to the law can never save me; it can never redeem me. What my behaviours cannot achieve, Jesus Christ achieved on the cross. In other words, what I could not achieve with my good works, Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection. What my morality will never be able to attain, Jesus Christ fulfilled it.
Thus, the solution to the problem of Sin is Christ. He is an embodiment of a dichotomy which is a mystery to us: fully human and fully God. If Christ was only fully human, he could have been part of the problem but not the solution. If he was only entirely God, he could not atone for our sins. He took our condemnation so that we could find forgiveness in Him. God laid our Sin on him on the cross and transferred His righteousness to us. Therefore, God has declared us righteous. Our new identity is rooted in Christ alone. If this is true of us, i.e., if there is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ, how are we supposed to live?
The Life that Leads to Death
The apostle Paul responds to the above question with these compelling words: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).” For Paul, there is a kind of life that leads to death and another leading to life. First, what is this life that leads to death?
Paul says that you will die if you live according to the human or the unredeemed nature. If you live according to your passions, you will die. What kind of death is Paul talking about? Certainly, Paul is not talking about the eternal death the believer will get through disobedience because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ”. Also, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Thus, the believer has eternal life. In this passage, Paul calls the believers to their responsibility in the Spirit. They should not live by the flesh as they used to do in their old nature.
The Death that Leads to Life
“But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Notice what Paul says. We are to put to death the deeds of the body, not by our power, might, or strength, but by the Spirit. This biblical truth frees us from; Asceticism – extreme self-denial of physical pleasure, Formalism – strict adherence to a given form of conduct or practice, and Legalism – a doctrine of salvation by strictly adhering to the requirements of the law. These three doctrines always connote an idea of total human independence or human efforts in trying to fight sinful ways.
Paul, writing to the Philippians, shows that we have a role to play in battling Sin; “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13b-14). Paul reminds them that they can rejoice because God empowers them to live a life pleasing to the Lord. In other words, I can fight Sin because the Holy Spirit is already working in me. His power is mine in my battles against Sin. There is both our responsibility and God’s divine assistance through his Spirit.
As a way of application, we should spend our time depriving our human nature with its food. We do that by feeding our minds with God’s Word and depending on His Spirit in prayer. If you do not want to fall, do not walk where it is slippery. For instance, if you do not want to lust after another gender, why do you feed your mind with pornography? You never do that. Or, if you wish to keep yourself from loving money, why do you gamble? In Colossians 3:5-8, Paul expresses the same idea with more emphasis on the deeds of the body, “Put to death (or, kill) therefore what is earthly in you…” Why are we supposed to do all of that? Why are we supposed to be putting Sin to death? The answer is “there is a kind of life that leads to death. But there is also a kind of death that leads to life.”
John Owen once said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” This is a continuous process; it is daily work. There is no cessez-le-feu (cease-fire), break, rest, or vacation. We are constantly putting Sin to death by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you feed the beast, it will become stronger and devour you. But if you starve it, it will finally die. “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”