Greg Laurie - How To Overcome The Power Of Sin
You know, the Christian life is one of growth. It's one of consistency. We know that salvation means that our sins are forgiven, but then there's sanctification. We've been talking about that. Salvation or regeneration is coming to Christ. Sanctification is growing in Christ - that takes a lifetime - and the way you do that, according to Jesus, is you abide in him and his word abides in you. So it is abiding. What I am talking about is just a consistent walk with Jesus Christ each and every day. But all of us would like be a more deeply committed follower of Jesus than we are right now, but we struggle. We struggle with certain sins and it seems like we have the upper hand and then they come back to haunt us again.
Sometimes you feel like you take one step forward and three steps back, right. And the struggle goes on and on and you wonder, "Am I ever going to be free from this struggle again"? You can overcome sin. That's what the Bible tells us and that's what we're going to talk about. In Romans 6, we discovered together that sin no longer holds us in its grip. We no longer have to be a slave to sin.
Romans 6:6 — Our old sinful selves are crucified with Christ so sin might lose its power in your life. You're no longer slaves to sin.
What a powerful and hopeful statement that is. The power of sin, which used to control my life, your life, our lives, has been broken. I'm a new person in Christ. Old things have passed away. Everything becomes fresh and new. Awesome. Fantastic. But then there's reality. You know, some of us, if we wrote the Bible, we would have Romans 6 and then we'd go right to Romans 8. There wouldn't be a Romans 7. I'm going to honest with you, Romans 7 is a little anticlimactic because there's a victory cry of Romans 6.
You know, Romans 1-5 basically says you're sinners. There's nothing you can do to make yourself right before God but Christ died for you and justified you and you're free from the power of sin, but then Romans 7 is a story of a man who's struggling. A man who wants to do right but keeps doing what is wrong. He's honest about it. He's forthright and at the end of the chapter he gives a solution. And this man is no other than the great apostle Paul. So let's read now. Romans 7 and I'm going to read verses 14-24.
Romans 7:14-24 — The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I really don’t understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life — that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!
Wow! Is that honest or what? Have you experienced that yourself? We all have, I think. So if you're taking notes here is point number one: If you want to win the battle with sin, you need to admit your struggle. Paul begins with these words: the trouble with me is I am carnal, sold under sin or under the power of sin. Now some would say Paul's statement here is a description of his old life before coming to Christ. This is Paul as the pharisee trying to live by the law, trying to do what God tells him to do, but without Christ living in him. And so he's not describing an experience that happened after conversion, but rather one that happened before.
Well, actually I don't agree with that. I think this is his description of what he was going through after he had become a believer. Now look when we all come to Christ there's an initial surprise. There's a lot of things we didn't know. You know, whether we realize, there's certain things we're not supposed to do anymore and there's other things we're supposed to be doing in their place. There's a whole new way of thinking. A whole new way of living. Everything changes. We also find out now we're in this battle you know. The Christian life is not a playground: it's a battleground and conversion has made our hearts a battlefield.
So we understand that and we start taking those steps that God wants us to take and making those changes in the areas he wants us to change in. But then there is another state. This is not the new Christian making those first steps of obedience. This is a person who has known the Lord for a while that has stayed the same way and they're identified as someone who is carnal. Carnality or carnal. The word carnal comes from the Greek word sarkikos which means fleshly. This is a description of a believer. In fact, Paul uses the word carnal when speaking to the believers in Corinth and he addresses them as brothers and then he says, "Brothers, you're carnal".
So again, this is a description of Paul's life after he became a believer. I don't know if this was his continuous experience. I doubt that, but I think it was an experience he had at some point in his life. Now you probably heard of Jeff Foxworthy the comedian who - he's a Christian, by the way - and he's friends with Larry the Cable Guy who's also a Christian. In fact, Larry the Cable Guy listens to our radio show and he called me out on Twitter. He said, "Why don't you follow me on Twitter? I follow you". So I was embarrassed and I follow Larry now on Twitter because I had to "Getter done" you know. But he's a great guy.
I've talked with him a few times. But Jeff Foxworthy, you know, he has this routine he does: you know you're a redneck when... Right? Have you ever heard those sayings? You know you're a redneck when... Here's some of the things Jeff Foxworthy says: you know you're a redneck when your stereo speakers used to belong to the drive in. You know you're a redneck when your taillight covers are made of red tape. You know you're a redneck when you take a fishing pole to sea world. You know you're a redneck when you have a home that is mobile and six cars that aren't. Okay. So that is how you know you are a redneck.
Okay so now let's flip that around. So how do you know if you're carnal or not. Listen to this. You know you're carnal when going to church is a low priority in your life. You know you're carnal when you have no spiritual disciplines in your life like Bible study, like prayer, like Bible memorization, like tithing, like sharing the Gospel. You know you're carnal when you like to gossip and be divisive and complain and compare one preacher to another preacher. Because Paul was speaking to the believers in Corinth and some of them were saying, "Our favorite preacher is apollos". Others were saying, "Our favorite preacher is Paul". Paul is saying, "You guys, that's carnal. You shouldn't be doing that" and we'll do that. "This church is better than that church and this preacher is better than that preacher". You know you're carnal when you regularly give in to the same temptations and struggle with the same sins over and over and over even after repenting. And finally, you know you're carnal when you haven't felt the presence of God in a long time.
What does it mean to be carnal? To be carnal is to be in an arrested state of spiritual development. Let me put it another way. To be carnal is like being a big baby. There was a cartoon years ago, most of you won't remember it, Baby Huey. It was this giant baby and that's how some people are. They're like giant babies. They've never gotten over being a little one. You know babies are so cute, oh my goodness. But you know they have to be fed. First you have to nurse them and you have to care for them and watch them carefully and change their diapers. And then they get a little older and pretty soon they're toddling around. We can't wait until the day they take their first steps and so you have to watch over them. Then, when they can finally start eating foods, you have to cut the food up. You can't just give them the steak. You know, you have to - they only have one tooth right.
That's okay. They're little babies and then toddlers and then small children. In the same way, when we first come to Christ we need lots of care. We need to be given the milk of the word. We need people to explain things to us. We need everything we hear from the Bible sort of cut up into small bites in a way we can digest. You know, we need people to watch over us. And if you know a new believer, you need to care about them and watch over them and help them and answer their questions. I actually think it's a wonderful thing to do to have a new believer in your life because as they're discovering the truth of God for the first time, you're rediscovering those same truths that maybe you started to take for granted.
So that's all great. But if you've known the Lord now a decade and you're still Baby Huey, if you've known the Lord for a long period of time and you haven't matured, you haven't even developed basic disciplines as a Christian and you need everyone to cater to you and everything is spoon-fed to you or cut into little bites for you, you can't even just open up the Bible and read it for yourself, well, we have problem. Paul talked to the believers in Corinth about this.
1 Corinthians 3:1 — "Brothers, I cannot speak to you as spiritual people but as to carnal. I had to feed you as though you belonged to this world as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready for anything stronger.
Then the author of Hebrews says something very similar.
Hebrews 5:12 — You've been believers for so long now, you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again and again the basic things about God's word. You're like babies who need milk. You cannot eat solid food, for someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn't know how to do what is right.
So it's time to grow up! You ought to be teaching. You ought to be teaching others and telling them how to do it. Instead, you're going "Oh, I still need more for me". Wait, what? Come on. When I was in school, I goofed off a lot, got in trouble a lot, spent a lot of time waiting for the vice principal because I was thrown out of the classroom. And on more than one occasion, I heard a teacher say to me, "Greg Laurie, will you just grow up"? I think some of us need to hear that today. It's time for us to grow up.
So here's another point: You do not have to be carnal if you don't want to be.
So if this is a description of you, if you feel a little bit like a big baby spiritually and you know you should know more and be doing more, well you don't have to be that way if you don't want to be that way. Look, every believer will have moments of carnality, okay. We'll have moments of compromise for sure, but you don't want to be identified as a carnal Christian. Look at what Paul says in verse 18.
Romans 7:18 — I know that nothing good lives in me that is in my sinful nature.
So here's the deal: you know we're dealing with different kinds of temptation. We have fleshly temptation, and we have... Hmm... How do I say it? I don't want to call it spiritual temptation. Let me restate it. We have sins of the flesh and sins of the spirit. Sins of the flesh are predictable. You know, just the stuff that people do - lustful thoughts, thoughts of hatred, anger, vengeance - just typical fleshly sins: but sins of the spirit are different.
2 Corinthians 7:1 — Let us cleanse ourselves from sins of the flesh and of the spirit.
What does it mean to commit a sin of the spirit? Listen, it's knowingly going against what is true. We talk about some sins being worse than others, and they are, but they may not be the sins you think because Jesus said to Pontius Pilate "The one who handed me over to you has committed the greater sin". Oh. Really? So whoever handed Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman governor committed the greater sin. Jesus was either referring to Judas Iscariot or he's referring to Caiaphas the high priest, and in effect he's saying the same thing. Judas Iscariot who knew better, who spent three years of his life walking with me did this or Caiaphas the high priest who studies scripture and knows what is right then maybe he did it to me.
My point is simply this, you think you've got sin beat in one area and it comes back to bite you in another. So I look down on the person who's committing sins of the flesh. Look at them. Look at the cuss word they just said. Look at the thing they just did. They're so evil. Too bad they can't be holy like me. Oh. Sin of the spirit. Sin of the spirit because that's pride. The best illustration of this is two men that went into the temple to pray: one was a sinner, the other was a publican. Not a republican. A publican and we read that the sinner would not even lift his eyes to heaven. He just beat his chest and said, "God be merciful to me, a sinner". And a literal translation would be "God, be merciful to me, the sinner". So this guy was bad and he knew it.
Meanwhile, the pharisee, the Bible says, "He prayed thus with himself" - that's king James. I don't even know if God was paying attention to this guy's prayer. It was so lame. He prayed thus with himself, and he said "Father, I thank you I'm not like other men, especially this guy". Jesus says so who went away from there justified? The answer is the sinner. The guy who owned it. The guy who admitted it, not the guy who was self-righteous. This is the tricky thing about carnality is you may not know that you're carnal when you actually are.
Realize, another point, that the problem is you, not your circumstances. The problem is you, not your circumstances. Look at verse 14. "The trouble is not with the law, for its spiritual and good. The trouble is with me for I am all too human - a slave to sin". See we love to blame things and people. "Well, the reason I went and did that is because of the circumstances. You know, there's just no way I could've avoided that. That guy cut me off on the freeway, so I had to run him off the road". Really? Or maybe you've struggled with drinking and you're six months sober and then you fall off the wagon. Someone asked you what happened. "Well, I just gave in". Where were you when you gave in"? "The bar". But if you struggle with drinking why were you at the bar? "They have the best hot wings there". No. Come on now.
You're blaming your circumstances or you blame people. "The reason I'm the way that I am is her. She drives me crazy. This marriage is falling apart because of her," and she says the same thing about him. It's no different than Adam and Eve in the garden shifting blame. God asked Adam, "Did you eat of the forbidden fruit"? He said, "It's the woman you gave me. I was fine. I'm taking a nap. I wake up. A rib is missing and she's here. Next thing I know, I'm eating this fruit I didn't even want to eat". And then God goes to Eve, "So what happened here"? "The devil tricked me". See you have to admit that this is you. D. L. Moody the great evangelist said, "I have more trouble with myself than any other man". So I can point fingers that person does this and that person does this other thing. The problem is me. It's my own heart right.
So here comes the law. The law, the 10 commandments and it tells me what right and wrong are. This is important because I heard a preacher say recently that we don't need the 10 commandments anymore and we can just disregard them and I could not disagree more. The commandments that were given to us by God on mount Sinai were written by the very finger of God, and in the sermon on the mount Jesus said:
Matthew 5:17 — I did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.
And then he went on to say that the person is in trouble who would seek to set aside even the least of those commandments. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus did not eliminate the commandments, rather, he elaborated on them. Saying "You've heard that is has been said you shall not murder" that's one of the 10 commandments, "But I say to you if you have hatred in your heart it's the same thing. You've heard that is has been said you shall not commit adultery" another commandment, "But I say unto you, if you look with lust on a woman you've committed adultery in your heart". So he didn't do away with them, he was fulfilling them.
And then there's that rich young ruler, a very successful young man came to Jesus one day and said "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life"? And Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? There's no one good but God. You know the commandments. Don't murder. Don't commit adultery. Don't steal. Don't bear false witness..". Why did Jesus do this? First of all, he's validating the commandments and he's using the commandments as a moral mirror to the rich young ruler to say, buddy, you need Jesus. The commandments don't make you righteous. No one can keep them, but they weren't given to make us righteous: they were given to show us we're not righteous. The commandments were given to drive us into the open arms of Jesus so the commandments have their place. That's the purpose of the law.
Romans 3:19 says, "Whatever the law says, it says to those under the law, so every mouth may be silenced and the whole world will be accountable to God".
Let's say you're cruising down the freeway and you're going the speed limit (whatever that is). I mean what is it? We see it posted but does anyone drive the speed limit? Everyone's at least 10 miles over, sometimes 50 miles over it. And you're cruising along, you know, with the flow of traffic, you feel good about it, and then there are some people that go under the speed limit and that's against the law, too. Prius drivers, are you listening to me? It's against the law to drive under the speed limit. I know your tires are the size of donuts. They're always in the carpool lane going under the speed limit and you drive around them. Why are they driving so slowly? They're eating kale. They are. They just are. I think they're under the influence of kale. That's it.
So whatever you're doing, you're cruising along, you know, flow of traffic. You feel good about it and all of a sudden CHP pulls up. What do you do? Slow down. Hey, I thought everybody was going this speed. Yeah, but oooo, CHP. So we all slow down. And I think sometimes, I don't know about the CHP guys, do they like to mess with our minds? Because then they'll go to the speed limit, we all slow down. Then it might go a little slower, we slow down, and they're just driving. Nobody wants to pass them. That's how the law works. So the law sort of marks everything. It's like this is the speed limit and this is the enforcer of the law.
I have a couple of friends who are chiefs, police chiefs, and one in particular wanted to meet me for coffee the other day and he was on his way to work and so he comes to this very little small coffee place and he's in his uniform. Okay, so a police uniform is pretty impressive, but he had his stars on so it's even more impressive. I'm telling you, the energy of the room changed when he walked in. Everyone is just like... You know because he's my friend, I'm not intimidated because I'm keeping the law - then and always, of course. I think "Okay, I'm not going to rob this place today. I've changed my mind". No, you know, he's my friend so I'm comfortable with him. Even though he's a representative of the law, he doesn't intimidate me because I'm keeping the law.
Listen, the old nature knows no law. The new nature needs no law. Let me repeat that. The old nature knows no law. The new nature needs no law meaning if you know you Jesus and he's taken residence in your heart, you already do what the commandments say. That's why Jesus said "If you love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, soul and your mind and love your neighbor as yourself, you'll fulfill the commandments". Why? If I love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind, I will not have other gods before him. I'll not bow before a graven image. I'll not take the Lord's name in vain. If I love my neighbor as I love myself I will not steal from him. I will not kill him. I will not commit adultery, etc.
So it fulfills it, but here's the thing: our only hope in this struggle with sin is Jesus. It's not what's going to deliver you: it's who is going to deliver you. Look at verse 24. "What a miserable person I am who", underline the word, "who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death"? It's not a "What" it's a "Who". You don't need a manual. You need Emmanuel. You need God. So you have to cry out to him. You have to admit you're carnal or admit you have a cold for two months. Me. I hope this thing goes away eventually. But you admit that this thing is real. This power of sin in your life is real. Stop making excuses. Stop blaming circumstances. Stop blaming people. Own it. Say, "I am carnal under the control of sin", and then you cry out to God for relief. Oh what a miserable person I am.