Church Discipline 3: Romans 7:21-25: Our Battle Against Sin
If I had to ask you to name the 5 top misunderstood doctrines in Christianity what five would you choose? I can imagine you would choose teachings like election, reprobation, regeneration, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the baptism of the Spirit, but did anyone pick sanctification? Sanctification, that doctrine which can be quickly summarised as, the process of God making us holy, I believe is one of the most misunderstood doctrines in Christianity today. On the one hand we have the perfectionistic teachings that believe in the removal of a sinful nature at baptism, or those who believe that all love for sin can be removed by an act of faith. These views are triumphalistic and think that we are already glorified and are failing to remember that all things are not yet made new. On the other hand we have those who believe that there is no change within the Christian; that the only difference between the unbeliever and the believer is forgiveness and nothing more, as if nothing happened in the new birth in our relationship to sin. This view does not expect or advocate for change, justification is emphasized to the exclusion of sanctification and the law of God and His commandments find no place in Christian teaching. These errors result from a misunderstanding of biblical truth. However, my analysis is that the greatest reason for misunderstanding is ignorance not error, a forgetfulness of the basic reality of sin and it effects upon the Christian. No understanding leaves many Christians subject to the many errors. Think of statements like ‘Let go and let God’, or empty promises of achieving perfect love if you just consecrate yourself enough, or have the right spiritual experience. This basic ignorance means that there are many Christians who are agonizing over sanctification who have tried the various techniques offered as silver bullets of success. There are many who are depressed because the various techniques have failed and upon the guilt of the sin they are battling they think they do not have enough faith, or that they just aren’t successful enough.
J. I. Packer gives a third person account of his own struggle with some of this teaching, specifically Keswick teaching:
‘His perplexity was this: he had heard and read his teachers describing a state of sustained victory over sin. It was pictured as a condition of peace and power in which the Christian, filled and borne along by the Holy Spirit, was kept from falling and was moved and enabled to do things for God which were otherwise beyond him. To yield, surrender and consecrate oneself to God was the prescribed way in…. But the student’s experience as he tried to follow instructions was like that of a poor drug addict whom he found years later trying with desperate concentration to walk through a brick wall. His attempts at total consecration left him where he was—an immature and churned up young man, painfully aware of himself, battling his daily way, as adolescents do, through manifold urges and surges of discontent and frustration…it all seemed a long way from the victorious, power-packed life which those Christians were supposed to enjoy, who by consecration had emptied themselves of themselves.
But what should he do? According to the teaching, all that ever kept Christians from this happy life was unwillingness to pay the entry fee—in other words, failure to yield themselves fully to God. So all he could do was repeatedly reconsecrate himself, scraping the inside of his psyche till it was bruised and sore in order to track down still unyielding things by which the blessing was perhaps being blocked. His sense of continually missing the bus, plus his perplexity as to the reason why he was missing it, became painful to live with, like a verruca or a stone in your shoe that makes you wince with every step you take.
However, he happened to be something of a bookworm, and in due course he stumbled across some reading which became a lifeline, showing him how to deal with himself as he was and enabling him to see that thing he had been seeking as the will-o’-the-wisp that it is…A burned child, however, dreads the fire, and hatred of the cruel and tormenting unrealities of overheated holiness teaching remains in his heart to this day. Now I was that student, and the books I read were volumes 6 and 7 of the works of Puritan John Owen (Goold’s edition) and J. C. Ryle’s Holiness.’
We have been dealing with church discipline and have been made painfully aware of the sin that lies within each one of us, that every single one of us is in fact undeserving and an addict. Having been made so aware of the sin that is within us all I would like to end this little foray into church discipline with a reminder of the sin in us and how to fight it. We will take Paul’s words in Romans 7:21-25 as our guide, ‘So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.’