The Victorious Christian Life

A Lesson Series for the Earnest Christian

© 2002 by Thomas W. Finley, 2013 Revised Edition

Lesson Three: View of the Believer According to Experience

In looking at our actual experience as a believer we are struck by something. We sense that we have undergone some type of change since we believed in Christ. We at least now believe that He really is the Savior. Our knowledge of Him is not simply related to history or theology, but it is something we know deep within. He has become real. We also now have a certain love towards Christ and some desire to please Him and obey Him. On the other hand, there often seems to be a contrary attitude within us. We still seem to want to be independent of God and do what we wish with our lives. The old temptations to sin and the love of the things of this world, which dominated our lives as an unbeliever, seem to be very much alive within us still. Too many times we actually want to go along with these temptations and longings. Some sins still seem to hold some attraction for us.

Thus, we are left with a number of questions. Did I really get “saved?” If I am a Christian, why do I have these struggles with sin and why do I sometimes wish to ignore God and choose my own way? If I do some of the same sinful things I did before I got “saved,” am I not, then, still a “sinner?” If I am trying to “do better,” yet still experiencing failure, why?

Much of our frustration is due to a lack of understanding and wrong expectations. Let us now try to clarify the truth, see the truth, and believe the truth.

The conflict within us is due to the presence of two dispositions within our being. There is indeed a conflict of desires and intentions within us after we are born again. In Lesson One we saw that all humans have a sinful disposition within them from birth, urging them to sin, and even compelling them to carry out sins, as a master rules over a slave. Guess what? This sinful disposition (or sin nature or indwelling sin) remains within us, within our being, even after our spirits are born again by the Spirit of God. It is still there, as ugly as ever, bothering us all the time with sinful thoughts, urges, suggestions and temptations! On the other hand, within our reborn spirits, is a holy disposition, which gives us a desire to live a godly life, a life pleasing to God and obedient to God. There could not be two more opposite “attitudes” in the universe! And yet these two different “attitudes” are both within us in our experience!

Let me hasten to say, however, that as we mature as a believer we learn how to cut off and “defuse” the power of the thoughts and urgings of the sinful disposition within us. A simple but imperfect illustration might help. Picture the sinful disposition as a radio and its music as its thoughts or urgings. As each of us likes different types of music, so our sinful dispositions do vary some. Some people may be more prone to one type of sin than another. On the other hand, some sins seem to grab at us all, and these are like certain beautiful songs that everyone enjoys. When a radio plays one of your favorite tunes, it is hard not to hum along or sing along. The tune is the kind you like and you naturally fall into line, humming along with it. When a mature believer starts to hear one of his favorite “songs” being played by his radio (his sinful disposition), he has learned how to react quickly to “turn down the volume” so that the music loses its compelling power. This is one of the great blessings of living more and more in the victory of Christ. However, even the very mature believer is keenly aware of the presence of sin within him, and knows that it is ever trying, if possible, to make him fail. The victorious believer never gets rid of the sinful disposition and its promptings; he only learns to walk in victory by denying sin’s rule in his life.

In summary, the fact is that in the experience of the believer, he never gets rid of the sinful disposition in his life, which is constantly urging him to act contrary to God’s will and God’s holy nature. Two dispositions – one geared to holiness and the other to sin - are there within us, in conflict, every day of our human lives. We will say more about this conflict in future lessons.

We are saints, not sinners, in our true identity. This fact is a vital fact that every child of God must lay hold of. It is critical if we are to have victory!

Yes, we have two dispositions within us which oppose each other in our experience. Both are operating to influence and control us. However, we are not two persons. Additionally, we are not one person with two personalities. According to God’s revelation we are clearly “saints,” meaning sanctified or holy ones. This truth concurs with what we saw in Lesson Two. We are saints in God’s spiritual view, but this spiritual fact about “who we are” is also a present reality in our spirits, the deepest part of our being. Therefore, our identitywho we really are - is a child of God, a saint. It is vitally important to always stand upon the truth of who you are, not what you may feel like due to the presence of sin or due to a failure in committing a sin. Here are some spiritual facts about who we are now that we have been born again:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia” (2 Cor. 1:1)

“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 Jn 3:2)

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26)

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he isTherefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

The Bible clearly teaches that unsaved men and women are “sinners.” That is who they are in their identity and in their constitution (Lk. 5:30, 32; 18:13; Rom. 5:8, 19). Saved persons, however, are not described in the Scripture as “sinners” in reference to who they actually are. There are at least three Scriptures which clearly call a Christian a “sinner.” However, we need to examine these verses carefully to understand them. Let’s look at these verses:

“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (1 Tim. 1:15)

Although Paul uses the present tense here in stating that he is the “foremost” sinner, the context (verses 13-16) clearly shows that the sinful actions showing him to be the foremost sinner were associated with his life prior to his dramatic conversion in Acts 9. Therefore, his reference to himself as being a sinner is a reference to “his flesh,” – the life he lived when he was “in the flesh.” The “flesh” is the constitution of the fallen life, the individual’s entire personality in Adam, thoroughly corrupted by sin through the fall. The “flesh” was still with Paul, in his being and experience in this body, so he can refer to that old life in a present sense (Gal. 5:16-25). But, he surely was not referring to his spiritual and true self. Paul was infinitely clear that he was no longer a sinner according to spiritual reality. Instead, the life he lived was not the old “I,” but the new “I,” which was Christ living in him (Gal. 2:20). Paul could state that “who he was” had died and Christ was now his life (Col. 3:3-4).

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (Jas. 4:8)

The context of this verse, which is addressed to born again believers, is clearly one addressing behavior. James 4:1-6 speaks of these believers as having given way to the desires of their “flesh” (the old corrupted life they had “in Adam”) and to the love of this world. They had been blatantly sinning and could thus be described by James as “sinners” because of their actions. But, this does not make them sinners by their real constitution. In fact, James calls these believers “my beloved brethren” (1:19), and declares that they are included in God’s action of grace in the impartation of new life through the new birth: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (Jas. 1:18). Here, the phrase “we would be a kind of first fruits” definitely points to a change of our constitution, what we have become. Sometimes parents may call their children “monkeys” because the children are acting up like monkeys do, but the children are not monkeys in their nature.

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jas. 5:19-20)

It seems clear from the context here in James 5 that the “sinner” is a believer who has strayed. Thus, I interpret the meaning of “sinner” here to refer to conduct, not to constitution.

We should never think of our real selves, who we truly are in our identity, as a “sinner.” That is a great mistake that will cause us problems. Such a view will impair confident fellowship with God, and we will also be tempted to seek for a change in our “flesh.” The lack of such a change will be most discouraging.

We are “justified from sin.” There is no doubt that the presence of the sin nature, or sinful disposition, within us is perhaps the most bothersome and unsettling thing in our experience as a believer. When we truly desire to follow Christ, we hate this disposition within us that often gives us opposite desires and “fights against” our will to supremely love and follow Christ. And, the worst part of it is this: these desires seem somehow to be a part of “us,” not something totally foreign. This is true because the desires of our “flesh,” especially certain ones, often still have a strange attraction for us, in spite of our loyalty to Christ. In spite of knowing better, we are at times strongly tempted to go along with these fallen desires, especially ones that are like that favorite tune being played on the radio. For one person it may be a desire to gossip, for another it may be a tendency to hold onto a grudge or hatred, for another it may be a tendency towards outbursts of anger, for another it may be an hour of self-indulgence in some worldly pleasure without regard for the will of God, for another it may be a sexual desire outside of God’s will. Because this is our inner experience, we therefore feel guilt and condemnation about “being this way” or “having these desires.”

Here is “good news.” Firstly, we must affirm that the flesh is no longer “us,” even though it remains within us after being born again. The flesh belongs to the former life we had when we were “in Adam.” Yet, as we shall see in future lessons, we have been totally transferred out of Adam into Christ. We must affirm that we are now children of God and that Christ is our very life (1 Jn. 3:2; Col. 3:3-4). Secondly, we need to see the following very important truth:

“For he that has died is justified from sin.” (Rom. 6:7, Darby)

The Darby translation above is accurate, according to the Greek. Some translations use the term “freed” instead of “justified,”. The context of this verse does, of course, lend itself to a translation of “freed,” since the emphasis here in Romans 6 is one of freedom from the dominion of sin. Yet the Greek verb is dikaioo (Strong’s # 1344), which carries a clear meaning of “to justify,” or “declare righteous.” Paul used this verb this way in Romans many times in speaking of man being justified before God.

This verse declares that we are not under any condemnation from God because of the sin principle which remains within us. This is because we participated with Christ in His death (Rom. 6:3, 5, 6), and at the time of His death, sin itself was condemned once for all (Rom. 8:3). God has already carried out His judgment upon the sin nature in man when Christ was identified with sin at the cross (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 8:3). Since the penalty for sin has been already paid, and since we, as the guilty ones, died with Christ, we now stand justified – declared righteous – from sin and its guilt before God. Once a criminal is executed for his crime and dies, the justice of the law is satisfied and he no longer stands under condemnation. All legal obligations upon his former life are canceled. This means that we should never feel guilty or condemned because of the ugliness of the sin principle within us! We should strongly reject these “feelings” of guilt and stand on the truth of Rom. 6:7 – we are justified (declared righteous) from sin. We died with Christ when He died to bear God’s judgment upon sin itself (not sins, plural). Christ also bore our sins, but here the Bible speaks of sin, not sins. Therefore, we are declared righteous from the guilt of indwelling sin, and we are also freed from its position over us as a master, according to Romans 6. We are no longer under sin’s condemnation or its dominion! It no longer holds any legal claim upon us whatsoever!

This startling truth gives us wonderful boldness before God. When we approach the presence of a holy God we usually do sense a real consciousness of the sinful nature that is still within us. This can keep us back from approaching God with confidence and believing that God would accept us and hear our petitions. This is why the writer of Hebrews desires to encourage us to “have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” and to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19, 22). Of course, we also need to clear up any sins we have committed before God in order to have boldness to enter His presence and have fellowship with Him. We should feel guilt for our specific sins, but never for the presence of the sin nature that is within us. We clear away the guilt of sins through the sincere confession of our sins (1 Jn. 1:9).

We need a proper understanding of transformation. Because there is confusion about the matters noted above, there is also confusion about “transformation,” or change in a believer’s life. The Bible clearly reveals that the old corrupted life of the flesh is not to be changed. Rather it is under God’s judgment and He has no intention to renovate it (Rom. 8:3, 8; 13:14; Gal. 5:17, 24; 6:8; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11, 13). Unfortunately, it is right at this point that many well-meaning saints are led astray. They plead with God to “change them,” meaning they are asking God to either take away or purify the sinful nature within them with its corrupt desires. They feel that if their Christian life is to be a “new life” then God must be going to change the old fallen nature of their flesh and make it new, thus eliminating all the sinful and ugly desires and attitudes within them. To their dismay, they actually find that the closer they get to God’s presence and the more they read His word, the more sinful they feel. As they move closer to God in seeking after Him, His holy light comes upon them, revealing even greater ugliness within their fallen flesh! This in turn causes them to be more desperate for God to “change them,” or work to eliminate the fallen desires of their old life.

However, God’s way is not to change, or take away, the sinful flesh within the believer. Rather, He adds a new holy nature to the believer’s spirit. Now the believer must learn to live with the sinful nature, but not allow it to rule in his life or manifest itself in the actual carrying out of sins. In the ideal Christian walk by the Spirit, the desires of the flesh are not eliminated, but simply not carried out, or acted upon. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

Here is an illustration that may help us see our inner situation. I used to be in the insurance business and we were very aware of fire hazards. If we learned that a building had a certain type of old wiring, then we would request that the wiring be updated. Sometimes the old wiring was evidenced by noticeable problems, such as lights flickering or fuses blowing out or circuit breakers tripped. Let’s say that this old and deficient wiring system pictures the old flesh nature within us, which includes embedded sin. The problems exhibited by the bad wiring might be a picture of the sins produced by the sin nature. Now, how do we solve the problem? One way would be to attempt to improve the old wiring through renovation, upgrading it at certain points, although in reality this could never be done efficiently with real wiring. This might picture trying to improve “the flesh” or change it to make it acceptable before God so that it does not produce sins. A second method might be to totally strip out the entire wiring system and replace it with a new system. A few Christians believe that it is possible to completely eliminate their old sinful flesh and never sin again. But, this theory always proves faulty. Even the most mature believer would never claim that they do not or cannot sin anymore.

Then there is a third possibility. We could just leave the old wiring in place and install entirely new wiring along another path in the house, still connecting it to the same outlets in the house. A new electrical junction box could be installed and the power supply from the electric company could be connected to it. For the sake of this illustration, we might say that the old junction box is still in place but the power lever is placed in the “OFF” position. For the new box, the power lever is placed in the “ON” position. So, as long as the lever remains “ON” for the new box, a new quality of light and power is produced. However, anytime someone places the new box into the “OFF” position, and the old box into the “ON” position, the old problems of the old wiring show up. The lights may flicker or the circuit breakers might trip from an overload. This third picture is really a true picture of the believer. He still has the old system of deficient wiring with its problems – the flesh with its sin nature and its deficient power source. Yet, he also has a new system installed which can produce beautiful lighting. The new system pictures the holy disposition of Christ. We should note, however, that the new system (the new disposition within) cannot operate without being vitally connected to the supply of electricity coming from the power plant. In other words, the living of our new life within is always dependent upon a moment-by-moment supply from the Holy Spirit Himself. The new life in our spirits is designed to operate only by the power of Holy Spirit. Our spirit and the Holy Spirit are in a union that makes victory possible (1 Cor. 6:17). Thus, ultimately the battle is shown to be one between the flesh and the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:17). The truth is, however, that a believer can live either according to the flesh or according to the Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Rom. 8:4-7). A believer can thus either produce the works of the flesh, or the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17-23).

What is transformed in the believer? His flesh is not transformed, but his living is transformed – his attitudes and his behavior are changed. His character should be changed in its expression. Perhaps before the believer was a thief, but now he steals no longer and gives generously to others. Before he may have cursed, but now he curses no longer. Maybe before he was known to be mean, yet now he is kind in his manner. Perhaps the believer was hateful before, but now he loves. Perhaps a teenager was rebellious toward his parents previously, but now he is submissive. Maybe a woman was previously characterized by anxiety and fear, but now she is calm, trusting in the Lord. These are changes in character, changes in behavior! These are the types of changes God desires to see in us. He has installed His life within us, and as we learn how to use that switch to the new junction box we can see His life lived out of us in an increasing manner.

The New Testament uses the word for “transformed” twice for believers. The first verse we will look at is in 2 Corinthians:

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

This verse tells us that we are being changed into Christ’s image, that is, into a living that reflects Christ’s living. There is also another truth here, namely that Christ’s life is seen through us in an increasing way. His life develops within us “from glory to glory,” from one degree of expression to a greater degree. This truth is in accordance with other passages in the New Testament, including the following verse, which tells us that the “new man” (which carries both a corporate and an individual aspect) is “being renewed” in God’s image. The word “renewing” here means a continual change due to growing up, increasing in maturity. Notice that in the verse below it is the “new man,” not the “old man,” which is being renewed.

“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self [man] who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” (Col. 3:9-10)

The second verse regarding transformation is in Romans:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

Here we see transformation in the believer’s life as a change in living stemming from an enlightened mind. The new living is according to the will of God rather than according to the pattern provided by the world. Again, this is not a change of “the flesh,” but a change in the living of the person produced by living in accordance with (under the influence of) the indwelling Spirit in our spirit, rather than in accordance with (under the influence of) the indwelling flesh.

We can now see that a large part of the victorious life is one where there is a pattern of victory over the sinful flesh. We are not speaking of sinless perfection, but of a growing consistency in Christian living, which manifests the life of Christ “from glory to glory.” Understanding the key truths in these last three lessons gives us a solid foundation on which to build. It is the goal of all of these lessons to help us achieve the victory provided for us in Christ!

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)