The Key to Victory is Our Faith in Christ
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15: 57
Our victory as Christians is twofold. First, we have victory in this life over the world, over our flesh, and over sin. Second, we have the final victory over the second death because our name is written in the Book of Life. Both of these areas of our victory are closely related. One depends on the other and vice versa.
Before looking deeper into the victory we have as Christians, I first need to address some misconceptions that will cause confusion unless corrected. It is a major problem in our western Christianity that the enemy has perverted the truth about our victory in Christ.
Misconception: Christians cannot be perfect or cannot be free from sin
This misconception says that we can never be literally or actually righteous or holy, but that we can only be positionally righteous by having the righteousness of Jesus imputed (attributed or ascribed) to us by faith. It also implies that we will never be free of sin in our lives, but that we can only be free from the penalty of sin. In addition, this misconception states that to suggest that we are required by God to be holy and righteous is contrary to salvation by grace and is reverting back to a salvation by works approach. Also, to even suggest that we are free from sin in our lives is dishonest and deceptive, and we would be deceiving ourselves.
This misconception of unattainable righteousness and freedom from sin undermines the victory that we have in Jesus. We need to correct this.
My first objection to this viewpoint is the fact that there are many scriptures that admonish us to be holy and righteous, to live a life free from sin, and to produce the fruit of the spirit, with no additional references or clarifications regarding imputed righteousness verses actual, literal righteousness. Preachers today who hold to the misconception explained above seem compelled to clarify themselves when they come across one of these scriptures that suggest a need for Christians to be holy and free from sin, but I don’t see Peter, John, James or Paul doing the same thing, whereas, if they held the same viewpoint, I would think that they would be compelled to do so also.
There are many scriptures that clearly express the need for us to live in righteousness and not to have sin in our lives. Consider this portion from 1 John:
“Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen Him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as He is righteous. He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God. By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: no one who does not do right is of God, nor anyone who does not love his brother.” 1 John 3: 4-10
I am aware that the “explanation”, or clarification, for this and similar verses in John’s epistle is that the original Greek word translated as “sin” here has further connotation suggesting “habitually practicing” sin. But what constitutes “habitually practicing” a sin? Is it once a day, or once a week, or is it every few minutes? Does one have to be a habitual rapist to qualify to be “of the devil” as the above quoted verse suggests? Unfortunately, this so called explanation does little but give Christians an excuse to remain in their sin.
I have run across Christians who are quick to quote another verse in 1 John to justify this misconception:
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1: 8
The Christians who support the misconception would like this scripture to be saying that there is no point in a Christian’s life that they will not have sin present in them, and if they say that they don’t, at any time, than they are deceiving themselves and are untruthful. I do not believe that this is what John is saying. If you look at the context of the verse, he is talking to people who have sin that needs to be dealt with through the blood of Jesus, who is an advocate for us to the Father to forgive our sins. All of us have sinned in the past, so we cannot say that we have never sinned (see chapter 1, verse 10), and there are some Christians who still have sins that need to be exposed and removed from their lives, but they first must admit that they are sinning and stop deceiving themselves, then they need to confess the sin, and ask for forgiveness. This is what John is addressing in this verse. Here’s the broader context:
“This is the message that we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says “I know Him” but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” 1 John 1: 5 to 2:6
As you can plainly see, most of what John is teaching in this portion of scripture is the need for us to live holy and righteous lives, obeying His commandments, walking as Jesus walked, walking in love. It is absurd to pull one verse out of this and use it as an excuse to justify having sin in your life. It is interesting that John says at one point “I am writing this to you so that you may not sin” but Christians use what he had wrote as a reason that they can continue to sin, because they think that the previous verse is saying that if they ever say that they are without sin, they would be a liar. There must come a point where you are free from the bondage of sin and your conscience is clear. God is the final judge, but if you have dealt with your flesh and have died to this world, and have set your hope on the promise of heaven and eternal life, you will be able to walk without sin in your life. Jesus has made a way for us to be free from the cycle of sin and death. John’s letter, and all of the other letters in the Bible, is addressed to a large and varied group of readers as these letters were circulated around to many churches. Many of the reader were immature and needing to deal with their sins.
There are many other verses throughout the new testament that explicitly call for Christians to be holy, righteous and remove sin from your life. Here are just a few:
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’.” 1 Peter 1: 14-16
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5: 48
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let you laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.” James 4: 8-10
“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity(or sin).’ “ 2 Timothy 2:19
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or purification to become holy): that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of alls such as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-7
“We know that anyone born of God does not sin….” 1 John 5: 18
In the book of Acts, chapter 5, you can read the account of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck down by the Holy Spirit and died because they lied about the donation of land they had made. They were both Christians under the New Covenant, yet they were judged harshly due to their sin of deception, and made an example that brought a needed fear upon the church at that time, teaching them to not take sin lightly:
“So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” Acts 5: 11
The Scriptures also clearly explain that God’s mercy, kindness and forgiveness is intended to cause us to repent, that is, to turn from our life of sin and to change the way that we think and act.
“Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” Romans 2: 4-8
In addition, we are shown that the initial exercise of our faith when we accept the forgiveness of God and receive the promise of eternal life by placing our hope in heaven (accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross) and we die with Jesus to this world, this faith is accompanied and verified by the works that are produced in our lives as we are transformed into new creations.
“ What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? [the implied answer is no] If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” James 2: 14-26
Another purpose of God’s gift of salvation through grace through our faith is so that no man can boast that they earned the right to be forgiven by their goodness or good works. As we stated before, all of us have sinned in the past and need God’s mercy and forgiveness. But this does not mean that once we have received the forgiveness and promises of God, that we are not required to produce the fruit of good works.
The error of the Israelites under the Old Testament was that they bypassed the faith and focused on the works only. Thus they were in a trap of being carnal or carnally minded, due to the lack of faith, attempting to produce the fruit of the spirit, that is, love and good works, but they could not do so because they were not changed internally (this change is a product of living faith).
“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith: but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it though faith, but as if it were based on works.” Romans 9: 30-32
In other words, Israel focused on the law and focused on the good works that go along with the law, but did not focus on the faith that produces the good works and the obedience to the law. The analogy is a tree where the roots are like our faith and the fruit is like our good works. If the roots are not healthy and alive then the fruit will not be produced no matter how much you focus on the fruit.
The key to our victory: a living faith
Victory for the Christian starts with the opportunity to become a child of the living God, and therefore, a citizen of heaven, with an immortal and eternal body. This was made available to us through the Lord Jesus Christ when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, dying on the cross, allowing us to be completely forgiven of our past sins, removing the judgment that we were to face when we appear before God in our next life, after we die. Before this opportunity was available to us, only the descendants of Abraham, His chosen people, were able to enter into an intimate relationship with the living God.
This opportunity is presented to us as a free gift, as an act of love and grace that we must accept as reality, and place our hope and trust in completely. For our part, we must exercise a living faith that causes us to be transformed into a new spiritual creature. It involves the removal of the false hopes and influences from the world that we had trusted and hoped in previously. We now place our trust fully in the Lord and await His return when He will establish a new earth and new heaven.
Our greatest enemy is death; we have victory over this death through the eternal life and immortality that we have in Christ Jesus. This is the ultimate victory. In addition to this, we also have victory in this life over the bondage of the world, the bondage of the devil, and the bondage of sin.
Consider this portion of scripture from the Gospel of Luke:
“So He (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’” Luke 4: 18-22
All of the sorrows, the blindness, the bondage, and the oppression of mankind are the result of sin. Jesus came to deal with this root cause, and to offer to His followers complete freedom from the sin that has caused these issues in their lives. Although the Lord is pleased when we turn from our sins, this freedom from our sins is more of a benefit for us because it results in a much improved condition for us.
So the question now becomes, “How does this victory work for us?” or “How can I become free from sin?” Answering this is really what this entire blog is about! In short, when we exercise a true, sincere, living faith in the promises of God that have been presented to us through the Lord Jesus Christ, we are converted from carnal to spiritual, from carnally minded to spiritually minded. We do this by placing our hope completely and constantly in the promise of eternal life in heaven, rather than in the hopes of this world. We do this by coming out of the world system, meaning that we stop thinking like the world thinks, but think as we are shown to think by the Lord in His scriptures, transforming and renewing our minds, seeing things with the eyes of our faith. We place our trust totally in God, making the living God our “God” and Lord of our lives. These changes in us give us the ability to love. Love is spiritual, so as we become spiritual we produce the fruit of the spirit which is love. People who are focused on this world and their flesh cannot really love; they cannot love their enemy; they cannot love when they are hurt or offended or jealous because the flesh that they have been feeding overpowers their ability to love.
The key to our victory in this life is to have the type of faith that makes us spiritual. This means that we need the kind of faith where we die to our flesh and die to this world, the kind of faith that takes up the cross of Christ and considers themselves as having died with Christ to this world and therefore to sin.
We also must embrace the truth that God has revealed to us in His word and reject the lies that we have believed from the world or the devil or our own self. Walking in the light of the truth will cause freedom from the bondage that the lies had kept us in. Believing these lies also contributes to our unrighteousness and sin. Believing the truth will set us free.
Once our faith is exercised and we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and made acceptable to God the Father, His Holy Spirit comes and lives within us and begins to work in us, communicating with our spirit, helping us to see the truth, and working in us the changes needed to become spiritual.
Here is the secret: the root cause of our sin is our strong desires that are focused on physical things from this world. When we die to this world and shift our hopes and affections towards the spiritual things of God that have been promised to us through Jesus (i.e. heaven and eternal life), then our strong desires are changed – this sets us free from sin!
Here’s what James said about the link between our desires and sin:
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” James 1: 14-15
You see that desire “incubates” in us and then “gives birth” to sin. It is our desires that need to change internally. Faith changes our desires!!
The scriptures also exhort us to focus our affections and desires on spiritual things:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds (or affections) on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3: 1-4
The victory that Jesus Christ accomplished over death gave us the opportunity to shift our affections and desires to heaven, making us spiritual as we apply our faith to His promise. This transformation in us from a carnal creature to a new spiritual creature sets us free from the sin and bondage in our lives, and secures for us our position in God’s kingdom. This is the full and complete victory that we have attained via our faith in Jesus. For this we are eternally grateful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we worship and serve.