Author: Will Stanfield
Whether you are a new believer or not, there are probably things you do, think, or feel that you wish you didn’t or that you feel bad for. I’ve been following Christ for thirteen years and there are absolutely still things that I do, think, and feel that I wish I hadn’t and feel some guilt and shame over. As Christians, every time we think to ourselves, “I wish I could stop doing that thing” or “Why do I keep doing that?” We are dealing with what is known as indwelling sin. Let’s reflect on how to understand what indwelling sin is. This is less an instruction manual on how to stop sinning and more a help and comfort to those who may be weary in their struggle and experience with the sin that remains.
How Is It That We Sin?
To better understand what indwelling sin is, first we should have a good understanding of our sinful condition. The Bible teaches us in the book of Genesis that, when God made mankind and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, God created mankind in his image and there was no sin. Man, and all of creation, was perfect and God called it all “good.” In Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God and in their decision to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they became sinful. The New Testament affirms that through Adam’s sin, sin passed to all subsequent humans. Paul teaches in Romans 5:12 that sin passed to all of mankind through Adam’s sin and because sin brings about death, it too is also passed to all men. Psalm 51 is another depiction of Israel’s King David confessing the guilt of his sin to God, and he exclaims that he was conceived in sin in the womb of his mother. It is not that once we sin we become a sinner; it is that because we are sinners, we commit sin.
This sinful condition affects all of creation and our whole human selves. Sin isn’t just limited to how we act or what we do, or even an act of thought. Our condition by default, apart from Christ, is sinful. Our every inclination is to be in rebellion against our Creator, we can’t help it.
If you’re a Christian who still sins and you ever asked yourself, “When will I ever stop sinning?” it might be helpful if we reviewed a few things that can bring some assurance of how God sees us and what his hope is for us.
Paul, in Romans 7, expresses a moment of consternation as he says, “The things I don’t want to do I keep doing and the things I want to do I do not do.” He also goes on to discuss that it is not him who keeps sinning but it is his sinful nature. Even when we become Christians, we are still embodied in this human flesh which is conditioned by sin. When Paul writes in Galatians about not walking by the flesh but walking by the Spirit, what Paul is saying is, “Do not any longer live your life according to your sinful nature, but live your life according to the Holy Spirit.” Yes, this instruction does not mean that our sinful nature goes away. In fact, we could gather that Paul is absolutely affirming that as Christians we still have a sinful nature, we still have flesh. So when he writes in Romans 7 about his sinful nature and his spiritual nature warring against one another, he is expressing to us that as we continue to grow as Christians we should expect to still have a sinful nature.
Paul also clarifies in Romans 6 that just because God is given us his grace to save us in our sin does not mean that we get to go on sinning freely. Since we are saved by faith unto God, we belong to God and the Spirit enables us to walk in the ways of the Spirit. Yet it is not a surprise to God that, even though he saved us, we still sin. In fact, this should be of great comfort to us! God knew we would still sin in many ways even after salvation and he still saved us! Paul says in Romans 5:8 that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It would be almost preposterous for us to think that once we become Christians God has some expectation that we immediately stop sinning. God saved us knowing full well we would still struggle with sin and commit acts of sin–that we would still have a sinful nature.
This is what indwelling sin is. It is the sinful nature that still remains a part of us, even as Christians. It is our proclivity and tendency to still do, think, or feel in sinful ways that echo back to our rebellion against God.
Our Changed Nature
After thinking about these things, it might be easy to think the same things Paul was addressing in Romans 6: “Well, if we’re still going to sin, why even try not sinning?” Again, Paul says, “By no means!” When we become Christians, we are no longer confined to being just sinners but we are now saints. Our entire nature changes when we are saved through God’s grace by faith. Before salvation, we are not able to not sin but as Christians, with the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we are now able to not sin. As we grow in the gospel, we also will be experiencing increasing displeasure in our sin. Just because God knows full well that we will still have a sinful nature does not mean that we should just go on sinning. God wants us to experience the holiness and wholeness we were created to experience, and the work of redemption and sanctification is God’s work of making us into the kind of human he created us to be.
Our Hope for Freedom from Sin
It gives me a lot of hope and rest accepting the fact that until the day I die and pass from this earth, I will still experience sin but that God knows this and saved me still. As I grow in the gospel and I experience more displeasure toward my sin and I experience a greater conflict between my sinful nature and my spiritual nature, my longing for the New Heavens and the New Earth becomes more intense. For Christians, there will come a day when we are given glorified bodies that have no sinful nature. What day when we see our Creator, or God, and his Son Jesus Christ, face to face, we will be made like him. Our hope here and now is that, even though in Adam’s sin and rebellion, sin and death came to all men, in Jesus Christ’s perfect obedience and sinlessness and in his sacrificial death and resurrection, all those who are in Christ also receive resurrection unto new life.