Holiness and Victory Over Sin, Part 21
by Karl Kemp
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Holy Father, we humble our hearts before you. We want to know the balanced truth of what your Word teaches, and we want to live it. We pray in Jesus’ mighty holy name. Amen!
I’ll always quote from the New American Standard Bible, unless I mention otherwise. I used the 1977 edition in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," which I quote sometimes in these articles. Sometimes I’ll make quotations in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make the brackets more obvious.
Last time when we stopped we were looking at Eph. 1:3, 4. I’ll read those verses from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, (4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, THAT WE WOULD BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS BEFORE HIM. In love [in love].” Last time I was reading from my paper titled, “Verse-by-Verse Studies of Ephesians Chapters 1 and 4; and Romans 8:15-39.” That paper, which was published in July, 2000, is located on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching).
I was reading what I said under the words, “that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” I’ll read several sentences that I read at the end of the last article, then I’ll continue to read what I said under these words of Eph. 1:4: Through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus (see Eph. 1:7) and by the work of the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 1:13, 14), Christians are enabled (by grace through faith) to live in a state of holiness and blamelessness - set apart (by God) for God, and living in the center of His will, with the victory over all sin. That sounds good, doesn’t it?
It is true, of course, that forgiveness is a foundational part of the Christian gospel. That truth is typically well understood by Christians, but there is a major problem when, as it so often happens, most of the emphasis is put on forgiveness and right standing. In my opinion we should put about ten percent of the emphasis on forgiveness and about ninety percent on being righteous and holy through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is the ideal state that we can, and should, be living in as born-again Christians. Holiness is not optional for Christians, and we must make holiness a top priority. See Heb. 12:14, for example. I’ll read Heb. 12:14 from the NKJV, “Pursue peace with all men and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Christians are not automatically holy; the only way we can live in a state of holiness is by grace through faith (a faith that is based on the good news spelled out in the New Testament).
A major problem in the body of Christ is that many Christians (even the majority) don’t believe we can actually live in a state of holiness. Living in a state of holiness means to be set apart for God and living for Him in righteousness, doing things His way, by His grace. It includes living with the victory over sin. The ideal, and it is not presented as an unrealistic ideal in the New Testament, is that we should not sin at all, by God’s definition of sin. We must be aiming at that target. We certainly won’t hit the target if we are not even aiming at it. But many Christians (even the majority) don’t believe we can ever stop sinning in this life. And they even cite a few passages from the New Testament that supposedly prove that all Christians will necessarily continue to sin throughout their lives on the earth. (We have already discussed the three most important such passages in these articles: Romans chapter 7, 1 John 1:8, and Gal. 5:17.)
It is commonly said, for example, that we all sin daily in thought, in word, and in deed. Because of their understanding of what the Bible teaches, they (by their own admission) don’t have faith for holiness and victory over sin. They don’t think they are supposed to. Also, even if we know that the New Testament does call Christians to walk in holiness with the victory over all sin, the victory is very far from being easy or automatic - the world, the flesh, and the devil are engaged in intense warfare against us. For a study on the meaning of holy, holiness, I recommend the last chapter of my book, “Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Included in that chapter are discussions of Eph. 5:27 and Col. 1:22, two other verses where the apostle Paul used the words, “holy and blameless.”
I’m going to turn back to page 10 of this paper and quote from two commentators. First I’ll quote part of what Klyne Snodgrass, a Southern Baptist scholar, said under Eph. 1:4-6. His book “Ephesians” was published by Zondervan in 1996. “Election always brings responsibility. God has chosen us to do something - namely, to live holy and blameless lives before Him (see Ephesians 1:4; compare Ephesians 5:27). … Christians are to live in a holy and blameless manner before God (see Ephesians 1:4). This is not an oppressive weight, but as much privilege as it is responsibility. [Yes, I guess so. What a great privilege to be set free from spiritual death and bondage to sin to live in a holy and blameless manner before God.] We are called to live in keeping with God’s intent for us.” Amen!
Now I’ll quote part of what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said under Eph. 1:4. I’m quoting from his book, “God’s Ultimate Purpose, An Exposition of Ephesians Chapter 1,” published by Baker in 1978. “So we must always start with holiness, as the Scripture does, and therefore the preaching of holiness is an essential part of evangelism. I stress this matter because there are certain quite different ideas about evangelism, some indeed that say the exact opposite. They maintain that in evangelism the preacher does not deal with holiness. The one aim is ‘to get people saved,’ then later you can lead them on to holiness. But what is salvation? To be saved is to be rightly related to God, and that is holiness. The whole purpose of evangelism is primarily to tell men what sin has done to them, to tell them why they are what they are, namely, separated from God. It is to tell them what they need above everything else is not to be made to feel happy, but to be brought back into a right relationship with the God who is ‘light and in him is no darkness at all.’ But that means preaching holiness. To separate these two things, it seems to me, is to deny essential biblical teaching. We must start with holiness, and continue with it, because it is the end for which we are chosen and delivered.” Amen!
I’ll read Eph. 1:4 again; then we’ll discuss the last two words of this verse in some detail. “just as He [God the Father] chose us in Him [in Christ Jesus] before the foundation of the world, THAT WE WOULD BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS BEFORE HIM. In love [in love].” The NASB and the NIV, wrongly I believe, insert a period before the words, “in love.” In the first place, as I mentioned, verses 3-14 are all one sentence in the Greek. It is common for English translations to split this sentence up into several sentences. I don’t necessarily object to this, but if we do add a period, we should add it after the words, “in love,” with no punctuation before the words “in love.” My Greek New Testament and the NKJV have no punctuation before the words “in love” and a comma following. I prefer this translation. The Amplified Bible and the NRSV have no punctuation before “in love” and a period following. The KJV has no punctuation before “in love” and a colon following. I could live with either one of these translations. By inserting a period before the words “in love,” the NASB and the NIV wrongly, from my point of view, eliminate the important relationship (intended by the apostle Paul) between our being “holy and blameless” and our (fully) abiding in an experiential love relationship with God.
We can speak of the love God had for us before we became Christians (see Eph. 2:4, 5, for example), but - and this is important - we aren’t able to experience and abide in His love (at least not to any significant extent) while we are denying His existence and/or rebelling against Him, and before we come into a relationship with Him through the new covenant in the blood of Christ. For example, note what Paul said regarding the former (pre-Christian) status of the Christians from Gentile backgrounds in Eph. 2:1-3, 11-18; 4:17-19, 22; and 5:8-14. I’ll read three of these verses, Eph. 2:12 and Eph. 4:18, 19, “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” And Eph. 4:18, 19, “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”
We cannot be reconciled to God, have peace with Him (both mentioned in Eph. 2:16, 17, for example), and abide in His love without our attitudes, motives, and priorities being changed and our beginning to truly submit to Him to live for Him in His righteousness and holiness (by His grace in Christ). Our being reconciled to God, having peace with Him, and abiding in His love involve much more than just being forgiven, as important as that is. In John 15:10 Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” He also said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” and “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:15, 21).
On the important relationship between our being “holy and blameless” and our abiding in His love, see the discussion under Eph. 3:14-21, which is a very important cross-reference, in my “Paper on Faith” (which is available on my internet site); see, for example, Exod. 20:1-6; Deut. 5:6-10; 7:6-16; 2 Chron. 6:14; Psalm 5:4-7; 11:4-7; 103:11; 145:20; 146:8, 9; Dan. 9:4; Hos. 9:15; Matt. 7:21-23; John 14:15-24; 15:9-14; 16:27; 1 Cor. 2:9; 16:22; James 4:8; Jude 1:21; Rev. 2:4, 5, 15, 16; and 3:1-6, 15-22. We can love only because God loved us first and we are now experiencing His love for us (see 1 John 4:7-21, for example). We are caught up into His love - we are caught up into the very love God the Father has for His Son, even as we are caught up into His life, His righteousness, and His holiness. (God Himself, the triune God, is the only source for these things and everything else that is good.)
A big part of what makes this work is the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is a very special, very personal love gift from God to those who become Christians (see Rom. 5:5, for example). He enables us to know about, and to directly experience, God’s love for us (see, for example, Rom. 8:14-16, 26, 27; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13; 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5, 13, 14; Eph. 1:13, 14; 2:18; 3:16-19; and 1 John 4:13), and who enables us to love (see Gal. 5:22, for example).
There’s a lot of teaching around the body of Christ about God’s unconditional love. I believe much of this teaching is simply wrong, and it can be dangerous. It goes far beyond the balanced teaching of the Bible to tell people that God will always continue to love them just the same no matter what they believe or what they do. This out-of-balance teaching is one reason there is so little fear of God and so little repentance and motivation for righteousness and holiness in so many Christians.
It’s not that we can in ourselves be worthy of, or earn, God’s love, we can’t; but if we continue to reject and disdain His love and grace, we will ultimately be confronted with His wrath, not His love (see, for example, Rom. 2:4-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-9; Eph. 2:3 [“children of wrath” on the path that culminates in God’s wrath in the day of His wrath]; 5:1-7; and Col. 3:5-11). The Old Testament verses that spoke of God’s never-ending love for Israel, by the way, did not cover those individuals who willfully (and without repentance) forsook their covenant with God.
It is true, of course, that we must emphasize God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. For one thing, the devil and his hosts spend a lot of time attacking God’s people, telling them that God doesn’t love them, when He does; telling them that they have committed the unpardonable sin, when they haven’t; telling them that they never can stop sinning, that God’s grace isn’t sufficient, etc. But it’s not acceptable to put all the emphasis on God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. It won’t work! We need the full gospel, which includes the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. God knows our hearts. He knows if we are making Him and His Word top priority in our hearts. If we are not, we’re going to have to change by His sufficient grace in Christ, through faith.
I have one last short paragraph here where I mention an important section in this paper titled, “Further Discussion Aiming for a Balanced Biblical Understanding Regarding God’s Love and the Love He Expects from His Born-Again Children.” I believe that seven-page discussion is very important, but I won’t turn there now.
I’ll turn back to page 45 in this paper, and we’ll discuss Eph. 4:17-32. These verses, and especially when coupled with Ephesians chapters 5 and 6, constitute one of the more significant passages in the New Testament exhorting Christians to walk in righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin through salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is good news, very good news!
We’ll start with Eph. 4:17. ”So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk [The non-Christian Gentiles were, of course, walking (living) in sin.], in the futility [or, “in the emptiness, vanity”] of their mind [[or, “of their way of thinking.” Many Christians wrongly think that the words “mind” and “thinking” in the Bible are limited to something that man does with the head (the brain). That is a rather serious error. Our most important thinking takes place in the heart, inner man, spirit, soul, not in the head. For more on this important topic, see under Rom. 8:5-7 in my book, “Holiness and Victory Over Sin” (we discussed these verses in an earlier article), and see below under Eph. 4:18, 23. Ephesians 4:23 uses the same Greek noun for mind (or, way of thinking) used here in verse 17 (the Greek noun “nous”).]] (18) being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart [These last words, “because of the hardness of their heart,” confirm that man is responsible for his sin. The sin problem centers in the heart of man (see Mark 7:20-23). From the heart, man must submit to God in faith; in the heart the priorities, attitudes, and motives are established. What we think about God, His Word, our priorities, attitudes, and motives constitute a big part of our important thinking.] (19), and they, having become callous [Their consciences have become insensitive. The NIV has, “having lost all sensitivity.”], and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness [or, “with insatiableness, covetousness.” Colossians 1:21 speaks of the pre-Christian status of Paul’s Gentile readers as being “alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds.”] (20) But you did not learn Christ in this way [What they had learned about Christ and salvation through Him, and in union with Him, put the emphasis on the fact that God sent His Son to solve the sin problem through forgiveness, redemption from the kingdom of sin, and righteous and holy living by the indwelling Spirit of life, righteousness, and holiness.], (21) if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus [See, for example, John 14:6; Eph. 1:13; and Col. 1:5. Significantly, Eph. 4:24 demonstrates that the truth includes righteousness and holiness.], (22) that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self [or, “put off the old self” or, “put off the old man.” [[Significantly, the aorist tense of the Greek infinitive used here fits the idea of LAYING ASIDE, OR PUTTING OFF THE OLD MAN ONCE FOR ALL AND COMPLETELY. I would translate the “old man” with the KJV and the NKJV. In Col. 3:9, for example, the apostle Paul said, “since you have laid aside [or, “put off”] the old self [the old man] with its evil practices.” In Rom. 6:6 he spoke of our OLD MAN HAVING BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST; and in Gal. 5:24 he said that “those who belong to Christ HAVE CRUCIFIED THE FLESH [THE OLD MAN] WITH ITS PASSIONS AND DESIRES.” Having crucified the flesh in Gal. 5:24 means the same thing as the crucifixion of the old man in Rom. 6:6. Here in Eph. 4:22 the apostle exhorts his Christians readers to once-for-all and completely put off anything that remains of sin. By God’s definition the old man is to be crucified when we become Christians. The old man has not been annihilated though, and we still have the all-too-real potential to let the old man (the flesh) manifest itself in sin as long as we live in this world.
Many verses in the New Testament show that it is not uncommon for Christians to still have sinful things, things that are part of the old man, that need to be put off. The New Testament (and the experience of all Christians) makes it very clear that the old man is not automatically put to death. The old man will continue to live and manifest itself in sin to the extent Christians do not walk by the Holy Spirit by faith on a continuous basis (see Gal. 5:16, 17, for example). Christians cannot have faith to walk above sin unless they know for sure that this is what they are called to. This widespread lack of knowledge and faith is a big part of the problem in our day.
Ephesians 4:25, which uses the same Greek verb as 4:22, is an important cross-reference. In 4:25 the apostle exhorts his readers to put off falsehood (lying) and to speak the truth. Putting off falsehood is part of what it means to put off the old man. It should be obvious that Paul means TO PUT OFF FALSEHOOD ONCE FOR ALL AND COMPLETELY, and the aorist tense of the Greek participle used in verse 25 fits that viewpoint. Also, as the apostle continues with verses 25-31 he mentions some of the other sinful things that are to be put off once-for-all and completely. Compare Col. 3:8; Heb. 12:1; James 1:21; and1 Pet. 2:1. I’ll continue quoting Eph. 4:22:]], which is being corrupted [I prefer the translation of the KJV, “which is corrupt,” instead of “which is being corrupted.” I’m not denying the fact that, in some ways, the world is becoming more corrupt all the time, but I don’t believe Paul incorporated that idea here. Then Eph. 4:22 continues with the words:] in accordance with the lusts of deceit [[There is a strong contrast in these verses between the truth of God and the lies, deceit, deception of the devil and the world. The KJV and the NKJV have “according to the deceitful lusts”; the NIV has “by its deceitful desires.” Note that the words truth and lies, deceit, deception all relate to the mind, way of thinking. The mind, way of thinking of those who walk by the Holy Spirit always lines up with the truth, which as Eph. 4:24 shows, includes righteousness and holiness. When people lust after wrong (sinful) things it is because they have been deceived and led astray by sin and Satan (this started with Eve in the garden); they have been deceived and led away from God and His truth, righteousness, and holiness. This doesn’t mean, of course, that people have an excuse for their sin. Hebrews 3:13 exhorts Christians “to encourage one another day after day…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”], (23) and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” This verse is extremely important, but (in my opinion) typically not well translated, or well understood. I refer the reader to what I said above under verses 17, 18, including the references to my book. We’ll discuss this verse, with cross-references, to the end of this article.
I’ll quote an endnote from pages 138, 139 of my book, I would translate Eph. 4:23 as follows, “AND BE RENEWED BY THE SPIRIT [the Holy Spirit] IN YOUR MIND [or, “IN YOUR WAY OF THINKING”].” This verse explains, in large part, how Christians are to once-for-all and completely be transformed from their former sinful state (see Eph. 4:17-19, 22). Significantly, in Eph. 4:17 the apostle says, “This I say, therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk in the futility [or, “emptiness, vanity”] of their mind [or, “of their way of thinking”].” The Greek noun “nous,” which is translated “mind” by the NASB in Eph. 4:17, is also used here in Eph. 4:23. The Holy Spirit enables Christians to be renewed in their minds, in the way they think (see under Rom. 8:5-7 on pages 118, 119 in my book).
The Holy Spirit enables Christians to have right priorities, right attitudes, and right motives and to think (and live) in line with the righteousness and holiness of the truth of God. This is all part of having a renewed mind. (The mind/way of thinking is not at all limited to the head. Our most important thinking takes place in the heart/spirit/inner man.) For Christians to be renewed in their minds/in the way they think, they must submit in faith to the Word of God, where they learn the truth of God, especially the truth of the gospel of new-covenant salvation (see Eph. 4:20, 21), and they must walk by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis. It takes the Word of God plus the Spirit of God for us to have a renewed mind. And we have to think right in our hearts before we can live right.
Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….” The Greek noun that was translated “renewing” here is “anakaínosis”. The Greek noun that was translated “mind” here is “nous,” the same Greek noun used in Eph. 4:17, 23. It would be better to translate “the renewal of your mind [or, “the renewal of your way of thinking”]” in Rom. 12:2 with the BAGD Greek Lexicon than “the renewing of the mind.” The translation “renewal” fits better with the ideal once-for-all renewal pictured in Eph. 4:17-32; Rom. 8:1-14; Rom. 12:1, 2; and in many other passages. I should mention that Rom. 12:1-8 are discussed in some detail in my “Paper on Faith” that is available on my internet site.
I believe Eph. 4:23 and Rom. 12:2 both speak (at least for the most part) of an ideal once-for-all renewal rather than a lifelong process. Note the once-for-all nature of the exhortations of Eph. 4:17-6:20 and Rom. 12:1, 2. This is not to deny that there should be a lifelong process of growth, but the old man and sin is to be put off once-for-all and completely. Like I mentioned above, the apostle Paul wasn’t exhorting his readers to gradually put off lying in Eph. 4:25. ANYTHING THAT IS SINFUL IS TO BE PUT OFF NOW WITH A HIGH PRIORITY, BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. Christians should continue to grow throughout their lives in Christ (as the apostle Paul said, we are being transformed from glory to glory [2 Cor. 3:18]), but in the ideal case, there will not be a continual growing out of sin because we will be living in a state of righteousness and holiness, with the victory over all sin. That sounds good, doesn’t it?
It’s time to stop. God bless you. May His good will be done in us! His grace is sufficient! In Jesus’ mighty name! Amen!
© Copyright by Karl Kemp
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