Enmity Expressed by Opposition
By John Fast
In our last study we examined how the hostility of indwelling sin exerts itself by way of aversion to all that is God and is spiritually good, as well as some means for preventing its effects and dominance. In this study, we will consider the second way which hostility exerts itself, and that is by way of opposition. We are now witnessing this opposition to all that is God – not just in the culture, but also from much of professing Christendom – to an extent and magnitude unprecedented since the Reformation. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, people are taking to the streets in droves because they fear their ability to murder their children at will, and to engage in the most filthy and perverse forms of sin unrestrained, is in jeopardy. This opposition has become so extreme that many even oppose being identified with the gender to which they were born, and even more validate and support them in their opposition. The words of Hosea are appropriate for today, “Because of the grossness of your iniquity, and because your hostility is so great…They have gone deep into depravity (Hos 9:7,9). The depravity is so deep, because the opposition to God is so great, and the opposition is so great because the hostility toward God and His law is so extreme, both from inside and outside the church.
For decades our nation, along with most of professing Christendom, has been divorcing God’s law from His gospel, thereby creating a barrier to a true understanding of the gospel. A gospel from which the law is absent is not the gospel of Jesus Christ or the Apostles, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13). What significance does being redeemed from the curse of the Law hold for anyone who does not see, feel, and know they are accursed? The authority of God’s moral law has been steadily and systematically eroded from Christianity, from society, and from our national conscience, resulting in a suicidal removal of virtually all restraint on a person’s natural hostility toward God. Popular and prominent churchmen have stripped Christianity of any standard to which the new nature is being conformed, and society is left without any objective standard for right and wrong.
To be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rm 8:29), is the same thing as having the law of God written on our hearts (Hb 8:10). Yet today people have been convinced that they can be a Christian without being conformed to the image of Christ and having the law of God written on their heart. For a true Christian, to not be under the law (Rm 6:14) does not mean a life without the law; rather, the gospel that redeems and reconciles to God “establishes the law” (Rm 3:31) in the heart as an inward principle and rule of life (Jer 31:33). Any other is a false gospel, of which there are many. This truth, basic to biblical Christianity, and self-evident in the thinking of the Reformers and Puritans, has virtually disappeared. It is against God as lawgiver which a person’s hostility is most engaged. We are seeing Psalm 2:1-3 enacted before our eyes. All of the pretense is gone. The opposition is open, deliberate, and flagrant.
The only reason why most professing Christians do not vigorously oppose Jesus Christ is because the Jesus they trust and hope in is the Jesus of their, or someone else’s own imagination. They love Him because they invented Him. Their faith is of themselves, not from God. The gospel which they believe is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, but a subtle counterfeit. The most subtle and effective counterfeits of Satan are evangelical.
When God reveals His Son in the heart, He reveals Jesus as He really is. When He reveals His word in the heart, He reveals things as they truly are. A natural person will see the word “sin”, but not see the sinfulness and wickedness of sin. They will see the word “holiness”, and think it is morality or legalism. They will see the word “Jesus Christ”, but not see His divinity, His glory, and His holiness. They will look at creation and attribute it to natural causes. They will see the words “redemption, faith, salvation, grace, love, mercy, holiness”, but have no conception of what they really are, so they view them with a natural, worldly, and carnal, not a spiritual understanding. Most, who saw Jesus naturally, never saw Him truly. They observed His miracles, but never saw Him. The same is true today; most who know of Jesus have never truly known Him.
And so, in seeing they see not, and in knowing they know not; “the things which they know by instinct (physikos – “by nature; naturally; instinctively”), just like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed” (phtherio – “corrupted; depraved”) (Jude 10). Because the natural man cannot understand things spiritually (1 Cor 2:14), they attempt to understand them naturally, and in so doing blind themselves to a true sight and understanding, so that they “revile the things which they do not understand spiritually… and by these things (i.e. their natural, instinctive understandings) they are destroyed (Jude 10). This is why unbelief is described as being blind. They oppose whatever is hostile to their own natural, instinctive, and self-serving understanding.
When anyone, through hearing, reading, or study of spiritual truth, becomes proficient in an accurate and thoughtful knowledge of spiritual truths, but still lacks the true experimental knowledge of those truths, and their knowledge consists only of the letter, but not the spirit of God’s truth; there never were greater enemies and opposers of God’s true people and His truth. Their minds may be much enlightened, but their hearts remain unchanged. What they know they know naturally, not truly. And so, they keep themselves and others in a state of enmity and opposition to the ways of God’s grace. They oppose true grace with false grace; the true gospel with another gospel; the true Jesus with a different Jesus; true faith with a natural faith, so that when faith is preached, people will have their new inventions of faith. They are deceived and destroyed by their own natural and carnal understandings of spiritual things. Because they say, “We see”, their sin remains (Jn 9:41). They are blind guides of the blind.
The very reason the Jews opposed Jesus was because He spoke spiritual truth, “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me” (Jn 8:45). It was the spiritual nature of Jesus’ teaching which people rejected and opposed. Why else would people be so hostile to what is true? People are not hostile toward natural truths, so why are they hostile against what can only be known spiritually? Jesus provides the answer, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them (that is, to hear with a right understanding), because you are not of God” (Jn 8:47). In seeing they see not, and in hearing they hear not. And the apostle John echos, “They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 Jn 4:5), because what they say can be understood naturally.
It is for this reason that “the world through its wisdom did not come to know God” (1 Cor 1:21); that is, to know God as He really is, “for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). The “mystery” of God’s plan of salvation must be divinely revealed, “He made known to us the mystery of His will,” (Eph 1:9), because it is unknowable by human wisdom and investigation. This is because Jesus Christ, not man, is the basis and goal of this “mystery”. It is “the summing up of all things in Christ” (Eph 1:10). Human wisdom makes man and his ends the focus, goal, and end of God’s plan of salvation. Divine wisdom reveals Jesus Christ to be the focus, goal, and end for God’s plan. The end for which He elected believers is so we “should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:12).
This is the great sickness of the unsaved; they see nothing as it really is. They are “darkened in their understanding” (Eph 4:18). The believer may see spiritual things dimly, but they see them truly. Their light may be little, but it is true light. They are of the light (1 Th 5:5), and walk as children of light (Eph 5:8), and they come to the light so they may have more light (Jn 3:21). The Spirit of truth reveals spiritual things truly. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). If natural people knew and saw Jesus as He really is, they would loathe Him. They come to Jesus to make them happy, but not to make them holy and to be conformed to His image. They devise ways whereby they may have Christ and joy and peace and forgiveness without holiness; how they may be a Christian without the true Christ.
Enmity and hostility will oppose and resist all that it is at enmity against. This is true not just in that which is spiritual, but also in things natural and moral. Darkness is opposed to light; a lie is opposed to truth; heat is opposed to cold; vice is opposed to virtue; the flesh is against the Spirit and the Spirit is against the flesh, “for these are in opposition to one another” (Gal 5:17). False teachers oppose the truth, “so these men also oppose the truth” (2 Tm 3:8), not with contradictory, but with counterfeit truth. They do not deny truth, but corrupt it with “worldly and empty chatter” (2 Tm 2:16). False knowledge invents “opposing arguments” against true knowledge (1 Tm 6:20). So it is with sin and holiness; with works and grace; with self-interest and Christ’s interest – they are constantly and continually in mutual opposition to one another. There are two ways whereby enemies oppose each other:
- By Strength and Force
- By Fraud and Deceit
Both of these are exploited by the law of indwelling sin in its hostility against God, His Son, His truth, and our own souls. In this study we will examine the first of these two ways, and in our next study we will consider the second.
By Strength and Force
When the Pharisees failed in their attempts to entrap Jesus with their trick questions, “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not” (Mt 22:17), they then plotted how to destroy Him by force, “they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth, and kill Him” (Mt 26:3). This is the way it is when there is a prevailing hostility; if fraud and deceit fail to conquer and subdue, then prevailing hostility will resort to force, or vice versa. If the hostility and opposition cannot be hidden through deceit (Mt 22:16), then it will break out into open and outright opposition to God and His law, or into opposition to the good we would do in obedience to His word. If people cannot be deceived into complying with sin and evil on their own, then those who are hostile to God will attempt to coerce, bully, and force them into an active or passive compliance. The apostles could not be deceived by the Jewish leader’s fraudulent explanation of Jesus’ resurrection (Mt 28:13-15), nor could threats and floggings force them to stop preaching His resurrection and its implications (Ac 4:17, 21; 5:40, 41).
The law of indwelling sin is “waging war against the law of my mind” (Rm 7:23). The word translated “waging war” (antistrateuomai) is found only here in the New Testament, and is in the present tense, indicating a habitual and continuous action. It means “to rebel against; to strongly and actively oppose” a superior. The law of indwelling sin is actively and constantly rebelling against “the law of my mind”, that is, the law of grace. It opposes obedience to God’s word and ways with all its might. It contends for dominance, seeks to enslave, and bring under its dominion.
There are two contrary laws in a believer; the law of sin and of the flesh, and the law of grace and of the mind. Two opposite and opposing laws cannot dominate in the same person at the same time. The dominate law or principle in a Christian is the law of grace, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rm 8:9). “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 Jn 3:10). However, there is “a different law (different in kind and nature) in the members of my body, waging war (i.e. “rebelling”) against the law of my mind” (Rm 7:23). This is the law of indwelling sin and it forcefully opposes the actual doing of good in several ways:
- In its Rebellion
- In its Assaulting
- In its Capturing
- In its Irrational Animosity and Resentment
In its Rebellion
First, it will oppose, resist, and rebel against the general resolution to be obedient. There is no person in whom the Spirit of God dwells but that their general purpose is to live in a universal obedience to His word and will. Their entire life is devoted to the pursuit of being holy as He is holy in all their behavior (1 Pt 1:15). “Therefore also we have as our ambition…to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). There is no clearer truth in Scripture than those who belong to Christ “should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:15). Those who do not have this as their ultimate goal, desire, and ambition do not have the Spirit of the God they profess. This the Apostle Paul sets up as a pattern for believers to imitate, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil 3:17).
What is this pattern? In the preceding verses Paul uses three words, all present tense, which superbly express this universal desire of the soul which the believer is to imitate. In verse 12 he says, “I press on”, habitually, constantly. The word, dioko, means “to persecute; prosecute; pursue”. It signifies a determined, vigorous, and persistent resolution. Secondly, in verse 13 he says “reaching forward”. It means “to stretch out” like a runner stretching for the finish line with great intensity and determination. Thirdly, “I press on toward the goal”. The “goal” or “mark” is the ultimate end toward which all his energies and effort are directed. All these terms describe the intensity, diligence, persistence, and effort used in the pursuit of his goal, “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). This is the universal desire of everyone in whom the law and principle of grace lives, and it is this general resolution which the law of sin vigorously rebels against. It seeks to divert our attention to other pursuits, to prosecute other goals, and to desire other things that steal in and choke the word, thereby making it unfruitful (Mk 4:19).
A person who pursues Christ for their own ends will never pursue Christ for His ends. Those who take up Christ to gain earthly riches will abandon Him if called to forsake their riches. Those who profess to be Christians so others will think well of them, will abandon their profession if it means being thought a fool. Those who have an ulterior end for their faith will abandon their faith for one that serves their interests if they are called to deny the end for which they first believed. People who need other incentives to lure them to church other than the certainty of hearing God’s pure, unedited, and unadulterated word preached exhibit their love for other things over and above the word of God. The first requirement Jesus stipulated for all who would follow Him is self-denial, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself,” (Mt 16:24).
Not only does the law of sin rebel against the general resolution to be obedient, but it rebels against every particular and specific act of obedience, so that “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but am doing the very thing I hate” (Rm 7:15). For example, you want to pray, but not just pray, but pray fervently, undistracted, “in the spirit”, in faith, love, and hope, expectantly, pouring out your heart to the Lord. This is what you aim at and desire. Now, how often do you find the law of sin opposing and resisting you in this desire? How often, when you are engaged in performing a particular desire for good, do you find sin comes and carries away your mind and affections toward that which is sinful? How often have you been engaged in the crucifying of some sin, when, in some way or other, you have been led into toying with that very sin? How often have you purposed to share the gospel, to call someone to repentance, faith, and obedience, or to identify a particular belief as false, and been silenced by the fear of man? In short, there is no command, no principle, no pattern, no duty of which our new nature approves and desires to perform, that when we come to observe it, the law of sin will not rebel against and resist the good we desire to do.
In its Assaulting
Secondly, not only does indwelling sin rebel and resist, but it attacks. It takes the form of an aggressor. Fleshly lusts will rise up to wage war against and assault the soul. The Apostle Peter tells us what these fleshly lusts oppose and assault; they “wage war against the soul” (1 Pt 2:11), and against the law of grace within it. James tells us with what it assaults, “Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members” (Jm 4:1)? The law of sin uses the lusts of our flesh to assault the desires of our soul and to stir up the heart and provoke it into disobedience, “so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:17).
As we observed, the word translated “waging war” in Romans 7:23, antistrateuomai, means to rebel against a superior authority (thus the prefix anti). But in 1 Peter 2:11 and James 4:1 the word translated “waging war” is strateouontai, and means “to fight as a soldier; to engage in war”. It is to assault and war for superiority. Sin attempts to dominate, rule, and fight for sovereignty, as well as opposing and rebelling against the rule of God’s law written in the heart by grace. If we do not master sin, sin will master us; “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gn 4:7). Evil cannot tolerate godliness. It opposes godliness and attacks it, and “the doctrine conforming to godliness” (1 Tm 6:3) with an ungodly zeal.
The law of sin not only rebels, but it assails. It not only resists, it also assaults. This is why Paul cries out, “Who will set me free from the body of this death” (Rm 7:24). “Who will rescue me, who will deliver me from its power?” If we are hunting and pursuing an enemy, and they resist, we do not say, “Who will rescue me”, because we are the aggressors. “Save me!” is the cry of someone under attack. So it is with the assaults of sin. As James wrote, a person is assailed by his own pleasures. A person’s lusts are particular to themselves. There are “various lusts and pleasures” to which people are enslaved (Tit 3:3). False teachers and those who follow them are “following after their own ungodly lusts” (Jude 18; cf. 2 Pt 3:3; Jude 16).
Not all are tempted and assaulted by the same lusts and pleasures. This is why it is disastrous for someone to expose themselves to that which feeds their particular lusts and gratifies their particular pleasures. Yet, for decades, this has been the practice and methodology of most of professing Christendom – to pander to people’s various fleshly lusts and pleasures in order to lure them into their buildings. They go out of their way to make almost every provision for the flesh. Thus, they invent programs and doctrines which cater to specific tastes, demographics and “life-stages”, and thereby feed, accommodate, gratify, and validate their own lusts and pleasures.
Do people want entertainment? Let’s give it to them and call it worship. Do people want their carnal beliefs and lives affirmed? Let’s affirm them and call it love and acceptance. Do they want their felt needs met? Let’s promise to meet them and call it ministry. Do they want Christ and their sin? Let them have both and chalk it up to being “broken”; call it “free-grace”, carnal Christian, or by whatever name sounds spiritual. Today, there is scarcely any lust or pleasure which the church does not make some provision for in one way or another; thereby evidencing they are still enslaved to their own lusts. Christ is simply the means to their own end. Was Christ’s blood shed to only take away the guilt of sin, and then leave us to wallow in the lusts and pleasures of our own heart?
In using the lusts of the flesh to lure people, and “entice by fleshly desires” (2 Pt 2:18), they do the work of the law of sin, and not the law of grace. Instead of caring for souls, they wage war against them. This is to give aid and comfort to the enemy. It is self-defeating and self-destructive, a fact to which modern Christianity bears self-evident witness for those who have eyes to see. Whatever the church has been doing, it has not been making disciples. This is why we are to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rm 13:14). “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).
The flesh, in a believer, along with its passions and desires, being crucified, has had its power subdued, and its dominion removed, but it has not changed its nature. It is still hostile; it still opposes; it still attacks. What it has lost in power, it makes up for in persistence. The poor widow was not as powerful as the unjust judge, but she overcame him by her persistence (Lk 18:3-5). Just because we resisted its attack once does not mean it will not return again at a more opportune time. If Satan did not relent in his attacks against Christ, we have no reason to suppose he will give us any peace, “And when the devil had finished every temptation (i.e. “every kind of temptation”), he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13).
If we resist the devil he will flee from us, but he will not stay away from us. Rebuke the assaults of the law of sin by the power of grace, they will retreat for a while, but return again at a more opportune time, usually when we have relaxed our guard and been lulled into a false sense of security. Expose its evil, pollution, madness, and self-destructive consequences; it knows no shame, but continues to assert itself. By its persistence, it wearies and wears down the soul’s resistance if not strengthened by grace and by “the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10).
The most assiduous assaults made by indwelling sin are upon the affections. True Christianity consists primarily in the affections. If we love Christ we will obey His commandments, we will love what He loves and hate what He hates. Those who perish in their sin do so “because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved…but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thes 2:10, 12). The affections dictate the actions and behavior, as we will see more thoroughly in a future study. When the law of sin can woo and entice the affections, whether it is love, fear, joy, pride, happiness, pleasure, etc., it will by these make its assaults against the soul.
False teachers “entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality” (2 Pt 2:18). Because they themselves are enslaved to their own lusts, “by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Rm 16:18). Because they are “following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage” (Jude 16). In all these instances the appeal is made, in one way or another, to the affections for the purpose of gaining some personal advantage. “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,” (Rm 8:5). They set their minds on the things their flesh desires – their own lusts and pleasures. Therefore, they are charmed and enticed by catchy and whimsical sayings, by flashy presentations, by programs and performances, by humorous illustrations, by ego-flattering messages, by humanitarian causes, by social and political agendas, by the doctrines of men, and by sermons, books and blogs that feed and cater to their own lusts and desires. And, for all this, they are no better off. They are no nearer to God, no further from the world, and no more aware of their own wretched state.
The best defense against the assaults of indwelling sin is to see ourselves as we really are; to have a true sense of our own condition. You can take it as a hard and fast rule, that we will never see Jesus Christ as He really is, never feel the need for His power to deliver us from our lusts, until we see ourselves as we really are. All forms of false Christianity can be traced to a low view of the power of indwelling sin, along with too high an estimation of the nature of man; views that deny or diminish mankind’s total depravity. Or, they appeal to their depravity as a license for their lusts, and use grace as a covering for their sin. Those who can take comfort in Jesus’ forgiveness, but feel no need for His power to pull down and subdue their lusts, have yet to see as they should. In seeing they see not. The only useful and fruitful person is the one who understands the evil of their own heart, and how vile and treacherous it really is. All others only delude and deceive themselves and lead others astray.
By its Capturing
The third way by which the law of sin forcefully opposes is by its “making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rm 7:23). The word translated “making me a prisoner”, aichmalotizo, means “to take captive; to control; to dominate”, either by force or deception. This is the ultimate goal of the law of sin, and it invokes from Paul a cry for deliverance, “Who will set me free from the body of this death” (Rm 7:24)? It requires a superior power to make someone a prisoner, but making someone a prisoner speaks more of the success of sin’s power than the strength of its power. Success is evidence of power, and making someone its captive is the pinnacle of sin’s success.
The power of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is manifested in His having successfully “disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Col 2:15); “He led captive a host of captives” (Eph 4:8). Jesus has conquered, captured, and displayed as captive, him who has held others captive through the law of sin “to do his will” (2 Tm 2:26). Jesus did this when “through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hb 2:14, 15).
The law of sin has enough power to successfully make someone its prisoner, even when it is resisted. It makes us a prisoner of the law of sin, the principle of sin, but not a prisoner of some specific sin. Not a prisoner of our own various lusts and desires, because “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24); and “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live”, but, “if you are living according to the flesh, you must die” (Rm 8:13).
The true Christian, because of having a new nature born of God cannot be captured by, enslaved to, or addicted to any particular sin. They cannot be compelled to serve their own lusts, nor can any sin have dominion over them that they should be captives and slaves to it. They cannot make a practice of any particular sin. This is a characteristic of the unbeliever, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious;” (1 Jn 3:9, 10).
The law of sin will result in sin in the life of a Christian, for which we find pardon, cleansing, and mercy in Christ, “If we say that we have no sin (“sin” singular, that is, a sin nature), we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins (“sins” plural, actual sins), He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:8, 9); “our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rm 6:6). Sins that have dominion and to which a person is enslaved, these are the result of an uncrucified heart and flesh. This is what lies behind all habitual sins to which someone is enslaved and captivated. They are not children of God, but children of the devil. These are those of whom Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:26, “having been held captive by him to do his will.” They are still under the dominion of Satan, not of the law of sin. The Christian, while being a prisoner of the law of sin, has been delivered “from the dominion of Satan” (Ac 26:18); and “from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13)
The believer is a prisoner of the law of sin because we still have a sin nature, not because we are a captive to any particular sin. Furthermore, we are held captive against our will, which makes us cry out for deliverance, “Who will set me free from the body of this death”; it makes us condemn ourselves, “Wretched man that I am” (Rm 7:24). We are forced to resist its power and bear with its presence whether we want to or not. Being made a captive is against the desires, the inclinations, and the will of our new nature, “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Eph 4:24). No one is made a prisoner except against their will. No one willingly chooses to be a prisoner.
People will willingly choose the causes, the ways, and the means that lead to being a prisoner, but not captivity itself. They hope to avoid being captured. They think they can sneak in and sneak out without being caught. They think they can indulge their various fleshly lusts and pleasures and not be captured by them. But this is impossible. Greater success in sin brings greater boldness to sin until a person is ensnared and captured by their sin, because sin is the snare; it is the trap. It easily entangles and captures (Hb 12:1). Satan always shows the bait, not the hook. People will willingly choose the sin which is the means to captivity, but never captivity itself. Then, when they are captured, they act like they are a victim of their sin and not its willing accomplice. They want and choose the sin, but not the consequences of sin. No one begins taking drugs with the intention of becoming an addict.
By this we can plainly see how great sin’s power is, in that it makes someone a prisoner even against the most diligent and active watchfulness, and against the most ardent wishes of the will to the contrary. We see the success of the law of sin in making us its prisoner. There may be different degrees of success – sometimes it results in actual sin, sometimes the will may consent, but the actual commission is arrested by the Spirit, sometimes we may be left contending against sin – but it is still successful at making us its prisoner.
We also see how miserable and wretched it is to be a prisoner of the law of sin; to have to drag around this body of death, and to have to live with this old nature. All captivity is bad, but it is made much worse by the nature and character of the one who is your captor. To be the captive of a cruel and sadistic tyrant is much worse than being the captive of a merciful and benevolent ruler. What can be more miserable and wretched than being a prisoner of the law of sin? Only those who feel its power and presence can truly know how miserable it is.
Being a prisoner of the law of sin is a condition which is exclusive to believers. The unsaved are not captives of the law of sin, rather they are enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, and they are captives of their own fleshly lusts. They may not like sin’s consequences, they may even be convinced of its evil, and they might make some attempts at reform, but their lusts are too strong and overpowering. They are its captive and slave, but they are not a prisoner of the law of sin because they are captivated willingly. They take pleasure in their wickedness. They only oppose the consequences of their sin, not the sin itself. They are not its victim, but a willing accomplice, and their conviction that they are forgiven by the blood of Jesus only emboldens them to sin, not make them hate, loathe, fear, and avoid it.
In its Irrational Animosity and Resentment
Indwelling sin’s hostility can rise to unimaginable heights of irrational and insane thinking and living. We are seeing this take place before our very eyes. How insane for people to think it is good, natural, and normal for two people of the same gender to marry. How insane and irrational is it to think that it is loving to affirm someone in a self-destructive lifestyle? How irrational and foolish to think someone can change their gender merely by saying they identify more with the opposite gender. How insane is it to rabidly defend and endorse the murder of one’s own offspring. No creature in all of creation is as negligent and destructive of its own kind as is man. None of these irrational and insane ways can be found even among wild beasts. It takes a creature as depraved as man to reach such heights of irrationality and insanity. How irrational to believe that someone can be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, have the law of God written on their heart, and possess a “new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24), yet still live a life that is indistinguishable from an unbeliever, even the most polished and refined hypocrite?
The very nature of sin consists of insanity, “Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl 9:3). The judgement and wrath of God causes people to act even more irrational than normal; “And they shall drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them” (Jer 25:16). “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind,” (Rm 1:28). When God, in His wrath, gives people over to a depraved mind, He simply gives them over to the insanity which is already in their heart.
The nature of sin’s insanity can be seen from the similitudes which the Bible uses to describe those who have been given over to it. They are like, “A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, that sniffs the wind in her passion…Who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth’” (Jer 2:24, 26). It consists in a wild, violent, tenacious, and persistent urging toward evil. Even in the face of great warnings and examples, and even in light of the most self-destructive consequences, nothing will dissuade or deter them from their lusts, “But they were eager to corrupt all their deeds” (Zeph 3:7)…”we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths” (Jer 44:17).
This insanity is seen most, not so much in the lusts and sins themselves, but in the pursuit of them. The love of money results in an absurd and self-destructive pursuit of money. Sexual perversion will result in an insane and soul-destroying pursuit of it. It may be carried out under noble-sounding false pretenses – equality, civil rights, compassion, freedom, etc. – but their lusts rage in the pursuit of some lust and idol. Most of what is done under the guise of other pretenses is nothing more than a mad pursuit of some lust.
It is not a lack of will or desire that prevents the fulfillment of their lust, but a lack of opportunity. Consequently, they are given over to the mad pursuit of the removal of all obstacles, restraints, and barriers that bar the fulfillment of their lusts, and the greatest restraint is the law of God written on the conscience. Therefore, this irrational and insane opposition to God is accompanied by the rejection and expunging, at least for a time, of God’s law, His government, His rule, and His authority. Madness is accompanied by fearlessness, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Ps 36:1; Rm 3:18), even at the cost of their own soul.
For the Christian, “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor 5:14); we are “to think so as to have sound judgment” (Rm 12:3); those who are of the Spirit set their minds on “the things of the Spirit” (Rm 8:5). But this animosity and resentment is so insane, irrational, and fearless in that it influences the mind not to consider the consequences of sin, or to minimize and trivialize them. It will try to invent and connive ways to avoid the consequences of sin, or to even turn sin into a virtue. It becomes so insane as to even call evil good, and good evil. It is fearless in its stubborn and obstinate resolve to carry out and live in its lusts against all of God’s clear warnings, threats, and examples. In their madness the person becomes convinced they can sin with impunity, “Why has the wicked spurned God?” Because, “He has said to himself, ‘You will not require it’” (Ps 10:13). The wicked irrationally say to themselves, “God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it” (Ps 10:11).
Today there is much opposition from sin, but very little opposition, resistance, and striving against sin, therefore the church today, for the most part, is at ease from the hostility of sinners. In fact it courts sinners. It wants them to feel welcome and comfortable within the church. It accommodates them. It has removed the only standard by which a true Christian can be discerned from the false. It invents its own popular versions of faith and Christianity. It formulates programs, activities, and teachings to entice them into and keep them in their buildings. Under the guise of religious liberty, all religion is deemed equally accepted and equally valid. Religious liberty only guarantees people the right to be wrong.
Religious liberty is a myth. The idea that religious liberty is a basic, God-given human right is a fallacy. God does not give people the liberty to worship any god they choose. He is not indifferent toward what people believe. The first two commandments deny such a liberty (Ex 20: 3-6). Nor has God given people the liberty to worship Him any way they please. Those who would worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). Definitions of religious liberty that equate all religions as equally valid is the surest way to bring people under the captivity of their own lusts and pleasures and lead them to hell.
When left to exercise their religious freedom, unsaved people will always choose to worship a god of their own invention. They will always choose sin, idolatry, and a carnal worship that appeals to their own fleshly desires, and they will use their freedom to oppose all that is truly of God. The only true freedom is that which comes from God opening the mind to divine truth, “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:32). All else are slaves of their sin and are hostile toward God and forcefully oppose all that is of God – His law; His will; His truth; His gospel, and His people. In an age “when vileness is exalted among the sons of men, and the wicked strut about on every side”, (Ps 12:8), no human law will long protect God’s people from the hostility of sinners. The only safe shelter from the hostility of ungodly men is not in appeasing and accommodating them, not compromising with them, not in some sort of theocracy, but in holding fast to Jesus Christ and His sure word, “And those who know your name will put their trust in You, for You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Ps 9:10).
In our next study, we will consider the second way which the law of sin opposes all that is of God – by fraud and deceit.