Fight Sin Like a Victor, Not a Victim
From Gospel Translations
Don’t fight sin like a victim of sin; fight sin like the victor over sin you are in Christ. That’s the punchline of a powerful sermon clip sent to us by Nathan. Nathan, a podcast listener, emailed me the clip, calling it “one of the most influential clips I have ever come across.” And “the most impactful line that hit my heart two summers ago,” he writes, “was the line about fighting sin like a victor, not a victim. Rather than feel defeated, God wants us to have confidence that the war is won in him.” That’s a good summary of a really good clip from Pastor John’s 2001 sermon on Romans 8:1–4. Here it is.
In Christ, now, we see there are two things true of us. Romans 8:1 and Romans 8:2 repeat the same phrase: “in Christ Jesus.” What are we in Christ Jesus in verse 1? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So, the first thing we can say about being in Christ Jesus is that the verdict is delivered, and we are not condemned. It’s past; the trial is over: no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And then verse 2 says, “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus.”
So, we have pardon, and we now have power in Christ Jesus. You don’t get into Christ Jesus without having both of those made over to you. There’s pardon in Christ; there’s power in Christ. You don’t get into Christ and say, “I’ve got the pardon and not the power,” or, “I’ve got the power and not the pardon.” In Christ, you get them both, or you don’t get them; you’re not in Christ. If you put your faith in Jesus, you get united to Jesus. And in Jesus, there’s no condemnation, and there is power.
Cause or Evidence?
Now, here’s the question: How does the working of the power toward liberation and transformation relate to the declaration that I have no condemnation? And this is not nitpicking. This is your life. You get these backward, you die. You get them right and live it, you live.
So, what’s the order between verses 1 and 2? Notice the word for, at the beginning of verse 2. You might wish it weren’t there.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
The NIV says because. The other versions say for. They mean the same thing. So, what’s the relationship between justification in verse 1 and sanctification in verse 2? Well, before you answer too quickly, take something into account. The meaning of for or because, both in English and Greek, both in apostolic language and your language, has two meanings:
- for or because can introduce a basis or ground or reason that something is, or
- it can introduce the evidence that you know something is.
Let me give you an example from your language. “I’m really hungry because my stomach is growling.” Or you can say, “I’m really hungry because I skipped breakfast.” And because in those two sentences has radically different meanings. A growling stomach is not the basis of hunger; it’s the effect and evidence of hunger. And we use the word because: “I’m really hungry because my stomach is growling.” But if I say, “I’m really hungry because I skipped breakfast,” well, we know that skipping breakfast is the cause of the hunger — it’s the ground and basis of the hunger.
Condemend He Stood
So, here’s my question for the relationship between verses 1 and 2 of Romans 8: Which meaning of because is here? Is he saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation because, look, you are being transformed by the Spirit of God, bearing witness that you are free”? Or is he saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation because the foundation and the basis of your acceptance with the Father, your verdict of not guilty, is the Spirit-wrought righteousness that you are performing?” I’m going to argue that the because or the for at the beginning of verse 2 is the evidence, it points to the evidence, that verse 1 is so.
Reason number one: notice the relationship between verses 2 and 3. Verse 3 begins with that same word, because or for: “The Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death because [now boil down verse 3 to its main statement] God condemned sin in the flesh, the flesh of his own Son.” And remember that we pointed out the connection between the word condemned there in verse 3 and the word condemnation in verse 1. Verses 1 and 3 are together in this. Verse 3 is all about what God has done to set you right with him. He has sent his Son to live a perfect life, to die a substitutionary death, to bear your condemnation — no guilt, no wrath, no condemnation. Why? Jesus, in the flesh, bore it. God condemned it there, and not in you. And that is given as the basis of verse 2, your sanctification.
So, when verse 1 says, “There’s no condemnation now in you,” it’s pointing to verse 3, saying, “He died for you. All the wrath of God was poured out on him. So, look: The Spirit is in you, triumphing over your sin. Rejoice! There’s no condemnation.”
All the Difference in the Spirit
Romans 7:6 is magnificent in its clarity and power: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive . . .” And here in the context, it’s the Mosaic law. We know that from verses 1–5. We’ve been released from the law — the law’s curse, the law’s guilt, the law’s condemnation. Christ became a curse for us, so that the curse of the law is broken (Galatians 3:13). It’s not over us anymore. And then, look at these precious words that follow: “. . . so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
What’s the relationship between being freed from the law with its condemnation, its curse, and its guilt, and the ability by the Spirit to triumph in service for God? What’s the relationship? It’s crystal clear in this verse: we have been freed from that so that we would serve this way. If you turn those around, you don’t have Christianity. You have another religion.
- It’s the difference between fighting to get justified, and fighting confidently because we are justified.
- It’s the difference between your heavenly court trial being behind you with an irrevocable verdict of not guilty being rendered, and having the trial in front of you, hanging over your head, wondering if your behavior will measure up in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- It’s the difference between the freedom of confidence and the bondage of fear.
- It’s the difference between rendering to Christ the double glory of his being our righteousness and our condemnation and the power that brings us into holiness, or just giving him half his glory and calling him the one who enables us to perform a righteousness that we will offer to God from ourselves as the foundation of our acceptance with him. I don’t want him to get half his glory. I want him to get all of his glory — his blood and righteousness being the ground of our acceptance and his power being the means by which we are liberated and transformed.
- And it’s the difference between your life and your death.
Fight Like a Victor
So, pray. Pray with me now that God would help you fall on your face and pray, “O God, O God, help me get this right. Help me not to be a Pharisee. Help me to know how to rest sweetly in the no condemnation that there is in Christ so that, out of the sweet communion and rest and acceptance and love and vindication and justification that there are in you, I might now have power in the Holy Spirit to get victory over my lust and my greed and my fear.” Pray like that.
And then, when you go out, fight your sin like a victor, not a victim. When you walk out of here this afternoon, and temptations come — and they will come; there resides in your members another law, the law of sin and death (Romans 7:23) — the Spirit is in you to help you make war on this law. And it’s the war, as a victor, in confidence that we’re loved and accepted, that will show that you are loved and accepted. Fight like a victor this week, not like a victim.
And now, may God fill you with all joy and peace in believing as you trust in his precious and very great promises. And so, may you abound in hope.