And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

Romans 12:2 reveals two important things about the Christian mind. First, there is something wrong with it; it must be “renewed, renovated, and completely changed for the better (Blue Letter Bible, Outline of Biblical Usage, 2020).” Second, without this renewal, the Christian will remain both conformed to the world and unable to know and obey God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will.

The renewal of our minds – required for our transformation into Kingdom citizens – is more challenging than most Christians recognize. We are born with a nature that works hard to interpret the things we hear and read in ways that will not disrupt our established paradigms. We prefer to trust existing interpretations of Scripture and are encouraged to do so by our teachers.

Holding fast to sound doctrine is important, but resistance to paradigm shifts can leave us short on the truth. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the combined doctrines of man fall short of explaining God and His kingdom. Our maturation as Christians requires a humble approach to learning. We would do well to maintain an objective consideration of God’s word and the vastness of its truth.

What if, instead of relying on comfortable interpretations, we accepted the word of God as it is written, allowing it to challenge our paradigms? What if, instead of applying assumptions of hyperbole or metaphor to every passage that threatens us, we wrestled to grasp the depth of God’s word? With these challenges in mind, we offer a case in point from two statements found in John’s first epistle:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 1John 3:9

We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. 1John 5:18

Taken literally, the Holy Spirit (through John) claims that every Christian does not and cannot sin, because he has been born of God, because he keeps himself (i.e., attends to carefully, takes care of, guards), and because the wicked one has no influence over him. Take a moment to consider this claim literally; resist the temptation to explain it away. The implications are astounding!!

Without question, the Holy Spirit’s promise and the responsibility placed on the child of God in these verses is daunting. It is no wonder so many have attempted to explain away the meaning of these passages.

So, how can we embrace the true and deepest meaning of these claims? Most Christians will respond to this question in one of two ways. Either they will shrug and say they simply don’t know (an unnecessary and sad conclusion), or they will attempt to use some learned interpretation that explains away the literal meaning.

The most common of these accommodating interpretations – and the one first taught to me – involves using the verb form of “sin” to explain that John means “a Christian will not continue in sin continually or habitually”. Just to get it out there, this interpretation contains a bit of flawed logic. To “not continue” in something is to stop doing it. The end result is the same: the cessation of sin.

We are draw to these responses, as teachers and students of the Bible, because they allow us to move on to easier topics. Honestly, this makes me sad and frustrated: sad because many are missing a truth that will make them free, and frustrated because I also settled for less (as student and teacher) for much of my Christian life.

So, the following seeks to answer two questions: How can these passages be literally true? And, why is it important to understand them literally?

Two things before we begin: First, we must understand and acknowledge that our carnal mind will fight to protect every paradigm that supports its control and influence (i.e., its ability to continue sinning). Our best defense is to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2Corinthians 10:5). Forcefully subject your paradigms, both good and carnal, to Jesus’ inspection.

Secondly, we must recognize that dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries are valuable tools as long as we use them objectively and in obedience to Christ. Modern “translations” (e.g., New International Version, New Living Translation, and The Message) are paraphrases based on subjective human interpretation of the writer’s thoughts, filtered through the translators’ paradigms.

Word-for-word translations are less subjective, making them better tools for study and objective understanding. These include, among others, the King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, and the New King James Version. We will be using the last of these, and suggest you acquire one for yourself. The YouVersion Bible app provides them free-of-charge.

We will be referencing four passages of Scripture to construct a new paradigm for living without sin: Romans 7:13-25, Romans 8:1-11, Galatians 2:20, and Colossians 3:1-3. The serious student will want to read these straight through before proceeding, and keep them handy as we highlight the primary verses.

The Divided Person

To rightly consider living without sin, we must first understand the nature of “whoever has been born of God.” This is not possible for those yet to experience the second birth, for they have not been “given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11).” Furthermore, even those with eyes to see must be willing to look beyond the temporal to understand eternal matters (1Corinthians 4:18). Only a supernatural perspective will do; we have to think beyond our physical being.

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25

There is a metaphysical and spiritual war going on within every child of God, between two parts of our being. These two parts are identified in Romans 7:25 as “I myself” and “the flesh”, or “my members”. As we have argued in An Enemy Lies Within (2020), we are our own worst enemy, and this is something our carnal mind works diligently to hide.

Consequently, it is important to point out that the mind referenced here as serving the law of God is either the mind of Christ, which we have (1Corinthians 2:16), or the new mind of the new man. Some assert that the mind of Christ is the new man’s mind. Whichever way your thinking leans on this latter point, it is clear that two opposing forces – even divided personalities – are at war with one another.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned [the] sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

Paul goes on to make two important assertions. First, our flesh is the sinful habitation of man’s rebellious nature (i.e., the sin) and, as such, inhibits the fulfillment of the righteous requirements of the law.

Paul’s second assertion may be a surprise to some: The righteous requirements of the law are to be fulfilled in God’s New Covenant people. Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus did not come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17) through His death, but through His life, lived out in those who walk according to the Spirit. Isn’t that amazing!! And when you think about it, doesn’t it make sense!! No? Well, hang in there and consider the exchanged life.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh [i.e., physical body] I live by [the] faith [of] the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

There is an “I” who no longer lives; that “I” is the metaphysical and spiritual old man who I used to be. Having been born of God, I am now a metaphysical and spiritual new man, still living in a physical body. That new life is my life in Christ Jesus, lived without sin from His faith.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Romans 8:9-10

The Holy Scriptures are filled with truth claims which simply astound our sensibilities. Consequently, we would be wise to stop and reckon them true for ourselves, if only to get them into our conscience for continued consideration.

“You are not in the flesh.”

Say it to yourself, “I am not in the flesh.”

What does that mean? It means those who are born of God no longer live in the flesh. Getting that into our hearts – for with the heart one believes (Romans 10:10) – will make the understanding much easier.

Furthermore, this (metaphysical and spiritual) body of flesh is dead because of sin. Now, dead in this case does not mean “without life, deceased”, but “destitute of force or power”. One may ask at this point, “Then why do I continue to struggle with any sin at all.” The answer seems obvious, though somewhat confounding: Because we allow our powerless flesh to have its way with us; we fail to exercise the grace of God over it.

In this regard, our seeking and the set of our minds is critically important.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:1-3

There comes a time in our Christian walk when we simply have to start living like “whoever has been born of God.” Paul makes it clear in these two passages: a good starting point is to set our minds on the things of the Spirit and to seek those things which are above. In other words, lean into God in prayer and study. The Holy Spirit will draw and guide us; the Father and Son have promised to meet us. The outcome will be glorious!

Why is This Important?

It is a sad truth about Christianity in our day that most simply want to be told what to do so they can determine if it fits their paradigm and commitment threshold. Regrettably, they have been deceived into trading their birthright – the abundant and glorious life God has promised – for a temporal pot of stew.

Tragically, very few preachers and teachers are willing to introduce difficult subjects. Our only hope is a grassroots endeavor to get the word out. We are providing this essay in the hope that you will consider it seriously and share it with others. Here are a few reasons we believe such a movement is important.

First, God offers the grace to live in victory over sin. “Still there are honest Christians, earnestly seeking the face of God, who cannot seem to break loose and find real freedom. The grave clothes trip them up every time they try to move on a little faster (Tozer, A.W., 2020).” We must lay hold of God’s grace for freedom through faith (not self-effort). Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). It is impossible to believe what we have not been told. Someone must be the voice of God for others. Why not you?

Secondly, recognizing that sin resides within our flesh and not in our new man gives us clarity and great encouragement for the battle we face against the sin in our lives. Other passages begin to make sense, including:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2Corinthians 5:17

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Roman 8:13

We are a totally new creation; all things have become new. God the Holy Spirit is at enmity with the sin in our flesh. He is not at enmity with us. He is our all-powerful ally in the war against sin. Honestly, how can we lose?

Finally, with clarity comes responsibility. As new creatures in Christ, no longer deceived about the battlefield and His battle tactics, we must take ownership for putting down our flesh. “He who has been born of God keeps himself (1John 5:18)” is a critically important part of the equation. We must actively participate with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – by grace, through faith – to live without sin. By the way, this is both a personal and community endeavor; we need one another to live without sin.

Living without sin is not only made possible by God, but expected of His children. It is an essential and fundamental characteristic of the new life found in “whoever has been born of God”. To doubt or deny who we are in Jesus Christ inhibits our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must embrace our birthright as kingdom citizens, that we might enjoy eternal and abundant life and glorify our Father in heaven.

Furthermore, we have been commissioned to share this great news. So, as you contemplate your role in sharing the fullness of the Gospel with your spheres of influence, consider these encouragements.

 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples…” Matthew 28:18-19

Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1Corinthians 4:1-2

God bless you with courage and faith for life without sin and the encouragement of others.

Humbly yours and forever His,

Rob

Blue Letter Bible. (2020). Outline of Biblical Usage.
https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G342&t=KJV (last reviewed on October 6, 2020).

Streetman, R. (2020). An Enemy Lies Within. Hoover, AL: Archdeacon Books.

Tozer, A. W. (2020). Bible Gateway: Tozer on Christian Leadership. https://classic.biblegateway.com/devotionals/tozer-on-leadership/2020/10/05 (last reviewed on October 6, 2020).