Freedom From Sin: What Is It?

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It has often been pointed out, that there is a vast difference between a sinful nature, and the sinful acts which spring from it, and that the remedy for the latter, as presented in Scripture, is not the same as for the former. Let us suppose a case by way of illustration. A man of wealth owns a dog, which is constantly biting those who come near it. It is an old favorite. He would fain not part with it, and tries his best to cure it. One neighbor after another gets bitten, and heavy damages have to be paid. Is it not plain, that, if he spent his whole fortune in paying penalties, it would not cure the dog? The only thing to do, is to own the truth that the case is past remedy, and put an end to the dog's life.
Now when we speak of freedom from sin, though we do not refer to evil acts, but to an evil nature, it must be distinctly understood that we do not mean to teach that the Christian ever gets free in this world, from the presence of indwelling sin. On the contrary, we make bold to say, at the very start, that such an expression as ' Cleansed from the last remains of sin,' in the sense that indwelling sin has been totally removed, is nothing less than a gigantic, self-deceptive blunder.
God's Word and Man's Opinions.
One line of Scripture is worth more than all the religious arguments in the world, with all the so-called experiences of those who deny it, or overlook it, put together. When God speaks let every creature keep silence; and, by the Apostle John, He has spoken on the subject—distinctly spoken. Mark well what He says. The language is very simple and unmistakable. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:88If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)). There are only two words in the verse of more than one syllable—”deceive ourselves”: and we ask the reader to consider well this divine statement. How, think you, does cleansed from the last remains of sin ' look beside it?
The saddest part of all is, that not only are such souls deceived, but that, in order to prove to themselves that they are not, they fall into the subtle snare of paring down the truth of what sin really is, limiting it very often to that which comes out in open act—to some open breach of the Ten Commandments thereby confounding sin with transgression.
But in this they only betray the shallowness of their acquaintance with their own hearts. Who that knows himself; has not discovered in how many hateful ways sin will creep in? For example, may there not be every appearance of brotherly fellowship, with jealousy and envy hidden in the heart? May not active, harmonious co-operation in Christian service meet the eye of man, and the spirit of emulation—me first be under the eye of God? Then take one of the most common, most hateful of sins—pride. May it not assume the most pious exterior? Why, you may preach against it, and at the bottom be proud that you have preached so well. You may pray against it, and the next moment, perhaps, be proud that you have prayed so humbly. Or you may even be too proud to be thought proud.
And is all this to be counted as nothing because there has been no outward breach of the moral law? Scripture says that a proud heart is an abomination to the Lord. “The thought of foolishness is sin” (Prov. 24:99The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an abomination to men. (Proverbs 24:9)). Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:44Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (1 John 3:4)). It is the assertion of my own will, instead of absolute submission to the Lord's. And we must remember that our wills may as determinedly assert themselves in a religious, as in an irreligious way.
Two Aspects of Freedom From Sin.
There are two ways of looking at freedom from sin: one as relating to the present, the other to the future.
Experimental freedom may be ours now.
Absolute and bodily freedom will never be ours till we have left the wilderness and reached the “rest.”
By the first we are set free from the power of sin; by the second from its actual presence.
There can be no such thing as sinless perfection, in the sense of being free from the presence of indwelling sin, until, by Christ's shout of power, our bodies of humiliation are transformed to the likeness of His own body of glory.
There are three things necessary to the present enjoyment of freedom from sin—
1. A judicial act.
2. Moral exercise.
3. The reckoning of faith.
The first is on God's side, the other two are on ours.
But, inquires one, what is the difference between moral exercise and a judicial act?
The following illustration may perhaps suggest an answer.
Two poachers, we will suppose, are busy at their unlawful practices in some well-stocked plantation. When half the night has worn away, and several head of game are in their huge pockets, the conscience of one of the men suddenly smites him. “We are doing wrong,” he says. “I am miserable. Let us stop this illegal work, leave our game where the gamekeepers will be most likely to find it in the morning, and hasten home.”
His companion has not the slightest sympathy with such a proposal. He is determined at all cost to proceed. In the heat of their dispute the keepers approach, and both are taken into custody.
Now, though both might receive the same judicial sentence, one man had morally cleared himself of further participation in this unlawful work. In the purpose of his own mind, by his self-condemnation, by his expressed desire to restore as far as possible the stolen game, he proves himself morally dear. And although, according to human government, he has to bear the full penalty of breaking the law, he accepts it without a murmur. Then when the judicial sentence has been carried out; that is, when his term of imprisonment has expired, he is as free, in the eye of the law, that is, as free judicially, as if he had never offended.
The other, though paying the penalty of his guilt, is not morally free. The first opportunity that presents itself he will be off poaching again. There is no inward work with him, nothing but outward restraint. So he naturally returns to his evil practices, like the dog to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. While, with the other, what he has passed through morally and judicially has its own peculiar effect upon him practically.
The moral exercise we refer to in the Christian is the result of the action of the Word of God by the Spirit in his soul, which causes, him to be as thoroughly wishful to get rid of the evil he experiences in himself, as once he was to be clear of the sins done by himself. He can say, Although “sin in the flesh” has not done with me; although if not watchful and dependent I may again give place to its evil workings; yet, according to every wish and purpose of my moral being, I have done with it. Indeed, if wishing to get rid of it would sever my connection with it, I should part company with it instantly and Forever.
He is now ready to profit by God's judicial act. And, oh, what a relief it is to find that the very thing he wished to get rid of in himself, that is “sin in the flesh,” God has condemned at the cross; that its judgment has already been accomplished! “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3)).
He learns that, on God's side, the judgment of this evil root has already been put into execution on the cross, that the One in whom he now lives before God has already “died to sin” after being “made sin” for him. He has reached the point of JUDICIAL FREEDOM. “He that is dead is freed or justified from sin” (Rom. 6:77For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans 6:7)).
This judicial act at the cross is gladly accepted by faith, and he reckons himself to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus” (Col. 3:33For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3); Rom. 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11)).
Do you not see, that without the moral exercise he would not seek his freedom; and without God's judicial act he could not obtain it; that both are absolutely necessary to his freedom practically?
It is not that his sinful nature has been uprooted, nor that it has been made better; but that, in God's sight, the sword of judgment has severed him as a child of God from all that he was as a child of Adam. God has “.condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3)). So that in point of fact, though the evil root is still there, “it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7:1717Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Romans 7:17)). To use a scripture figure, it is no more a relation of his, than Ishmael was counted a son of Abraham after Isaac had come upon the scene, and there had been the full determination on the part of Sarah and Abraham to cast out the bondmaid's son (Gen. 21:10-1210Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. 11And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. 12And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. (Genesis 21:10‑12)).
In Genesis 22, where we have the record of the offering of Isaac upon the altar, it is very significant that God should, three times over, call him his “only son.” And still more remarkable, when the incident is again recorded in the New Testament, and Isaac said to have been received from the dead as in a figure, that he should be called “his only begotten son” (Heb. 11:1717By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, (Hebrews 11:17)). When, in point of fact, Ishmael was not only alive at the time, but lived on for nearly 100 years after.
How was this? We are told that Ishmael was the figure of that which is “born after the flesh” (Gal. 4:2323But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. (Galatians 4:23)), and when Isaac comes upon the scene, he who was eventually to be the figure of one risen from the dead, God no more reckons Ishmael as having part with Isaac, than as if he had never existed. He is absolutely and completely ignored. So with the flesh in those who have, through Christ's death, died to sin. It is no more reckoned as being part of their new status before God than as if it had never existed at all. “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:99But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)).
Now though, as to our new spiritual status before God, we are not in the flesh, we are not the less responsible to say no to all that is of it. And we shall get a bad conscience if we practically allow its activities. But it is one thing for a virtuous woman to be tied in marriage to a bad man, and another thing to know (if such a thing were possible) that because she has died to her relationship with him, she is now free to regard him, though still in the same house with her, as only a temporary lodger; to know that he has no claim whatever upon her, and that when she removes to her new residence she will leave him behind forever.
Now, for us, this latter event—our departure to be with Christ in a glorified state—will bring us into actual freedom, freedom from the very existence of sin within us. Nor, till then, shall we ever be free in the absolute sense of the word, from indwelling sin.