J.C. Ryle wrote in his classic work, Holiness, “The heart of the best Christian, even at his best, is a field occupied by two rival camps” (56). Most Christians readily affirm this reality. Like the apostle Paul we recognize the war that rages within (Rom. 7:21-23) and, like Paul, we admit that our wretchedness is undeniable (Rom. 7:24). So often this leaves us feeling like an undersized fighter staring at a heavyweight in the other corner of the ring, helpless in our fight for holiness. What, then, can give us confidence and strengthen us in this fight?
Remembering that the fight is already won.
Christ has defeated sin, and we who are in Christ, share in the victory. The grace that now covers us in the gospel has overcome our enemy of sin and has redeemed us from slavery of sin and transformed us into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).
The glorious truth is, we fight a defeated enemy. Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with [Jesus] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7, ESV). Now, we don’t have to “let” sin reign in our lives (Romans 6:12) because sin no longer has dominion over us (Romans 6:14).
John Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied explains well:
There must be a constant and increasing appreciation that though sin still remains it does not have the mastery. There is a total difference between surviving sin and reigning sin, the regenerate in conflict with sin and the unregenerate complacent to sin. It is one thing for sin to live in us: it is another for us to live in sin. It is one thing for the enemy to occupy the capital; it is another for his defeated hosts to harass the garrisons of the kingdom. (154)
Make no mistake, there is a battle raging in your heart. But, be confident Christian, you fight from a position of advantage.
You are undersized in the fight, but the Holy Spirit that indwells you is anything but. On the other hand, the indwelling sin that remains in you is just the stubborn leftovers of a defeated enemy. It can still cause havoc for you, but they are last-ditch efforts to do as much damage as possible to those who are already victors in Christ.
So walk attentively, yes, but fight confidently. Because of Christ, sin is not your master anymore.