Back in 1992, I dated a man whose father was a dairy farmer. He informed me that when a cow would get sick, his father would send it to the butcher. It was on that day that I became a vegetarian - well, technically a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats seafood).
Fast forward 25+ years to a couple of weeks ago. While looking at a news app on my cell phone, I came across a story of a person who found a live worm in the fresh fish she had just purchased at a well known wholesale club. Upon further investigation, I discovered that it is not uncommon to find worms in fish. This new-found knowledge has led me to no longer consider myself a pescatarian but to instead consider myself a vegetarian. The meat and fish I once saw as appetizing, is now revolting to me and I want no part of it.
Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that this is a lot like sin. The unconverted heart sees the sinful act as one that is appetizing, desirable, and pleasurable. However, when seen in its true light--and what it did to Jesus on the cross--it becomes revolting to us. I understand and experience the struggle one feels when waging war with the flesh, not wanting to want to sin.
Paul puts it well in Romans 7:19 when he states “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” But, fortunately he goes on to say in verses 24 and 25
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this 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.”
Those verses are full of hope! There is a remedy to our struggles of the flesh and that remedy is found in Jesus Christ our Lord and the renewing of our mind. When we understand that sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and what it cost our dear Saviour to suffer for our sins (1 Peter 3:18), we see sin in its true light. Ellen White explains it so eloquently in Steps to Christ when she states:
“And as Christ draws them to look upon His cross, to behold Him whom their sins have pierced, the commandment comes home to the conscience. The wickedness of their life, the deep-seated sin of the soul, is revealed to them. They begin to comprehend something of the righteousness of Christ, and exclaim, ‘What is sin, that it should require such a sacrifice for the redemption of its victim? Was all this love, all this suffering, all this humiliation, demanded, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life?’” (27.1). “As your conscience has been quickened by the Holy Spirit, you have seen something of the evil of sin, of its power, its guilt, its woe; and you look upon it with abhorrence” (49.1).
But is it really possible to overcome sin and, if so, how can we overcome it? Revelation 12:11 states:
“And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
We cannot overcome sin by our own effort in our own strength. It is only by the blood of the Lamb. 1 John 4:4 also puts it well when it states “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Praise God that Jesus, in us, is more powerful than Satan!
That means that there is not a sin out there that we cannot overcome with Jesus, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, living in us. 1 John 5:4 states “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
Notice in the three texts above, we are repeatedly called to “overcome” through the power of Jesus in us. The Bible would not call us to overcome if it were not possible.
When the woman was accused of adultery by the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus told her to “…go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). He did not tell her to sin a little less but to “sin no more.” But He also told her “Neither do I condemn thee…” Don’t you think that the driving force behind her wanting to live for Jesus was not one of condemnation, but of love?
1 John 2:1 states “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not…” and 1 John 3:6 states “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not…” Clearly the Bible calls us to a life of holiness and fortunately gives us the remedy - that remedy is through Jesus Christ and abiding in Him, like the branch to the vine (John 15:5). It is only then that we can bring forth much fruit.
I would like to emphasize that it is not by any effort on our own that we live a life of holiness. Jesus bids us to “consider the lilies how they grow” (Luke 12:27). They grow, not by any effort of themselves, but by receiving from God their life giving power.
Christ gives that same life-giving power to those who trust in and abide in Him. It is through Jesus dwelling in us that we are able to obey. Jesus states “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In loving Jesus, REALLY loving Jesus, CONTINUALLY loving Jesus, we are able to keep His commandments, both in heart and in deed. To know Him is to love Him and only in spending quality time with Jesus day by day in the Bible, in prayer, and in serving Him, is to know Him.
I would not be able to conclude this article without discussing repentance. Repentance is key to the renewed heart. In Acts 3:19 Peter is saying to “Repent ye therefore, and be converted…”
It is only through repentance that a change in our lives can take effect. Ellen White states:
“Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. We shall not renounce sin unless we see its sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in the life” (23.2).
But we need to remember that we have a choice. To will or not is our decision. Ellen White goes on to say:
“Many are inquiring, ‘How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?’ You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin….What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him” (47.1). What is our job in the process of repenting? To submit our will to God - “choose to serve Him”. She further states “The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought. The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God, requires a struggle; but the soul must submit to God before it can be renewed in holiness” (Steps to Christ 43.3).
God has called us to a life of obedience. In spending quality time with Him every day, we see what it cost His dear Son, and sin becomes revolting to us. We cannot bear to hurt the One who has given everything for us. Our hearts are melted as we let the Holy Spirit into our lives.
Repentance results when we choose to submit our will to God and let Him take control. We are then changed, not by our effort, but by Jesus living in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the renewing of our heart and mind. Let us remember that we have a choice. We can surrender our all to the will of God in heartfelt appreciation and love for what Jesus has done for us, or we can surrender our will to Satan. We can only serve one master (Matthew 6:24). Which master will you choose?
Stacey Johlman is a Speech-Language Pathologist residing with her husband in Ocala, Florida.
All quotes from Ellen White are taken from Steps to Christ. All Bible texts are take from the King James Version.