Since believing in the Lord Jesus and receiving His life, have you tried very hard to live a sinless life, only to be disappointed? The harder you try, the less you succeed. Perhaps you’ve even doubted your salvation altogether, or thought you lost it. Rest assured: once you’re saved, you’re saved eternally. Yet a question may still loom in your mind, “If I’m a Christian, why can’t I stop sinning?”
In this post we’ll look at portions from Watchman Nee’s book The Normal Christian Life, which expounds the book of Romans, to show us how knowing the difference between sin and sins can free us from both in our experience.
Why do I still sin?
Although we’re saved, we’re still human, and we still possess a sinful nature. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve received a sinful nature through the fall. They passed that nature on to all their children, which includes the entire human race. Romans tells us that as a result, all have been constituted sinners. Therefore, The Normal Christian Life explains,
“The teaching of Romans is not that we are sinners because we commit sins, but that we sin because we are sinners.” (p. 27)
We descendants of Adam have sin dwelling in our bodies, making our bodies the flesh, and we will always have the flesh while we live in these bodies. Because of this, we have the nature of a sinner and are prone to committing sins. This is our predicament, even after we‘re saved.
Watchman Nee illustrates by speaking of us as a “sin-producing factory”: “we are the factory; our actions are the products” (p. 54). We may have tried again and again to stop ourselves from committing sins, but the factory keeps producing. Our failures make us ask, “What am I doing wrong? Is something else going on in me?” Watchman Nee describes this experience:
“When God’s light first shines into my heart my one cry is for forgiveness, for I realize I have committed sins before him; when once I have received forgiveness of sins I make a new discovery, namely, the discovery of sin, and I realize not only that I have committed sins before God but that there is something wrong within. I discover that I have the nature of a sinner.” (p. 3)
We commit sins because we have the nature of a sinner. We can easily understand this by observing children. They don’t have to be taught to lie; they lie spontaneously because they were born with the sinful nature. Our sinful nature is the cause of our sins.
But does this mean we can excuse ourselves by saying we can’t help committing sins because we were born with a sinful nature? Surely this isn’t the case. In his book, Nee points out God’s provision for us concerning both the sins we commit outwardly and our inward nature of sin.
God’s provision for the sins we commit
The problem of our sins can only be dealt with by the precious blood of Christ. When we confess our sins, God forgives us and cleanses us, and our fellowship with the Lord is restored. But what if we don’t “feel” cleansed after we’ve confessed our sins to the Lord? Here is what Nee says about this:
“The Blood is first for God to see. We then have to accept God’s valuation of it. In doing so we find our salvation. If instead we try to come to a valuation by way of our feelings we get nothing; we remain in darkness. No, it is a matter of faith in God’s Word. We have to believe that the Blood is precious to God because he says it is so (1 Peter 1:18-19). If God can accept the Blood as payment for our sins and as the price of our redemption, then we can rest assured that the debt has been paid. If God is satisfied with the Blood, then the Blood must be acceptable. Our valuation of it is only according to his valuation—neither more or less.” (p. 10)
The blood of Christ is sufficient to cleanse us of all our sins. This is an objective fact, something testified by the Word of God. The blood of Christ meets God’s requirement for our sins; it has no relation to our subjective feelings about our sins. Based on this objective fact, as Nee says, we can boldly proclaim, “Yes, we are sinful, but, praise God! The Blood cleanses us from every sin.” (p. 20)
God’s provision for our nature of sin
Now that we know that the blood of Christ is God’s provision for our problem of sins, how can we be delivered from our inward nature of sin? Watchman Nee points to the antidote:
“So we see that objectively the Blood deals with our sins. The Lord Jesus has borne them on the Cross for us as our Substitute and has thereby obtained for us forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation. But we must now go a step further in the plan of God to understand how he deals with the sin principle in us. The Blood can wash away my sins, but it cannot wash away my “old man.” It needs the Cross to crucify me. The Blood deals with the sins, but the Cross must deal with the sinner.” (p. 26)
How is this carried out in our everyday experience? Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, Walk by the Spirit and you shall by no means fulfill the lust of the flesh.” But what does it mean to walk, or live, by the Spirit? Nee explains it this way:
“Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself. This life is completely different from the life I would naturally live of myself. Each time I am faced with a new demand from the Lord, I look to him to do in me what he requires of me. It is not a case of trying but of trusting; not of struggling but of resting in him.” (p. 179)
To walk by the Spirit is to live, move, and have our being by the Spirit who lives in our human spirit. As we do this, the cross is spontaneously applied to us, and we can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Day by day as we learn to exercise our spirit to contact Him and walk by our spirit, we allow Him to deal with our inward problem of sin in a personal and practical way.
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