Frequently Asked Questions

We realize that these answers may not address all of your questions. If you have read our materials and still have questions, feel free to email us. We will do our best to answer them directly or in subsequent articles.

General Questions

In Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ, we spend the first five chapters explaining our view of how to biblically help other people find spiritual victory. Please read this material very carefully before forming an opinion about what we teach regarding counseling and Christian Counseling.

In answer to the question, let us say briefly that the theory of integration looks at the relationship between psychological research (Christian and secular) and biblical information about people, problems, and solutions. We do not believe that you can take equal input from psychological theory and research and from biblical data and arrive at “biblical counseling.” The Bible is the authoritative source and must be foundational to our view of people, problems and solutions. We must carefully develop a biblical worldview from which to evaluate all data and every approach to helping others.

At the same time, we do not believe that all research is inherently evil and anti-biblical. After all, every pastor relies on historical and geographical data gathered by people who do not believe in the miracles of the Bible. We use their data about possible routes of the Exodus and the geography of Sinai, but—unlike them—we nevertheless believe in the reality of the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians and the Almighty God who was and is active in human history.

Unlike history and geography, psychology and sociology are not precise sciences. What researchers in these fields have observed is helpful in describing what is, but it is not helpful in determining what should be. For example, the Bible clearly teaches that sin is perpetuated through the world (environmental factors), the flesh (internal factors), and the devil (spiritual factors) (see Ephesians 2:1-3). We have found that defense mechanisms identified in psychological research (denial, fantasy, emotional insulation, displacement, etc.) are useful descriptions of how Satan has deceived us, programming our flesh to respond in sinful, self-protective ways to environmental factors (the world). The solution to these defense mechanisms, however is not found in psychology. These false ways of coping with life must be repented of and replaced with trust in God and His truth. Only then can we let go of the defense mechanisms because then, having found freedom in Christ, we won’t need them.

A brief postscript: Psalm 19 describes the relative value of both natural and special revelation. Only special revelation—God’s written Word—can guide us to victory over sin and our relationship with God, but natural revelation (in general, what we see in nature; in this discussion, psychology) can give us insight into God and the world He has created. The critical factor is developing a thoroughly biblical worldview as a frame of reference.

According to the dictionary, the word, “acquiesce” means to agree or consent quietly without protest.” In our Christian life, acquiescence means spiritual passivity, and to live passively is to accept defeat by default.  Spiritual freedom, however, can only be found when we actively make a series of choices based on the truth of God’s word.  For example, we were all born spiritually dead and separated from God because of Adam’s sin (see Romans 5:12-15; Ephesians 2:1-3).  When we were born again, we became new creations in Christ.  But our minds were not instantly reprogrammed, and many of our old habits are still with us.  Now that we are alive in Christ, you and I can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2).  That renewal won’t happen, however, unless you are “diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 timothy 2:15).  Spiritual victory is realized as we actively choose to place our faith or trust in Jesus Christ for justification and sanctification, rejecting dead works and other false means (see Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:4-9).

Dealing with intergenerational and corporate sin also calls for an active faith.  For that reason, in Step Seven, “Acquiescence versus Renunciation,” we take an active stand by faith against any sins of our ancestors that may result in spiritual problems in our lives today (see Exodus 20:4-6).  It is important to understand that we are not guilty for our parents’ sins, but that because they sinned we are likely to suffer the consequences.  Some people struggle to accept the fact that sin can have intergenerational consequences even though one of the most well-accepted phenomenon of our day is the fact that the cycle of abuse continues in families from one generation to the next.  The wonderful truth is that we can stop that cycle of abuse if we actively take our place in Christ.

Some people might explain the transmission of sin environmentally and genetically but not spiritually.  But Jeremiah 32:16-18 says that iniquity is passed on into the bosom of the next generation, a statement which negates the role of the environment.  The argument that iniquity is passed on genetically doesn’t fit with the definition of iniquity.  (Iniquity refers to self-rule or self-will which operates from an independent spirit.) The issue is also a spiritual one, and we therefore need to actively choose to confess and renounce all the sins of our ancestors so that we may find the freedom God promises (see Leviticus 26: 38-40 and Ezekiel 18:18-22).  If, like the kings which followed Jereboam, we simply continue in the sins of our ancestors, the spiritual bondage will continue.

Hear God’s admonition to actively assume responsibility for our minds and actively resist the devil: “Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit….Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 1:13; 5:8, 9).  Even the armor of God requires active participation on our part: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore…” (Ephesians 6:13,14).  A passive faith just doesn’t work.

If you have confessed your sin and named Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you don’t have to worry about your sin.  When Christ died on the cross, He paid the penalty for all of our sins — past, present and future.  Therefore, as Paul teaches, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  The apostle also writes, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7, NIV).  We are forgiven; we are assured of having eternal life.  Those are matters we don’t have to worry about.

Although God has committed Himself to not condemn us for our sin, Satan has not made that promise.  Satan is an accuser (see Revelation 12:10).  His purpose is to try to place us under guilt and condemnation for sins which God has totally forgiven.  He torments believers with thoughts like, “God can never really forgive me for this” and “You might as well give up.  You’ll never be free from this sin.  so why bother asking for forgiveness again?” If we believe lies like these, we will live in bondage and not the freedom that Christ has purchase and provided for us.

So don’t worry about your sin in reference to eternal life.  Rejoice in the forgiveness God has provided through the death of His Son Jesus on the cross.  At the same time, commit yourself to living a righteous life.  Paul asked, “Are we to continue to sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1, 2).  You should confess any and all sin which the Holy Spirit makes you aware of.  To confess is to agree with God that what He says about our sinfulness is true (see 1 John 1:5-2:2).  You don’t need to ask for forgiveness since you are already forgiven — but you do need to acknowledge your sin and consider yourself alive in Christ and dead to sin (see Romans 6:11).  Besides, why would you want to go back into the bondage of sin when you can be alive and free in Christ? Choose to submit to God and to resist the devil (see James 4:7) and renounce any effort on the enemy’s part to place you under guilt and condemnation.

Your responsibility is to walk by faith in God and His truth, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (see Galatians 5:16).  You walk by faith when you choose to believe what God has done for you in Christ and what it means to be His child.  We strongly recommend that you read Living Free in Christ, which explains the truth about who you are in Christ and how He meets your deepest needs.

James 4:7 says, “Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” We submit to God when we confess our sin to God, and when we do so, He forgives and cleanses us (see 1 John 1:9).  And, because God is omniscient and knows our thoughts (see Psalm 139), we are assured that He hears us even when we silently confess our sins to Him.  With such confession, we have submitted to God, but have we resisted the devil? We have received forgiveness, but have we found freedom? In our ministry, we have seen how verbally confessing sin and thereby resisting the devil helps many people find freedom.  Why is this the case?

In many New Testament examples, the confrontation between believers and Satan and his evil associates is verbal (see Matthew 4:10 and 17:18; Mark 5:2-8; Luke 9:42; Revelation 12:10,11).  In fact, in Ephesians 6:10-17 we are told to resist the devil using the Word (Greek=Rhema) of God.  “Rhema” normally indicates the spoken word of God or God’s Word applied specifically (see Matthew 4:4; 18:16; Acts 5:20; Romans 10:17,18).  Believers at Ephesus applied this principle of verbal confession in Acts 19: 18-20 when they publicly disclosed their participation in cultic and occult practices.  Clearly they were concerned about any doors they may have left open to the demonic (see Acts 19:11-17).  The Greek word for “confess” in Acts 19:18 usually indicates a verbal confession (see Mark 1:5; Romans 14:11).  Such verbal confession seems to be a way to “submit to God and resist the devil” at the same time.

Note, too, the teaching of James 5:13-20, the most definitive instruction to individuals and to the Church about what to do for those who are sick and suffering.  Apparently, their problem has a spiritual dimension (verses 15,16, 19 and 20 all focus on the spiritual dimension of their sickness and suffering).  Therefore the person who is suffering is instructed to pray (v.13), seek prayer from his spiritual leaders (vv.14,15), and turn back to the truth of God (vv 19,20).  The result is described as “healing”

(v. 16), from a Greek word that can indicate either physical healing (as in Matthew 8:8; 15:28; Mark 5:25) or spiritual freedom from demonic oppression (as in Luke 9:42; Acts 10:38).  Though forgiveness is obtained through confession to God, verbal confession and agreement in prayer may be critical in finding spiritual freedom and healing.

On a practical level, many people have found it very freeing to share their secret sins with another believer and then experience acceptance and unconditional love instead of the rejection they have feared all their lives.  For many people, this moment of experiencing God’s unconditional love through His children is the starting point of learning to trust God and other people at a more fundamental level.  In other words, verbal confession can be a step into the light.  The apostle John identifies two important results of learning to stop hiding in darkness and beginning to walk in the light: “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

The fact that some practitioners of New Age thinking have adopted crystals as objects through which evil can manifest its power does not make crystals themselves evil. God has created all things for us to enjoy, and crystal can make beautiful jewelry (see 1 Timothy 6:17). Many believers see the beauty and order of crystals pointing to a beautiful God who created the universe with a marvelous order.

If, however, you have been using crystals as “power objects,” it may be advisable for you to follow the practice of the Ephesian believers in Acts 19:18-20 and remove any bridges the enemy could use to get back into your life. If you are unsure about what to do, simply ask God for wisdom, determining ahead of time that you will trust His guidance as He makes His will for you clear (see James 1:5-8).

The Origin, Theology and Rationale of The Steps to Freedom in Christ

Dr. Neil T. Anderson

A. A Brief History

Life is a journey and mine has been filled with excitement and unplanned turns in the road. I have attended church for as long as I can remember and I’ve always believed in God, but I didn’t come to know Christ until my mid-twenties while working as an aerospace engineer. I think I would have made a decision for Christ much earlier, but nobody ever shared the gospel with me, or at least I didn’t hear it in the mainline church I attended. Through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, God opened my eyes to see the truth. Two years later I sensed God calling me into full-time ministry. I attended Talbot School of Theology and accepted a call to Lakewood First Baptist (in Long Beach, California) as a college pastor. Later, I became the minister of adult education. Having a burden for the lost, I established a school of evangelism that resulted in an average of twelve people coming to Christ every week. Then the Lord called me to a senior pastor’s position.

I pursued my first doctorate not knowing it would lead to a teaching position at Talbot School of Theology. I left the pastorate with a burden for people who were living defeated lives. I knew in my heart that Christ was the answer and that the truth of God’s Word would set them free, but I didn’t know how to help them resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts. Being alive and free in Christ is the birthright of every child of God, but how many Christians are living like children of God and how many are experiencing their freedom in Christ?

At Talbot School of Theology I requested permission to offer a Master of Theology elective to explore the nature of spiritual warfare. I was seeking a balanced and biblical answer for these troubled people. The class grew each year from 18 students to 23, to 35, to 65, to 150, and then one summer we had 250 students attend. Slowly I discovered how the truth could set people free, and I saw the lives of many students change dramatically. At the same time, the Lord was sending deeply disturbed people to me, and I had the privilege to see most of them find their freedom in Christ.

About that time, the Lord took my family through a very broken experience. For 15 months my wife suffered an illness and I didn’t know whether she was going to live or die. We didn’t have very much because seminary professors don’t earn large salaries, but we did own a house. To pay the medical bills we had to sell the house and lost everything we had. God stripped us down to nothing. My ministry was bearing much fruit, but my family was paying an incredible price.

It all changed one day when Biola University had a campus-wide day of prayer. I left the communion service that evening knowing in my heart that our trial was over. Indeed it was. Within a week my wife woke up and said, “I slept last night!” She never looked back. Why did we have to go through all that? I think there are two major reasons. First, I believe God took us through that period of darkness in order to develop a heart of compassion. The Lord said, ” . . . I desire compassion and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13).

Second, I think God systematically brought Neil Anderson to the end of his resources. From man’s perspective I had a lot of them; twenty-five years of formal education which included three seminary degrees and two earned doctorates. Being broken before the Lord was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Only then did I really discover God’s resources. I know that I can’t set anybody free or bind up anybody’s broken heart. Only God can do that. I don’t even believe I can lead anyone to Christ, because Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).

Freedom in Christ Ministries was born out of brokenness. I never had a desire to write a book and I never thought I would. But every book I have written and every tape series I have recorded was all after that experience. In writing Rivers of Revival with Dr. Elmer Towns, I came to the biblical conclusion that the major dam holding back the rivers of revival is our own self-sufficiency.

B. The Results of Brokenness

A Christian psychiatrist and his therapist wife did some informal research on people attending our “Living Free in Christ” conference. We estimate that 85% of the people will leave the conference with their personal and spiritual conflicts resolved. The remaining 15% can’t get through the process on their own in the amount of time we give them. So we offer individual appointments. A pre-test was given to those who requested additional help after the conference. Three months later they were given a post-test with the following results:

48% improvement in depression

46% improvement in anxiety

70% improvement in tormenting thoughts/voices

46% improvement in uncontrolled habits

55% improvement in inner conflict/distress

It is hard for some people to believe those kinds of results can come from one counseling session done by trained lay people. One church started a freedom ministry after they hosted our conference. In five years they have led over 1500 people to freedom in Christ and lay people led 95% of the counseling sessions. They were trained to use The Steps to Freedom in Christ, which is nothing more than a comprehensive process of repentance. Churches all over the world are using this approach to help people submit to God and resist the devil (Jas. 4:7). The Steps to Freedom in Christ don’t set you free. It is Christ who sets you free through your response to Him in repentance and faith.

We receive hundreds of unsolicited letters from people all over the world testifying to their newfound freedom in Christ. This is possible because we deeply believe that the Wonderful Counselor is Christ and He wants to see His children alive and free in Him. We share an answer, but He is the answer. We give people a way to repent and resolve their conflicts, but He is the way.

We found one common denominator for those who were living defeated lives. None of them knew who they were “in Christ” or understood what it meant to be a “child of God.” Why not? If the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16), why weren’t we sensing that? Where was the “Abba Father?” After we helped them resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts and find their freedom in Christ, the sense of “Abba Father” was theirs!

It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 5:1). Being free in Christ means that we are free from our past and free to be the person God created us to be. It does not mean maturity, because there is no such thing as instant maturity. It will take us the rest of our lives to renew our minds and conform to the image of God. Helping a person to experience their freedom in Christ is not an end. It is a beginning!

C. The Underlying Biblical Principles and Rationale

My book, Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ, gives a much more detailed theology, rationale and practical application for The Steps to Freedom in Christ. The following is just a summary of this approach to discipleship counseling:

1. The authority of Scripture

Truth sets people free. Therefore we must have an uncompromising commitment to the Word of God.

2. A biblical world view

Western rationalism and naturalism have greatly influenced the church in America, resulting in something less than a biblical worldview. Most conservative Christian leaders would theologically agree that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). John says the “whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Timothy warned, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).

We have seen evidence of this all over the world. Paul wrote, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). We want to reach this world for Christ, but how are we going to do that if “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan is also the ruler of this world (Jn. 16:11), the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), and he “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9).

We cannot have a biblical world view and leave out the kingdom of darkness. Beyond having a theological understanding of the above, we need to have a practical means of liberating the body of Christ and teaching them how to stand firm in their faith. I would strongly recommend the scholarly works of Dr. Clinton Arnold for further study: Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, Baker Books; The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief, Baker Books; and Powers of Darkness, Principalities & Powers in Paul’s Letter, InterVarsity Press.

  1. Toward a whole answer

I have often been asked, “How do I know whether my problem is psychological or spiritual?” I believe that trying to separate the two creates a false dichotomy. Our problems are never not psychological. Our minds, emotions, and wills are always a critical part of the process. And our problems are never not spiritual. There is no time when God is not here. He holds all things together according to the counsel of His will. And there is no time when it is safe to take off the armor of God. The possibility of being tempted, accused, or deceived is a critical part of our on-going struggle.

A whole answer must include submitting to God, as well as resisting the devil (Jas. 4:7). Trying to resist the devil without first submitting to God will result in a dogfight. Submitting to God without resisting the devil can leave one in bondage. The tragedy is that most of our recovery ministries aren’t doing either one. Well-intentioned programs and strategies can’t set anyone free. Only God can do that.

4. An encounter with God

Christian counseling is not just a technique that we learn. Christian counseling is an encounter with God. He is the Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor and He is the only One who can set the captive free and bind up the broken hearted. To effectively use our material, you would have to be totally dependent upon God, have the character of Christ, know the truth that sets people free and fully understand that it is God who grants repentance. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

5. Christ is the answer

What Adam and Eve lost in the fall was life, spiritual life. What Jesus came to give us was life. The most important issue in discipleship counseling is to reconnect people with Christ who is their life. This would necessitate resolving any issues that are critical between ourselves and God. That is the basis for The Steps to Freedom in Christ.

D. Resolving Personal and Spiritual Conflicts by Submitting to God and Resisting the Devil in Genuine Repentance

It is not enough to know the Word of God; we need the life of Christ to change. The Steps to Freedom in Christ is a discipleship counseling process designed to help people resolve issues that are critical between themselves and God. Let’s examine what these issues are.

Every born-again Christian is a child of God and a new creation in Christ. Incomplete repentance, a lack of faith in Him, and unresolved conflicts can keep Christians from experiencing their freedom in Christ. This discipleship counseling approach is unique because the counselee is the one who is praying. They are inviting God to grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth which sets them free.

Counterfeit versus Real

In making a public profession of faith, the early church would stand, face the west and say, “I renounce you Satan and all your works and all your ways.” This was the first step in repentance. The Catholic church and most liturgical churches still require that to be said at confirmation. That is a generic statement, however. The early church would specifically renounce every counterfeit religious experience they had, every false vow or pledge they made, and every false teacher or doctrine in whom they believed. We encourage every person we counsel to do that as well. Renounce means to give up a claim or a right to something. When we renounce something, we are making a definite decision to let go of our past commitments, pledges, vows, pacts, and beliefs that are not Christian. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Prov. 28:13 NIV).

Some people commit themselves to Christ and choose to believe the Word of God, but they hold on to past commitments and still believe what they always have. That would make salvation only addition instead of transformation. They just added something to what they already believe. Every believer must decisively let go of the past, which is the first step to genuine repentance. If we have totally embraced the truth, then we have also clearly understood what is not true. All this was made possible because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven and we have new life in Christ, but nobody pushed the clear button in that organic computer between our ears. Our minds were not instantly transformed to the truth of God’s Word, but now we can repent by the grace of God.

The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the Word of God, but by the manifestation of truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:1,2). Paul is contrasting the truth of divine revelation with that of false teachers and prophets. Knowing God’s holiness and His call for church purity, Paul exhorts us to renounce every immoral practice, every distortion of truth, and any deceitfulness of the heart.

God does not take lightly false guidance and false teachers. In the Old Testament they were to be stoned to death, and there were serious consequences for those who consulted them. “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev. 20:6). There are similar warnings about false teachers and false prophets in the New Testament. That is why we have found it necessary to renounce any and all involvement with false guidance, false teachers, false prophets, and every cult and occultic practice. We don’t want to be cut off by God; we want to be connected to Him.

Deception versus Truth

The ultimate battle is between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and the anti-Christ, between good and evil, between the father of lies and the Spirit of Truth. An important step in realizing our freedom is to sort out the lies and choose the truth. We are admonished to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:25), walk in the light and have fellowship with one another (1 Jn. 1:7). Many who struggle in their Christian walk believe lies, walk in darkness, and avoid intimate contact with others. In order to live free in Christ, we must choose the truth by winning the battle for our minds. This requires an uncompromising commitment to God’s Word, regardless of how one feels.

Bitterness versus Forgiveness

We have never met a defeated Christian who isn’t struggling with bitterness. They carry emotional scars and the painful wounds inflicted upon them by others. They have never known how to let go of the past and forgive from the heart. Some have chosen not to. They hang on to their anger as a means of protecting themselves from being hurt again, but they are only hurting themselves. Forgiveness is to set a captive free and then discover you were the captive. People cannot be free from their past and emotionally free today without forgiving from the heart. If we don’t forgive from our heart, God will turn us over to the torturers (Matt. 18:34).

God is not out to get us; He is out to restore us. He knows that if we hang on to our bitterness, we will only hurt ourselves and others (Heb. 12:15). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31,32). We forgive others for our sake and for the sake of our relationship with God. What is to be gained in forgiving others is freedom. We are also warned by Paul that we need to forgive others so that Satan doesn’t take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:10,11). This critical issue must be resolved in order to be free from our past.

Rebellion versus Submission

We live in a very rebellious age. Everyone thinks it is his right to criticize and sit in judgment of those who are over him. When sown, the seeds of rebellion reap anarchy and spiritual defeat. If you have a rebellion problem, you may have the worst problem in the world. Scripture instructs us to submit to and pray for those who are in authority over us. Honoring your mother and father is the first of the Ten Commandments that ends in a promise. The same is true in the New Testament (Rom. 13:1-3):

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.

There are times when we must obey God rather than man, but they are usually rare exceptions. When a human authority requires you to do something that is forbidden by God, and restricts you from doing what God has called you to do, then you must obey God rather than man. The same applies when a person tries to exercise control over you when it exceeds the scope of his authority. A policeman can write you a ticket for breaking the traffic laws, but he cannot tell you what to believe or prevent you from going to church. Also, it is legitimate and necessary to set up scriptural boundaries to protect yourself from further abuse by tyrants.

Living under a repressive political regime, critical boss, or abusive parents can be depressing if we let it. But they are not determining who we are unless we let them. It takes a great act of faith to trust God to work through something less than perfect authority figures, but that is what He is asking us to do. This is critically important for a right relationship with God, and that is essential for our complete victory in Christ.

Pride versus Humility

God created Adam and Eve to live dependent upon Him. All temptation is an attempt to get us to live our lives independent of God. Pride is an independent spirit that wants to exalt self. “God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6). Pride says I can do it myself, and I don’t need God or anyone else. Such arrogant thinking sets us up for a fall, because “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov. 16:18). We absolutely need God and we necessarily need each other. Paul says, “we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

Shame and self-deprecation is not humility. Humility is confidence properly placed. That is why we put no confidence in our flesh. Our confidence is in God. Self-sufficiency robs us of our sufficiency in Christ, because only in Christ can we do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). God intended for His children to live victoriously by having great confidence in Christ. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:5,6).

Bondage versus Freedom

Habitual sin will keep us in bondage. Paul wrote, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:12-14). Repentance and faith in God is the only answer for breaking the bondage to the sin which so easily entangles us. You can be free from bondage to sin, because every believer is alive in Christ and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11).

Acquiescence versus Renunciation

The last step in helping others find freedom in Christ is to renounce the sins of our ancestors and actively take our place in Christ and resist the devil. The Ten Commandments reveal that the iniquities of fathers can be visited upon the third and fourth generation. This is evident in our society in the well-known cycles of abuse. Jesus said in Matthew 23:29-31:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

In other words, “Like father, like son.” We are not guilty of our father’s sins, but because they sinned, we will have to live with the consequences of their sin, and we are doomed to continue to live in the way we were taught by them unless we repent. “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40). The primary teachers in the first five years of our lives have been our parents, and much of our personality and temperament has been established in those early and formative years of our lives.

When they repented in the Old Testament, they confessed their sins and the sins of their fathers (see Lev.26:39,40; Neh.1:5,6, 9:2; Jer.14:20; Dan. 9:10,11). Rather than defending their fathers and continuing in their sins, they made a clean break from that which they knew was wrong, and so must we, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Jesus” (1 Pet. 1:18,19).

We don’t encourage people to confess the sins of their parents, but we do encourage them to repent from the futile way of life inherited from their forefathers which they now know to be wrong. This is the only way to stop cycles of abuse and do away with family traditions, habits and patterns of living that are not Christian.

E. The Purpose of Freedom in Christ Ministries

Freedom in Christ Ministries exists to establish Christians, their marriages, and their ministries alive and free in Christ. Our desire is to help other ministries be successful. If we are going to glorify God by bearing much fruit (Jn. 15:8), then we must abide in Christ. We don’t sit in judgment of hurting people or point out their weaknesses. We try to affirm them in Christ and trust the Holy Spirit to bring conviction at the appropriate time. We are delighted that such a wide variety of ministries and denominations are using our material, because that helps unite the body of Christ which is what our Lord is praying for (Jn. 17:21). The only basis for unity in the body of Christ is to realize that every true believer is a child of God (Jn. 1:12; 1 Jn. 3:1-3). Any attempt to unite fallen humanity on any other basis than Christ has always failed.

When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, you would think the religious establishment would say, “Thank you for doing that for him. What a wonderful thing you did. Teach us to help others in the same way that we may relieve the suffering of so many hurting people and bring glory to God.” Unfortunately, they were furious and conspired against Him (Lk. 6:11). In order to attack Him, they found one little petty issue that went against their traditions. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath! Nothing much has changed!

We have a chance to be part of the building crew or the wrecking crew. Let me encourage you to be a part of the crew that builds up one another. To equip yourself, seek those ministries which are bearing fruit and committed to the authority of Scripture. Take only those insights and methods which you can agree with and use them to the glory of God. In other words, don’t throw out the cherry pie if you happen to come upon an occasional pit. No one person or ministry has all the answers, but Jesus does. So let’s connect people to Him. Titus writes, “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (3:14). I believe those needs are only met in a living and liberated relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is our ministry, and I hope it is yours.

Beyond Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Dr. Neil T. Anderson

While I was conducting a “Living Free in Christ” conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Judy King, a licensed Christian therapist, decided to do some informal testing on those who were in need of personal counseling. The subjects of her study were those who attended the conference and requested a “freedom appointment.”

They were given a questionnaire before their appointment and then again three months later. The counseling appointment was for one extended session and was conducted by a lay encourager who was trained to take a person through the “Steps to Freedom in Christ.” The results showed 52% improvement in depression, 47% improvement in anxiety, 57% improvement in tormenting thoughts, 48% improvement in personal and spiritual conflicts, and a 39% improvement in negative habits or behavior.

An independent research group headed by Dr. George Hurst from the University of Texas Medical Center found similar results after our conference in Oklahoma City. The same group conducted more testing after a conference in Tyler, Texas later in 2000. No attempt was made to determine what the counselee’s individual problems were before the pretest was completed. In other words, some asking for appointments may not have been depressed or overly anxious, which makes the results even more impressive. In January, 2000, I taught a Doctor of Ministry class at Regent University. Dr. Fernando Garzon who taught in their Psychology department requested permission to conduct some research on the students. The class was a one-week intensive, meeting eight hours every day. The students were working on their Master of Divinity, Doctor of Psychology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees. Dr. Garzon used the same questionnaire that Judy King used plus the students took a pre-test and post-test using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory, the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Symptom Checklist 90-R. Dr. Garzon reported the results of his research; “Statistically significant reductions were found in several scales of the SCL-90-R (global severity index, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, hostility, somatization, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism). Anxiety was reduced as measured by the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and statistically significant increases in self-esteem and spirituality items were also found.”

How does one explain such significant results? I can assure you that the results we are seeing routinely in our ministry have little to do with our personal skills as counselors. In fact we have no professionally trained counselors on our staff. The editors of the Journal of Psychology and Theology asked the critical question. What is Freedom in Christ Ministry doing that is different from standard cognitive therapy which is well accepted by both Christian as well as secular counselors? In other words, “if Neil taught a class (or conducted a conference) and the students experienced significant improvements, isn’t that just cognitive therapy being conducted on a group level?” The answer is “yes, cognitive therapy was a part of the process, but no, that would not explain the results.”

From a Christian perspective, Cognitive therapy is very close in concept to repentance, which literally means a change of mind. The cognitive therapy process could be summarized as follows:

  1. First, the client is helped to see the connection between negative thoughts, the emotions they create, and the behaviors that follow.
  2. Then the client is taught to recognize and monitor negative thoughts or distortions of reality. Thoughts or beliefs leading to negative feelings and improper responses to life are identified as ineffective or dysfunctional.
  3. Next, the client examines the evidence for and against such distorted thinking or perceptions of reality. What does the evidence indicate? Is the client going to continue to think in this way, to believe what is being thought, and to act accordingly-or will the client change? This is decision time.
  4. If the client concludes that what has been believed is not true and that his or her perception of reality was not right, then the client must substitute new ways of thinking/believing and responding.
  5. Finally, the client is helped to identify and change the inappropriate assumptions that predisposed him or her to distort the experience in the first place.

Such a process is not only appropriate for Christian pastors and counselors; it is extremely helpful for those seeking answers for their life. Biblical preaching and teaching can accomplish the same thing although the process is less personal and interactive. However, cognitive therapy as outlined above is not enough by itself to produce the kind of fruit that we believe every pastor and Christian counselor can.

In researching for our book, Freedom from Fear, I came across a book by Dr. Edmund Bourne entitled Healing Fear, which was published in 1998. Dr. Bourne wrote an earlier book entitled, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, which won the Benjamin Franklin Book Award for Excellence in Psychology. A second edition was published in 1995, after which he went through the worst period of anxiety in his own life. It caused him to reevaluate his own life and approach to treatment. In the forward to his latest book, Dr. Bourne wrote:

The guiding metaphor for this book is “healing” as an approach to overcoming anxiety, in contrast to “applied technology.” I feel it’s important to introduce this perspective into the field of anxiety treatment since the vast majority of self-help books available (including my first book) utilize the applied technology approach. These books present-in a variety of ways-the mainstream cognitive behavioral methodology for treating anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy reflects the dominant zeitgeist of Western society-a worldview that has primary faith in scientifically validated technologies that give humans knowledge and power to overcome obstacles to successful adaptation . . . .I don’t want to diminish the importance of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the applied technology approach. Such an approach produces effective results in many cases, and I use it in my professional practice every day. In the past few years, though, I feel that the cognitive behavioral strategy has reached its limits. CBT and medication can produce results quickly and are very compatible with the brief therapy, managed-care environment in the mental health profession at present. When follow-up is done over one-to three-years intervals, however, some of the gains are lost. Relapses occur rather often, and people seem to get themselves back into the same difficulties that precipitated the original anxiety disorder.

To get beyond CBT, Christians need to consider three critical issues. First, giving people the words of Christ without possessing the life of Christ will prove insufficient. Christianity is a righteous relationship with God, not just an intellectual exercise. The truth will set you free and Jesus is the truth. Dead orthodoxy is just that: dead! Jesus came to give us life, and without the life of Christ we lack the power to live a righteous life. Our approach to counseling is based on the need to help our people get right with God by resolving personal and spiritual conflicts. The Steps to Freedom in Christ (Steps) is just a tool to help people submit to God and resist the devil. The Steps don’t set you free. Who sets you free is Christ, and what sets you free is your response to Him in repentance and faith. The Steps, like any tool, can be used rightly or wrongly.

Second, we understand Christian counseling to be primarily an encounter with God as opposed to some learned technique. Jesus is the wonderful counselor and only He can set a captive free and only He can bind up the broken hearted, and only He can make us new creations in Christ, and only He can transform a sinner into a saint. Nobody can fix your past. But you can be free from your past if you are a new creation in Christ. Because of the Gospel, it is the birthright of every believer to be alive and free in Christ. The pastor, Christian counselor, and properly equipped lay person are a facilitator in the ministry of reconciliation. When one Christian sits down to help another, there are not just two people present. God is omnipresent and each person has a role and a responsibility, which the other can’t usurp and still be effective.

Third, CBT will not be effective if the counselor does not take into account the reality of the spiritual world or the potential that the suffering person could be paying attention to a deceiving spirit. We have been clearly warned by the Apostle Paul; “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). Paul also said, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Such obvious Scriptural passages and years of experience have helped us to understand that many people considered to be mentally ill are actually experiencing a spiritual battle for their minds. Every believer is admonished in Scripture to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), put on the armor of God, choose to think upon that which is true, pure, and lovely, etc., (Phil. 4:6-8).

We were all born dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), i.e. we were born physically alive, but spiritually dead. During those early and informative years of our live we had neither the presence of God in our lives or the knowledge of His ways. So we all learned to live our lives independent of God. Then one day we were born-again spiritually, but nobody pushed the clear button in our memory bank. That is why we still struggle with many of the same things we did before our conversion. The Apostle Paul explains what must happen. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). CBT contributes to that process, but not without the presence of Christ who gives us life nor without the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.

I had the privilege to co-author a book with Dr. Terry and Julie Zuehlke entitled, Christ Centered Therapy (Zondervan) and subtitled “The Practical Integration of Theology and Psychology. Both Terry and Julie have secular degrees. Terry has a Doctorate in Psychology and Julie has her Masters Degree in Psychiatric Nursing. They both began their practices in the market place as religious non-believers. Then they both came to Christ and struggled with integrating their newfound beliefs into their secular practices. Finally, Terry founded his own Christ-Centered practice in the suburbs of Minneapolis with offices around the state of Minnesota. Julie is on staff at Crystal Evangelical Free Church overseeing their care ministries. More than 2000 people have found their freedom in Christ through the ministry of that church. They have the working model that Freedom in Christ Ministries encourages other churches to adopt. Our passion is to see that churches and professional counselors consider how to work together and integrate the above three issues into their practice along with a biblical use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy so that God’s children can live free and productive lives in Christ.

I close with some final words from the book, Healing Fear by Dr. Bourne:

In my own experience, spirituality has been important, and I believe it will come to play an increasingly important role in the psychology of the future. Holistic medicine, with its interest in meditation, prayer, and the role of spiritual healing in recovery from serious illness, has become a mainstream movement in the nineties. I believe there will be a “holistic psychology” in the not too distant future, like holistic medicine, [that] integrates scientifically based treatment approaches with alternative, more spiritually based modalities.

How to Respond to Those Who Disagree
Dr. Neil T. Anderson

Peoples’ lives are governed by what they have chosen to believe. That is why an unshakable faith in God and an uncompromising belief in His Word is the only foundation for Christian living. The Christian’s calling is to walk by faith according to what God says is true. The Word of God is to be lived, not just intellectually discussed. Our credibility does not hinge upon our ability to argue, nor does it depend upon our ability to convince others that we are right and therefore they must be wrong.

We will be deemed credible only when we live what we profess to believe. We best defend the faith when we glorify God in our bodies. In this way we manifest His presence in the world. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20). I would take that to mean the fruit of reproduction, as well as the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are the measure of a Spirit-filled Christian. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).

Personal Convictions

The credibility of the church is at stake. Is Christ the answer and does the truth set us free? I have never been more convinced that the answer is an unqualified “yes,” and I have dedicated my life to help liberate the church and establish each member alive and free in Christ. I have made every effort to share the truth in love and stay committed to the authority of Scripture. It would grieve me to discover that what I share with others isn’t true, and I would readily correct my message if it were shown to be erroneous.

That is why I have chosen to be accountable to credible people for my message, as well as my morals. I am deeply thankful for the friendship of Dr. Robert Saucy who has been on my board from the beginning. He is one of the most gracious and intelligent theologians I know. I asked him to personally hold me accountable for my message. It was a privilege to co-author The Common Made Holy with him, which is a rather exhaustive book on sanctification. If you are interested in the message of Freedom in Christ, I would urge you to read this book.

I highly value higher education, but often Christian education is not accomplishing what it should. In many cases it has the wrong goal. In too many cases we have made doctrine or knowledge an end in itself. Such efforts will distort the very purpose for sound doctrine. Paul says, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). You can graduate from a good seminary on the basis that you answered most, not even all, of the questions right. You could do that and not even be a Christian. In a similar fashion, you can know all about God and not know Him at all.

Paul is even more pointed when he says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1,2). It is possible to be theologically correct and spiritually wrong, which will be revealed by our character. We are “servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). It is tragic to capture the letter of the law, but then live in such a way that reveals little understanding of the Spirit who gives life. Scripture says that “he who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30) and “by this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn.13:35). A godly theologian and a humble apologist will utilize their God-given gifts and talents to bolster your confidence in God and His Word, establish you alive and free in Christ, and set you on the path of conforming to His image.

Responding to Criticism

I must confess to a certain degree of naiveté about having an international ministry which resources the church with printed material. One veteran author suggested I better develop “thick skin” if I continued writing books. I was determined not to do that. The Lord led me through a lot of pain in order to develop a compassionate heart. I fight every day to keep my heart tender toward God and others by not letting a root of bitterness spring up or becoming indifferent to others and how they feel. This can be a real test of one’s character and convictions.

One of Satan’s major strategies is to discredit legitimate Christian leaders. The same is true for bearing fruit. The more fruit you bear the greater the opposition. The painful part is that it frequently comes from within the church! I am thankful for the experience I had when I was a young Christian, attending a growing church. The pastor was a real spiritual dynamo. In seven years the church tripled in size. As a new believer, I was very impressed by this man. One day I was playing golf with the music director. On the first tee, I asked him what he thought about the pastor. He responded, “Frankly, I can’t stand the man!” For the next eighteen holes, the music director shared every little character defect he saw in the pastor. For the next six months, I heard little of what the pastor said; I only saw his character defects.

My heart had been poisoned. I began to dislike the pastor and was tempted to talk negatively about him. I came under deep conviction for my attitude. I had no peace until I made an appointment with him. I asked him to forgive me for not loving him. His character was revealed when he asked me to join his staff at the end of our conversation. I never felt so humbled in all my life. We developed a good friendship.

How should I or any Christian respond to criticism or attacks upon his ministry or character? I have always taught that we should not be defensive for three reasons. First, because Jesus wasn’t. He was dumb before His accusers and “while being reviled, He did not revile in return” (1 Pet. 2:23). Second, if we are wrong, we don’t have a defense. Third, if we are right, we don’t need one. That is a hard example to follow, but it is Christlike to do so. Like Jesus, we must keep entrusting ourselves to Him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:23).

Growing through Legitimate Criticism

“Is there any truth in what they are saying?” That is the first question we should ask when our message and methods are criticized. Any ministry will suffer if it doesn’t pay attention to concerned critics. Our message and methods are sharpened by those who disagree. If what we have said isn’t true or our methods aren’t right, then we should humble ourselves and make the appropriate adjustments. The Book of Proverbs says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (12:1). ” . . . He who regards reproof is prudent” (15:5). “He who regards reproof will be honored” (13:18).

Good and not harm will come of criticism if the reproof is directed toward the message and method and not the person. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) asked me to write and present a paper on “Ethics in Christian Publishing.” One important point which I covered was to focus on issues and not personalities. The former will sharpen the Christian community, but the latter will divide.

When I was a lead systems engineer I had to submit to design reviews. If the original system design was not correct, then all the rest that followed would not work as well. I had to invite the sharpest people in the company to review my design. Their job was to find anything and everything wrong about it. It was a little intimidating, but when the meeting was over, it was still my design and I left with a greater degree of confidence. Even in a secular setting, I could tell if people were picking on me or my design. For instance, someone could say, “Neil, I’m not sure you have enough feedback in the system.” That criticism is directed toward the design which is legitimate. But someone could also say, “Neil, that is a stupid design. How can you call yourself an engineer?” That is a personal attack, and even if it comes from a friend, it is counterproductive to the process.

Not only how the criticism comes, but who offers it is of great importance. The Book of Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (27:6). One has to consider the source of the criticism and be discerning. You need to put up the shield of faith against fiery darts which come from the enemy and keep entrusting yourself to God. In Psalm 119, David has some advice for such attacks. “The arrogant utterly deride me, yet I do not turn aside from Your law” (vs. 51). “The arrogant have forged a lie against me; with all my heart I will observe Your precepts” (vs. 69). “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (vs. 71). In other words, David didn’t receive their criticism. Rather it drove him to the Word of God and he grew through the crisis. You can’t let critical people determine who you are.

When in Doubt, Choose the Path of Humility

But how do you know if the criticism is legitimate? Let me illustrate how I responded one time to criticism. One particular group made public a very negative two-page paper about our ministry, which I felt was untrue. What should a person do? What would you do? In this case, I sent their critique to twenty-five churches and/or ministries who had hosted our conferences in the past. In the cover letter I explained that this is what was being said about my ministry. If any of the paper were saying were true, then I would need to repent, but in my heart I felt that none of it were true. Since we all have blind spots, I allowed that I could be coming across in a way of which I was unaware. I invited these churches and/or ministries to share with me any concerns they had about what I was teaching or how I was coming across. On the other hand, if they agreed with me that the content of this paper wasn’t true, I asked them to write a letter informing the group of their observations so that no more damage would be done to either the group or my ministry.

I received no corrective reproof, because none of these ministries agreed with the group who published the paper. You would think that would have put an end to it, but it hasn’t. There is no way you can stop negative criticism, but you can choose to do what Peter says (1 Pet. 5:6-10):

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

Personally, I would be grieved to think that I had publicly said something negative about another person or ministry that was not true. Christians are admonished by God to support, build up and encourage one another. If we have a disagreement with someone, we are supposed to go in private and give him or her an opportunity to repent or change. One important guideline for working with other people and ministries is given in Philippians 2:3-5:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.

Intellectual Arrogance or Honest Inquiry

John Stott said it well, “We cannot pander to their intellectual arrogance, but we must cater to their intellectual integrity.” I appreciate any pastor who wants to be sure that what is shared with his congregation is true. A pastor is responsible before God for shepherding his flock. Any legitimate ministry would gladly cooperate with such a pastor and answer any theological or methodological questions he may have. We should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet. 3:15). But it bears little if any fruit to spend time with those who don’t abide by any rules of scriptural order or decency. The field is white unto harvest and we must reach as many as we can for Christ. We cannot be distracted from being the persons God created us to be or stop doing what He has called us to do.

Does such criticism hurt? Of course it does! But we can survive if we know who we are in Christ. Many good people have withdrawn from ministry or refused to run for political office because of the barrage of criticism they know they will receive. If we are secure in Christ, then we can stand alone if we have to. My pain is for the millions of people who are living in bondage. I believe our ministry and many others like it can help them, but many will never be given that opportunity because of bad press. That greatly disappoints me, because the body of Christ and our witness to a lost world gets tarnished.

If other ministries disagree with what I am saying, then logically I would disagree with them. In fact I probably do disagree with the message and method of many ministries, but I’m not sharing my concerns in public. If I disagree with someone, I go to that person first, giving him or her a chance to clarify their position and to change and respond in private if they have been shown to be wrong. I do this to protect their reputation and the reputation of the Church. Mature people don’t slander their Christian brothers and sisters in public. Healthy Christians are known for what they do believe, not for what they don’t believe.

Responding to Personal Attacks

How should Christians respond to critics who publicly attack personalities instead of issues? First, I think we need to realize who we are dealing with. It could be a ploy of the enemy, in which case you need to resist such attacks by standing firm in your position in Christ, put up the shield of faith, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. If properly discerned, external attacks upon the body of Christ can actually unite true believers together. The attacks that can do the most damage usually come from deceived, hurting or very immature Christians. It has helped me to realize that mature Christians don’t tear down one another. Struggling and hurting Christians do, however, have a tendency to berate others or themselves. Nobody tears down another person out of a position of strength. Mature people, and especially those who are secure in Christ, don’t need to do that, and they are wise enough to understand why. Realizing this has helped me to respond appropriately to these hurting people.

The Church will never be destroyed from without. But if the enemy can get Christians to turn on one another, our witness and credibility will be severely damaged.

Second, I think we need to pray for these critical people. Don’t pray judgment upon them. If anything, ask God to be merciful to them. Jesus admonished those who would hear Him, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27,28). It takes the grace of God to be merciful as He has been merciful, and to forgive as He has forgiven. Unless we freely give what we have freely received, we will never realize our potential in Christ.

I have often said in my conferences, “If we could memorize the following verse, put it into practice and never violate it, half of the problems in our churches and homes would disappear overnight. ‘Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear’ (Eph. 4:29). The next verse tells us how God feels when we tear down one another. ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Peter must have received his share of condemnation, because he writes so much about suffering. In the face of such opposition he writes, “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY” (1 Pet. 2:9,10). The world says you are nothing, therefore scheme, maneuver, and compete in order to get ahead and be someone. The Bible says you are something, therefore:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing what is right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Pet. 2:13-17).

Reject a Factious Man

Finally, the church at large and local expressions of the body of Christ may have to exercise church discipline for those who cause division according to Titus 3:9-11:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

The literal definition of a heretic is “one who causes schisms.” Such a person could actually be right according to the letter of the law, but dead wrong spiritually. Usually they are struggling with a root of bitterness which is causing many to be defiled. That is why forgiveness is the core of our Christian experience with God and each other. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31,32). We are called to be “servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Anybody can divide the body of Christ, but it takes the Spirit of God to bring unity among those who are called children of God. Let me close with these words of Paul in Ephesians 4:1-3:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.


by Dr. Timothy Warner

Former Vice President of International Ministries, Freedom in Christ
Former Missions Chairman and President, Fort Wayne Bible College
Former Faculty member, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

When people hear that my wife and I served as missionaries in a West African tribal society, they often say, “I suppose you saw a lot of spiritual warfare out there.” My reply is, “No, I didn’t, not because it wasn’t there but because I had no mental categories that included that as a meaningful concept.”

Four years in a fine Christian college majoring in religion plus three years in a theological seminary majoring in Bible had not prepared me in any way for what I would meet in an African tribal village. I did not have a functional knowledge of animism as a belief system nor did I have a meaningful Christian response to animism. Most of the books that we consider standard texts in missions and especially missionary anthropology had not been written when I was in school. Teachers tend to teach subjects for which they have adequate texts, and in the absence of such texts there was a corresponding absence of classes in missions and spiritual warfare. God blessed in many ways in spite of my lack of knowledge, but in looking back on that missionary experience, I have often wished that I had known then at least something of what I know now.

I had taught in a Bible college for two years prior to African service, and after our term of ministry in Africa, I was asked to teach missions in the same Bible college. In my attempt to be prepared for my classes, I was reading as widely as I could in the missions literature of the day. Somewhere in that process, I picked up a book by the controversial German author, Kurt Koch. It introduced me to the realm of the occult and the Christian response to it in some systematic way for the first time. That led me to seek out other resources on the subject, only to discover that they were very scarce. But as I pursued my study, I became convinced that missionaries going into animistic societies needed to know about animism; so I introduced a course on that subject into the curriculum. I also became convinced that they needed to have a good Christian response to animistic beliefs and practices, but there were no adequate texts on which to build such a class.

I began to include some of these new ideas in other classes, however, and word got around that I believed in the reality of spiritual warfare. It is one thing to teach about something; it is another thing to practice it. Our first test to practice our new beliefs came in the form of our psychology teacher, a lady who was one of the most competent Christian counselors I have ever worked with. She asked my wife and me if we would meet with one of her clients who professed to be a Christian but was plagued with compulsions which kept her from living a normal life.

To make a longer story short, in that meeting we, for the first time, were challenged by a demon speaking through a person. While we passed that first test, we have since learned many things that would have helped us minister even more effectively to that young woman.

It has been a long pilgrimage, but today we would define spiritual warfare essentially as the battle for the mind. Satan is a liar and deceiver ( John 8:44Rev. 12:9 ) and his deception operates in the areas of power and truth. In a sense it is all a matter of truth, including the truth about power, but power is such a significant element in the lives of so much of the world’s population that it deserves special attention. The primary power issues are the creation of fear and the seeking of knowledge or power from a supernatural source other than God. The primary truth issues are the character of God and the nature of our relationship to Him “in Christ.”

The Christian’s Stance toward Satan

For some reason most of the church seems to teach its members that, if they are good Christians, Satan can’t do anything to them. Therefore, the best thing to do with Satan and demons is to ignore them. The only problem is that that is not what the Bible says. There are numerous warnings about satanic activity in the Scriptures, and all of them are addressed to believers. Peter, for example, in 1 Peter 5:8-9a says, “Be self -controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. . . .”

The Greek words translated “self-controlled and alert” which Peter uses here are the same words Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 to speak of the second coming of Christ. We are to be self-controlled and alert in order to be ready to meet the Lord with no advanced notice whether that be in a sudden, accidental death or in a secret rapture. Peter is therefore telling us that we need to be ready to meet the devil at any moment. That doesn’t mean we lead a Satan-centered life, but it does mean that we need to be constantly alert to the “fiery darts” (Eph. 6:16) which Satan sends our way.

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Christians are not immune from Satan’s deception, and unless they use the armor and the weapons provided, they may become his victims. If that were not so, Peter would have said, “Yes, you have an adversary, but don’t worry about him. He can’t do anything to you. Your Father will protect you.” It is certainly true that when we do things God’s way, God will be responsible for the results, but if we do not do things God’s way, we have to be responsible for the results. Too many people want to live life their own way and then expect God to protect them from the devices of the enemy. It just doesn’t work that way.

The Christian and Demons

To what extent can Satan/demons influence a Christian? It is clear that believers can be tempted and that they can yield to temptation. It is also clear that they can be deceived. The degree to which a believer believes and lives out a lie of Satan is the degree to which Satan has control in his/her life. Paul indicates that believers can give foothold (literally “a place,” Eph. 4:26,27) to Satan. The only place one can give Satan a foothold is in one’s own life. He already is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30) and the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:2); so we can’t give him a “place” out there.

But can a Christian be possessed by a demon? Definitely not. We have been bought with the price of the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18,19). We belong to Christ. Some people use “possessed” to refer to any activity of Satan in a believer. That makes this question an either-or issue. Either you are possessed or you aren’t, and if “possession” includes influence and control, then the real issue is confused. I believe the original language does not support the broad definition of “possess,” and I use it only in relation to non-Christians.

Sometimes the question arises whether a Christian is really secure in Christ if he/she can come under demonic attack. The Bible warnings concerning demonic activity are all addressed to believers; so it is evident that Christians can come under attack. There is also abundant evidence that God has provided the resources for the believer to be victorious over such attacks. But the responsibility for choosing truth, for using the armor, for doing the resisting is clearly on the Christian. God does not do that for us. He commands us to use the resources He has provided (John 8:31,32; Eph. 6:10-18; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8,9). This issue in this struggle is not salvation; it is fellowship with the Father and victory in the Christian life.

The Christian’s Enemy

The Bible does not give use a nice narrative account of how Satan became the fiend he is today. It appears that he was one of the higher ranking angels and that he became jealous of God’s glory. He then decided to try to get some of that glory for himself by having other angels and humans treat him like a god. He tried this with Jesus when he offered Him all the kingdoms of the world “if You will bow down and worship me,” that is, treat me like God (Matt. 4:9). The “man of lawlessness,” whom I assume to be possessed by Satan, “will oppose and exalt himself over all that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4).

When he chose to rebel against God in this way, God did not immediately execute punishment against him. The punishment has been determined (Matt. 25:41) but has not yet been enforced. In the meantime, Satan is the “roaring lion” Peter warns us about who is making war on the saints. While he may find a depraved kind of glee in seeing those who are already in his kingdom suffer, he is especially concerned about those who have forsaken his kingdom for the kingdom of God. Believers can live to the glory of God, and that is something he wants to prevent at all costs. It could be argued that his primary aim for Christians is to get them to live at a level that is less than to the glory of God. I call it the wilderness of spiritual mediocrity.

The Attack on God and His Children

Israel was told in one of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not bear [literal translation] the name of the Lord in vain” (Ex. 20:7). The usual interpretation is that we should not use the name of God as an oath or curse, and it certainly means that. I believe, however, that there is a much deeper meaning. The Hebrew word is nasa, and it means to lift up, to bear, or to carry. Israel was to “bear” the name of Yahweh among all the nations of the world. They were to be called the people of Yahweh. I believe the Lord is saying to them, “You are to be known as the people of Yahweh. Be sure that you do not bear that name among the nations in an empty, vain way.” The New Testament version is stated in a positive mode and is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Because the glory of God is the real issue, Satan’s first attack is always on the character of God. His primary tactic is always deception (Rev. 12:9). Jesus called him a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), and he begins with lies about God. This battle for the mind of man began in the garden when he led Eve to question the trustworthiness and love of God. He convinced her that God was not telling her the truth when He said that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. “On the contrary,” Satan said, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Eve “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.” By implication Satan is saying, “How can you believe that God loves you when He won’t let you have such a desirable fruit as that?” The first two items in Eve’s conclusion were true, but the third was a lie. And as soon as Eve began to question whether God could be trusted and whether He really loved them, the step into sin was an easy one.

If God cannot be trusted and He does not really love us, then it is no great thing to be His child. Who needs a father like that? And this is precisely the approach Satan has been using ever since that day in the garden. The battle for the mind always begins with the character of God and moves to our identity as the children of God. If those two items in our belief system are based on Satan’s deceptions, the rest of our theology and our living will be affected adversely, and other lies will more readily be accepted.

One area of life where Satan loves to take advantage of this lie is in his use of fear. Fear is a great controller, and if God is not really trustworthy and reliable, then I need to fear many things. The most frequent command in the Bible is “fear not.” It is repeated many times because God’s people have so easily fallen victim to fear when they began to doubt the character and promises of their Father.

But Satan also takes advantage of our low view of God by suggesting that there is a supernatural source of information and power apart from God. This opens up the whole world of occult practices that are so common in the world. Satan has enough power that he can deliver on some of his promises, but he never does it for our good. He does it only as a means of gaining control over us. He wants us to keep coming back to him for knowledge and power.

Once we open the door to our spiritual enemy through listening to one of his lies, he will seek to establish a stronghold in us in that particular area. This is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4:26-27 when he says we should not allow anger to go unresolved, because to do so gives the devil a place (topos) in our lives. That does not mean we are “demon possessed.” It simply means that Satan has a “foothold” (NIV) in our lives from which he will seek to exercise more and more control. From there he will seek to affect other areas of our lives.

Freedom through the Truth

If spiritual warfare is a battle for the mind, and if Satan’s primary tactic is lying or deception, then the Christian answer is the truth that comes from God. The battles we face that are in the nature of spiritual warfare require that we ask the truth questions about what we believe about God and about our relationship to God, and the truth about the circumstances from our past or those we are facing in the present. As we chose to speak the truth about everything in our lives and as we deal honestly before God with any unresolved sin issues in our lives, we can win the battle. The Steps to Freedom in Christ provide a tool to assist the believer to look honestly at all of these areas of life and to find resolution to spiritual problems and areas of bondage. The Steps are not a cure-all for all of one’s problems. The physical and psychological/emotional areas may need the help of those professionally qualified in these areas. (See Finding Hope Again by Anderson and Baumchen for a full discussion of a holistic approach to healing.)

Resisting the Devil

Some assume that the Bible teaches that a Christian can never be demonized and that it is never necessary or even proper to resist the devil directly or verbally. Resisting is defined in terms of walking in obedience to God and His Word, denying oneself, and resisting temptation. If that is the only definition, why didn’t James simply say, “Submit to God”? Why did he add, “Resist the devil.” Why do Paul (in Ephesians 6) and Peter (1 Peter 5:9) use the same word (anthistemi) in speaking about our attitude and behavior in relation to this spiritual enemy? The word literally means “stand against.” The prefix ‘anti’ makes it a negative word. If active resistance of Satan is not necessary, why not simply state the positive approach?

Some argue that because there are not clear teaching passages on the subject, we cannot find truth in a larger biblical context and by implication. If that were true, why are there no didactic passages on the Trinity or on personal evangelism? Why do we build a whole doctrine of the millennium on one passage found in apocalyptic literature, a genre known for its metaphorical nature?

While we do not build doctrine on church history, the most reliable of the account of the early practice of the church, Apostolic Tradition, preserved by Hippolytus of Rome, indicates that new Christians were all taken through a kind of deliverance since they were coming out of Satan’s kingdom. (See Clinton Arnold, Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, Baker, 1997, chapter 2.) Many later writers speak of the ability of Christians to cast out demons (Justin Martyr, Tatian, Tertullian, Origen), and Clinton Arnold says, “It appears that the primary context for the casting out of evil spirits was in the classes for new Christians” (Arnold,Three Crucial Questions, p. 107). Justin Martyr uses his ability to deal with demons as an argument in his argument for Christianity and against heresy.

Both the Scriptures and the witness of church history indicate that Christians can bring areas of bondage with them into the Christian life and that through sin they can give Satan a “place” (foothold, NIV) in their lives. They are therefore consistently told to resist the devil. The evidence from the early church indicates that they saw this as an active, verbal resistance involving the authority of the believer over our spiritual enemy.


The spiritual conflict in which we are engaged is a real battle, a battle we are involved in whether we want to be or not. Since we can live to the glory of God, Satan has to do whatever he can to keep that from happening. He does not come dressed in his Satan suit very often. He usually comes with one of his many disguises so that we do not even recognize that we are dealing with a spiritual enemy. This is the nature of deception. It is what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 11:3 when he said, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” That battle is winnable, but it is won only when we choose the path of truth ( Psalm 119:30 ).


The Nature of the Flesh and its Dynamic in the Believer’s Life

By Dr. Robert Saucy
[Distinguished Professor of SystematicTheology,
Talbot School of Theology; B.A., Westmont College;
Th.M, Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary]

Scripture speaks of the “flesh” in relation to the unbeliever and the believer. The exact meaning and especially its relation to the believer have evoked considerable discussion among biblical students. Questions have also been raised about these issues in some of the materials of Freedom in Christ. What exactly is the nature of the “flesh” and how does it relate to the believer “in Christ”?

I. The nature of the “flesh.”

The word “flesh” has several uses in Scripture including the material part of our being, i. e., our body. However, it is also used in an ethical sense for the human being himself apart from God. In general “flesh” denotes the weakness of man when compared to God who is Spirit. The use of “flesh” in the ethical sense therefore signifies the moral weakness of a person apart from God. Such a person is enslaved to the power of sin. The “flesh” thus is that propensity to live apart from God as one’s own god which in biblical terms is living under the domination of sin. (For a fuller treatment of this ethical meaning of flesh including its relationship to the unbeliever and the Christian, see Anderson and Saucy, The Common Made Holy, pp. 312-22).

Frequently in Freedom in Christ materials the flesh in this ethical sense is described as “learned” or “conditioned” behavior. The flesh is said to be that aspect of me which was programmed by attitudes and behavior that were characteristic of life apart from God under the domination of sin. The question is raised as to whether this is an adequate understanding of the flesh, and whether it does not suggest that the solution to the flesh is simply reprogramming.

1. In the first place, talking about the dynamic of the flesh as it functions in human life is simply a practical way of saying that the person lives in a certain way that is characterized by attitudes and actions. That these attitudes and actions are related to what the person thinks and believes in his heart is clearly the teaching of Scripture. Sometimes the person is not even aware of the underlying beliefs that motivate his attitude and behavior. One either lives on the basis of truth or lies. Since living apart from God as one’s own god is the root of all lies, a life lived in the flesh or according to the flesh is a life lived on the basis of lies.

Scripture also suggests that the lies of the flesh that dominated the person before salvation are related to the environment in which one lived. While it is true that the way of living for those apart from God entails an underlying belief and attitude that one is his own god, it also involves beliefs, attitudes, and actions that are in the person’s environment and are enculturated into the person as he lives in the culture and accepts its values. Thus it is not improper to speak of being influenced by one’s environment.

The apostle speaks of those who walked according to “the course of this world,” that is the worldly system about them which is in opposition to God and represents thoughts and values that are opposed to Him (Eph. 2:2). People have also inherited a “futile way of life” from their forefathers (1 Pet. 1:18). This statement appears to say more than that they simply inherited a sin nature. They also inherited a “way of life,” that is the values and beliefs by which they lived as expressive of the sin nature. And these values and beliefs were enculturated into them by their “forefathers.”

2. To look at the flesh as characteristic ways of thinking that develop out of separation from God in no way intends to deny that the separation from God was not itself sin or rebellion against God stemming from pride and unbelief. It is simply looking at the effects of this sin in the practical ways in which it reveals itself in life and can be countered with God’s truth. The reason that the person apart from God programs himself with these lies and consequent sinful actions is because of a fundamental choice to be his own god, i.e., a prideful rebellion against the true God. Thus flesh is at its root bent toward sin.

A note in The Common Made Holy gives this clarifying explanation regarding the illustration of the flesh as a programmed computer: “This illustration . . . is not intended to deny that we are all born with a bent away from God. We have a clean slate only as far as information from outside. But we are born with a program that structures the input during our developmental years into habits and patterns of living for self independently of God” (p. 393, n. 2 under Chapter Eight).

3. Finally, to speak of the flesh as that aspect of us that is programmed with lies that produce sinful attitudes and actions is not to suggest that the flesh is neutral and can be reprogrammed. The flesh, which speaks of a person apart from God, includes the bent that receives the lies. Thus the flesh includes both the underlying inclination to the lie because of rebellious pride as well as the lies that have been inculcated into the mind and consequently influence the attitude and activity of the person.

Perhaps it would be helpful to add to the illustration of the flesh as a programmed computer the thought that the operating system of the computer has a serious virus in it. This virus causes the programming system to process all information from the sinful perspective of life apart from God. In other words, it attempts to make sense out of everything without including God. Thus the information programmed (i.e., thoughts, values, world views) is skewed and is in reality lies because the flesh includes the disordered operating system itself that is bent with the lie that man can have true life without God. It is thus the flesh with its lying virus and consequent fleshly lies that motivate and dominate our attitudes and consequent behavior.

To reject the lie is therefore not simply to reprogram the flesh; it is to reject the flesh itself. As fallen humans, we need more than different thoughts, we need a new operating system as well, i.e., one that is bent with faith toward God and his truth. What is reprogrammed then is not the flesh, but the mind or the reasoning capacity which can be dominated either by the flesh or the Spirit

Utilizing the computer illustration again, one could say that the mind is the hardware and software program which can be used either by a good operating system or by an operating system corrupted by the virus of sin, i.e., the flesh. In order for the mind to function as God created it, the virus of the flesh with its manifestations (thoughts and behavior) which are in opposition to God must be crucified.

In coming to salvation, the believer “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). This was done in principle, as John Stott explains: “When we came to Jesus Christ, we repented. We ‘crucified’ everything we knew to be wrong. We took our old self-centered nature, with all its sinful passions and desires, and nailed it to the cross. And this repentance of ours was decisive, as decisive as a crucifixion” (The Message of Galatians [London: Intervarsity Press, l968], p. 151).

The meaning and experience of this decisive crucifixion of the flesh in the believer’s life is briefly explained in the following fromThe Common Made Holy: “. . . the reality of our actions is experienced only in accord with the faith in which it is done. As Stott says, we crucified ‘everything we knew to be wrong.’ And it might be added that we did it with all the faith that we had at the time. But our faith (which in reality includes knowledge), while sincere and genuine, was not yet mature and complete. As Scripture says, we are born again as babies, alive and designed to grow (see 1 Peter 2:2). We grow as we appropriate more and more of Christ’s life by the power of the Spirit. And as we grow, the reality of what we did totally in principle—namely, crucify the flesh and its old self-centered influence‚ becomes increasingly more real in our experience” (p. 315).

Involved in the exercise of faith is the need to continually reaffirm the crucifixion of the flesh and its works. As Jesus taught, the believer must “take up his cross daily” (Lu. 9:23; cf. also Rom. 8:13).

II. Dealing with the flesh through reprogramming the mind.

If as explained above, the flesh is more than its lying thoughts and attitudes, but includes the corrupt lying operating system itself, how does one go about dealing with the flesh? How does one change from living under the domination of the flesh and the power of sin to living under the domination of the Spirit of God in holiness? Is it adequate in dealing with the flesh to recognize and deny the lies of the flesh and focus on God’s truth so that we can live in that truth?

In answering these questions it is important to note that Scripture does not simply talk about the power of sin, but also how sin expresses itself to enslave us. Beginning with the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 we see that the way that sin manifests itself and captures men and women is through the lie. Adam and Eve fell because they chose to believe the lie of Satan. In explaining why his enemies sought to kill him, Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). Even as the death of mankind came from the lie in the case of Adam and Eve, so the murderous desire of Christ’s enemies came from Satan whose is fundamentally a liar and thus a murderer.

It is doubtful that anyone deliberately and knowingly chooses to hurt himself (cf. Eph. 5:29). Therefore in order for one to sin he must believe (consciously or not) that he is gaining something which is in some way beneficial to him. Thus Scripture teaches that the real disease of the sinful heart is its deceitfulness (Jer. 17:9; for the deceitfulness of sin see also Rom. 7:11; Eph. 4:22; 2 Thess. 2:10; Heb. 3:13). Sin takes shape to exert its power in human life through the lie.

The power of sin in the lie is seen in the corresponding biblical teaching of the relationship of the power and life of God to his word of truth. Scripture does not simply talk about receiving life or the power of life, but also about how it is imparted to us and that is through God’s truth. The life and power of God are linked to his word in such a way that to receive the truth of God’s word is to receive God’s life and power (cf. Jesus’ statement: “. . . the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (Jn. 6:63). One of the key ways (if not the key way), therefore, in which the battle between sin/death and righteousness/life is waged is between the lie and the truth. The enemies of Christ sought to kill him because they would not receive the truth of his words (Jn. 8:40, 45).

Receiving the truth of God in the gospel, including who we are “in Christ” as a result of his work, is, in fact, receiving the dynamic life of God. To receive the truth is, therefore, not only a change of thinking. It is the reception of the power of God to defeat and put to death the power of sin that reigns through the lie. This is why Scripture continually talks about the mind in relation to salvation and sanctification. To sin is to have a mind that is deceived (2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 4:1). Salvation and Christian growth comes through the renewing of the mind and thoughts with the truth of God (Rom. 12:3; cf. Jn. 8:32; Jn. 17:15).

In summary, both the power of God and the power of sin are communicated and have their effect as we receive the truth or lie into our heart. Focusing on God’s truth and denying Satan’s lies is therefore not simply a “reprogramming” of our minds, nor is it a failure to deal with the deepest sinful power of the flesh. It is, in fact, God’s way in which the underlying power of sin is overcome by the power and life of God. (For a more complete discussion of the lie and truth in the matter of sanctification, see Unleashing God’s Power in You, chapter 7, “Transformed by the Renewing of the Mind,” and chapter 8, “The Truth Shall Set You Free”.)

The Importance of the Christian’s Identity in Sanctification

by Dr. Mark Saucy (B.A., Biola University; M.Div., Talbot School of Theology; Ph.D. Fuller Theological Seminary)

The Christian’s knowledge of his or her identity in Christ is a distinctive element of the biblical teaching on sanctification.  The particular emphasis on this truth in the presentation of Freedom in Christ Ministries (FIC), elicits three questions in regard to the exact role the believer’s identity in Christ has for Christian sanctification: 1. Just how important for Christian sanctification is the understanding and focus upon one’s own identity? 2. Does focus on the identity of the believer minimize the focus on Christ or God in sanctification? 3. Does emphasis on one’s identity in Christ reduce sanctification to a matter of mere wishful thinking or a kind of Christianized ‘positive thinking’?

1. Identity and the Process of Sanctification

The dynamic of the believer’s participation in and experience of sanctification are founded upon two profound truths of biblical salvation.  The first truth concerns the unique provisions for human salvation accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Without the concrete demonstration of divine love in Christ there is no means of the creation being reconciled to the Creator (Col 1:19-20).  The Christ-event is the center and sum of all God’s work (Eph 1:9-10) as “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).  The second profound truth is the union the believer has with Christ by faith.  By means of faith the believer is incorporated into Christ, made a member of his body and united with Him and in this way enjoys all the blessings wrought by the life death and resurrection of Jesus (Ro 3:23 ff.; Gal 2:16 ff.).  Thus, it is only “in Christ” that one is saved and enjoys all of the spiritual blessings of salvation (Eph 1:3) including election (Eph 1:4), redemption and forgiveness (Eph 1:7), justification (Gal 2:17), sanctification (1 Cor 1:2) and regeneration (2 Cor 5:17, in Christ the believer is a new creature).  So comprehensive and intimate is the faith union between Christ and the Christian that Scripture speaks of it as the new defining category of the believer’s existence.  Christ is the believer’s life (Col 3:4).  By faith the believer’s life becomes “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).  It can be illustrated by the one-fleshed union of marriage with Christ (Eph 5:31-32).  Paul expresses this truth for himself saying that “it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

When taken together the objective work of Christ and the believer’s union with Him by faith identify both the fundamental ‘tension’ of sanctification as well as the biblical orientation toward resolution of that tension.  The tension of sanctification is simply that the believer’s realization of Christ’s death and resurrection and the union with Christ still needs to be “worked out” or “made complete” in their daily lives (Phil 2:12-13).  For all Christians there is a gap between what is true of them “in Christ” and how they in fact live.  The process of sanctification involves the divinely appointed means of eliminating this gap.  The fact of the gap also indicates that the fundamental nature of sanctification is in a real sense a matter of the Christian becoming who he or she already is.  Theologian Sinclair Ferguson thus defines sanctification as “the consistent practical outworking of what it means to belong to the new creation in Christ” (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Reformed View,” in Christian Spirituality, ed. Donald L. Alexander [IVP, 1988]; cf. also James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, [Eerdmans, 1998], 630-631).

When defined in these terms, that sanctification is the process of becoming who you already are in Christ, it is not difficult to see the priority in sanctification of knowing and affirming by faith one’s identity.  That such a conclusion is in fact the biblical position, and not the addition of some new ‘essential’ to faith, is demonstrable from five streams of NT evidence.  First, in the NT the call to holiness always flows out of the Christian’s constituted status in Christ.  NT exhortations to Christian behavior take the form of “Live out who you are!” This is the “since-therefore” formula we see that is so characteristic of the apostle Paul’s ethical admonitions.  For example, since the Romans are “alive to God in Christ Jesus,” they should not allow sin to reign in their mortal bodies (Ro 6:11-12).  Since the Corinthian believers are the dwelling of God, they are to “come out and be separate” from unbelievers in their behavior (2 Cor 6:16-17).  Since they are sons and daughters of God, they therefore should cleanse themselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit (2 Cor 6:18-7: 1).  Since the Corinthians “are in fact unleavened,” they therefore must “clean out the old leaven” of immorality from their midst (1 Cor 5:7).  Since Christ is the Colossians’ life, they therefore are to consider the members of their earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, etc. (Col 3:4-5).  Since the old man is laid aside the Colossians cannot therefore lie to one another (Col 3:9).  Since the Galatians are free in Christ, they therefore must keep standing firm and not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1) or turn their freedom into an opportunity for the flesh (5:13).  On and on the instances may be multiplied justifying the statement that “the ‘new creation’ is what makes possible a walk ‘in newness of life'” (cf. Ro 6:4; Dunn, Theology of Paul, 630).

Second, it is on the basis of Christians’ identity in Christ that Paul corrects the two enemies of true sanctification that are legalism and worldliness.  Legalistic injunctions as ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ Paul tells the Colossians are of no value against fleshly indulgence, and the apostle marvels that those who have died with Christ in his death could submit themselves to such decrees (Colossians 2:20-23).  The medicine for the flesh follows in the context in the form of a reminder from the apostle’s hand about the Colossians’ identity.  They have died with Christ (3:3) and been raised up with him (3:1); their life is hidden in Him and He is their life (3:3, 4).  Therefore they are to set their mind on things that are appropriate to such ones as they are (3:2).  They are to count as so their union with Christ in death and resurrection and so move their will against fleshly deeds (3:5).  Conversely, believers are not to live ‘so as without law’ and commit every kind of sin because they are under grace.  Why? Because sin is not fitting to the new creature who lives in union with Christ.  This is the whole point of Paul’s question in Romans 6:1: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” His answer comes from the fact of the believer’s identity as one united to Christ in His death: “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?…  therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death… so that we too might walk in newness of life” (Ro 6:3-4).  The immoralities of the Corinthian Church are met by the same strategy.  Paul asks how it is that they can engage in sexual immorality as Christians united to the Lord through his Spirit: “Flee immorality… or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Cor 6:18-19).  Again, it is the believer’s constituted identity in Christ that is the base of operations against the deeds of the flesh.

Third, the exhortation to the Corinthians highlights the apostolic teaching that progress in sanctification is enhanced or retarded in direct proportion to believers’ knowledge and deep reflection on who they are as new creatures in Christ.  Because this is key for the human sanctification, the apostle is keen that his readers ‘know’ about their participation in Christ’s death (Ro 6:3, 6, 9) and resurrection and that they ‘reckon’ themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Ro 6:11).  As Ferguson says, “it is the dawning of this perspective which is the foundation for all practical sanctification…  That is why so much of the New Testament’s response to pastoral and personal problems in the early church was: ‘Do you not know what is true of you in Christ?’ (Rom 6:3, 16; 7:1; 1 Cor 3:16; 5:6; 6:2-3, 9, 14, 19; 9:13, 24).  Live by the Spirit’s power in a manner that is consistent with that!” (Ferguson, “The Reformed View,” 60).

Fourth, the apostolic desire that Christians know what is true of them in Christ is reiterated by the way Paul prays for his readers.  Both of the apostle’s great prayers in Ephesians, for example, petition the Father that believer’s might grasp deeply what is true of them as Christians.  In the first prayer it is specifically that they might know what is the hope of their calling, the riches of their inheritance and God’s incomparably great power for them who believe (Eph 1:18).  In his comments on this prayer NT scholar Don Carson writes, We need to know who we are, as God sees us.  Paul wants us to appreciate the value that God places on us, not because we are intrinsically worthy but because we have been identified with Christ.  We have been chosen in Christ; his righteousness has been reckoned ours; our destiny is to be joint-heirs with him.  If we maintain this vision before our eyes of who we are — nothing less than God’s inheritance! — we will be concerned to live in line with this unimaginably high calling (D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers [Baker, 1992], 176-177).

So also the petition of the second prayer (Eph 3:14-19) is that believers might be strengthened with power in the inner man to apprehend by faith the reality of Christ’s union with them so may know the extent of His love for them.  Again the apostle’s concern is that believers know something about themselves in their new life now that they are related to Christ.

Fifth, as the prayer of Ephesians alludes, the Christian life is the life of faith because it is by faith that Christ dwells in us (Eph 3:17-18).  Without faith God cannot be pleased (Heb 11:6), and so the righteous one will live by faith (Ro 1:17; cf. Hab 2:4).  In regards to sanctification faith is ultimately the means by which sin is not allowed to dominate the Christian.  ‘Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Ro 14:23). But in what does one exercise faith? Quite clearly for the Christian the answer must be that we must have faith in God, or faith in all that God in Christ is for us.  It means receiving as real the truths about the objective provision of salvation in Christ’s death and resurrection as well as the truth of our own subjective incorporation into that saving event through our union with Christ.  For sanctification the particular importance of exercising faith in the subjective moment of one’s new identity with Christ is indicated in theologian John Murray’s observation, that when Paul is dealing with the newness of life which identifies the believer what is thrust into the foreground is not the fact that Christ died and rose against for believers [the objective moment] (though this aspect is not by any means suppressed or overlooked), but rather the fact that believers died and rose again with Christ (John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics [Eerdmans, 1957], 207; italics his).

Thus, we see that while faith must include that Christ died and rose for us, for the process of sanctification it is absolutely necessary that faith go the next step and grasp the fact of these events as they are appropriated to the believer because of his or her union with Christ.  This is identity, and Murray’s words show us the primacy that identity has within the faith-dynamic of sanctification (for more on this see Neil T. Anderson and Robert Saucy, The Common Made Holy: Being Conformed to the Image of God [Harvest House, 1997], 269).

2. Premium on Self — Minimum on Christ?

Some may raise the objection that an emphasis on one’s identity for living the abundant Christian life veers recklessly into the unhealthy and unbiblical ‘me-ism’ and self-centeredness found in much popular teaching of self-esteem and positive self-image.  The objection is suspicious that in such an emphasis on the believer’s identity God and Christ are pushed to the sidelines as the believer chiefly focuses on himself.  The fundamental response which at once separates the biblical concept of the believer’s identity from all worldly teaching in this area is that the Christian’s identity is always an identity in Christ.  Unlike the pop-psychology which teaches people to esteem themselves as they are apart from Christ (a notion that is flawed at the outset because until a person is united with Christ there is really nothing there morally to esteem), Christian identity is always and only identity qualified in terms of the believer’s union with Christ.  It is only because of Christ that the benefits of salvation accrue to the believer.  Recognizing who we really are in Christ, therefore, places Christ at the center of the believer’s thought and life and is no morbid egoism.  Far from taking our focus off of Christ it leads us to increased gratitude for what Christ has done for us and dependence on Christ in daily life.  Holding Christ at the center of the Christian life has always been the desire of FIC (cf. Anderson and Saucy, The Common Made Holy, 257-264 and especially the illustration on p. 262).

But even “in Christ” should the Christian be thinking so much about himself — even this way? First, as noted above, in Christ the Christian’s true self-perception is never just self-perception.  All of our life is hidden in Christ and derives from Him.  Christ’s person and work is the very heart of the Christian’s self perception.  Second, as we saw under the first question, Paul and his commentators indicate that it is critical for believers to constantly remind themselves of their relationship to Christ.  This point is also forcefully pressed by John Stott in regards to the teaching on sanctification in Romans six.  Stating that the “necessity of remembering who we are” is the way “Paul brings his high theology down to the level of practical everyday experience,” Stott continues his summary:

We are one with Christ (1-14), and we are slaves of God (15-23).  We became united to Christ by baptism and enslaved to God by the self-surrender of conversion.  But whether we emphasize baptism or faith, the point is the same.  Being united to Christ, we are ‘dead to sin but alive to God’ (11), and being enslaved to God we are ipso facto committed to obedience (16), pledged to ‘the total belongingness, the total obligation, the total commitment and the total accountability which characterize the life under grace’…  So, in practice we should constantly be reminding ourselves who we are.  We need to learn to talk to ourselves, and ask ourselves questions: ‘Don’t you know? Don’t you know the meaning of your conversion and baptism? Don’t you know that you have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection? Don’t you know that you have been enslaved to God and have committed yourself to his obedience? Don’t you know these things? Don’t you know who you are?’ We must go on pressing ourselves with such questions, until we reply to ourselves: ‘Yes, I do know who I am, a new person in Christ, and by the grace of God I shall live accordingly'” (John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World [IVP, 1994], 187; emphasis ours).

Properly understood and practiced, the Christian’s focus on their identity in Christ is in fact Christ-centered and critical to sanctification.

3. Christian Positive Thinking?

The priority of knowing and focusing on one’s true identity in Christ has also given rise to the charge of being a thinly veiled Christian version of positive thinking.  Can sanctification be reduced to a matter of just thinking often enough of who one is in Christ?  Obviously if the understanding of identity in Christ is limited to only a forensic or positional change in relation to God then the answer must be no.  Like the secularist positive thinker there is no real power or root of change in this kind of identity to produce Christian growth no matter what the mental exertion.  But thankfully this is not the complete biblical picture of what has happened to the believer who has come to be “in Christ. ”  Certainly in union with Christ there is a forensic change of position before God that is truly wonderful.  In Christ we are clothed with His righteousness, no longer under condemnation, and no longer alienated from God.  But the story does not end there.  ‘In Christ’, as we noted above, the believer is also a new creature (2 Cor 5:17).  God has not only changed our status or given us a new relationship, in Christ he also made us new.  We have been “born again” (John 3:3-8; 1 Pet 1:3,23) and given a “new heart” (cf. Ezek 11:19; 3:26; cf. also Deut 30:5,6).  Having a new heart is the clearest indication that there has been a real change in the person himself, not just his position or status.  The “heart” is the center of the person; it is in fact the real person.  “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man” (Prov 27:19).  God looks at the heart to know the person (1 Sam 16:7; cf. 1 Pet 3:4, lit. “the inner person of the heart”).  A change of heart, thus means a change of the deepest core of our being, the place, according to Scripture, of our deepest thought, emotions, and willing that drive our life (cf. Prov 4:23, our heart is the “wellspring” of our life).  For a fuller discussion of the new person, especially the change of heart and its ignificance, see Anderson and Saucy, The Common Made Holy, 77-100.

In the change of heart a new root of life is created in the believer giving him a completely new orientation of life.  The deepest core of the believer now seeks God whereas before it was in bondage to sin and sought only to preserve its own godhood.  It is here in the knowledge of this new propensity of the heart, in the new deepest desires, that growth may begin and be nourished.  Think about it for a moment…  if all that has happened to us in salvation is forgiveness of sins and freedom from condemnation, but we are still fundamentally sinners at our core, oriented to sin in our deepest desires, how can we grow?  The command of God for holiness comes to us from outside and we cannot respond to it.  No amount of positive thinking can help this.  But when the believer knows his full identity, that he himself is right now alive with the life of Christ, that his deepest being longs for God, God’s Word, fellowship with God’s people along with the other means of growth, there is new hope of power for victory over sin in life, new hope for actual growth in obedience that positive thinking cannot provide.

This is not to omit the work of the Holy Spirit in our sanctification — only to affirm that His work should not be seen as foreign to our deepest orientation as new creatures.  He is the creator of the new heart with its new appetites and desires (John 3:3-8).  It is the new heart that He continues to direct and energize the change in growth in sanctification (Phil 2:13).  Sanctification is ultimately His work, — a work in which He bears witness to the new heart: “You are God’s child” (Ro 8:16; Gal 4:6).  Regenerated in Christ, the Spirit’s testimony resonates deeply and moves the Christian because his new heart hears the Spirit’s witness and leading as being in perfect concert with its own deepest inclinations, propensities, longings and orientation for growth.  In Christ the the Christian cries out, “Yes, I am God’s child!,” and knows this sonship as no imputed, forensic, or alien reality only. Regenerated and surging with Christ’s life the Christian is thereby drawn and moved from within to cooperate with the Spirit for growth.  This kind of identity, one that recognizes the believer’s own actual heart regeneration in Christ, is an understanding of identity that far surpasses awareness of a mere change in position or relationship.  It is an understanding of identity that is a real source of encouragement, comfort, and vitality for change and growth far beyond what any amount of positive thinking may provide.

“Sinners” Who Are Forgiven or “Saints” Who Sin?

-Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (October-December 1995) 400-12
Dr. Robert L. Saucy
[Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology,
Talbot School of Theology; B.A., Westmont College;
Th.M, Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary]

The question of the true identity of the Christian has been the topic of discussion for some time. Although not directly framed as a question of identity, the issues of self-love, self-esteem, and self-worth all relate in some way to the question, “Who am I?” This question has been posed more sharply in the alternatives, “Am I as a Christian basically a sinner who is forgiven, or a saint who sins?”

The first of these alternatives may be associated with what Warfield favorably termed “miserable-sinner Christianity.”1 He referred to it this way because similar terminology runs through Protestant confessional formulas and catechisms.2 Luther’s Short Catechism, for example, teaches the believer to say, “I, miserable sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all manner of sins.” A Lutheran Confession of Sin reads:

I, poor sinful man, confess to God, the Almighty, my Creator and Redeemer, that I not only have sinned in thoughts, words and deeds, but also was conceived and born in sin, and so all my nature and being is deserving of punishment and condemnation before His righteousness. Therefore I flee to His gratuitous mercy and seek and beseech His grace. Lord, be merciful to me, miserable sinner.

A similar expression is found in the prayers of the Church of England. After acknowledging sinfulness and declaring that “there is no health in us,” the prayer closes with the petition, “But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.” One of the most rhetorical expressions of the concept of “miserable-sinner Christianity” is given by the Scottish minister, Alexander Whyte, in his work Bunyan Characters.

Our guilt is so great that we dare not think of it. It crushes our minds with a perfect stupor of horror, when for a moment we try to imagine a day of judgment when we shall be judged for all the deeds that we have done in the body. Heart-beat after heart-beat, breath after breath, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, and all full of sin; all nothing but sin from our mother’s womb to our grave.3

It would be wrong to take such a statement as necessarily signifying “miserable Christianity” rather than “miserable-sinner Christianity.” Many of those who confessed their situation in this way knew how to flee to the grace of God and find the joy of forgiveness. But such statements would also seem to color the self-understanding of believers as to their basic nature.

An example of the alternative understanding of Christian identity as a “saint who sins” is a statement by Neil Anderson in one of his popular books.

Many Christians refer to themselves as sinners saved by grace. But are you really a sinner? Is that your scriptural identity? Not at all. God doesn’t call you a sinner; He calls you a saint—a holy one. Why not identity yourself for who you really are: a saint who occasionally sins?4

If the word “occasionally” is excluded from Anderson’s statement, there is truth in both alternatives of the question. Believers are sinners in that they continue to sin, but Scripture also refers to them as saints. Believers therefore are sinners who by God’s grace are forgiven, and they are saints who sin.

Thus in a sense Christians have a kind of double identity. But this does not mean they are schizophrenic or multiple persons. Each believer is one person, one ego or “I”.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). There was only one “I” and one Paul throughout this transition. The question of the believer’s identity is therefore the question of the identity of that ego or “I.” And it would seem that that identity must be related to the actual nature and behavior of that ego. If the nature and activity of the person is primarily sinful, then it is difficult not to see his core identity as a “sinner.” On the other hand if the believer’s nature and activity is primarily holy, then that person’s real identity is that of a “saint.”

The Believer’s Positive Identity

Consideration of the scriptural description of the believer and his activity obviously reveals a mixture of sin and holiness. But when the focus is on the actual description of the person’s identity, the picture is decidedly positive. Even in the Old Testament, believers are described as living with a heart of integrity, soundness, and uprightness (e.g., 1 Kings 8:61; 9:4 {1 Kgs 9:4}; Pss. 78:72 {Ps 78:72}; 119:7 {Ps 119:7}). This of course does not mean that they were sinless or unaware of their sin. But they had a heart and life that was fundamentally devoted to God. Turning to the New Testament, Christians are frequently addressed as “saints” (e.g., Acts 9:32; Eph 1:1; Col 1:2). This surely has reference to their status in Christ, but other descriptions reveal that it also denotes something about their nature. Believers in the Lord are “sons” and “children of God” which, along with speaking of position or status, also depicts something of the nature of believers who are now oriented toward righteousness (1 John 2:29-3:2 {1 John 3:2}). Those in Christ are also called “light” (Eph 5:8) and “sons of light” (1 Thess 5:5), which means “they are characterized by light” as a result of the “transformation that takes place when anyone believes.”5

The believer is part of the “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). He has put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” (Col 3:9-10; cf. Rom 6:6). This transition refers to the believer’s transference from the old corporate humanity under the headship of Adam to the new humanity with Christ as Head. But it also has reference to a change in the individual.Pointing to the imagery used of putting off and putting on clothing, Lincoln rightly explains that this “change of clothing imagery signifies an exchange of identities, and the concepts of the old and the new persons reinforce this.”7 Since the appellation “new man” also has reference to the individual, the descriptions of it as “created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24) and “being renewed according to the image of the One who created him” (Col 3:10) both have reference to the individual believer. Thus Bruce says, “The new man who is created is the new personality that each believer becomes when he is reborn as a member of the new creation whose source of life is Christ.”8 Putting off the old man and putting on the new are related to the teaching of the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ (Rom 6:4-6).9 In codeath and coresurrection the individual’s identity is radically changed. The old “I” dies and the new “I” rises in newness of life (Gal 2:20).

These descriptions of the Christian clearly indicate a positive identity and refer not only to status but also to the nature of the believer. This conclusion is borne out by the fact that the apostolic exhortation to new ethical behavior is made directly on the basis of the believer’s new identity. The apostles were not grounding their hope for a new behavior simply on a new position or status, but on a new nature which can produce new actions. True, these actions are due to the life of God in the believer and are called “the fruit of the Spirit.” But at the same time they are the product of the believer even as the fruit of the vine is the fruit of the branches (John 15:2-5,16). The exhortations to new ethical life are based on the principle Jesus taught that “good fruit” is borne by “good trees” (Matt 7:17). The nature as well as the identity of the believer is therefore seen as primarily “good.”

These descriptions of the believer point in the direction of the root identity of the Christian as “a saint who sins,” rather than “a sinner who is saved.” But that is not the whole of the matter. Practical experience as well as biblical teaching still relate the believer to sin. Consideration of the identity of the believer therefore cannot avoid discussion of his relationship to sin.

The Believer’s Relation to Sin

Believers Still Sin

It is not difficult to convince most believers from Scripture as well as from experience that sin is still a part of their existence. They sometimes act carnally (1 Cor 3:1-3). The promise of continual cleansing of sin as they walk in the light (1 John 1:7) as well as the present tense used for the confession of sins (1:9 {1 John 1:9}) suggest that sin is continually present with believers. To say “we have no sin,” John wrote, is self-deception and impossible for believers (1:8 {1 John 1:8}). Although the personal identity of the believer is in Christ, and thus in the new man which is being transformed into His image, the manner of life of the old man remains a part of the believer’s experience. This is why Paul directed believers to put off the practices of the old man (Eph 4:22; Col 3:8-9).

Calvin’s statement of what Christians ought to be should convince any believer that he or she has not attained sinlessness. “Since all the capacities of our soul ought to be so filled with the love of God,” he said, “it is certain that this precept [to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind] is not fulfilled by those who can either retain in the heart a slight inclination or admit to the mind any thought at all that would lead them away from the love of God into vanity.”10 “There remains in a regenerate man a moldering cinder of evil, from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin.”11

Does this true but rather bleak perspective make the identity of the believer a “sinner” as well as a “saint” so that he or she is actually both? Interestingly, although the New Testament gives extensive evidence that believers sin, it never clearly identifies believers as “sinners.” Paul’s reference to himself in which he declared, “I am foremost” of sinners is often raised to the contrary (1 Tim 1:15). Guthrie’s comment on Paul’s assertion is illustrative of a common understanding of Paul’s statement and what should be true of all believers. “Paul never got away from the fact that Christian salvation was intended for sinners, and the more he increased his grasp of the magnitude of God’s grace, the more he deepened the consciousness of his own naturally sinful state, until he could write of whom I am chief (pro,tos).”12

Despite the use of the present tense by the apostle, several things make it preferable to see his description of himself as “the foremost of sinners” as a reference to his preconversion activity as an opponent of the gospel. First, the reference to himself as “sinner” is in support of the statement that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15 {1 Tim 1:15}). The reference to “the ungodly and sinners” a few verses earlier (v. 9 {1 Tim 1:9}) along with the other New Testament uses of the term “sinners” for those who are outside of salvation13 shows that he was referring to “sinners” whom Christ came to save rather than believers who yet sinned.

Second, Paul’s reference to himself as a “sinner” is followed by the statement, “And yet I found [past tense] mercy” (v. 16 {1 Tim 1:16}), clearly pointing to the past occasion of his conversion. Paul was grateful for God’s mercy toward him, “the foremost of sinners.” A similar present evaluation of himself based on the past is seen when the apostle wrote, “I am [present tense] the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor

15:9). Because of his past action, Paul considered himself unworthy of what he presently was by God’s grace and mercy, an apostle who was “not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles” (2 Cor 11:5; cf. 12:11 {2 Cor 12:11}).

Declaring that he was “the foremost of sinners,” the apostle also declared that Christ had strengthened him for the ministry, having considered him “faithful” or “trustworthy” for it, to which He had called him (1 Tim 1:2). As Knight concludes, “Paul regards this classification of himself as `foremost of sinners’ as still valid (eijmi, present tense); though he is fully forgiven, regarded as faithful, and put into service, he is still the notorious opponent who is so received.”14 Thus the apostle was not applying the appellation “sinner” to himself as a believer, but rather in remembrance of what he was before Christ took hold of him.

James’ reference to turning “a sinner” from the error of his ways is also best seen as bringing someone into salvation rather than restoring a genuine believer to repentance (James 5:19-20).

Though the erring one is described as one “among you,” the

resultant outcome of saving the soul of the turned “sinner” from “death,” which is most likely spiritual death, suggests that the person was not a Christian.15 Scripture surely teaches that unbelievers can be “among” the saints (cf. 1 John 2:19).

This is not to say that in the Scriptures believers did not see themselves as sinful. Confrontation with the righteousness and holiness of God frequently brought deep acknowledgment of an individual’s own sinful condition. Peter’s recognition of himself before the Lord as a “sinful man” is not uncommon among the saints (Luke 5:8; cf. Gen 18:27; Job 42:6; Isa 6:5; Dan 9:4-20). The believer is sinful, but Scripture does not seem to define his identity as a “sinner.”

Believers Are Opposed to Sin

Instead of being identified as a “sinner,” the real person or “I” of the believer is opposed to sin. Before salvation the “I” or the “ego” of the believer, like the “I” of all “sinners,” was in radical rebellion against the true God. Now the “I” of the believer is on God’s side seeking to mortify the rebellion that is still present in the believer. Several truths combine to teach this new identity of the believer and his change of nature.

First, death and resurrection with Christ severed the believer from sin. The believer’s participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is a way in which Paul expressed the change that takes place when one becomes a Christian. According to the most extensive explanation of this truth in Romans 6, the primary significance of this transaction is the change of dominions over the believer. Christ’s death and resurrection signify (a) death to the old age of sin and its dominion and (b) resurrection to a new sphere ruled by God. These objective realities take place in Christ as the Head of the new humanity much like His actions as the Head of the corporate “new man.”16 But also like the transfer from the “old” to the “new” man, Christ’s death and resurrection apply subjectively to the person of the believer who participates with Him.

In Rom 6 Paul is not simply concerned with the two dominions, but with the decisive transfer of the believer from the one dominion to the other. The believers were enslaved to sin, but now they stand under a new master. This change has taken place through dying with Christ…. Dying with Christ means dying to the powers of the old aeon and entry into a new life under a new power.17

The believers’ union with Christ in His death and resurrection transforms them not just legally but also personally. As the person’s

“I” previously had a nature that willingly chose to serve sin, now he or she is a new “I” who willingly chooses God. Paul’s testimony was that having been crucified with Christ, he now lived in such union with Him that his “I” could hardly be separated, not just legally but morally. Paul’s “I” was willingly united with Christ, who continually and willingly obeyed the Father’s will. As Bonar said, “The cross, then, makes us decided men. It brings both our hearts and our wills to the side of God.”18

Second, the transformation of the believer in the change of dominions over him through dying and rising with Christ is further seen in the biblical concept of having a “new heart.” As Jewett explains, “A characteristic of the heart as the center of man is its inherent openness to outside impulses, its directionality, its propensity to give itself to a master and to live towards some desired goal.”19 This characteristic stems from the fact that Christians as finite persons can live only in “radical dependence on otherness.”20

Most significantly, as Jewett noted, what the heart takes in becomes its master, stamping the heart with its character. What truly determines the heart and consequently the person is therefore the nature of the desire of the heart. After defining the heart as “our center, our prefunctional root, ” Kreeft adds, “at this center we decide the meaning of our lives, for our deepest desires constitute ourselves, decide our identity.”21

According to Scripture the deepest desire of the believer has been changed. This truth is seen in the apostle’s words to the Galatians: “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, `Abba! Father!'” (4:6 {Gal 4:6}). The cry, “Abba! Father!” is typical of a son and represents the believer’s most basic relationship with God. This cry is determined by the presence of the Spirit who brings Christ the Son into the center of one’s personality to live within his or her heart. “The center of man is thus his heart; the heart’s intentionality [or desire] is determined by the power which rules it. In the case of Christian[s], the direction of the heart’s intentionality is determined by Christ’s Spirit.”22

The desire or intentionality of the human heart is in reality its love. As Augustine noted, love is what moves an individual. A person goes where his love moves him. His identity is determined by his love. The identity of the believer is thus a person who basically loves God rather than sin.

The presence of sin in the life of the believer indicates that remnants of the old disordered love of self remain. But those remnants now stand at the periphery of the real core of the person who is redeemed, God-oriented, and thus bent toward righteousness in his nature. “God begins his good work in us, therefore, by arousing love and desire and zeal for righteousness in our hearts; or, to speak more correctly, by bending, forming, and directing, our hearts to righteousness.”23

This core of the new person is often not evident in conscious life, but it is nevertheless the dominating aspect of his being. As Delitzsch notes, there is a kind of will of nature that is basically self-consciously unreflected. This deep will of nature precedes the conscious actions of the person. The will of the believer has been changed through regeneration despite the fact that remnants of the old life still remain and continue to express themselves. The action of regeneration is directed not so much to “our occasional will, as to the substance of our will,

i.e. to the nature and essence of our spiritual being.”24 Thus the regenerate individual in the depth of his heart is changed; he has a nature oriented toward God. Although the person can still sin, this sin is related to a more surface level of his being which can still act contrary to the real person of the heart. But these surface actions do not change the real nature of the heart and thus the person’s identity. The relationship of the real core nature of the human heart to its more surface activities is seen in Pedersen’s discussion of the “soul” or what is perhaps better termed the heart.

It [the soul] is partly an entirety in itself and partly forms an entirety with others. What entireties it is merged in, depends upon the constant interchange of life.

Every time the soul merges into a new entirety, new centres of action are formed in it; but they are created by temporary situations, only lie on the surface and quickly disappear. There are other entireties to which the soul belongs, and which live in it with quite a different depth and firmness, because they make the very nucleus of the soul. Thus there may be a difference between the momentary and the stable points of gravity in the soul. But none of the momentary centres of action can ever annul or counteract those which lie deeper.

The deepest-lying contents of the soul are, it is true, always there, but they do not always make themselves equally felt.25

This understanding of the human heart helps explain the practice of sin in the believer’s life as well as the “good” in the life of the unbelieving sinner. The true nature of the person does not always express itself fully in actual life. But the basic identity of the individual is still there, and in the case of the believer it is positive.

Third, this same truth is seen in the positive nature of the ego or “I” of Romans 7:14-25. Paul’s description of the “I” in this passage suggests that it refers to someone who has experienced the regenerative grace of God. Also this person is viewed in relation to the law of God apart from the empowerment of the Spirit of God. It could thus have reference to a Christian living according to the flesh in his own strength,26 or more probably to the experience of the pious Jew living under the Mosaic Law viewed from a Christian perspective.27

Of interest in this passage is the description of the “I” which is solidly on God’s side. If what is said of this “I” or ego could refer to a pious Jew living under the Old Covenant, how much more would it be fitting for the believer of the New Covenant as part of the new creation through union with Christ. Considering the actions of the “I,” all three dimensions normally seen as constituting personhood, that is, thought, emotion, and will, are all oriented toward God and His righteous law. Regarding the element of thought, the apostle wrote in 7:15 {Rom 7:15}, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand,” or perhaps better with Cranfield, “I do not acknowledge” or “approve.”28 In other words his thinking was opposed to his action of sin. This is also seen in verse 25 {Rom 7:25}: “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but with my flesh the law of sin.”

His emotion is likewise seen to be on God’s side in opposition to sin. “I am doing the very thing I hate” (v. 15 {Rom 7:15}). As Dunn puts it, “he wholly detests and abhors what he does.”29 If hatred is the opposite of love, then his love is directed toward righteousness. A further expression of emotion is indicated in verse 22 {Rom 7:22}. “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.”

Also his will or volition is for God and against sin. “What I want [or `will,’ qevlw] to do,” Paul wrote, “I do not do. I have the desire [qevlein] to do what is good” (vv. 15,18 {Rom 7}, NIV). The verb qevlein is used seven times in the passage, the last when he described himself as “the one who wishes to do good” (v. 21 {Rom 7:21}).

These descriptions of the personal attributes of the “I” clearly define it as one with a positive nature. But more than this, the apostle went so far as to absolve, as it were, the “I” from sinning: “if I do the very thing I do not wish to do no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me” (vv. 16-17 {Rom 7}; cf. the same thought in v. 20 {Rom 7:20}).

Since the same passage clearly shows the “I” as the subject of sinful actions as well as being opposed to sin, the apostle was not trying to evade the personal responsibility of the “I” in sin. But when the “I” is related to sin, it is never described in terms of the functions of personhood. There are no equal statements of thought, emotion, and will on the side of sin. Paul did not say, “I want to do the will of God, but I also want to sin.” Nor did he say, “I love the law of God, but I also love sin.” Thus the “I” that is positively oriented toward God is the person in the deepest sense of his personhood or identity. He is the “I” of the “inner man” (v. 22 {Rom 7:22}), the “I” that is the subject of the “mind” (v. 25 {Rom 7:25}).

The assertion that it is no longer “I” but sin that actually does the sinning is similar to other apparently contradictory statements of the apostle when he was referring to the dominating power that mastered him: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live” (Gal 2:20); “I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10; cf. Matt 10:20). In these statements Paul was not intending to disavow responsibility, but to affirm the existence in himself of a power that exercised a dominating influence on him. The real person of the believer willingly assents to this dominating power, but in the case of sin as in Romans 7 the real “I” opposes it and can thus be set against it. Here the ego or real “I” in the believer is viewed as so opposed to sin that they can be isolated from each other. And the actual committing of sin, instead of being the action of the ego can be regarded as the action of the sin that enslaves the ego contrary to its will. As Delitzsch says, “the Ego is no longer one with sin-it is free from it; sin resides in such a man still, only as a foreign power.”30

Romans 7 thus presents the real person of the believer as positive. To be sure, he commits sin both in thought and act but he also does righteousness. Sin and righteousness, however, do not characterize the real person of the believer in the same way. The believer is capable of experiencing a double servitude expressed in the apostle’s words, “on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (v. 25 {Rom 7:25}).31 But as this statement, along with the entire passage, indicates, the real person of the believer willingly serves God.

The description of the believer in Romans 7 thus fits the same picture of the believer seen in the teaching of his death and resurrection with Christ and his new heart. The Christian has been radically changed in his relationship to sin and righteousness from what he was before salvation. And this change is more than simply positional or judicial consisting in the forgiveness of sin and the imputation of righteousness. It includes a radical change of nature. The Christian is a new person. He has a new heart which is the real identity of the person.


The full picture of the believer’s relationship to sin and righteousness is obviously beyond the scope of this study. But when the question of his identity is posed-is the Christian a saved sinner or a saint who sins?-the Scriptures seem to point to the latter.

There is truth in the following explanation of so-called “miserable-sinner Christianity” expressed by Luther:

A Christian is at the same time a sinner and a saint; he is at once bad and good. For in our own person we are in sin,

and in our own name we are sinners. But Christ brings us another name in which there is forgiveness of sin, so that for His sake our sin is forgiven and done away. Both then are true. There are sins and yet there are no sins. thou standest there for God not in thy name but in Christ’s name; thou dost adorn thyself with grace and righteousness although in thine own eyes and in thine own person, thou art a miserable sinner.32

Christians are sinners who are forgiven. But there is more to it than that. They are regenerated persons whose root core has been changed. They are forgiven, but also their heart-the spring of their life and their true identity-is new.

To confess as present-day Anglicans do33 that “there is no health in us” or that “all my nature and being is deserving of punishment,” as also stated in the old German Lutheran confession, is contrary to the biblical picture of the believer.

All the apostles’ ethical imperatives are addressed to

believers on the premise that their natures are now on God’s side and have a new ability to obey God. The very assumption that Christians should grow demonstrates a belief that the positive dominates over the negative in their being. For a Christian to grow, there must be a stronger inclination toward God than toward sin.

Although the terminology “miserable sinner” does not adequately define the true identity of the believer, several

truths at the heart of so-called “miserable-sinner Christianity” must be retained even when viewing the believer as a “saint who sins.”

First, despite the truth that the believer’s heart and thus his or her identity have been transformed to an orientation toward God and His righteousness, one’s acceptance before God is only on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. One’s salvation is complete in Christ’s righteousness alone.

Second, the believer who sins must experience misery over sin. If a persons’ affections have truly been changed so that he or she is now on God’s side, then that one must hate sin and experience a godly sorrow over what grieves and wounds the One who loves believers deeply. Fisher’s description of sorrow over sin should be the experience of all believers.

When faith hath bathed a man’s heart in the blood of Christ, it is so mollified that it generally dissolves into tears of godly sorrow; so that if Christ turn and look upon him, O then, with Peter he goes out and weeps bitterly. And this is true gospel mourning; this is right evangelical repenting.34

Third, even though God in His grace has created in believers

the germ of a new nature which gives them a new identity, their focus in life must be not on themselves, but on Christ. Dying and rising with Christ means the end of self-trust. Therefore, even though they are new persons, their source of life and growth is not in their own identity but in Christ. Their focus must be on Him and not on their own new identity. In Him they are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17).


1 Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, l931), 1:113-301.

2 Ibid, 115. The following quotations expressing the “miserable-sinner” concept are cited by Warfield (ibid., 118-19, 123).

3 Cited by Warfield (ibid., 128).

4 Neil Anderson, Victory Over the Darkness (Ventura, CA; Regal, 1990), 44-45. The word “occasionally” should be omitted from Anderson’s statement as he has indicated to this writer in personal conversation that it was not his intention to include this word.

5 Leon Morris, The First {1 Thess} and Second {2 Thess} Epistles to the Thessalonians, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 155.

6 Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 190-91; and Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990), 287.

7 Lincoln, Ephesians, 285.

8 E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 273. O’Brien similarly says that in addition to a reference to the new corporate humanity, the “new man” designates “the new nature which the Colossians had put on and which was continually being renewed” (Colossians, Philemon, 190).

9 Robert C. Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ (Berlin:Töpelmann, 1967), 52; and A. Van Roon, The Authenticity of Ephesians (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 336-37.

10 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.3.11; cf. 3.12.1.

11 Ibid., 3.3.10.

12 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (London: Tyndale, 1957), 65 (italics his).

13 Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, “aJmartwloj”,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1:327-28; and George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 101.

14 Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 102.

15 Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 200.

16 “When Paul speaks of dying and rising with Christ, he is referring to Christ’s death and resurrection as eschatological events. As such, they concern the old and new aeons. Through this death and resurrection the believers are freed from the old aeon and the new aeon is founded…. Because the existence of all within an aeon is based upon and determined by the founding events, the whole of the aeon shares in these events” (Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ, 39). On the similar significance of dying and rising with Christ and stripping off the old man and putting on the new, see ibid., 52.

17 Ibid., 21.

18 Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness (New York: Carter & Bros., 1865), 108 (italics his).

19 Robert Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 313. John Laidlaw describes the heart as “the work-place for the personal appropriation and assimilation of every influence” (The Bible Doctrine of Man [Edinburgh: Clark, 1895], 122).

20 Andrew Tallon, “A Response to Fr. Dulles,” in Theology and Discovery: Essays in Honor of Karl Rahner, ed. William J. Kelly (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980), 37.

21 Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1989), 45.

22 Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms, 322-23.

23 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.3.6.

24 Franz Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology (reprint, Grand Rapids; Baker, 1966), 416.

25 Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 1:166.

26 James D. B. Dunn, “Romans 7:14-25 in the Theology of Paul,”Theologische Zeitschrift 31 (September-October, 1975): 257-73.

27 For a brief sketch of this latter interpretation, see N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 196-200.

28 C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentary, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1975), 1:358-59.

29 James D. B. Dunn, Romans 1-8 {Rom 8}, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1988), 389.

30 Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology, 438. Delitzsch gives a helpful description of the interaction between the believing ego opposed to sin and the power of sin. Referring to the sin of unchastity, he says sin “is possible only when the might of temptation succeeds either in overmastering, or even in interesting, the Ego of the man. At times there are mingled in the range of man’s thoughts impure thoughts which he acknowledges as not less thought by his Ego than the pure ones which it opposed to them in order to dislodge them. Sometimes temptation succeeds in drawing in the man’s Ego into itself; but in the midst of the sinful act, the man draws it back from it, full of loathing for it. Sometimes, moreover, the Ego, in order to complete the sinful act unrestrainedly, is voluntarily absorbed into unconsciousness, and does not until after its completion return in horror to recollection of itself; and the spirit with shame becomes conscious of its having been veiled by its own responsibility” (ibid.).

31 J. Knox Chamblin, Paul and the Self (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 173-74.

32 Martin Luther, Werke, Erlangen ed., 2.197; cited by Warfield, Perfectionism, 1:116.

33 J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1984), 123.

34 Fisher, Marrow of Divinity, cited by Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness, 72.

Do Christians Still Have a Sin Nature?


Dr. Neil T. Anderson

Adapted From: God’s Power at Work in You, co-authored by Dr. Robert Saucy and Dr. Neil T. Anderson, Harvest House.

Are Christians sinners or are they saints? Or both? Whether a Christian has two natures is not an easy question to answer, which is evidenced by the fact that conservative theologians don’t perfectly agree.  They do agree that Christians sin, but how or why is explained differently.  Part of the problem is semantic and can be cleared up by defining terms.  Reconciling divergent theological positions and perspectives on reality (i.e., worldview) is the more difficult problem to resolve.

Old Man, Nature and Flesh

The biblical terms old man (or old self), nature and flesh can carelessly be used interchangeably when they need to be clearly distinguished.  The Bible says we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) and “. . . were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).  In other words, we were born physically alive, but spiritually dead.  We had neither the presence of God in our lives nor the knowledge of His ways.  Consequently, we all lived independent of God.  This independence is one of the chief characteristics of the flesh.  According to Paul, “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (Gal. 5:17).  They are in opposition because the Holy Spirit, like Jesus, will not operate independent of our heavenly Father, while that is the chief characteristic of the flesh.

Such is the state of fallen humanity — sinful by nature and spiritually dead (i.e., separated from God).  Fallen humanity had no other choice than to find their identity in their natural existence and determine their purpose and meaning in life independent of God.  In addition, the heart, which is the center of our being, “is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).  Paul says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  Fallen humanity lives”in the flesh” and “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).  We were depraved.  Every aspect of our being was corrupted.

The Whole Gospel

The good news is that Christ came to change all that.  However, the gospel we most hear sounds like this: “Jesus is the Messiah who came to die for our sins, and if we will put our trust in Him, we will be forgiven of our sins and when we die, we will get to go to Heaven.” What is wrong with that?

At best it is only a third of the gospel; and it gives the impression that eternal life is something we get when we physically die! If you were going to save a dead man, what would you do? Give him life? If that is all you did, he would only die again.  To save the dead person, you would have to do two things.  First, you would have to cure the disease that caused him to die.  The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom. 6:23a).  So Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins.  Is that the whole gospel? Absolutely not! Thank God for Good Friday, but it was Christ’s resurrection that gave us life.  We need to finish the previous verse: “. . . but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23b).  Eternal life is not something we get when we die.  In fact, if you don’t have eternal (spiritual) life before you physically die, you will have nothing but hell to look forward to.  John says, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 Jn. 5:12).

Sin has separated us from God, so we use the cross as a bridge diagram to present the gospel.  But when we cross the bridge, are we the same person we were before? We will likely perceive ourselves to be nothing more than forgiven sinners instead of redeemed saints is we leave the resurrection out of our gospel presentations.  What Adam and Eve lost in the fall was life (i.e. spiritual life) and Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).

As a result of the fall, Satan became the rebel holder of authority on planet earth.  Even Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  The defeat of Satan is the third part of the gospel and the one most overlooked the western church.  “The Son of God appeared for this purpose to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8).  This part of the gospel is just as critical since “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19).  Believers need to know that they are now children of God (Jn. 1:12) who are forgiven and spiritually alive in Christ (Col. 2:13), and they also need to know that they have authority over the kingdom of darkness because they are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6).

Freedom in Christ ministries has been helping Christians find their freedom in Christ by guiding them through a repentance process that helps them resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts.  It has been our observation that every struggling and defeated Christian had one thing in common — none of them knew who they were in Christ and they didn’t understand what it meant to be a child of God.  Why not? Paul writes, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba Father’” (Gal. 4:6).  But they had no awareness of that.  If the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16), why weren’t they sensing His presence? Many question their salvation since they don’t sense any spiritual confirmation.  They did sense His presence, however, if they successfully resolved their personal and spiritual conflicts through genuine repentance and faith in God.

Alive and Free in Christ

Being spiritually alive in Christ is the major theme of Paul’s theology, which is reflected in the following verse: “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every city” (1 Cor. 4:17, emphasis added).  According to Paul, every believer is identified with Christ:

In His death Rom. 6:3; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:1-3
In His burial Rom. 6:4
In His resurrection Rom. 6:5, 8, 11
In His life Rom. 5:10,11
In His power Eph. 1:19,20
In His inheritance Rom. 8:16,17; Eph. 1:11-18

Positionally, several things changed at salvation.  First, God transferred us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13).  Second, we are no longer in the flesh; we are in the Spirit and in Christ.  “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9).  Paul equates the idea of being “in the flesh” with being “in Adam.” “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22, emphasis added).  This positional change can be shown as follows:

In Adam In Christ
Old Man (Self) By Ancestry New Man (Self)
Sin Nature
Eph. 2:1-3
By Nature Partaker of Divine Nature
2 Pet. 1:4
In the Flesh
Rom. 8:8
By Birth In the Spirit
Rom. 8:9
Live according to the Flesh By Choice Live according to the Spirit or the Flesh
Gal. 5:16-18

The Bible also says we are a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), which has effected our nature, the very core of our inner being.  Paul says, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).  So then why do Christians still sin and what has been retained of our old and sinful nature? Perhaps an illustration will help.  In Arizona, city parks and boulevards are decorated with ornamental orange trees, which are a much hardier stock than the trees which produce the sweet oranges we eat.  Because they can survive colder temperatures, they are used for rootstock.

The ornamental orange is allowed to grow to a certain height, then it is cut off, and a new life (such as a navel orange) is grafted in.  Everything that grows above the graft takes on the new nature of the sweet orange.  Everything below the graft retains the physical characteristics of the ornamental orange.  There is only one tree when it is fully-grown.  The physical growth of the tree is still dependent upon the roots that go deep into the soil for water and nutrition.  What grows above the graft takes on the nature of that which was grafted in to the root stock.

Nobody looks at a grove of navel oranges and says, “Actually that is just a grove of root stock! ” They would call them navel orange trees because they would identify the trees by their fruit.  Jesus said, “So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20).  That is how we should identify one another.  Paul says, “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16).  In other words, we are not supposed to recognize Christians for who they were in Adam, but for who they now are in Christ.  That is why the Bible does not identify believers as sinners, but instead they are identified as saints.

In the King James version of the Bible, believers are called “saints,” “holy ones,” or “righteous ones” more than 240 times.  In contrast, unbelievers are called “sinners” over 330 times.  Clearly, the term “saint” is used in Scripture to refer to the believer and “sinner” is used in reference to the unbeliever.  Although the New Testament gives ample evidence that a believer is capable of sinning, it never clearly identifies the believer as a “sinner.” It is a mystery to me why we insist on calling Christians sinners, but then discipline them if they don’t act like saints.  People cannot consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with what they believe about themselves.  We live according to who we really are and born-again believers are children of God.  Understanding this is a critical part of our sanctification according to John: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. . . . Beloved, now we are children of God . . . And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:1-3).

Two Natures or One?

Let me draw another observation from the tree illustration.  How would you define the nature of the tree? Would it have two natures? It depends upon whether you are talking about the whole tree—which does have two natures (rootstock and navel)—or just the part of the tree that grows above the graft (the new creation) that has just one nature (navel).  This is somewhat of a semantic problem.  When Paul talks about the new “I,” is he talking about who he was before in combination with who he is now, or is he referring to the new creation in Christ?

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with God who is the fountain of spiritual life, a relationship that brings a new seed or root of life.  As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can take place.  Unless there is a seed of life within the believer, i.e., some core spiritual life, growth is impossible.  There is nothing to grow.  That is why Paul’s theology is all based on our position in Christ.  “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him . . .” (Col. 2:6,7a).  That is why the Christian message must be based on who we are in Christ.  In order to grow, believers must first be firmly rooted in Christ.  In order to grow and bear fruit, Christians, their marriages, and their ministries must all be spiritually centered in Christ.

The New Birth

Recall that Adam and Eve were born both physically and spiritually alive.  Because of sin, they died spiritually.  They were separated from God.  From that time on, everybody is born physically alive, but spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1).  Paul says that everyone in that state is a natural man who cannot discern the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14).  Like an ornamental orange, he may look good, but they cannot bear any fruit that isn’t bitter.  The fruit will only drop to the ground and bring forth more natural stock that will only appear to look good for a season.

According to Scripture, the center of the person is the heart, which has the capacities to think, feel and choose.  In our natural state “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9).  It is deceitful because it was born that way and has been conditioned from the time of birth by the deceitfulness of a fallen world, rather than by the truth of God’s Word. According to Proverbs 4:23, the heart is the “wellspring of life” in which wickedness must not be allowed to take root.  For instance, that is why we are to forgive from the heart and not allow a root of bitterness to spring up by which many will be defiled.

A New Heart and a New Spirit

One of the greatest prophecies concerning our salvation is given in Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove from you a heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” The new covenant under which every Christian lives says, “I will put My laws in their hearts” (Heb. 10:16).  Jesus came that we might have life, and the believer receives that spiritual life at the moment of salvation.  “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).  In other words, “To all the ornamental oranges that will choose to put their trust in God and believe His Word, they shall be navel oranges.” The moment you were grafted into the vine, you were sanctified or set apart as a child of God.  “You are already clean” (Jn. 15:3), and you shall continue to be sanctified as He prunes you so that you may grow and bear fruit.  You are now alive in Christ, which is the foundation and source for the spiritual growth.  In fact, the believer is described as a new creation with a new life that has new desires and a new direction.

The same thought is captured in Paul’s testimony: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  Paul says I died, but I live, obviously a new and different person (cf. also Col. 3:1-3).  In other words, my old ornamental tree has been cut off; I no longer live as an ornamental orange, but I now live as a new navel orange.  We as Christians have a new identity and it comes from who we are in Christ, not who we were in Adam.

A New Man

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).  It is also possible to translate “he is a new creation” as “there is a new creation.” What Paul is teaching in this statement is that through His death and resurrection, Christ has effected a new creation in which finally all things—including all of creation, the earth and the heavens—will be made new (Rev. 21:1; cf. Is. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13).  The believer who has died and now lives “in Christ” (cf. vv. 14-15) is part of this new creation.

Parallel to the concept of being a new creation is the teaching that the believer has put on the “new self” (Col. 3:9), or more literally the “new man.” The new man at times refers both to the new individual (i.e., “self”) in Christ, as well as the new humanity or the humanity of the new creation united in Christ as its Head.  F. F. Bruce says, “The new man who is created is the new personality that each believer becomes when he is reborn as a member of the new creation whose source of life is Christ.”

What does it mean to be a “new man?” Does it mean that every aspect of the believer is new in reality? We still look the same physically, and we still have many of the same thoughts, feelings and experiences.  Picture, for instance, the ornamental orange tree that has just had a tiny new stem grafted into it.  Because so much appears to be the same, we are sometimes taught that our “newness” refers only to our position in Christ.  They would say that the newness is only what we have seen in relation to our position of righteousness and holiness in justification and positional sanctification.  There is no real change in us until we are finally transformed in glorification.  That would be like teaching justification without regeneration (we are forgiven, but there is no new life).  If we are still ornamental orange trees, how can we be expected to bear naval oranges? We have to believe that our new identity is in the life of Christ and commit ourselves to grow accordingly.

New Things Have Come

Despite the fact that every believer at times lives according to the old self, like Paul, they still are new persons—new in relationship to God and new in themselves.  The change that takes place in us when we come to Christ involves two dimensions.  First, we have a new Master.  As mortals, we have no choice but to live under a spiritual power, either our heavenly Father or the god of this world.  At salvation, the believer in Christ experiences a change in the power that dominates life.  Second, there is an actual change in the “nature” of believers, so that the propensities of his life or the deepest desires of their hearts is now oriented toward God, rather than toward self and sin.

A New Master

Since we are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection, we have become a new person and part of the new humanity.  In this change, we have come under a new power of dominion in our life.  Nowhere is this expressed more clearly than in Romans 6:5-7: “If we have been united with Him . . . in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.  For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” “Old self” in this passage is literally “old man.” The “old man” in relation to the believer has been crucified in Christ and he has put on the “new man” (Col. 3:10).

The biblical teaching of the “new man” also has a corporate sense, meaning a collective mankind, i.e., the “old humanity” related to Adam, and the new humanity is related to Christ.  The latter is the “new man” created in Christ (Eph. 2:15).  This corporate sense is evident when Paul speaks of the “new man” as a place or sphere “in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised . . .” (Col. 3:10).  The individual person or “self,” however, is not excluded from this corporate sense.  For all people exist and have their identity in one of these two “men.” They either belong to the “old humanity” and are dominated by its characteristics or they are regenerate and belong to the “new humanity” and are under its domination.

Saved and Sanctified by Faith

Again, we need to understand that this is a reality that has already taken place.  Paul says, “our old self was crucified” (past tense).  We try and try to put the old man to death and we can’t do it.  Why not? Because he is already dead! You cannot do for yourself what Christ has already done for you.  Because many Christians are not living the abundant life, they incorrectly reason “what experience has to happen in order for this to be true?” The only thing that had to happen in order for that to be true, happened nearly two thousand years ago, and the only way you can enter into that experience is by faith.

A dear pastor who heard of our ministry asked for an appointment.  He said, “I have struggled for twenty-two years in ministry, and I finally think I know what the answer is.  I my devotion time I read, ‘For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3).  That’s it, isn’t it?” I assured him it was.  Then he asked, “How do I do that?” I suggested that he read the passage just a little bit slower.  For twenty-two years he has been desperately trying to become somebody he already is, and so do many other believers.  It is not what we do that determines who we are; it is who we are that determines what we do.  We don’t labor in the vineyard hoping that God may someday love us.  God loves us and that is why we labor in the vineyard.  We don’t serve God with the hope that God may someday accept us.  We are already accepted in the Beloved; that is why we serve Him.

We must learn to accept what God says is true and live accordingly by faith.  When we do it works out in our experience.  If we try to make what God says is true by our experience, we will never get there.  Paul points out the futility of that thinking in Galatians 3:2: “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” We are saved by faith, and we walk or live by faith.  We have been sanctified by faith, and we are being sanctified by faith and by faith alone.  We are neither saved nor sanctified by how we behave, but by how we believe.

The Three Tenses of Salvation and Sanctification

Salvation for the believer is past (Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 1:8,9), present (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:5), and future tense (Rom. 5:9,10; Heb. 9:28).  In other words, we have been saved, we are being saved, and someday we shall fully be saved from the wrath that is to come.  I believe that Scripture teaches that we have the assurance of that salvation now.  John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13).  And Paul says, “Having believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13,14).

Sanctification also occurs in Scripture in past (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:19; Acts 20:32), present (Rom. 6:22; 2 Cor. 7:1), and future tense (Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Thess. 3:12,13).  In other words, we have been sanctified, we are being sanctified, and some day we shall fully be sanctified.  The sanctifying process begins at new birth and continues on to our final glorification.  Past-tense sanctification has commonly been called positional sanctification.  Present-tense sanctification has been commonly called progressive or experiential sanctification.  The tendency by some is to understand past-tense sanctification as just positional truth, and then proceed to live as though it really isn’t true.  The consequences are tragic.  These people will spend the rest of their lives trying to become somebody they already are.  Positional sanctification is real truth.  We are not trying to become children of God; we are children of God who are becoming like Christ.  Progressive sanctification is the process of working out our salvation by faith, that which God has already worked in.  It is the process of conforming to His image.

Focusing on past-tense sanctification at the expense of progressive sanctification can also lead to serious errors, such as the concept of sinless perfection.  This is nothing more than a denial of sin.  “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). It is important to realize that “having sin” and “being sin” are two totally different concepts.  The other extreme, that of focusing on progressive sanctification at the expense of positional sanctification, leads to a denial of who we really are.

In Summary

Has the sinful nature been eradicated at the time of the new birth? One cannot answer yes or no without defining terms.  If someone asked, “Do you believe that the old man is dead?” the answer is yes.  We are no longer in Adam; we are spiritually alive in Christ.  If someone asked, “Do you believe that Christians no longer sin and cannot walk or live according to the flesh?” The answer is no.  The Christian retains the flesh, which the editors of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible have chosen to interpret as “old nature,” and even at times, “sin nature.” This has created some semantic problems when discussing the nature or natures of a Christian.

If someone asked, “Do we believe that we have a new nature?” I would answer yes, because God has given me a new heart and my inner man is oriented toward God.  I have become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), and “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom. 7:22).  If they asked, “Are we a sinner or a saint?” I would joyfully respond, “I believe we are saints by the grace of God, and we intend to live our lives as His children in the way He intended us to live by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Don’t forget that our entire being was morally corrupt before we came to Christ.  Our minds were oriented to live independently of God and the desires of our flesh are in opposition to the Spirit of God.  The flesh (old nature, NIV) has to be crucified by the believer and this is something we have to do on a daily basis.  There is no such thing as instant maturity.  It will take us the rest of our lives to renew our minds and conform to the image of God.  The seed that was sown in us by God is only a beginning.  Being a child of God and being free in Christ is positional truth.  But how many are living like children of God, and how many are living free in Christ? Nobody can fix our past, but I believe that by the grace of God we can all be free from it.

Balancing the Indicative and the Imperative

The greatest tension in the New Testament is between the indicative (what God has already done and what is already true about us) and the imperative (what remains to be done as we respond to God by faith and obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit).  That tension can be seen in verses like Romans 6:6: “Knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” You have to know and believe positional truth in order to successfully progress in your sanctification.  Positional sanctification is the basis for our progressive sanctification.

The balance between the indicative and the imperative is about equal in Scripture, but I have not observed that balance being taught in our churches.  We seem to focus more on the imperatives, i.e. instructing believers what they must do instead of balancing that with what God has already done.  Many people attend evangelical churches for years and never hear enough positional truth to understand that they are children of God who are alive and free in Christ.  Many have never repented of their old ways or resolved their personal and spiritual conflicts.  Consequently, they are not maturing and the best messages from the pulpit are going right over their heads.  Paul wrote, “I gave you milk to drink and not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly.  For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:2,3).

We need to help Christians realize the incredible identity and position they have in Christ, and then help them repent of their own ways so that they can live a liberated life “in Christ.”


You not only can, but you must! Forgiveness is one of the most important steps toward freedom in Christ. Jesus Himself predicates God’s forgiveness of us on our forgiveness of others: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors….For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:12,14,15). The apostle Paul teaches us that unresolved anger gives the devil a place in our lives and calls us to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:26, 27, 32, NIV).

The question above addresses the relationship between feelings and forgiveness. Realize that if God commands us to do so, we can forgive whether or not we feel like forgiving. We don’t always feel like going to church, praying or studying the Bible, but we choose to do these things anyway because they are necessary for our growth. Our feelings change as we obey God and enter into His presence. Similarly, forgiveness is a choice — an act of the will — that begins a process of emotional healing and the restoration of our relationships with God. Don’t wait for the emotions to heal or lead the way before you obey God and choose to forgive.

We must also forgive from the heart if we are to experience the freedom of forgiveness (see Matthew 18:34, 35). It is not the words we say that accomplish forgiveness. It is facing the hurt and the hatred and then choosing to forgive from the heart. Such emotional honesty is absolutely necessary as we choose to forgive, and this is where many evangelicals stumble. They never admit their anger and simply forgive from the head, trying to keep the painful memories out of their minds.

Forgiveness, then, is something you can do regardless of what you are feeling. It is a decision that you can and must make in obedience to God and for your own sake. Go as deep as you can with your emotions because that is where the healing is going to take place. Don’t be afraid to face the hurt and the hate. Instead, trust the Lord to bring to the surface whatever painful emotions you need to deal with and then trust Him to help you deal with them as well.

A good way to do that is to name the offense you are forgiving and to describe how that offense made you feel about yourself (rejected, unwanted, unloved, dirty or something similar). Now that you’re again feeling this pain, hurt or anger, choose to let the debt go and agree to live with the consequences of the sin. Although the situation isn’t fair, you have no choice but to deal with the effects of that person’s sin. More accurately, the only real choice you have is whether to deal with the consequences of another person’s sin against you in the bondage of bitterness, or in the freedom of forgiveness.

Nowhere do we teach that forgiveness means tolerating sin of any kind, especially abuse.  Forgiveness does not mean staying in an abusive situation and giving the perpetrator more opportunities to inflict damage.  The loving thing to do is to confront abuse and help the perpetrators acknowledge and accept their responsibility.

At this point, you might find it helpful to understand that forgiveness and reconciliation are separate issues.  Forgiveness is necessary even when reconciliation may not be possible.  In many situations, emotional healing from bitterness, hatred and anger is necessary, but reconciliation is impossible or inadvisable.  A person who was abused by a now deceased parent, for instance, will never find healing by waiting for the offender to repent.  That person can’t, and many other people won’t.  The deceased abuser has already met his or her Maker and Judge, and hanging on to bitterness and hatred won’t help you or impact that person.  Also, a person who was ritually abused needs to find emotional healing but should never be reconciled with the perpetrators.  Simply put, forgiving is releasing a debt.  It is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin and relinquishing the right to seek revenge which God assures us is His domain (see Romans 12:17-21).

Some believers, however, have used Luke 17:3, 4 to teach that we should not forgive unless repentance occurs:

“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

This passage focuses on forgiveness in the context of reconciling a relationship in which we are called to rebuke sin and help bring others to repentance.  It doesn’t specifically say that we shouldn’t forgive if they don’t repent (even though this may be implied).  Furthermore, we are not called to play the role of the Holy Spirit, rebuking every sin in every person we meet.  Honesty about sin is necessary for genuine reconciliation, and there is a time to refuse a cheap reconciliation without repentance. But note that Christ’s main point here is not about withholding forgiveness but extending it, even repeatedly, to someone who is struggling in the relationship.  We are to be grace-givers, not repentance-demanders.

As we take people through the Steps to Freedom, we find that people who wait for another’s repentance are locked in bitterness toward literally dozens of people.  Many are still bitter about an old boyfriend who jilted them or a boss who passed them over for a promotion.  We see little gained by hanging on to bitterness and somehow trying to exact repentance and force reconciliation.  Our freedom cannot be dependent upon whether another person will repent.

In the Steps, we deal primarily with the volitional and emotional side of forgiveness as it relates directly to our relationship with God.  Jesus says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11:25).  Here, forgiveness is not portrayed as some long, drawn-out reconciliation process.  It can be done while you stand in prayer.  Nor is forgiveness shown to be conditional, extended only to some people for some transgressions.  Instead, forgiveness is pictured as part of our normal prayer life, it is extended to anyone for anything, and it may not be a prelude to reconciliation. Furthermore, forgiveness on a human level is necessary if we are to experience forgiveness from God (see Matthew 6:12,14,15).  Forgiveness is also a crucial element in resolving anger and bitterness (see Ephesians 4:27,32).  Only when we are free from bitterness can we pursue reconciliation from a biblical perspective and a godly attitude.

Technically, no.  God cannot do anything wrong.  But you had better deal with your bitterness and anger toward God if you want to find spiritual freedom.  Again, since we are dealing with the volitional and emotional dimension of forgiveness in the Steps to Freedom, we often process these feelings toward God in the forgiveness step.  What we are actually doing is being honest about the disappointment and pain we feel in our relationship to God and repenting of our false expectations and wrong attitudes toward God.  Though Job clung to God throughout his ordeal and was emotionally honest with Him all along, the breakthrough for him came with repenting of his demanding spirit and letting God be God (see Job 42:1-6). We try not to get too hung up on exactly how someone expresses this repentance.  We’re sure God forgives someone whose heart is right, but who says, “God I forgive you for…” Whenever possible, we encourage people to use the correct terminology, but the attitude of the heart is the critical issue.

“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.  And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31, 32).

At one point in His ministry, the Pharisees accused Jesus of performing His miracles by the power of Beelzebul, a ruling territorial spirit. In response, Jesus said that if He were casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, then Satan would be casting out Satan. Satan would be divided against himself, and his kingdom could not stand.  Jesus then explained that, since He was casting out demons by the Spirit of God, the kingdom of God had come upon them (see Matthew 12:28).  Clearly, they were rejecting the Spirit of God by crediting His work to Beelzebul.

So why did Jesus say that a person can speak against Him, but not the Holy Spirit? The answer to this question comes with understanding that the unique role of the Holy Spirit was and is to give evidence to the work of Christ and to lead us into all truth (see John 14:17-19; 16:7-15).  The only unpardonable sin is the sin of unbelief. If we refuse to accept the testimony given to us by the Holy Spirit, fight off His conviction of our sin, and never accept the truth, we will never come to Christ for salvation.  In Christ, all our sins are forgiven.  Therefore, no Christian can commit the unpardonable sin.  Only an unregenerate person who refuses to come to Christ will die in his or her sins.

The accuser of the brethren, however, will often try to convince Christians that they have committed the unpardonable sin so that they will live in defeat.  We encourage you to read Living Free in Christ, which was written to help Christians understand their relationship with God and their identity in Christ so that they can stand against such lies of our adversary.  Even as Christians, however, we can quench the Spirit.  If we do, we will impede the work of God and live a less than victorious life, but we will not lose our salvation.

Again we are dealing with anger that stems from false expectations, in this case, false expectations for ourselves.  In answer to the question, when we forgive ourselves, we are simply accepting and agreeing with God’s forgiveness of us.  Many people, however, find it easier to connect with their self-directed anger by saying, “I forgive myself for ….”  Often people mentally beat themselves up for sins God has already forgiven.  Playing judge, jury and warden in our own life like this is more like playing God than choosing to affirm His forgiveness.

Throughout the Bible, obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings cursing or negative consequences. After laying out the choice between the blessed life of obedience and the cursed life of disobedience (see Deuteronomy 27:1-30:14, God asks Israel to choose life instead of judgment (see vv. 30:19, 20). Is it selfish for Israel to obey God and choose to enjoy His blessings and avoid His discipline? Hardly. Neither is it selfish to choose to forgive in order to escape emotional torment (see Matthew 18:34, 35), to have our prayers unhindered (see Mark 11:25), to thwart Satan’s schemes against the Church (see 2 Corinthians 2:10,11), to remove Satan’s place in our lives (see Ephesians 4:27, 32), or to enjoy God’s forgiveness (see Matthew 6:14,15). What higher motive or greater benefit could we have for forgiving than the restoration of our relationship with God? Certainly restoring your relationship with God cannot be considered a selfish motivation.

God was there, and He was greatly grieved over what happened. Psalm 94 assures us that God indeed does see all forms of abuse and oppression and that He is a God of vengeance and justice. He is also our help, our stronghold, and our refuge.  Rather than focus on what God didn’t do in his life (that is, stop the abuse in our life), the psalmist focuses on his relationship with God, confident that God will one day mete out perfect justice.

It may also help to remember that God made human beings with the responsibility to choose — even to choose to disobey Him.  God does not now change that freedom and prevent people from choosing to do evil.  Besides, to take away our choice would be to remove the possibility of us choosing to trust God.

In light of the pain we experience at the hands of others, our confidence and hope lies in the truth that God is able to bring healing and that He even uses the pain to build strength of character — a Christlike character — in us.  We cannot guarantee that you will escape evil in this sick and fallen world (see John 16:33), but we can reassure you that you don’t have to be a perpetual victim of your past.  In Christ, God has provided us with a way to overcome our past, and we have to assume our responsibility to choose that path of freedom.

One more important word about suffering comes from Job, a book which teaches us how to deal with the loss and pain that comes our way in this world.  As his suffering progresses, Job never gives up on his relationship with God.  He argues, he expresses his deep disappointments, and he even asks God for a trial and the opportunity to plead his case about God’s apparent injustice (see Job 9,10).  Through all his trials, Job never gives up on God: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15, KJV).  The key is to be honest about your deep disappointments with God and allow Him to speak to you (see Job 38-41).

Don’t suffer in denial.  Let God know about your anger and disappointment with Him.  Then you will be able to see God and yourself clearly enough to follow Job’s example and repent of your wrong expectations of God (see Job 42:1-6).  Keep in mind, too, that Job’s latter state was more blessed than his former state.  God never told Job why he was suffering, but God used suffering to increase Job’s trust in Him and to bless Job.  Romans 8:18-39 assures us that God’s plan for our glory includes suffering, but this suffering can never separate us from His love for us as demonstrated in Christ Jesus’ death on the cross.


It’s not that we are focusing on demons as much as we are bringing light to the truth.  We believe we are moving the Church toward a more biblical worldview which openly acknowledges and addresses spiritual realities.  One of the major problems that has led to the ineffectiveness of the Church today is the adoption of a western worldview which ignores, on a functional level, much of what the Scriptures teach about spiritual realities.  Categorizing our problems under the labels “The World,” “The Flesh,” and “The Devil” is a little deceiving because it tends to give the impression that they operate independently from each other.  According to Genesis 1-6, if it weren’t for Satan, the world and the flesh wouldn’t be problems for us.

Some believers point to James 1:14 as teaching that all sin is really the result of the flesh.  But this interpretation ignores the rest of the Book of James, especially James 3:13-4:10, which clearly implies that all human conflict and worldliness has a demonic dimension (3:15) requiring us to resist the devil as part of the solution (4:7).  Paul says our struggle is “not with flesh and blood” but against an organized, evil, spiritual empire that controls the world (see Ephesians 6:12) and which impacts every person born (see Ephesians 2:1-3).  Satan is called the god of this world, and all the world is under his evil influence.  To be sure, excessive preoccupation with the demonic can be a problem with some groups.  The solution is found in living according to a completely biblical worldview with Scripture as our guide.

As we’ve stated over and over, recognizing a spiritual dimension to our problems does not imply a “devil made me do it” theology.  Nobody emphasizes personal responsibility for finding freedom more than we do.  Every New Testament passage on spiritual struggles emphasizes our personal responsibility to resist and stand firm (Ephesians 6: 10-12; James 4:7;1 Peter 5:8,9).  But we must take seriously the spiritual dimension of our struggles if we are to win in the battle against the flesh and the world.

The focus of our ministry is Christ, not the devil.  We instruct people not to call up, name or deal directly with the demonic in counseling sessions.  We don’t want demons to manifest; we want to manifest the presence of God.  Wanting to do all things decently and in order, we teach pastors, missionaries, counselors and laypeople to maintain control and work only with the counselee.

The simple answer to the question as asked is “no.” But the relationship of believers to the demonic is not that simple.

In the original language, “demon possession” is only one word.  Some have suggested that it would have been better to have transliterated it as “demonized.” If we did, then a demonized person could be defined as “one who is under the influence of one or more demons.” All the passages where this word is used are in the Gospels.  The word never occurs after the Cross.  Consequently, we will forever lack theological precision in determining if the word “demonization” can be applied to a New Testament believer.  To say the concept couldn’t apply because the word doesn’t occur is, at best, an argument from silence and not a definitive answer.

The answer also hinges on how you define “possessed.” We have a tendency to think that if we possess something, we own it (as in “possession is nine-tenths of the law”).  With that understanding of the word, the question becomes “Can a Christian be owned by the evil one?” The answer: Absolutely not! Every Christian has been bought by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18,19).  We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will never leave us.  Paul writes, “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13,14).

Despite what some of our critics charge, I (Neil) have never taught that believers can be “demon possessed.” The first cornerstone of our message is that believers are eternally secure in their identity as children of God.  We teach that no believer is in such deep bondage that they cannot exercise their responsibility to “submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil” (James 4:7).  Our approach is to encourage believers to exercise their authority and responsibility as children of God to repent of sin, win the battle for their minds, present their bodies to God and resist the devil.

Even though Christ has secured our victory over our spiritual enemies (see Colossians 2:15), please don’t conclude that Christians can’t have spiritual problems.  Some believers seem to think they are immune to spiritual attack, but the Bible clearly teaches that Satan’s primary attack has always been on God’s people, hoping to thwart God’s plan.  The Bible clearly teaches that temptation, accusation and deception are constant possibilities for believers.  (The following passages describe the possible impact of evil forces on believers: Genesis 3; 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job; Zechariah 3; Matthew 16:23; Acts 5:3; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 7:5; 2 Corinthians 11:1ff; 12:7; Ephesians 4:27; 6:10ff; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 1 Timothy 1:20; 3:6; 4:1; 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:26; James 3:15; 4:4; 1 Peter 5:7,8; Revelation 2:10; 12:17.)

A true Biblical worldview presents all of creation locked in spiritual conflict that extends from Genesis to Revelation.  As believers, we are aligned with God against the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  We have been transferred from the “domain of darkness” to the “kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).  In this battle for the heavenly places, the Church is God’s method for extending His kingdom and as such is Satan’s prime target (see Ephesians 1:3,20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). The entire book of Ephesians teaches that as believers we already have everything we need to experience spiritual resources through faith and obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Spiritual defeat is still a real possibility for believers who still live like unbelievers (see Ephesians 4:17-32).

We are clearly told that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  Therefore, Paul teaches it is our responsibility to put on the armor of God, to stand firm and to resist the powers of evil (see Ephesians 6:10-18).  Peter calls the devil “your adversary” and warns believers of his intention to devour them (see 1 Peter 5:7,8). The word used for “devour” is a strong term that means “to drink down, swallow down, to eat up, or to devour.” (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers,The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976, 1982 edition).  For example the Egyptians were “swallowed up” by the Red Sea (see Hebrews 11:29).  (See also 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20).  We are told to submit to God and resist the devil and that he will flee from us (see James 4:7).  What happens to believers if they don’t obey God’s Word and choose to resist the devil? All these passages imply dire consequences for believers who ignore Satan, pretend he doesn’t exist or fail to stand firm in their faith.  If Satan can get you to believe a lie, he can control your life.  We have been clearly warned: “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

By focusing the discussion of Satan’s influence on believers on the issue of the location of the demons — whether they are internal or external — some have needlessly polarized the Church.  Conservative Christians have disagreed for years about what demons can do to believers and whether this control can extend to what we normally think of as internal functions such as thinking, feeling and motor activities.  We could quote authors, cite references and debate the passages, but we don’t believe deciding the location is the critical issue.  Furthermore, we believe you could use our discipleship-counseling model regardless of your view on the location issue.  Let us explain.

First, the issue of internal versus external is hard to apply in the spiritual realm. As believers, is our “skin,” the armor of God repelling demons and their activities? Or is the battle for our minds fought in a spiritual realm where spatial concepts are not the key issues? The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is primarily a “relational issue” and not a “spatial” issue because of the doctrine of the omnipresence of God.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not automatically keep sin and evil out of our mortal bodies (study Romans 6-8).  The Corinthian believers were warned about receiving other spirits besides the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 11:3,4) even though Paul calls them temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).  As the temple of God was violated in the Old Testament, Paul teaches that sin can reign in the mortal bodies of those who use their bodies as instruments of unrighteousness (see Romans 6:12-16).  That is why he urges us to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1) as the necessary prerequisite to the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2). The whole question of “internal versus external influence” is difficult because we just don’t know exactly how the material world of the brain, body and nervous system interfaces with the spiritual realm of the mind, flesh and spirit.

Second, virtually all who carefully study this issue agree that believers can be greatly impacted by evil spirits.  Authors who advocate an external-influence-only view conclude this: “The Bible itself does not give us a full description of everything demons are capable of.  Because of this lack of accurate information, plus the satanic ability to deceive, plus our own shortcomings in the area of discernment, it is likely that certain activities such as vocal chord control or even a demon throwing someone on the ground, may be caused by a demon without requiring internal habitation.  (Thomas Ice and Robert Dean, Overrun by Demons,Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1990, pp. 127-128.) What if these authors are correct and all control is external? You could still have a believer rolling on the ground, speaking in demonic voices, in desperate need of help.

We believe the critical issue is how to help this person.  To find freedom from the spiritual bondage, however you want to describe it, the believer must assume personal responsibility to believe the truth of his or her identity in Christ, submit to God by repenting of sin, put on the spiritual armor and resist the devil.  Regardless of where the demons are located, it is trusting God’s truth and His truth alone that sets people free (see John 8:31,32).  We have never cast demons out of anybody as some kind of “outside authority agent,” and we don’t teach others to do it.  We simply encourage believers to exercise their responsibility to “submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil” (James 4:7) using the kind, compassionate model described by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

Through the years, we have had the privilege of helping thousands find their freedom in Christ, freedom from Satan’s lies and freedom from their pasts.  Many were in bondage to their past, others had deep sexual problems, eating disorders and other seemingly unmanageable behaviors.  Few of these people knew who they were as children of God, and all struggled in their thought lives.  I (Neil) have personally counseled hundreds of people who heard voices, and nearly every situation involved a spiritual battle for their minds. You may want to read Released from Bondage.  It contains testimonies of Christians who were in bondage and their accounts of how they got out of it.  You will read about the strong spiritual component in every single person’s problems.  How you choose to label the conflict is almost irrelevant to us.  The fact that Christ was their answer and truth set them free is the real issue.  And we, the Church, are the only hope these dear people have because the secular world does not believe they could possibly be having demonic problems.

Satan cannot perfectly read your mind, but no single passage in Scripture states this definitively.  We infer that Satan cannot read our minds for a number of reasons.  First, Satan is a created being, originally a powerful angel (see Ezekiel 28:13,14).  Though he aspired to be like God (see Isaiah 14:13,14), he is not God’s equal in any way.  Only God has the ability to be everywhere — all present, all-knowing and all-powerful.  Therefore, only God has complete and continual knowledge of our minds’ activities (see Psalm 139).

Second, everywhere in the Bible that angels or demons interact with people or God, information must be exchanged through communication. Certainly if Satan could have read Jesus’ mind, he would have altered his doomed strategy in the temptations he devised (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Instead, the devil tries different temptations, and each time Jesus resists him verbally, using the sword of the Spirit as we are called to do (see Ephesians 6:17).

Third, in Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar wisely demanded that his Chaldean sorcerers reveal the content of both of his dreams before interpreting them in order to validate the divine origin of the interpretation.  The sorcerers were stumped because they knew their normal sources of power and information (demons) could not read the king’s mind.  Only God is the true revealer of such mysteries (see Daniel 2:11, 22, 28, 29, 47).  Certainly, if Satan had been able to read the king’s mind, he would have been able to keep Daniel from advancing in the king’s service.

What Satan can affect, apparently, is one’s thought processes through the flesh.  He is, for instance, indicted for blinding the minds of the unbelieving (see 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4), and he darkens their understanding (see Ephesians 2:1-3 and 4:17-19). He and his demons can communicate false doctrine (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 1:8; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3), and his demons can impact the thoughts of believers as well.  Satan is credited for prompting Ananias to lie to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:1-3), for moving David to consider his own strengths when he numbered the people of Israel (see 1 Chronicles 21:1, 2), for inspiring Peter’s resistance to Christ’s statement about His impending death (see Matthew 16:23), for inspiring worldly wisdom rooted in jealousy and ambition (see James 3:14,15; 4:7), and for leading minds away from devotion to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 11:3).  It isn’t hard for Satan to know what you’re thinking when he gives you the thoughts!

Furthermore, Satan and his demons use deception to give the impression they can read minds and know the future through divination and fortune-telling (see Acts 16:16,17).  Satan has also had opportunities since the beginning of creation to observe human behavior.  As a result, he has a thorough working knowledge of human behavior. He has learned what he must do to derive certain behaviors from the person he attacks.  He can also influence events by influencing key leaders.  He uses this deception to give the impression he is like God, able to read minds and control the future.  But remember that Christ has triumphed over Satan and, in Christ, you have the responsibility to resist him in submission to God.  When you do, he will flee (see Colossians 3:15; James 4:7).

To the person who is under severe attack by the devil and who does not understand the character of God, Satan can seem extremely powerful.  At times, a person may even be tempted to believe the lie that the devil is God’s equal in power, but nothing could be further from the truth!

Satan is a created being and, like all of God’s creatures, is subject to the final authority of God.  Satan is not permitted to do anything unless God first allows him.  In Job 1 and 2, God granted permission for the devil to touch Job’s possessions and even his physical body, but refused to allow Satan to kill him.  And, shortly before He went to the cross, Jesus warns Peter that “Satan has demanded permission to sift [him] like wheat” (Luke 22:31) and tells Peter that He is praying that his faith will be strong.  Clearly, Satan is bound by the authoritative decrees of Almighty God.  The devil has to ask God for permission before acting; he does not have equal authority with God.

Neither does Satan have God’s great wisdom.  God’s understanding is infinite (see Psalm 147:5) whereas Satan’s is limited.  The devil, for instance, obviously did not understand that the death of Christ on the cross would soon be followed by His triumphant resurrection, His ascension to glory and the giving of the Holy Spirit to empower all believers.  If he had known all that, he would never had conspired to put Him to death (see 1 Corinthians 2:8)!  Furthermore, the Bible teaches that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Hebrews 4:13, NIV).  Only God “knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21, NIV), and Satan is unable to perfectly read our minds.

As you begin to better understand who God really is and who you are in Christ, you will see that you have no need to fear Satan’s power.  He is a defeated foe, and in Christ you have all the authority you need to discern his schemes and resist him (see Colossians 2:8-15; James 4:7).

This question, in a variety of forms, has perplexed human beings for centuries.  Many people have expressed it this way; “If God is so good, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” or “If God is so powerful, why doesn’t He simply put an end to all the wickedness and pain in the world?”  To be sure, our efforts to understand this issue fall short of a complete answer, and to a certain extent it will remain a mystery to us this side of heaven.

We do know, however, that God is the Author of life, not death.  He created Lucifer.  Lucifer became Satan by his own rebellion (see Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28).  He then instigated the rebellion of one-third of the angels who became demons (see Revelation 12).  God created Adam who rebelled by sinning and led a parade of fallen humanity.  Sin in the world is the result of God’s creation rebelling against Him.  The Lord, however, remains both all powerful and completely good (see Jude 25: Exodus 34:6).  Therefore, at any time, He could choose to say, “Enough is enough” and put a stop to all the activities of Satan as well as to all the activities of us sinful people — and one day He will.  Until that Second Coming of Christ, however, we face the harsh reality that incredible evil and suffering abound in our world.

Does God see?  Does God care?  We answer both troubling questions with a resounding, “Yes!”  The Lord Jesus, when He walked on the earth, wept at the grave of His dear friend Lazarus (see John 11:35).  At another time, “Seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew (:36).  These are certainly not the emotions and reactions of a distant or aloof God!

“Why then,” you may ask, “doesn’t this omnipotent God respond with compassion for all who suffer today?”  The answer to that question is “He already has!”  The Lord Jesus Christ did not choose to remain on His lofty throne in heaven, far above the pain and misery that Satan causes in this world.  Instead, He came to earth clothed in human flesh.  He took everything Satan could throw at Him and never gave up or gave in.  Jesus even died an excruciating death on the cross to pay for our evil, so that one day we will spend eternity in paradise with Him (see Philippians 2:5-11)!  Jesus defeated Satan at the cross and sealed his doom forever.  Judgment has already been passed on to the devil; one day he will begin to serve his eternal sentence.

“But it seems to be taking so long for Jesus to come back,” you say.  Perhaps to us it seems like God is taking His good old time, but God is right on schedule.  Listen to the words of the apostle Peter: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [to come again], as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV).

God is waiting for people like you and me to turn from our sin and put our faith in Christ.  It is out of His kindness that He waits to put an end to the devil’s power on earth.  For when God puts His foot down and says, “Enough!” to Satan, He will do the same with sinful men and women, and that will be the end of history as we know it.  Christ will return, judgment will come, and those who have not believed in Him will be doomed with the devil to the lake of fire (see Revelation 20:10-15).

In the meantime, God has given us the tremendous privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the good news of salvation to the people around us who have yet to respond.  We can do a lot to lessen the power of Satan in people’s lives by winning them to Christ and helping them become strong in their identity as a child of God.  The Holy Spirit gives us the power to make disciples for Christ as we depend on Him.

So, we can sit around cursing the darkness, or we can light a candle.  But rather than spending our time bemoaning the fact that Satan seems to have so much power, let us be about our Father’s business of building His Church.  The gates of hell will not prevail against us (see Matthew 16:18)!  And someday every tear will be wiped away, and the universe will be eradicated of evil (see Revelation 21:4).

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