Thursday, April 17, 2014

Overcoming Sin

The Days of Unleavened Bread represent putting sin out of our lives. They represent repentance and overcoming sin.

God commands putting leavening out of our houses and eating unleavened bread for seven days in Exodus 13:3-10, Leviticus 23:6-8, Numbers 28:17-18, and Deuteronomy 16:1-8. The Israelites understood the meaning of unleavened bread as a reminder that they left Egypt in haste, and that was the meaning for them.

Today, we in the Church of God understand the meaning of unleavened bread as putting sin, represented by leavening, out of our lives and Christ and God's righteousness, represented by unleavened bread, into our lives. We understand this from the New Testament. Christ is represented as the "bread of life" (John 6:26-58). 1 Corinthians mentions being "puffed up" several times, as a form of sin, and this is the same book that refers to leavening as a form of sin, the leaven of malice and wickedness, and unleavened bread as the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

The command to keep the Days of Unleavened Bread comes from the Old Testament, but its meaning for the Church is explained in the New Testament, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians.

The Days of Unleavened Bread are a time to focus on our responsibility to repent, to overcome sin and put it out of our lives, and to put the righteousness of God into our lives. During this time, we eat unleavened bread every day because this represents the righteousness of God, which we should feed on every day. We avoid eating leavening or leavened products, which mostly are foods that contain yeast, baking soda, or baking powder. We put leavening and leavened products out of our homes before the Days of Unleavened Bread begin, and we keep them out during this time.

This is a time to concentrate on self-examination and overcoming our sins.

How do we overcome?

The first thing is to realize the importance for our salvation of overcoming and putting sin out of our lives.

There is no room in the Bible for thinking we can take a slack attitude towards putting sin out of our lives, thinking that God will accept us into His kingdom even if we do not overcome our sins so let's not worry about it too much.

God is merciful. He understands our human weakness. He will forgive us as we repent and as we forgive others. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

But there are plenty of warnings that some in the Church can lose their salvation and suffer and be destroyed in the lake of fire because of sin.

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). Christ said this in the context of the spiritual intent of the law. This is the same passage in which He said, if you look at a woman to lust after her you have committed adultery in your heart (verses 27 and 28). Here He is saying you can lose your salvation over this kind of sin.

Notice this passage from Paul: "For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Corinthians 8:10-13). Notice that Paul said that a weak brother with a sensitive conscience could lose his salvation ("perish") by giving in to the temptation to eat meat sacrificed to an idol.

The rewards promised in the messages to the seven churches in Revelation are all conditioned on overcoming. "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Revelation 2:11). "To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it" (Revelation 2:17). "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations - 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels' - as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star" (Revelation 2:26-28). "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels" (Revelation 3:5). "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (Revelation 3:12). "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21).

Our attitude should be that we must overcome our sins. God also promises that He will not allow us to be tried more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Secondly, we must realize that we must go all out to put sin out of our lives and God's righteousness into our lives. And that means maximum effort, while praying for and trusting in God's help to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We ask for the help and power of God's Holy Spirit to help us overcome, and at the same time we make the maximum effort we can make to put every sinful thought, word, and action out of our lives and resist to the utmost every temptation that comes.

Every so often I hear someone in a sermon or sermonette belittle human effort to overcome sin. One person said we should not try to overcome sin by our own power. Recently I heard someone say that we should not rely on our willpower to overcome sin.

Certainly we should not rely on our own willpower alone. But to say that without also saying that we should certainly use our willpower is misleading. And for someone to say that we should not try to overcome sin by our own power is absolutely wrong.

Do we overcome sin by our power or God's power?


By our power alone, we cannot do it. But if we don't make the effort to do our part, God will not give us the help we need. We have to do our part if we want God to do His part.

We must make the effort. Then God helps us in proportion to our effort and our faith. He gives us the help we need to do for us what we are not able to do for ourselves. But He does not do it for us. And He does not necessarily make it easy for us.

I have used the example before of Samson. When Samson pushed against the pillars of the temple of the Philistines, he first prayed for God's help. He knew he could not do it by his own power alone. But then he pushed with all his might. What does that mean, "all his might"? The words "all his" are in italics in the NKJV and are added to the text to make clear its intended meaning. Without those added words, it would read "he pushed with might". That means he used his strength.  He had limited human power, but he used it.  And he trusted God to supply the rest (Judges 16:28-30).

Was it God by supernatural power that brought down that pagan temple, or was it Samson who did it by the physical strength of his human muscles? If you answer, it was God who did it, you would be partly correct. The truth is, it was both God and Samson working together.

How much sideward pressure, in pounds, applied to the pillars did it take to make them shift and bring down the temple? I do not know the weight of the pillars or the weight they bore - it must have been many tons, many thousands of pounds. Even if I knew the weight, I would not know how much sideways pressure it would take because I am not a mechanical engineer. But just for discussion, suppose it took 10,000 pounds of side pressure on each pillar to bring down the temple. Now suppose Samson had the strength in his human, physical muscles to exert 100 pounds of pressure on each pillar - 200 pounds total. That would mean Samson was able to apply 1% of the pressure needed. Then God only had to supernaturally apply 9,900 pounds of pressure on each temple, or 99% of what was needed. It wasn't all God's doing.

Now, suppose Samson held back. Suppose Samson said, well I need God's help anyway, so I won't make the effort to push as hard as I can. So suppose Samson, "took it easy" and figured, no point in straining myself. Suppose he only pushed with 50 pounds of pressure on each pillar. Fifty pounds plus the 9,900 pounds God would apply would only be 9,950 pounds - not enough to bring down the temple.

Would God have supplied the extra 50 pounds that Samson could have pushed on each pillar but didn't? I doubt it. He would have wanted Samson to use all his strength before He would help him.

Likewise, overcoming sin is a "joint venture", a partnership between us and God. We are required to do all we can, to try as hard as we can. God supplies the rest of the help we need. God does what we are not able to do, but He wants us to do as much as we can.

With "willpower"? Yes, with willpower.

Here is what God commands us: "Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38). "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). "Jesus answered him, 'The first of all the commandments is: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." This is the first commandment' " (Mark 12:29-30).

Can you sum up, all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength? Yes. You can sum it up, "all our being". We are to love God with all our being. In other words, we are to love God with everything we have, every talent, every gift, every part of our body, brain, mind, and spirit. Everything, everything that we have, everything that we are. That includes our willpower. We are to love God with all our willpower.

And to love God includes obeying Him, keeping His commandments, and resisting temptation to sin.

Therefore we are to use all the willpower we have to resist temptation to sin.

Suppose we know something is sin, something that tempts us. Do we have enough human willpower to overcome it? Maybe. It depends on the temptation and it depends on the person. Some people have more willpower than others. Even some people in the world, not converted, not knowing the truth, not having God's Spirit, can sometimes resist temptation by willpower alone. Even some atheists can lose weight or stop smoking.

You may have enough willpower to overcome a sin or you may not, but whatever amount of willpower you have, use all of it. Go all out. And ask for God's help to supply the extra power you may need but lack. Trust His promises (1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Timothy 1:7, Philippians 2:12-13). Believe God. Let the ministry help you with good advice and counsel, especially good teachings from their sermons. Use the tools of prayer, Bible study, fasting, and meditation. Read Church articles on how to overcome sin. Avoid tempting environments when possible. Stay clear of things that tempt you to stumble. If that means giving up TV, then give up TV. If that means giving up a certain circle of friends, then give up those friends. Study the Bible to learn every trick, every technique, every bit of wisdom useful for resisting temptation and avoiding sin.

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).

Remember Jacob wrestling with God. It must have been painful to have his hip dislocated, but he never gave up. In the end, God gave up and gave Jacob the blessing he wanted (Genesis 32:24-31). You can't say that Jacob did not use willpower to endure the pain and not let go of God.

Declare nuclear war against sin, and fight that war with all your might, and keep fighting till the end of your life. Then you will have the victory. The reward will be worth it.

Why does God require we make such maximum effort? Our effort shows where our hearts are. And exercising the effort helps strengthen our faith, our love, and our overall character.

Does making this maximum effort, using all the willpower we have, make us feel self-reliant, as if we do not need God?

That is a danger, but it should not make us feel self-reliant. The fact is, we cannot overcome sin without God's help for several reasons.

You may have enough human willpower to overcome a particular sin or resist a particular temptation. If so, do it. If you do not, use all the willpower you have, try as hard as you can, and God will give you extra help you need. Either way, you can get rid of the sin.

And you may not know, after you overcome the sin, how much God has helped you.

But you can know this, that no matter how much willpower you have, you could never overcome sin without God's help because without God's help you would not even know what sin is!

The world is deceived by Satan. No man is smart enough or powerful enough to escape that deception without God's calling and supernatural help. All the willpower in the world will not open your eyes and mind to God's truth. God has to call you, work with you by the power of His Spirit, to bring you out from Satan's deception and help you understand the truth. And God has to work with your mind after conversion to help you understand the full depth and application of His spiritual law (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, John 14:26).

You cannot fully understand the things of God, God's way of life, and God's spiritual law, without God's help that he gives you by His Holy Spirit. And thus, no matter how much willpower you might have, you still need God's help to overcome sin.

So there is never an excuse to feel self-reliant and independent of God. We all need God's help.

Besides that, if you are naturally gifted with strong willpower, where did that willpower come from? Everything you are and everything you have comes from God. If you have strong willpower, that is a gift. It is a gift that can come from heredity, a favorable environment growing up and good parental upbringing, or both. But it comes from God. It is God who gave you the natural gift when you were born and it was God who gave you good parents who helped you learn good self-discipline and self-control.

So God gets the full credit for our overcoming sin, and we should be grateful to God for every victory. Putting forth our full effort to overcome and resist temptation takes nothing from our gratitude towards God for giving us the help we need and our reliance on Him.

One might say, "I am trying, but I still can't overcome". I would ask, "Are you trying as hard as you can?" One might answer, "I'm trying, I'm really trying!" I might say, "You haven't answered my question. I know you are trying. Maybe you are trying very hard. But are you really trying as hard as you can? Can you say that you could not be trying harder, not even a little bit harder?"

And if one says, "I am trying as hard as I can", I might ask, "How do you know? Do you know your own mind that well?" "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

I don't say God expects and requires that we reach perfection in this life. But God expects progress, and we should expect and demand progress in ourselves. If we have not made progress over several years in getting sin out of our lives, that may be a good indication we are not making the maximum effort God requires of us.

Love God and keep His commandments with all your being, everything you've got. Use all the willpower you have, whether you have a little or a lot, to resist temptation and overcome sin. Pray to God for His help and trust Him to keep His promises. If your natural willpower is not enough, trust God to give you the extra help you need to overcome, and KEEP TRYING.

If you slip and fall, get up and keep trying.

God may use trials and punishments to humble you and correct you and help you to stop sinning. Submit to those trials and punishments. Don't accuse God or become resentful towards Him. Be humble and trust God even when He is putting you through a trial or punishment. God helps us overcome sin not just by inspiring us by His Spirit to obey Him but also by correcting us with punishments. "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:4-13).

Try to be spiritually alert all day, staying close to God in obedience and prayer. Get in the habit of constantly looking for ways to please God, to do His will, to include Him in every decision. If you forget about God, doing your own thing for most of a day, then a temptation comes, it is harder to resist than if you have been thinking of ways to do God's will all day long.

Also, as I point out in my book, Preaching the Gospel, it is important to obey God in everything, 100%, not just 99%. You can't leave some "small" sin that you think is not important unattended to and expect God to help you get rid of your "big" sins. He wants 100% submission.

Suppose you are struggling to overcome a problem with alcohol. Over-drinking is a big sin. So you concentrate on that and ask God's help to overcome. But you have some "little" sin you are not even trying to overcome. Maybe you have been telling someone a very "tiny" lie, just a slight exaggeration. You may figure that is not important. But suppose God won't help you with the "big" sin of alcoholism until you submit to Him in everything, including that little sin in the corner you don't think is important.

If you are submitted in your mind to God 99%, and He helps you overcome a problem, you might think that everything is ok between you and God. But it is not. 99% submission to God is not what God is looking for. So He may withhold the help you need with the big problem until you agree to submit to him in everything, one hundred percent. It may be His way of letting you know, you need to be more submissive in every aspect of His law and His way of life. You may need to examine yourself to see if you are falling short in some aspect of God's law and instruction, something you may have swept under the rug long ago and don't even remember.

We should have examined ourselves before Passover. But self-examination should be a life-long habit all year long. One way to examine ourselves is to go through the ten commandments, slowly, one-by-one, and think of how they apply to us not just in the letter but in the spirit (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Also, I find the sermon on the mount a useful passage to use to examine myself (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7). But of course, we are to live by every word of God, so we should be regularly reading the entire Bible. As we do so, we may uncover sins in our life we have not thought about for a long time. They may seem like small ones, but we should address them immediately.

God does not make overcoming sin easy. But He makes it possible. We have to learn to do our part 100%, then trust God to give us the extra help we need to overcome.

Eternal life is worth it.

Then, as we overcome, all credit goes to God, because our maximum effort is only our reasonable service to the God who made us and offers us such wonderful salvation and eternal life in His kingdom.

Here are links to other posts in this blog related to the subject of the Days of Unleavened Bread, repentance, and overcoming sin:

"Do We Overcome Sin by Our Power or by God's Power?", dated April 20, 2011, link:

"Stay Far from the Edge", dated April 6, 2012, link:

"Repentance", dated April 11, 2012, link:

"We Must Overcome by God's Power AND Our Power", dated March 25, 2013, link:

"How Faith Works with Repentance", dated March 26, 2013, link:

"Building the Wall", dated March 29, 2013, link:

"We Need the Holy Spirit to Overcome Our Sins", dated May 17, 2013, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"Brian Orchard's Bible Study on Repentance", dated March 16, 2014, link:

"False Repentance Movement in the Church of God", dated March 28, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

How to Obtain More of God's Help in Breaking Bad Habits, Chapter 7


Cora said...

We are missing your posts. Hope all's well with you. said...

Thank you, Cora.

I am glad to know someone is reading my blog.

It is almost a month since I posted last. I did not realize it was that long. I guess I went through a "dry" period for a few weeks. I have also been busy,

Part of the reason (or excuse) is that I left this post out for a long time at the top of the blog because of its importance.

But I will be posting again soon.

Thank you for your comment.