When Your Sin Plays Dead

Your Sin Deceives You

Sin is like a master but in Christ we have died to sin (Romans 6:11). However, sin’s presence has not yet been eradicated and its desire is still to rule over you (Genesis 4:7; Galatians 5:17). Deceit is one of its go-to tactics used to gain a stronghold in your heart. Obadiah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews all attest to the deceitful nature of sin:

Obadiah 3 – The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” (ESV; see below).

Ephesians 4:22 – to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,

Hebrews 3:13 – But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

How Does Your Sin Deceive You?

In order to fight sin we must understand the intricacies concerning exactly how sin deceives. Sin’s toolbox is fully outfitted and ready to wreak havoc on any Christ-follower at any stage of his journey. Sin knows the contours of every weak and vulnerable spot in your heart and it has a carefully devised plan to revisit and expand its footprint. Its deceitful ways are custom built and person specific.

This being said, we know that sin is said to be deceitful because it plays to our pride (Obadiah 3), entices and lures us (James 1:14), and because it attempts to convince us that the source of our temptation is God (James 1:17). Another way in which sin is deceitful is evident when we consider Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12). We must ‘take heed’ because one of the deceits of sin is that it pretends to be weak or dead. When a sin pretends to be dead it often has the look and feel of a sin which has lost all of its allure and grip. The believer considers the sin and it appears as if the sin has retreated and is no longer plaguing him as it once did.

Every believer experiences this particularly deceitful tactic of sin and its devastating toll. Theologian, John Owen (1616-1683), captures the danger we face when our sin is playing dead, “When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still”. (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, pg. 51; see below).

Why Does Your Sin Play Dead and How Do You Fight Back?

Sin plays dead for two reasons. First, your sin pretends to be weak or dead as a defensive survival tactic. If a particular sin is weak or dead it does not need to be challenged or attacked. It looks harmless and not worth confronting. It has been declawed, so to speak. Second, your sin pretends to be weak or dead for an offensive advantage. Sin floats, slithers, and creeps so as to go unnoticed but all the while it’s plan is to suddenly spring into action at an opportune time much like a Venus flytrap. When you perceive sin to be weak or dead it goes unchallenged and it is able to grow in an imperceptible way, gaining strength and further extending its tentacles around more chambers of your heart. 

The God-pleasing response to the seemingly harmless sin(s) which used to master you is to never turn your back on it/them. It is in the moment that you think yourself strongest that you are often actually the weakest. Even when reason tells you to move on to fight some other sin because victory is apparent or at least imminent you must continue to put your sin to death. Again, remember Paul’s call to ‘take heed.’ You must recognize that the sins which used to rule you are still active and crouching at the door waiting to destroy. You must not let down your defense and you do not stop attacking. You must ‘take heed’ and consider carefully your sin by observing its patterns and methods. John Owen called this the work of “[tracing the] serpent in all its turnings and windings.” (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, pg. 77). Then, once the sin has been carefully considered, you fight back. By God’s grace as made available through His Word, His Spirit, His Church, and your prayers, you “consider yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) and you fight your sin until Christ returns.

Credits

Photo by NO NAME on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Obadiah 3 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Owen, John, Overcoming Sin and Temptation. (2006). ed. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

United to Christ and Free from Sin, but Still Sinning?

If you are reading this it is likely because your experience with sin doesn’t make sense to you. This is the case for many of us. We read passages like Romans 6:18 (“and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”) and we are confused. We wonder how it is that we, who Christ has set free from sin, still have such strong urges to keep on sinning. Shouldn’t it be easy for those who have freedom from sin to stop sinning? The answer is, no, and Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 6, makes sense of our struggle.

Sin is a master

Paul speaks of sin as if it is a king or a master who cruelly reigns over people. He uses the words “dominion” (v. 9, 14) and “reign” (v. 12) to talk about sin’s power over people and likewise the words “slaves” (v. 20) and “enslaved” (v. 6) to talk about people’s experience living under the reign of sin.

We are born under sin’s enslavement and sin totally dominates us (v. 14). Being enslaved to sin does not mean that we are as sinful as we could be but it does mean that prior to personal salvation sin taints even our good and moral behavior. This imagery is important to consider if we want to understand why it is those of us who are free from sin still sin.

In Christ we have a new Master

The two most significant words in the New Testament are: in Christ.  Being in Christ is more than just letters added after our names signaling our credentials (i.e. MD, PhD, MA, MDiv), it is a transformation of who we once were. These words speak of the identity we take on at our personal salvation.

God miraculously brings us into Christ when we place our faith in Christ. When God brings us into Christ it marks a spiritual union with Christ. When Paul says we have been “baptized into Christ” (v.3) he means that we have been spiritually “united with Christ” (v.5). The result of this spiritual union is that we are made new creatures and old things pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). To use the language of Romans 6:18 we have become “slaves of righteousness.” Before being in Christ our master was sin but in Christ we have a new master and that master is Jesus. No longer does sin totally dominate us. We now have the choice to not sin.

Why do we still struggle with sin?

For those of us in Christ we have a new master reigning over us and the claim of our old master, sin, has been broken. But why do we still desire to sin and participate in sin? The answer is that our old master, sin, is in a fight till the bitter end. We still feel the presence of sin long after its rule and reign has concluded because sin refuses to acknowledge defeat.

Even though you are in Christ (if you have placed your faith in Christ) sin is continuing to compete for the throne of your heart. Sin still gives orders for you to follow and is in a massive marketing campaign trying to convince you to submit yourself again to its cruel reign. Often times its commands, pleas, and promises are unfortunately successful and we sin.

My six year old daughter loves to play with putty. It molds and takes shape as she desires and commands. The thing about putty is that long after my daughter releases her grip it maintains the markings and impressions of her hands. The reign of sin is like this. Although sin’s powerful grip has been broken, we feel its impression, contours, and indents long after the fact.

Romans 6 and Juneteenth

Trip Barefield (Trip Lee) preached a sermon at Capitol Hill Baptist Church titled The Living Dead where he likens Paul’s message in Romans chapter 6 to something known as Juneteenth (do yourself a favor and go listen to his sermon). He explains that in January 1863 Abraham Lincoln brought into effect the Emancipation Proclamation formally ending slavery but that, sadly, the news of this freedom did not initially reach slaves in Texas. It was not until almost two and a half years later that slaves in Texas became aware of the status of freedom they already had. This day was June 19th, 1865 and became known as Juneteenth.

Paul is writing to believers set free from sin. Romans chapter 6 serves as an announcement of that Good News. What Paul knows is that in order for us to “consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” we must be reminded of who we are in Christ and what we are to be in Christ.

In Closing

As we look back again at the phrase in v. 18, “have become slaves of righteousness”, there are two observations I want to make in closing. First, becoming a slave of righteousness is an identity bestowed upon us immediately at our conversion. At the moment we place our faith in Christ we are “freed (lit. ‘justified’) from sin” (v. 7) and we have a new master reigning over us. Second, becoming a slave of righteousness is something we grow into throughout our lives in Christ. This becoming a slave of righteousness is a progressive work of God (Philippians 2:12-13) as you refuse to let sin “reign in your mortal body” and instead you “present” yourself as an instrument of righteousness to God (v. 13).

May God be gracious to us as we “so now present [our] members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (v. 19).

Credits

Photo by Filip Zrnzević on Unsplash

The sermon titled The Living Dead by Trip Barefield can be found here.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Obadiah 3 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.