“I am Adonai, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. Therefore you are to be holy, because I am holy.” ~ Leviticus 11:45
“Following the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in your entire way of life; since the Tanakh says, ‘You are to be holy because I am holy.’” ~ 1 Kefa 1:15-16
In this post, we will begin to look at how Yeshua has prepared us to enter into the battle for holiness.
The Battle for Holiness
As we’ve learned previously it is through our union with Yeshua in His death that we are delivered from the dominion of sin. But we still find sin struggling to gain mastery over us, as Sha’ul depicted so vividly: “So I find it to be the rule, a kind of perverse ‘torah,’ that although I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me!” (Romans 7:21) We may not like the fact that we have this lifelong struggle with sin, but the more we realize and accept it, the better equipped we will be to deal with it.
Though we still have this indwelling propensity to sin, the Ruach maintains within us a prevailing desire for holiness (see I John 3:9). The Believer struggles with the sin God enables him to see in himself. This is the picture we see in Romans 7:21; it distinguishes Believers from un-Believers who are serenely content in their darkness.
If we are to wage a successful war against the enemy within, it is important that we know something of its nature and tactics.
- Scripture indicates that the seat of indwelling sin is the heart. “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come forth wicked thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness….All these wicked things come from within, and they make a person unclean.” (Mark 7:21-23; see also Genesis 6:5 and Luke 6:45) The word heart in Scripture is used in various ways. Sometimes it means our reason or understanding, sometimes our affections and emotions, and sometimes our will. Generally it denotes the whole soul of man and all its faculties, not individually, but as they all work together in doing good or evil. The mind as it reasons, discerns, and judges; the emotions as they like or dislike; the conscience as it determines and warns; and the will as it chooses or refuses – are all together called the heart. The Bible tells us that the heart is deceitful and unsearchable to any but God alone (see Jeremiah 17:9-10). Even as Believers we do not know our own hearts (see I Corinthians 4:3-5). None of us can discern fully the hidden motives, the secret intrigues, the windings and turnings of his heart. And in this unsearchable heart dwells the law of sin. Much of sin’s strength lies in the fact we fight with an enemy we cannot fully search out. Knowing that indwelling sin occupies a heart that is deceitful and unsearchable should make us extremely wary. We need to ask God daily to search our hearts for sin that we cannot or will not see. This was David’s prayer: “Examine me, God, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is in me any hurtful way, and lead me along the eternal way.” (Psalm 139:23-24) God’s primary means of searching our hearts this way is through His Word. “The Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword – it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) As we pray for God to search our hearts, we must continually expose ourselves to the searching of His Word. We must be careful to let the Ruach do this searching. If we try to search our own hearts, we are apt to fall into one or both of two traps.
- Morbid introspection. Introspection can easily become the tool of Satan, who is called the “Accuser” (see Revelation 12:10). One of his chief weapons is discouragement. He knows that if he can make us discouraged and dispirited, we will not fight the battle for holiness.
- Missing the real issues in our lives. The deceitfulness of Satan and of our own hearts will lead us to focus on secondary issues. Only the Ruach or other committed Believers can enable us to see such areas to which we are blind.
- We should realize is that indwelling sin works largely through our desires. Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, man has listened to his desires more than his reason. Desire has come to be the strongest faculty of man’s heart. The next time you face one of your typical temptations, watch for the struggle between your desires and your reason. If you give in to temptation, it will be because desire has overcome reason in the struggle to influence your will. The world recognizes this and makes appeals to our desires through what the writer of Hebrews calls “the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). Not all desire is evil, of course. Sha’ul speaks of his desire to know Yeshua (Philippians 3:10), of his desire for the salvation of his fellow Jews (Romans 10:1), and the desire that his spiritual children grow to maturity (Galatians 4:19). We are speaking here, however, about the evil desires that lead us into sin. James said, “Each person is being tempted whenever he is being dragged off and enticed by the bait of his own desire.” (James 1:14). If we are to win this battle for holiness, we must recognize that the basic problem lies within us. It is our own evil desires that lead us into temptation. We may think we merely respond to outward temptations that are presented to us. But the truth is, our evil desires are constantly searching out temptations to satisfy their insatiable lusts. Sometimes while confessing a sin we find ourselves starting once again to dwell on the evil thoughts associated with that sin, and we may be tempted again.
- We must understand that indwelling sin tends to deceive our understanding or reasoning. Our understanding of the Word of God can stand in the way of sin gaining mastery over us through our desires. Therefore Satan’s great strategy is to deceive our minds. Sha’ul spoke of the “deceptive desires” of the old self (Ephesians 4:22). He said that we were at one time “foolish and disobedient, deceived and enslaved by a variety of passions and pleasures.” (Titus 3:3) These passages speak of our old life, but we must realize that this deceit still wages war against us, though it no longer has mastery over us. We are often drawn away from obedience by the abuse of grace. Jude speaks of “ungodly people who pervert God’s grace into a license for debauchery.” (Jude 4) We abuse grace when we think we can sin and then receive forgiveness by claiming I John 1:9. We abuse grace when, after sinning, we dwell on the compassion and mercy of God to the exclusion of His holiness and hatred of sin. We are drawn away from obedience when we begin to question what God says in His Word. This was Satan’s first tactic with Eve (Genesis 3:1-5). Just as he said to Eve, “It is not true that you will surely die.” so he says to us, “It is just a little thing!” or “God will not judge that sin.”
So we see that though sin no longer has dominion over us, it wages its guerrilla warfare against us. If left unchecked, it will defeat us. Our recourse against this warfare is to deal swiftly and firmly with the first motions of indwelling sin. If temptation finds any lodging place in the soul, it will use that to lead us into sin. Shlomo wrote, “Because the punishment decreed for an evil act is not promptly carried out; therefore people who plan to do evil are strengthened in their intentions.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
We must never consider that our fight against sin is at an end this side of Glory. The heart is unsearchable, our evil desires are insatiable, and our reason is constantly in danger of being deceived. Well did Yeshua say, “Stay awake, and pray that you will not be put to the test – the spirit indeed is eager, but human nature is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Solomon warned us, “Above everything else, guard your heart; for it is the source of life’s consequences.” (Proverbs 4:23)
In my next post, we will begin to look at what help is available to us in our daily battle with sin.