The battle begins
The life of the believer involves a constant warfare. Before we were saved life was, in some ways, much easier. The sensitivity of the consciences of unbelievers varies enormously and depends, among other things, on their upbringing and the social environment in which they live. But as soon as a person is saved the battle begins. By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit indwells every believer from the moment of salvation, but ‘the flesh lusteth (fights) against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other’, Gal. 5. 17. The flesh (our sinful nature) is still active within us and will continue striving against the Holy Spirit for as long as we are in this world.
The battle can be won
We cannot gain the victory over sin in our own strength, but victory can be gained when we avail ourselves of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, for ‘greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world’, 1 John 4. 4. The extent to which we experience God-given victory over sin in our lives depends upon the extent to which we ‘walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’, Rom. 8. 4. We have this assurance, that if we walk in the Spirit we ‘shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh’, Gal. 5. 16.
‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he’, Prov. 23. 7. What we take into our minds, dwell on and meditate on is our responsibility and ultimately determines the kind of people we are. God wants to control our minds and so does Satan. God does not want us to be conformed to the ways and standards of this world but to be ‘transformed’ so that we are no longer self-centered but become increasingly God-centered. If our minds are to be renewed we must begin to turn them from worldly things to the things that belong to God, and seek to become more like our Lord and Saviour, Col. 3. 1.
We must take and use ‘the sword of the Spirit’
In the battle in which we are engaged, we must take and use ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’, Eph. 6. 17. It is only through a prayerful study of the scriptures that we can learn the will of God, and become aware of the wiles and devices of Satan. Satan knows that the source of spiritual strength lies in time spent in prayer and study of the scriptures, and we must not let him prevent us from spending time in this way alone with God.
As we meditate on the Lord Jesus Christ and seek the will of God we will then begin to speak, behave and serve Him as we ought. There are places not to go to and things we should not allow our minds to dwell on. The question to be asked regarding any activity in which we might become involved is not, ‘Is there any harm in it?’ but rather, ‘Would it be pleasing to the Lord?’ We should avoid close relationships with unbelievers whose lives and company would destroy our Christian testimony. The old relationships will begin to weaken, 2 Cor. 6. 14.
We are still capable of committing sin
We, as believers now, stand before God as justified and perfect, Rom. 5. 1. We are, however, still capable of committing sin, and our present state is often different from our standing. But the eternal effectiveness of the death of the Lord Jesus enables us to have constant cleansing and so it is, that, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins’, 1 John 1. 7, 9.
Paul charged the believers at Colosse who, like us, were involved in the ongoing battle with sin, to mortify (that is, deliberately put to death) those desires, the source of which is our old sinful nature. These desires would include sexual immorality, impurity, evil desire and covetousness, Col. 3. 5. Covetousness is idolatry because it puts personal desires in place of God and worships something or someone in place of Him.
We lay hold of the power of the Holy Spirit
If we lay hold of the power of the Holy Spirit, He will enable us to ‘walk in newness of life’, Rom. 6. 4, and to ‘walk worthy of the vocation (calling) wherewith ye are called’, Eph. 4. 1. We must not only ‘mortify’ the desires and deeds of the old nature but also deliberately put off and cast aside, as a filthy garment, the sins it produces. These are anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy and filthy communication, Col. 3. 8. So much around us would stimulate evil thoughts if we allow these things to enter our minds and influence our thinking.
We are told not to lie to each other, Col. 3. 9. Lying comes naturally to a human being, even to one who has not long learned to speak. A lie can be a true statement made in such a way that it deceives. Satan ‘is a liar, and the father of it’, John 8. 44. God cannot lie and the Holy Spirit is ‘the Spirit of truth’, and the Lord Himself said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, John 14. 6. The children of God should speak the truth at all times.
We are to ‘put on the new man’
We now turn to the positive, active side of things. We are to ‘put on the new man’, Col. 3. 10. When we were born again, the old man (what we were to God without Christ) was crucified with Christ, and now we have ‘put on Christ’, Rom. 13. 14, and are a new creation, 2 Cor. 5. 17. We are ‘to put on’, decisively and deliberately, as a new garment, the lovely virtues, graces and characteristics of the new man which are stated as being mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, a willingness to forgive and, above all things, love, Col. 3. 12-14.
We are to show kindness and sympathy, for we are children of God and He is kind, Eph. 4 32. Kindness is the opposite of malice, and acts of kindness are often remem-bered long after words have been forgotten. Humbleness of mind is the opposite of being self-centered and self-assertive. Meekness is controlled power. The Lord was ‘meek and lowly in heart’, Matt. 11. 29. Meekness does not mean sacrificing principles but rather giving up personal preferences for the benefit of others. Moses was very meek, Num. 12. 3, but he certainly was not weak. Longsuffering is the opposite of being short-tempered for God is ‘slow to anger’ and longsuffering, 1 Pet. 3. 20. Longsuffering is part of the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5. 22, 23. Forbearance and forgiveness will prevent aggressive reactions among believers, and there will be a preparedness, when the need arises, to forgive completely and genuinely.
Love is the greatest virtue, 1 Cor. 13. 13. Love will bind all the other virtues together in unity, harmony and completeness. ‘God is love’ and love is part of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit. Love is not an optional extra. We are commanded to love one another and loving one another is evidence of being a disciple, John 13. 34, 35. Our love should be fervent, 1 Pet. 4. 8, and without any arguments we should ‘consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works’, Heb. 10. 24. Love for God, for other believers and for those who have not been saved will lead to blessing, peace and unity in the local church and a united vision to reach out to the lost around us.
There is no short cut or easy route to putting off the characteristics of our old sinful nature and putting on the virtues and characteristics of the new man. We are in a battle against the forces of evil. It is not a case of being passive; we must be disciplined and active, relying on the power of God and making a determined effort to use that power to resist the devil, Jas. 4. 7. All this requires a prayerful organization of our time and priorities.
God’s commands regarding the things we should put to death, put off and put on, are given in love, for His glory and our eternal blessing. We are told to, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly’, Col. 3. 16. We must do this, and rejoice in knowing and believing that He ‘that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ Rom. 8. 32.