Why do we still sin after dying to sin?

Christ compared his upcoming death on the cross to baptism, and then told his disciples in Mark 10:39 that they would be “baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” Paul repeats that in Romans 6:5, that we were “united with Christ in his death,” and he too compared that to baptism, verses 2-3 – we were all “baptized into Christ’s death” and “buried with him through baptism into death.” What happened to Jesus, therefore, happened to us – and it was exactly like a baptism. When Jesus went under he took us all down with him.

How much of our old life carried through with us, then? None of it, verse 6 – “our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless.” When Paul says “We died with Christ,” verse 8, he meant exactly that, that our old self is as dead as Jesus was dead, it’s gone, dead and buried, incinerated to a crisp, and it can’t come back to haunt us.

So why do we still sin if, as Paul writes, “We died to sin,” verse 2, and “anyone who has died (to sin) has been freed from sin,” verse 7? Why do we still sin? Because “evil desires,” verse 12, can still have an influence on us.

Jesus had the same problem as a flesh and blood human being too. He did no sin, but that didn’t stop evil coming at him from all directions, nor did it stop evil desires and impulses in his head. He simply never obeyed those evil desires. They never had “mastery over him” (verse 9). But neither does sin have to be OUR master either, says Paul (verse 14).

In other words, we don’t have to sin. We’re not helpless victims, or powerless cretins. We can fend off evil. How? By “counting ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” verse 11. It so much depends on how we view ourselves – as our old, weak, vulnerable selves still, or as completely NEW creations “in Christ Jesus” that “come alive to God” with all HIS resources now at our disposal.

Because that’s exactly Paul’s point in verse 14, that evil never need be our master again, “because you are not under the law, but UNDER GRACE.” We have all the power that grace provides, just as Jesus had. And it’s powerful stuff. It gave Jesus the ability to “live to God” (verse 10), or live entirely for what God desires, and never for what evil desires.

The law can’t do that. Nor can we. But God’s grace can. So the only reason we still sin, then, has to be that we’re not taking advantage of the power we’ve got.

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The deceitfulness of sin

What destroyed Israel’s relationship with God was “an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God,” Hebrews 3:12. But how did their heart become unbelieving? It certainly wasn’t unbelieving when they started out with God, because their response to him in Exodus 19:8 was, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” Their hearts at that point were very believing.

But something “hardened” their hearts against God, Hebrews 3:13, so that “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways,” verse 10. They quickly lost their trust and belief that what God was doing for them was for the best. And why was that? Because their hearts had been pierced by “sin’s deceitfulness,” verse 13. That’s what wrecked their relationship with God. And it can happen to any of us, it seems, because verse 13 is also warning Christians that “none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

So if Christians can be affected too, how does this deceitfulness of sin work? Well, in Genesis 4:7 God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” So it’s always there, ever-present, ready to pounce on people like Cain because humans are what it feeds on. And what does it want to do to us? My Greek-English Lexicon answers that in its description of sin’s deceitfulness as a “deceitful influence seducing (us) to sin.” It wants us to sin and it’s drawing on every seductive trick it’s got to make us sin. And by “sin” God means “not doing what is right” (Genesis 4:7).

So this is the score: we humans are constantly being seduced into not doing what is right, so that we end up angry at God like Cain, or unable to trust God like the Israelites. Anything to wreck our relationship with God. And Christians aren’t immune either. “For sin,” Paul writes in Romans 7:11, “seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.” Paul wanted to obey God but instead of the commandments helping him obey, he found they “produced in me every kind of covetous desire” instead, verse 8. What God said, “Don’t do,” that’s what Paul found himself wanting to do more than anything!

He knew why, though. It was because “evil is right there with me,” verse 21. It’s ever-present. It never lets up. It crouches at the door of our minds, seeking any opportunity to seduce us into not doing what is right. And it never goes away. But there is an antidote: Cry out to God and he will answer, verses 24-25, because that’s the only power out there that can deal with the deceitfulness of sin.

It all backfires on the devil in the end

The devil’s purpose, according to Scripture (like Job 1:11), is to get us humans condemning God. “How could a loving God allow so much suffering?” we cry. “Why doesn’t God stop disasters before they happen?” “Why does God let innocent children be killed?” “Why does God let people die horribly?” “Why did God let priests abuse children?” “Why does God let religions rule people’s lives by fear?” And on and on it goes, curse upon curse upon this awful God who allows disasters, accidents, illness, war and fear-driven religion.

There are so many accusations against God nowadays, but Scripture does say that “There will terrible times in the last days,” 2 Timothy 3:1, when “People will be lovers of themselves, boastful, proud, abusive…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” verses 2, 4. And one thing that people really take pleasure in is “opposing the truth,” verse 8. They love making God and Christianity look monstrous and pathetic.

And some of them are very good at it, too. They may be arrogant but they also rightly expose the farcical side of hell-based religion and the self-centred fanaticism of saving one’s own skin in some distant, fuzzy heaven. The devil isn’t satisfied with just that, though. He wants to “oppose the truth,” to dig up every excuse and reason possible to condemn God. Why? Because the devil must justify himself.

It’s no surprise, then, that the condemnations of God are getting louder, and atheists are on a roll. “But they will not get very far,” verse 9 says, “because their folly will be clear to everyone.” One day it all backfires when the stupidity of condemning God becomes obvious. And when does that happen? When we answer the question honestly,”Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” Job 40:8. Ask ourselves WHY, exactly, we’re condemning God. Is it just to make ourselves look good compared to him?

But for what purpose? Making God look bad doesn’t solve anything, does it? It doesn’t make our world any better, it doesn’t stop terrorism and genocide, and it isn’t saving us from what we’re doing to ourselves, is it? So why ARE we condemning God?

Because we’re puppets “of the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” Ephesians 2:2. He’s using us to condemn God to justify himself. All we’re doing by condemning God is reinforcing the notion in the devil’s head that HE’s better than God.

But one day it all comes clear to us what the devil’s been up to, and – at last – we “come to our senses and escape the devil’s trap” where we’ve been “held captive at his will,” 2 Timothy 2:26. In other words, it all backfires on the devil in the end.