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Overcoming the Power of Sin
The Neglected Role of the Church

   ... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the
knowledge of Him,
     that the eyes of your understanding being enlightened;
that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are
the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
     and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward
us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 
     which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from
the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly
places,
     far above all principality and power and might and
dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age
but also in that which is to come.
     And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be
head over all things to the church, which is His body, the
fullness of Him who fills all in all.
                                                                            Ephesians 1:17-22
 
     In another lesson (Press here), I pointed out that sanctification requires an all-out effort; that it doesn’t just happen; that it’s not spontaneous. 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling ...
Philippians 2:12

     Sanctification must be worked out! It’s work - hard work! Why? Because it requires a believer to crucify his flesh ...

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
                                                                                                                                                     Mark 8:34

     And, tragically, most believers are not taught that. Consequently, when they run headlong into the stone-cold reality of a compulsive sin that isn’t overcome by prayer, Bible study, and church attendance alone, they’re apt to either ...
  • jettison their Christian walk altogether, believing its claims are misleading, or 
  • twist scripture to accommodate their failure to overcome whatever compulsive sin is plaguing their lives - pornography; alcoholism; drug addiction; homosexuality; chronic infidelity; gambling; an angry, embittered temperament; etc.

     Christians today are not prepared to undertake the kind of tenacious, painful effort required to overcome the power of a compulsive sin. It’s not part of their cultural baggage. It doesn’t fit well with an American mindset that’s geared toward quick fixes and pain-killing opiates.

Suffering and Grief 
Are Part of Sanctification
     Sanctification and suffering go hand in hand - and anyone unwilling to both acknowledge that truth and then walk it out will never free himself from the bondage of a compulsive sin. Paul couldn’t have been clearer regarding this matter when in 1 Corinthians 9:27 he described the effort he himself mustered to further his own sanctification ... 

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection ....
                                                           1 Corinthians 9:24-27
 
     The phrase “bring into subjection” is a very weak translation of the Greek word “υπωπιαζω,” which is more accurately translated “beat black and blue.” It’s taken from a boxing metaphor. In short, Paul likens sanctification, meaning overcoming the power of sin, to boxing - and that clearly implies that bruises and cuts are unavoidable. And, clearly, Paul is not speaking here of being bruised and cut by the consequences of a compulsive sin, but by denying the flesh, by actually standing up to sin and resisting it.

Christ the Head of All
to the Church
     Yes, a believer must commit himself to waging an unrelenting, all-out war against sin, embracing the pain and anguish that crucifying the flesh always entails. And, yes, it’s his struggle - and in a very real sense no one can wage it for him; however, the power he needs to wage it effectively is found not only in his own personal relationship with Christ, but in the power and authority that God has given to Christ as head of the church.

Spiritual Insight Needed to Grasp
the Importance of the Church 
     ... that the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
     and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power
     which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
Ephesians 1:18-20

     Paul knows that believers require divine insight to fathom the importance of the church; that the church is a vital key to waging effective spiritual warfare. His prayer is in four parts ...
  • First, that we might catch sight of our hope; that it’s not an empty, vain hope; quite the contrary: that it’s rooted in God’s purposes and is securely established there.
  • Second, that it promises riches suffused in God’s very own glory.
  • Third, that the fullness of those riches is found not in isolated believers, but “in the saints,” meaning believers built up with one another into a corporate whole.
  • Fourth, that those riches include access to the very same power God used to raise Christ from the dead - power that’s incomprehensible - “hyperballo” (υπερβαλλω) - a combination of two Greek words meaning  “cast beyond” - in short, power beyond measure; power that’s limitless. 

It’s critically important for believers struggling with a compulsive sin to open themselves to this prayer - to ask God to make it real - to bathe their minds and hearts in it; specifically, that the power to break the hold of a compulsive sin is found not only in their personal relationship with Chirst, but also in their relationship to the church.

The Local Church
     ... far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
     And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,
     which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
                                                                                                                                                        Ephesians 1:21-23

     It’s easy to pass off the here-and-now, down-to-earth significance of Paul’s description here in Ephesians 1:21-23, believing that it’s not really a description of the local church, but only of the universal church - in all the fullness of her redeemed glory.  How could the local church possibly be what Paul has in mind here? She’s far too stained with pockmarks and blemishes. But the local church is precisely what Paul has in mind; otherwise, believers would have no access to the power Paul is describing here - and that’s certainly not Paul’s intention. Quite the opposite! Paul has no thought here of describing a truth that for actual believers is completely out of their reach - a truth that’s too esoteric to be of any use to them in their struggle to press forward their sanctification and overcome a compulsive sin.

     If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 
     And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 
     If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 
                                                                                                                                                                         1 Cor. 12:15-17 

The Church
Members One of Another
     Many passages of scripture liken the church to a body - and individual Christians to parts of that body: an arm, a leg, a head, a hand, a foot, an eye, a nose, etc. And that sheds additional light on the importance of the church in helping believers break the power of a compulsive sin; and it also explains why so many believers find it hard to do so. Let me illustrate my point for you. Imagine for a moment we have a severed arm here in front of us. It symbolizes a carnal (1 Cor. 3:1) Christian - a Christian who is not walking in victory - whose life does not reflect the fruit of the Spirit - whose marriage is coming unravelled and who is plagued by a compulsive sin.

     It’s not that he hasn’t tried to overcome his sin; in point of fact, he has tried to do so on numerous occasions: he has attended Bible studies, special seminars, and has sought out older Christians to disciple him. For several years, he attended church on a consistent basis - even serving on various committees. Once in a moment of acute desperation he even tried exorcism. But nothing has helped. He’s slowly slipping into isolation and despair - and his erstwhile Christian friends are starting to give up on him. What’s the problem? It’s that he’s neglecting the obvious - he’ll never be released from the bondage of his sin unless he becomes an organic part of the church - genuinely - authentically. Can you imagine trying to heal a severed arm without reattaching it to its body? But that’s exactly the treatment protocol so many churches encourage and believers attempt. A severed arm is not going to be healed until a skilled surgeon reconnects the ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, and muscles that make it part of a body. That’s his first priority. But quite often that’s not our first priority. What’s our treatment protocol? 
  • First, we identify the sin that’s afflicting a specific believer - whatever it might be: drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, homosexuality, pornography, chronic infidelity, an out-of-control temper, etc.; 
  • next, we gather together all the other believers suffering from the same sin into a “therapy” group; and, finally 
  • we apply various “scriptural antiseptics” - hoping that they will all be healed.

     The obvious never seems to occur to us: we first need to reattach those believers to the body and make it real - only then can we expect Biblical truth to take hold and the power of a compulsive sin to be broken. We don’t often explain the importance of the church - that it’s not simply a helpful expedient; that, instead, it’s a basic “sine qua non” of healing and restoration. It’s fundamental! It’s the very framework within which the ministry of the Holy Spirit takes place. 

     Anyone plagued by a compulsive sin must be built up with his fellow Christians if he expects to break free of it; he must become organically joined to them. In a very real sense, they must own him; and he must own them - clearly not to the point that his personal identity is lost in them - or theirs is lost in him; but church must be more than a simple gathering of discrete, atomized believers who merely “bump” into one another at a Sunday morning service - or on a deacon’s committee - or in a children’s ministry. 

     Believers plagued by a compulsive sin must become an intimate part of the church life - linked in truly dependent relationships with other believers. And that’s not easy for anyone suffering from a compulsive sin. Isolation is what they prefer. Exposure and embarrassment is what they fear most.  “This close and no further! Keep your distance and I’ll keep mine.”  That's their watchword.
     
The Fear of Intimate,
Transparent Relationships
     The fear of intimate, dependent relationships is especially pronounced among believers raised in broken homes, betrayed by authority figures they should have been able to count on, and often the victims of serious abuse and neglect. Control is their over-riding concern, making it difficult for them to be built into the church where dependency, not control, is a governing principle. 

     Furthermore, it’s an attitude that meshes well with the prevailing American mindset. Here in America, we’re taught to be rugged individuals - “islands unto ourselves;” we guard our “privacy” with a jealous indignation. That means American Christians - even those raised in intact families - are disposed at the very get-go to keeping others at arm’s length.

     It’s not surprising, then, that believers suffering from serious addictions gravitate toward ministries that play down the need for dependency. Instead of being told to tear down the walls that separate them from other believers, they’re told to become self-sufficient. Instead of being taught the need for integration, they’re taught “self-empowerment.” Is it any wonder, then, that so few believers are being set free from the compulsive sins plaguing their lives?

     Sanctification requires church life - genuine church life. And church life entails dependency. That may indeed be frightening for a believer caught fast in the bondage of a compulsive sin; but there’s no option here. They must learn to share their deepest anxieties and fears with others, including whatever compulsive sin may be plaguing their lives. Not with everyone in the church, of course; but certainly with a few. The consolation, encouragement, prayers, and support of fellow believers are vital.