Admittedly, we wrestle with understanding fully who God is. Equally obvious is the fact that some truths, such as the two natures of Christ or the doctrine of election, tend to confound us. (But it must be added that we need not understand all the intricacies of a truth to believe or obey it.) However, there are many truths with which we may be inclined to wrestle, not because we cannot get our minds around them but because we will not submit our wills to them. Today’s text exemplifies such a simple but essential truth. “Stop sinning,” Paul commands (I Cor. 15:34b). Let’s take a moment to examine this clear, simple, unequivocal imperative.
The mandate. We have already referred to this two word clause as a command, an imperative, and a mandate. Other synonyms include obligation, duty, requirement, order, directive, decree, dictate, and fiat. In short, the point is that believers must stop sinning. Doing so is not optional. God’s will is the believer’s sanctification. The multitudinous exhortations directed to believers in the New Testament to do what is right and to reject sin bear abundant witness to the blunt reality of this command. When temptation arises, whenever sin presents itself, God requires the believer to refuse to sin and to do what is right. “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’” (I Pet. 1:15, 16 [in NASB caps indicate OT quote]).
The meaning. Though some might be incredulous at the thought, the meaning of the mandate is clear: since believers must stop sinning, believers can stop sinning. Neither Paul nor Peter is suggesting that believers can reach sinless perfection this side of glorification. But they have declared God’s standard: practical holiness. Believers are able to resist temptation and to overcome sin. An unregenerate person is a slave to sin and can no more overcome it than a leopard can change its spots. But one who has been regenerated has been delivered from the slavery of sin and need no longer transgress. At any and every given moment temptation to sin arises, the believer has the power to resist the devil, to flee temptation, to say “No!” to sin. God never demands the impossible. If I am sinning at this moment, I am to stop that sin immediately. When the next temptation arises, I am to refuse to yield to it. The mandate manifests the meaning: in Christ, I can stop sinning, and I must.
The method. At this point some may be scratching their heads. “I believe the Bible; I know this is true, but how does it work practically in my life?” Paul explains elsewhere: “And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:13, 14). When someone is born again, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God Who empowers him to live righteously. For example, your boss gives you the keys to his car and instructs you to pick him up at the airport when he returns from a business trip. Having been given the car, you have all the mechanical power necessary to obey his directive. The car will do the work, so to speak. All you must do is submit to your boss’s request and put the key in the ignition. Though the capability exists, you go nowhere until you decide to go. Similarly, when God requires us to “stop sinning,” He provides the means, the vehicle—the power of His indwelling Spirit—to take us where He has instructed us to go. It remains for us simply to present ourselves to Him, to yield ourselves to His holy will, or to determine to do what is right. And He will provide the energy to overcome sin. We can and we must stop sinning.
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