Sin's Insidious Encroachment

by Spiros Zodhiates

Last month Dr. Zodhiates graphically illustrated sin's sneaky ways past our defenses.  Now he shares the biblical defense measures available to Christians.

Because sin is at once destructive and yet so much a part of our being, how can we believers, through the power of the Spirit, remain steadfast when wrongdoing continually pulls us away from our Lord? Actually, it is the Savior Himself who tells us what attitude every Christian needs to maintain.

From James' epistle we know that temptation (peirasms, testing) precedes sin through any number of wrong desires that are tucked away in the depths of our being (James 1:14). Yet Jesus made it clear to His disciples that they should do two things in order to avoid giving in to their lustful cravings: "Watch [gre\goréo\, be instantly attentive] and pray [prosechomai, to offer a petition], that ye enter not into temptation" (Matt. 26:41, cf. Mark 14:38; Luke 22:40, 46). Therefore, if believers can avoid temptation by watching and praying, performing these disciplines under the Spirit's direction will also keep them from the consequences of sin.

Despite the tremendous importance of prayer in the life of every Christian, I would like to focus the remainder of this study on Jesus' admonition that His disciples "watch" with Him (Matt. 26:38, 40). While prayer shows dependence on God, being watchful shows that we are devoted to Him for the long-term. (For an in-depth investigation of prayer, please read my book Why Pray? AMG Publishers, 1982.)

When Jesus said that believers must watch (gre\goréo\), He wasn't speaking of engaging in a nebulous act without any specific purpose. Believers must watch for Christ's Second Coming, being instantly aware of any snares the devil may construct in order to make them deviate from anticipating His return (Matt. 24:42; 25:13).

In his exhortation to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul delineated a clear distinction between the faithful and those still living in sin. On the one hand, the true believers were diligently watching (gre\goréo\) for the returning Lord, ready to be taken up with Him the moment He should appear. They were constantly aware of His Second Advent even though they didn't know exactly when it would be (1 Thess. 4:11-14). On the other hand, unbelievers would sleep (kathedo\, to fall asleep) during the day while pursuing sinful pleasures under the illusory cover of darkness (sktos, physical and spiritual darkness; 1 Thess. 5:5-7).

The exhortation that believers be spiritually attentive to truth—especially to that of Christ's coming—is found in other books of the New Testament as well. Apparently the apostles recognized that Christians would be easily beguiled if they weren't aware of their own tendency to sin or the enemy's desire to see them fall into temptation (cf. 2 Cor. 2:11). When Peter employed the word gre\goréo\ in his first epistle, the King James Version translators rendered it "be vigilant" (1 Pet. 5:8). When believers were attentive and kept their eyes open, they could be instantly aware of sin, thus thwarting its tendency to sneak by (diérchomai) them as it did Adam.

Paul also emphasized spiritual vigilance in his writings to the Corinthian church. The practical application of watching for the Lord's return meant that every Christian man should also carry out the duty of biblical leadership. Just before instructing the male believers at Corinth to "stand firm like men," the apostle said, "be attentive to spiritual truth" (1 Cor. 16:13; a.t.).

The apostle's letter to the church at Ephesus enumerates two spiritual barriers that distinguish believers from unbelievers in regard to vigilantly awaiting Christ's return (Eph 4:18). First, the unbelievers' understanding (dinoia, faculty of thought) has been darkened (skotzo\, to deprive of moral light), so that many are only cognizant of the physical world. And secondly, they suffer from a blindness (p\ro\sis [4457], spiritual insensitivity) of heart that impairs their ability to discern the ways of God (cf. Eph 1:18). Believers, on the other hand, are children of light (ph\s [5457], spiritual light; 1 Thess. 5:5, cf. John 12:36; Eph. 5:8) and have the true light living within them (John 1:9, cf. Matt. 5:14-16; John 8:12; 9:5).

In addition to the Father's light, God's children must exude His love (agpe\, self-sacrificing love) if they want to maintain an attitude of spiritual alertness. The Apostle John explained that anyone who hates (miséo\, to detest) his brother is living in darkness (skota, the consequences of darkness [sktos]) and cannot see how to follow God or maintain a proper relationship with Him (1 John 2:9,11). Nor can they steer clear of deception and eagerly await the Second Coming of the Lord.

But "he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him" (1 John 2:10). In other words, love opens our eyes, enables us to watch (gre\goréo\), and thus keeps us from falling into temptation because we know that our Lord may return at any moment.

The scribes and Pharisees vividly illustrate the fact that hatred damages the capacity for spiritual vision. They were slow to receive truth and did not realize that God Himself walked among them. After one of their many disputes, the Savior called the multitude to Himself and said, "Let them [the religious leaders] alone: they be blind [tuphls, literally "one enveloped with smoke"] leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15:14).

Therefore, we believers can avoid falling into temptation if we continually watch for the Lord, keeping in mind that He wants us to remain faithful until His return (Luke 12:41-48). Until then, it behooves us to walk in the light of God and love all people—believers and unbelievers as well. However, failing to be on the alert will allow sin to sneak by our defenses and cause us to stumble into destructive behavior similar to that of Adam, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and anyone who favors the enemy's deception over the Father's truth.

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
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