If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution for 2021, I’ve always liked one of Jonathan Edwards’s: “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”
The “fight with my corruptions” that Edwards refers to is an experience common to all Christians. When God declared us righteous through the miracle of justification, He did not see fit at that moment to nullify all our sinful, fleshly desires and predispositions. We might wish that He had, but He didn’t. And so, while all believers have been delivered from sin’s penalty, the experience of deliverance from sin’s malign power is ongoing. It is frequently fragmentary and halting, and it will not reach fruition until this life is over and we find ourselves in the presence of our Savior. Only then, when glorification has been accomplished, will the struggle be over.
In the meantime, however, the Bible teaches that it is possible to gain victories—partial and incomplete, perhaps, but victories nonetheless—over sin through obedience to the Word of God and yieldedness to the indwelling Holy Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh,” Paul wrote to the Galatians (Gal. 5:16). I like Lewis Sperry Chafer’s comments on this passage: “Walking by means of the Spirit is simply walking by a definite reliance upon the ability and power of the One who indwells. . . . The fight of faith is that of continuing the attitude of reliance upon the Spirit. To those who thus walk with God, there is an open door into ‘fellowship with the Father and with his Son’ and into a life of fruit-bearing and service with every spiritual manifestation for the glory of God.”
So, my dear brothers and sisters, stay in the fight! Resolve to continually pursue holiness this year, despite whatever setbacks might come your way. While sinless perfection may be an elusive chimera in this life, sanctification and increasing levels of victory over sin are possible through God’s gracious provision of the Holy Spirit. Paul, when reflecting on the reality of his own indwelling sinful impulses, cried out despairingly, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” But then he proceeded to announce the answer: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25).
David Gunn is director of Regular Baptist Press.