How Many Times Must We Die?
There is a great misconception in the body of Christ concerning sin. I have often heard Christians talking about dying to this sin and dying to that sin and having to die daily to some sinful habit. When we say, "dying to sin," we really mean, "I must learn to control these sinward tendencies of mine." We have been erroneously taught to overcome sin by willfully controlling it until it no longer controls us. But is this what the scriptures teach? Are we to die daily to sin? Are we to die to individual sins?
In order to understand this issue, we need to answer three questions over which there is much confusion. First, is it acceptable for Christians to continue a lifestyle of sin? Second, how do we overcome sin scripturally? Third, how often do we have to die to sin?
To answer the first question we can go to almost any chapter of the New Testament and find some form of a commandment or warning against having sin in our lives. Even though this is the case, most Christians still have the false idea that we are under grace and therefore sin is acceptable in the eyes of God. The Bible calls this kind of thinking a deception. Grace is not a license to sin but rather the power of God to set us free from sin. Paul makes this point pretty clear in his letter to the Romans:
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1,2).
"For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14).
Obviously, the Roman Christians had this same notion about sin but Paul emphatically sets them straight. The purpose of God's grace was not so that we might continue in sin but just the opposite, that we might be free from the power of sin in our lives. Even as Christians, the law of God does not change. The wages of sin is still death!
Jesus was also quite emphatic when it came to sin. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29). And again, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). Jesus emphasized having a heart free from sin and not just obeying the letter of the law.
As I said earlier, this issue is so important that you will find nearly every chapter of the New Testament deals with sin in some manner. The reason for this is that the effects of sin are so devastating. God hates sin and therefore He commands us to be free of sin. To keep things concise, let me give you just a few of the hundreds of scriptures that unmistakably command born again Christians not to continue in sin.
"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Romans 6:12).
"Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame" (1 Corinthians 15:34).
"My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1).
The immediate reaction of most Christians when you begin to point out these scriptures to them is that it is impossible not to sin. But again, it is because most Christians do not know the scriptures nor the power of God. In order to better understand these commandments of God, let's clarify a few things concerning this issue of sin.
There are many types and definitions of sin, but to simplify things for this study let me say that sin is any word, thought, or deed that is contrary to the will and nature of God. All sin must be defined in terms of God because as God only He can define what sin is. You will discover that all of God's commandments come forth from His holy nature and character. So to transgress God's commandment is to act contrary His holy nature and character. "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" (1 John 1:5,6). God's nature is one of pure light. All darkness is contrary to the nature of God.
Sin can be in commission or omission. It is just as sinful to break a commandment as it is to not fulfill a commandment. James makes this very clear: "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). Many Christians believe they are walking in righteousness because they never consider the sins of omission concerning the commandments of God.
The following three scriptures give us a simple Biblical definition of sin:
"But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
"Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4).
"All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death" (1 John 5:17).
These verses are all saying the same thing but in different ways. Righteousness is being one with God through obedience to Him. The Bible tells us that the righteous will live by faith. So, as we walk in righteousness by faith under the headship of Christ we do not live in sin. And inversely, as long as we are not walking in righteousness we are walking in unbelief and we are living in lawlessness and thereby living in sin.
Another thing we must understand is that the Bible makes a distinction between sin and sins or sinning. To put it very simply, sin is a state or condition of being while sins are acts of transgression. When Adam committed sin in the Garden of Eden, his nature became defiled by his sin and Adam became a sinner or one in a condition or state of sin. The Bible calls this condition of sin by various terms such as the body of sin, the old man, the carnal mind, the body of death, and the sin principle. It is out of this nature of sin that acts of sin come forth. It is the power or force of sin within us that causes us to commit sin. We must understand this difference in order to understand the Gospel message about sin. Remember what Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you." Now it is not your physical eye that causes you to sin. The eye is merely the instrument of the body used to commit the sin but the force behind the eye that actually causes the eye to sin is the sin nature. It is the part of man's heart that has been corrupted through the seed of Adam. This is why the whole Sermon on the Mount is about the heart of man. It's not about our outward actions of obeying the letter of the law. It's about what's in our heart that causes us to sin in the first place. Jesus is not interested in us legalistically following rules and regulations. He is concerned with the purity of our hearts, that we obtain the actual purity of heart that He died to make available to us. This is what He was referring to when He said, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
Now you can understand the rebuke Jesus gave to His followers toward the end of that sermon:
"Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23).
These were professing Christians doing the work of the Gospel. Weren't they doing God's will — prophesying, casting out demons, doing wonders? And yet Jesus tells them to depart from Him. Why? Because even though they were doing the works of the Gospel their hearts were not right with God. They were not walking in righteousness under the headship of Christ — they were walking in the sin of lawlessness! They were no better than the Pharisees tithing their mint and cummin but their hearts were far from Him. Like Jesus said, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).
Herein lies the key to the second question, how do we overcome sin? God does not focus on the acts of sin but rather the heart of sin. Acts of sin are the fruits of the heart of sin. So if you want to deal with the acts you must deal with the heart first. Otherwise you are just wasting your time. This is exactly what the church has been doing for so long. We have been focusing on the fruit rather than the root. And just like a tree or a plant, as long as there is a root it will produce a shoot which will produce fruit. But if you destroy the root, it can't produce a shoot. And if there is no shoot, there won't be any fruit. And this is exactly what Jesus came to do as a mediator of a better covenant.
"But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:18,19).
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV).
Both of these passages reveal the source of sin as the corrupt heart or sin nature. And as long as the sin nature is there, you can crucify the fruits of the heart all you want and they will continue to come back because you haven't dealt with the source. The way we overcome sin is by removing the source of sin. Thereafter the fruits will die off because there is no longer anything to feed them. Jesus came to deal with the heart of sin. Read the following scriptures carefully and notice the common thread.
"Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer" (Deuteronomy 10:16).
"And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:6).
"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings" (Jeremiah 4:4).
"But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God" (Romans 2:29).
"Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin" (Romans 6:6).
"In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ" (Colossians 2:11).
"And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24).
The way we overcome sin is by removing the nature of sin through the crucifixion of the old man or the circumcision of the heart. As you can see from Romans 6:6, Colossians 2:11, and Galatians 5:24, these terms are synonymous. The old man or the flesh is put to death by the circumcision or removal of its sin nature. The power or dominion of sin that enslaves us is taken away through the sanctifying work of Christ.
But notice the common thread in every one of these scriptures. Nowhere do you see the putting to death of the sinful fruits. The Lord goes right to the root. You crucify or circumcise the corrupt heart which is the source of the sin. This is what was foreshadowed by circumcision in the Old Testament. The Israelites entered into covenant relationship with the Lord through the rite of circumcision, the removal of the flesh. It is through the circumcision of the heart that we too enter into covenant relationship with the Lord. The removal of the sin nature does two things. It frees us from the power of sin to now obey God and it purifies our hearts so that God is then able to pour His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This enables us to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and strength. "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world; our faith" (1 John 5:3,4). "For all that is in the world; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; is not of the Father but is of the world" (1 John 2:16). To love God is to obey His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome or too difficult to obey. Why? Because we overcome the world through faith. What is the essence of the world? The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. What is He describing? The sin nature of man. By faith, Jesus Christ circumcises the sin nature giving us victory over the power of sin so that we can now fulfill the royal law to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and strength.
Which all leads to the third question — how often do we have to die to sin? The scriptures answer this question very plainly also. Remember, we do not die to each individual sin in our lives. We die to only one thing, the nature of sin. Therefore we only need one death, one time and it is finished.
Many misinformed Christians immediately misquote Paul as saying that he died daily. But because we rarely check out the things we hear as the Berean Christians did, few of these people bother to go to the scriptures and see what it really says. "I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!'" (1 Corinthians 15:31,32). Paul is not talking about sin in this passage. He is proving his point about the resurrection of Christ. What he was saying was that if there were no resurrection then why did he face physical death daily in order to minister the Gospel of the resurrection? If there really is no resurrection of the dead then he was facing all of these trials and persecutions for nothing and it would be better to just enjoy life and die. It is time for Christians to quit taking everything they hear as Gospel and start acting like true disciples of Jesus Christ by reading the Bible for themselves and finding out what it really says.
Let's see what the scriptures say.
"Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him" (Romans 6:6-9).
"For by the death He died, He died to sin [ending His relation to it] once for all; and the life that He lives, He is living to God [in unbroken fellowship with Him]. Even so consider yourselves also dead to sin and your relation to it broken, but alive to God [living in unbroken fellowship with Him] in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:10,11 Amplified).
"But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).
"And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24).
The scriptures could not be any clearer. Jesus died to sin once ending all relation to it so that He might live in abiding fellowship with the Father. In the same way we too die once to sin ending all relation to it so we too can live in abiding fellowship with the Lord. Look what he says: BUT NOW having been set free from sin! He's talking about the sin nature. Either you are free or you're not. Either you died or you didn't. There is no gray area. There is no partial death. When you die your body of sin is done away with so that you are no longer a slave of sin. He who has died is freed from sin. It is as Jesus Himself declared: "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). What was He talking about? "Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). When Jesus sets us free by crucifying the nature of sin we are free indeed — we are no longer the slaves of sin! We die one time to one thing and we are free indeed. We are no longer under the power of sin. We are free to walk under the unimpeded power of the Holy Spirit. This is true Christian liberty. It is being free to love God out of a pure heart of obedience. Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with all of its lustful passions and desires. It is completely and forever finished. Paul gives us his own testimony of crucifixion.
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
The Greek phrasing expresses Paul's crucifixion as something that was completed once and for all in the past and its effects continue down to his present day. In other words, he was and still is crucified once and for all. There is no need to have to die again. The only daily dying Paul now did was to his circumstances. He refused to allow trials or anything else to keep him from fulfilling God's will and purpose for his life even if it meant death.
Christ has done all of the work for us on the cross of Calvary. "Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24). He died so that we could be free from the power of sin that we might live for righteousness. Instead of wasting so much time vainly trying to die to individual sins one by one, let us instead seek the crucifixion of the very nature of sin within us so that we might be free once for all. It is a work of God's grace by faith in the blood of Christ. When we believe we will receive the promise and be free indeed.