The following is by inspiration of the Holy Spirit through Charles Finney (1792-1875) and myself. May our heavenly Father use it to give you a divine revelation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Multitudes of professed Christians are in a miserable state of bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil. This, however, is not the true Christian condition because the scripture clearly says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Most professing believers are living in the legal bondage described in the seventh chapter of Romans–a life of sinning, and resolving to reform, and failing again (see the teaching on our website titled, “Who Shall Deliver Me?”). What is sad, and even agonizing, is that most ministers and church leaders give perfectly false instruction upon the subject of how to overcome sin. Regretfully, the directions that are generally given on this subject are: “Take your sins in detail, resolve to abstain from them and fight against them, if need be with prayer and fasting, until you overcome. Set your will firmly against a relapse into sin, pray and struggle, and resolve that you will not fall, and persist in this until you form the habit of obedience and break up all your sinful conduct”. To be sure it is generally added: “In this conflict you must not depend upon your own strength, but pray for God’s help”. In short, most of the teaching from the pulpit and the press really amounts to this: “Sanctification is by works, and not by faith”. This mindset, however, directs the attention to the overt act of sin, its source, or occasions. Resolving and fighting against it fastens the attention on the sin and its source, and diverts the attention entirely from Christ. Such instruction is calculated to beget delusion, discouragement, and a practical rejection of Christ as He is presented in the gospel. We are to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
Now it is important to say right here that all such efforts are worse than useless and will only result in defeat. First, it is losing sight of what really constitutes sin; and secondly, of the only practicable way to avoid it. In this way the outward act or habit may be temporarily overcome or avoided, while that which really constitutes the sin is left untouched. Sin is not external, but internal. It is not an involuntary feeling or desire; it must be a voluntary act or state of mind. Sin is nothing else than the voluntary, ultimate preference or commitment to self pleasing out of which the will, the outward action, purposes, intentions, and all the things that are commonly called sin proceed. Now, what is resolved against in this religion of resolutions and efforts to suppress sinful and produce holy conduct? Romans 13:10 says,“Love is the fulfilling of the law”. But do we produce love by resolution? Do we eradicate selfishness by resolution? No, indeed! We may suppress various expressions or manifestations of selfishness by resolving not to do this or that, and struggling against it. We may resolve upon an outward obedience, and work ourselves up to the letter of an obedience to God’s commandments. But to eradicate selfishness from the heart by resolution is an absurdity. “. . .for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
So, all efforts to obey the commandments of God in Spirit, or in other words, to attempt to love as the law of God requires by force of resolutions, is an absurdity. There are many who maintain that sin consists in the desires. Be it so. Do we control our desires by force of resolution? We may abstain from the gratification of a particular desire by the force of resolution. We may go further, and abstain from the gratification of desire generally in the outward life. But this is not to secure the love of God, which constitutes obedience. Should we lock ourselves in a cell or seclude ourselves on a desert island, and crucify all our desires and appetites, so far as their indulgence is concerned, we have only avoided certain forms of sin; but the root that really constitutes sin is not touched. Our resolution has not secured love, which is the only real obedience to God. All our battling with sin in the outward life, by the force of resolution, only results in becoming whited sepulchres. All our battling with desire by the force of resolution is of no avail; because in all this, however successful the effort to suppress sin may be in the outward life or inward desire, it will only end in delusion, for by the force of resolution we cannot love. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matt. 23:25-28).
All such efforts to overcome sin are utterly futile. The Bible expressly teaches us that sin is overcome by faith in Christ! “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, ‘He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord'” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). In Acts 15:9, believers are said to have their hearts purified by faith, and in Acts 26:18, it is affirmed that saints are sanctified by faith in Christ. In Romans 9:31-32, it is plainly stated that the Jews did not attain to righteousness “because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law”. The doctrine of the Bible is that Jesus saves His people from sin through faith; that His Spirit is received by faith to dwell in the heart. It is faith that works by love (Gal. 5:6). Love is wrought and sustained by faith. It is by faith that we “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). It is by faith that we “fight the good fight” (1Tim. 6:12), and not by resolution. It is by faith that we“stand” (Rom. 5:2); by resolution we fall. It is by faith that the flesh is kept under and carnal desires subdued. The fact is that it is simply by faith that we receive the Spirit of Christ to work in us to will and to do, according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). He sheds abroad His own love into our hearts, and thereby enkindles our love (Rom. 5:5). By faith Christians “overcome the world”. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1John 5:3-4). Every victory over sin is by faith in Christ; and whenever the mind is diverted from Christ, by resolving and fighting against sin, whether we are aware of it or not, we are acting in our own strength, rejecting Jesus Christ, and under a delusion. Nothing but the life and energy of the Spirit of Christ can save us from sin, and trust is the uniform and universal condition of the working of this saving energy within.
How long shall this fact be overlooked and rejected? How deeply rooted in the heart of man is self-righteousness and self-dependence? So deeply that one of the hardest lessons for the human heart to learn is to renounce self-dependence and trust wholly in Christ. When we open the door by implicit trust, He enters in and takes up His abode in us. By shedding abroad His love, He quickens our whole soul into sympathy with Himself. In this way, and this way alone, He purifies our hearts by faith. He sustains our will in the attitude of devotion. He quickens and regulates our affections, desires, appetites, and passions, and becomes our sanctification–“According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
This teaching does not leave us in a passive state, to be saved without our own activity. The Bible teaches that by trusting in Jesus, we receive an inward influence that stimulates and directs our activity; that by faith we receive His purifying influence into the very center of our being; that through and by His truth revealed directly to the soul, He quickens our whole inward being into the attitude of a loving obedience; and this is the way, and the only practicable way, to overcome sin. In Philippians 2:12-13, the apostle Paul says,“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure”. There is no exhortation to work by force of resolution, but through and by the inworking of God. Paul had too often taught the church that Christ in the heart is our sanctification, and that His influence is to be received by faith, to be guilty in this passage of teaching that our sanctification is to be wrought out by resolution to suppress sinful and produce holy conduct. This passage of scripture reveals both the divine and human agency in the work of sanctification. God works in us to will and to do; and we, accepting by faith His inworking, will and do according to His good pleasure. Faith itself is an active, and not a passive, state. A passive holiness is impossible and absurd. Let no one say that when we exhort people to trust wholly in Christ we teach that anyone should be, or can be, passive in receiving and cooperating with the divine influence upon the heart. This influence is moral and not physical. It is persuasion and not force. Oh! that it could be understood that the whole of spiritual life that is in any man is received direct from the Spirit of Christ by faith, as the branch receives its life from the vine (John 15:4-5). The religion of resolutions and rules for daily living is a snare of death. Away with efforts to make the life holy while the heart does not have the love of God in it. Learn to look directly at Christ through the gospel, and be so closely abiding in Him by an act of loving trust as to involve a universal sympathy with His state of mind. This and this alone is the way to overcome sin!
Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).