What is Christian Conversion?

Lesson 8, Part 2

3/8

Our Sinful Nature

What leads us to sin?

“The mind of sinful man is death …; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8, NIV; compare Titus 1:15; Isaiah 55:7-8).

As human beings, we prefer to do things our own way. As a result we can easily develop, either consciously or unconsciously, resentment toward God’s authority over us (Colossians 1:21). This is especially true when His instruction forbids us to do as we wish.

It then becomes easy for us to convert, usually unconsciously, our resentments—our underlying hostility toward what we may perceive as God’s unnecessary interference in our affairs—into an active resistance to His commands. We simply begin to ignore some of His laws or reinterpret them to fit our own views. This is how our sinful nature, more commonly calledhuman nature , works. These wrong attitudes begin in our minds.

We usually disguise resentful and disobedient attitudes to such an extent that we deceive ourselves into believing they do not exist. As Jeremiah observed: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, New American Standard Bible). We easily deceive ourselves into believing we are doing nothing wrong. That is why the Scriptures tell us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death ” (Proverbs 14:12, NIV). We blind ourselves to the seriousness of our own sins.

Everyone must face the problem of a sinful, deceitful mind. There are no exceptions. Resistance to God’s instructions begins in our thoughts and attitudes. We have all sinned. We are all guilty.

Did Paul acknowledge his sinful nature?

“For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:14-17, New Revised Standard Version).

Paul well understood his human nature—how deceitful it could be. As a young Jewish boy he had been taught to do what is right. In line with his early training, he was exceptionally sincere. Yet, when Christ opened his mind to see himself as he really was, he recognized he had deceived himself about his own righteousness. He could see he had sinned in many ways, both in action and attitude.

He concluded: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, within my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:18-21, NRSV).

Paul had not deliberately chosen to sin. Nevertheless, he could look back on his life and recognize that many things he had done were indeed sinful, though at the time he hadn’t grasped that they were wrong and contrary to God’s will. In describing his blindness to his own sinful actions and his weakness in resisting sin, he is describing every one of us.

Must we recognize our sins and deal with them?

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10; compare James 1:13-15).

One of our great challenges is to recognize that our attitudes and actions often are not right in God’s sight. We can convince ourselves that our own ways are fair and just. But to be truly converted—to wholeheartedly turn to God—we must carefully and willingly examine our own motives. We must recognize we are all too susceptible to desires that channel our thinking down the pathways of sin.

Jesus explained that our priorities—what is most important to us—usually determine our actions. He cited the common problem of greed as an example: “ ‘No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’ The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight’ ” (Luke 16:13-15, NIV).

What we cherish the most determines how we behave. When our values are flawed we look for ways to justify our views and behavior, deceiving ourselves (James 1:22-24).

What is a common self-deception?

“He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men… All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition ‘” (Mark 7:6-9; compare Colossians 2:8).

Traditions not solidly based on God’s principles and laws often provide us with easy excuses to sin. Since almost everybody else practices them, we reason, how could they be wrong?

But many times they are wrong. Jesus showed that common religious traditions, while outwardly appearing righteous, in reality can be disguising sin. “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honour his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition ” (Matthew 15:4-6, NIV).

One of the reasons Christ died for us was to pay our penalty for following traditions contrary to the Scriptures. The apostle Peter confirms this. “… Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:17-19). It is important that we examine the traditions we follow to be sure they are not in conflict with the Word of God.

The Bible's Broader Concepts of Sin

The Hebrew and Greek words translated sin throughout the Bible focus largely on two concepts - transgression and missing the mark.

The Hebrew and Greek words translated “sin” throughout the Bible focus largely on two concepts. The first is transgression.

To transgress means “to step across” or “to go beyond a set boundary or limit.” This concept can be compared to an athletic playing field with lines delineating the boundaries within which the game is played. When a player crosses over those boundary lines, he has committed a “transgression” and gone out of bounds. Limits are set that define the playing area, and the players are to stay within the limits of that area.

Most of the other words translated “sin” in the Bible involve a second concept, “ to miss the mark .” Again, to use a sports analogy, if a player aims for the goal and misses, how many points does he get? None. He missed the goal; he missed the mark he was aiming at.

This view of sin includes the concept of our going in one direction but straying off course and not continuing in the intended direction, with the result that we don’t make it to the goal. We miss.

This concept also encompasses the idea of failing to measure up to a standard. For example, most academic courses and tests are graded according to a minimum standard. If we don’t meet that standard, we fail that test or course. By not meeting that standard we “miss the mark” and don’t pass.

Both of these concepts, transgressing and missing the mark , involve basic requirements. If we transgress, if we cross set boundaries or limits, then we must have boundaries or limits to cross over. If we miss the mark we must have a mark, target or standard to miss. Sin, then, is to transgress the boundaries God has set for us, to miss the target He has established.

This is where the biblical definitions of sin become important—because these scriptures define the boundaries and standards God sets for us. They define the playing field on which we are to live. They also define the goals we are to aim for, the minimum standards we are expected to meet. In other words, the biblical definitions of sin show us the standards God has given us that define what is acceptable to Him and what isn’t acceptable. They show us what measures up and what falls short of those standards, the fundamental principles God has given us to live by.

The definitions of sin in the Bible are not simply arbitrary dos and don’ts. Instead, they show us the way God wants us to live, the spiritual principles that reflect His character.

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How We Are Tempted

Satan is a master at tempting us to yield to our weaknesses and selfish desires.

What, outside of the pulls of our flesh, is most responsible for tempting us to sin?

“But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit …?’” (Acts 5:3).

“And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts” (Mark 4:15).

“For some have already turned aside after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15).

The Scriptures sometimes refer to Satan as the “tempter” (Matthew 4:3). He is a master at tempting us to yield to our weaknesses and selfish desires (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Paul cautioned Christians, having turned from Satan’s influence, not to surrender again to it. He knew this was a real danger (2 Corinthians 11:3). He wrote, “For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5).

What is one of Satan’s primary ways of seducing people to sin?

“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Few people understand the extent of Satan’s influence over the world’s religious institutions and practices. Satan has succeeded in providing people with every religious preference they could possibly imagine. Religious confusion is the result. Only by carefully reading and following the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:13-17) can we extricate ourselves from the worldwide morass of religious confusion and deception. 

Because of this widespread religious deception, it is essential that we pray for God’s help to correctly understand His Word and repent of our transgressions. When we desire to change our lives, and from the heart to surrender our will to God, He has promised to hear us and respond. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks [from the heart and according to His will] receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).

God used the prophet Nathan to rebuke King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba after arranging for her husband to be killed in battle (2 Samuel 12:7-9). David humbly acknowledged his sins and repented before God in prayer. Be sure to read and meditate on David’s heartfelt prayer of repentance as recorded in Psalms 51:1-10. God has preserved David’s prayer of repentance as an example of the attitude we should have when asking Him for forgiveness.

The Devil's Role in Religion

Blinded by false but popular doctrines and traditions that have passed from one generation to another, these deceived teachers are among Satan's most influential tools of deception.

The Scriptures reveal that, as “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), the devil has assembled a vast multitude of human assistants. Most of these are mere followers. But far too many of his followers are also deceived religious teachers.

Paul explains the connection between them and the devil: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14).

Blinded by false but popular doctrines and traditions that have passed from one generation to another, these deceived teachers are among Satan’s most influential tools of deception. He uses them to cleverly disguise his ways as God’s ways and lead people astray.

Some of these leaders, and the institutions they serve, are obviously based on nonbiblical concepts. In other words, their beliefs are secular or pagan in origin. They make no pretense of following the Holy Scriptures.

But many others are counterfeits of the Church Jesus established. Jesus Himself predicted that false teachers would rise up who would “deceive many” (Matthew 24:5-24). This counterfeit Christianity began during the lifetime of Christ’s apostles (Galatians 1:6-7). Peter warned faithful Christians: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways , because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:1-2).

The devil plays an immense role in the religions of mankind. Only those who ask for God’s help, as they diligently study the Bible and compare their beliefs to what it teaches, can hope to overcome the deceptions that are so prevalent in today’s religious organizations and fellowships.

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