The Saviour of Mankind 
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

6 – Christ, The Believer’s Example

One of the big questions under discussion presently is this:  “Is sinless living in sinful flesh possible?”  Sinless living in sinful flesh is not only possible, but must be the goal of every believer.

In Romans 7:14-24, Paul demonstrates that the stumbling block to sinless living in the experience of the believer is the “law of sin” dwelling in the flesh of fallen sinful nature.

Romans 7:14-24:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

According to Scripture, Adam’s sin not only brought condemnation to all mankind, but also corrupted human nature, bringing all humanity under the law of sin.

Romans 5:19:
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

John 8:32-34:
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Romans 3:9, 7:14:
What shall we conclude then?  Do we have any advantage?  Not at all!  For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

If Christ did not have to contend with this “law of sin” in His flesh, then we must conclude that He did not totally redeem mankind from sin.  As a result, He cannot be set forth as the Saviour from our state of sin and, therefore, as an example to believers.

Consequently, sinless living in sinful flesh becomes an impossibility this side of eternity.  Yet Scripture declares that we may overcome even as Christ overcame.

Revelation 3:21:
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Romans 6:12:
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.

Again, Peter affirms that those who arm themselves with the mind of Christ will cease from sin.

1 Peter 4:1:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.

And, Paul told the Galatian Christians that, if they walked in the Spirit, they would not fulfill the sinful desires of their sinful natures.

Galatians 5:16:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Romans 13:14:
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

All this becomes meaningful because, in Christ’s holy history, humanity has been set free from “the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:2:
...Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Having assumed our sinful humanity, with all the force of sin dwelling in its nature, Christ conquered and condemned “the law of sin” through “the law of the Spirit of life,” and, thus, became forever the Redeemer of the world as well as the perfect Example for the believers.

However, Christ as our example must not be confused with the “example theory” of the Atonement as taught by some theologians.  According to this theory, salvation is realized by following or imitating the example of Christ’s holy living.  Such teaching makes sanctification the means of justification and, therefore, becomes a form of legalism which must be totally rejected.  The truth of the gospel is that man is justified by faith alone in the holy history of Jesus Christ.  Nothing else must be added to that, not even our works of the law.

Galatians 5:4:
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

In the New Testament, sanctification, as well as glorification, is making real in experience what is already true of the believer in Christ who is justified by faith.  Man’s only hope now and in the judgment is through justification by faith in the doing and dying of Christ.  But justification or imputed righteousness, wonderful as it may be, is not the end of God’s saving plan.  Whom He justifies He also sanctifies as the fruit and evidence of justification by faith, and glorifies as the ultimate reality of that justification.

Romans 8:28-30:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

And when this, along with the cleansing of the earth, is realized, everlasting righteousness will be fully ushered in as a tangible reality and Christ will have finished His heavenly sanctuary ministry.  He will have accomplished all that He fulfilled for our humanity, which He assumed and redeemed two thousand years ago.

Nowhere in Scripture do we find that sanctification is the believer’s righteousness produced through his own efforts with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus does not send His Spirit to indwell the believer in order to help him to be good, but to communicate His righteousness.  While faith is a battle (which may be described as our human cooperation) and, therefore, always involves effort because of the sinfulness and self-centeredness of the flesh, genuine sanctification is, nevertheless, the work of God’s Spirit demonstrating the saving power of the gospel in the life of the justified believer who is walking in the Spirit.

“Such is the divine secret of Christian sanctification,” says Evan H.  Hopkins, “which distinguishes it profoundly from simple natural morality.  The latter says to man, Become what thou wouldest be.  The former says to the believer, Become what thou art already in Christ.  It puts a positive fact at the foundation of moral effort, to which the believer can return and have recourse anew at every instant.  And this is the reason why his labor is not lost in barren aspiration, and does not end in despair.” (The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, p 15).

When Christian ethics is defined in terms of the believer’s good works, even though they may be motivated by our human love for Christ, this ceases to prove effective justification which is by faith, but only shows man’s ability to produce self-righteousness, which is “filthy rags” (because it is polluted with self).

Isaiah 64:6:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

What the world desperately needs to see is not man’s goodness, but Christ manifested in His “body,” the church.  The church is to be the light of the world.

Matthew 5:14-16:
You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The word “light” in this text is in the singular, and refers to Christ and His righteousness.

John 1:4:
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

Then there will be no excuse for sin to continue and God will bring an end to it.  This is the true meaning of what is included in the cleansing of the sanctuary.

Again, sinless living must not be confused with sinlessness, or absolute perfection, which was the heresy of the Holy Flesh movement that once plagued the church.  Sinlessness of nature will not be a reality until the second coming, when:

1 Corinthians 15:54:
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Sinless living has to do with reproducing Christ’s character, or holy living, in sinful flesh.  This process brings no change to the believer’s hereditary nature, which remains inherently sinful until death or the coming of Christ.  It is for this reason, there will never come a time, this side of eternity, when we can live without the Saviour.

Since sinless living in the life of the believer is the work of God produced in sinful flesh, this is referred to in Scripture as “the mystery of godliness; God manifest in the flesh.”

1 Timothy 3:16:
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:  He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

This was realized in Christ’s humanity, and through faith in Him becomes the hope and goal of the justified believer — ”Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Colossians 1:27:
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

1 John 2:15-16:
Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world.

1 John 5:4:
...For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

If Christ is to be truly the believer’s example and surety in holy living, He had to contend with and overcome the law or principle of sin (i.e., love of self) residing in sinful flesh.  And this is precisely what Scripture teaches.  Having demonstrated his total inability to overcome sin in and of himself, Paul concludes his struggle against indwelling sin with this cry of desperation:  “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”

Romans 7:14-24:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

This cry is immediately followed by the shout of triumph in verse 25a:

Romans 7:25a:
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Then the apostle goes on to show that in Christ’s humanity which was like our sinful humanity, “the law of sin and death” was totally conquered and condemned.

Romans 8:2-3:
...Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh....

It is important to note that our being set free from the “law of sin and death” is expressed in the past historical tense (Greek, Aorist) in verse 2.  That is, this “law of sin and death,” which in Romans 7 was the stumbling block to holy living, has in reality already been dealt with in Christ’s humanity by “the law of the Spirit of life,” and, therefore:

Romans 8:1:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....

...as well as there is hope for the righteous requirements of the law to be fulfilled in the believer who walks in the Spirit as Christ did.

Romans 8:4:
...In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 13:14:
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Galatians 5:16:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

We must, however, realize at this point that when the New Testament speaks of holy living, it does so on two levels:  mental, as well as practical.  Christ lived a sinless life on both levels in His humanity, and, thus, demonstrated that when fallen man totally surrenders his will to God as did Christ, he is able through God’s power to overcome sin.

John 6:57; 8:28; 14:10:
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

However, sinless living in sinful flesh is only possible when we have “the mind of Christ.” We are often concerned only about holy living on the practical level; but this is possible only when we have put sin away in the mind (through repentance — a turning around of the mind), through a faith obedience to the principle of the cross.

Luke 9:23:
Then he said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Romans 6:17-18:
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

According to Scripture, every born-again follower of Christ who has truly understood and believed the gospel will reject temptation in his innermost soul (converted mind) from the moment of conversion.  This is because New Testament faith is more than a mental assent to the gospel, but also includes a heart obedience to the truth as it is in Christ.

Romans 1:5, 6:17, 10:16:
Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news.  For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”

Galatians 5:7:
You were running a good race.  Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?

2 Thessalonians 1:7-8:
...And give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.  This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Hebrews 5:9:
...and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...

This is Paul’s whole argument in Romans 6.  In the first half of this chapter, Paul endeavors to show that every believer baptized into Christ must consider himself “dead unto sin,” and “alive unto God.”

Romans 6:11:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Professor Godat comments: 

“The believer does not get disentangled from sin gradually; he breaks with it in Christ once for all.  He is placed by a decisive act of will in the sphere of perfect holiness, and it is within it that the gradual renewing of the personal life goes forward.”

In the second half of Romans 6, Paul continues the same argument, that sinning must be unthinkable in the mind of the converted believer, but from another standpoint; that is, the believer has been set free from sin in Christ, and by his own heart choice has become a slave of God, the author of righteousness.

Romans 6:17-18:
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Based on this dual fact — ”dead to sin” and “slaves of God” — the truly converted person does not cherish even a single sin.  Freedom from sin’s ruling power and dominion is the immediate privilege of every one who takes hold of it by faith, since this is part and parcel of the good news the gospel of Christ.

This does not mean that Christians have necessarily begun to live a sinless life on the practical level from the moment of conversion.  On the contrary, we will have to come many times to the foot of the cross because of our shortcomings.  But we do not become unjustified every time we fall, nor does Jesus forsake us.  However, day by day we are to grow in Him and gain victories.

Ephesians 4:17-24:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Further, because our sinful natures, which will not change until the second advent, Christians are never to feel that they have attained perfection.

Philippians 3:12-15:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.  And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

On the other hand, even though believers are in constant battle with indwelling sin, they must never condone sinning, since that would be a denial of one’s faith obedience to the gospel.

Romans 6:2, 15:
By no means!  We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  By no means!

Is sinless living in sinful flesh impossible, on the practical level, as some insist?  The answer of Scripture is a definite No!  But sinless living on the practical level is a possibility only when it is preceded by sinless living on the mental level; when the believer has taken upon him the yoke of Christ, which, according to Paul’s counsel, is:

Philippians 2:5:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus....

Genuine righteousness by faith means that we have fully identified ourselves with the holy history of Christ — His perfect life and His death to sin.  When this is realized and believed by God’s people, the way is then open for God’s Spirit to take over and demonstrate to the world the power of the gospel.  At the heart of every failure to live up to God’s ideal is unbelief.

True New Testament faith is taking God at His word, even though it disagrees with our human rational, the scientific method, or even human experience.  Abraham believed God against all hope and, therefore, became the father or prototype of all true believers.

Romans 4:16-18:
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.  As it is written:  “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

What Paul failed to accomplish in Romans 7, through his own strength or self-effort, is made possible by faith in Romans 8 through the power of the indwelling Spirit.

Romans 8:11:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

In these last days, the Holy Spirit is preparing a faithful and willing people, who by the grace of Christ will mature to the place where they will fully overcome “even as” Christ overcame.  When this happens, the earth will be lightened with His glory.

Revelation 18:1:
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven.  He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.

In Ephesians 2:8-9, we have a clear gospel statement that we are saved by grace alone through faith and not by our works.

Ephesians 2:8-9:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

But going on to verse 10 we discover that, in this salvation, God has created us “anew in Christ Jesus, to do good works” which He now purposes that every believer walk in.

Ephesians 2:10:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Colossians 2:6:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him....

Titus 2:14:
[Jesus Christ], who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

In view of this gospel truth, let us, therefore, remove all unbelief and have “the mind of Christ.”

Philippians 2:5-7:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

A mind or purpose that is fully emptied of self, surrendered to the cross of Christ, so that God may take over and enlighten the earth with the glory of His Son.

Luke 9:23:
Then he said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

But as long as we deny the true humanity of Christ, that which manifested God in our corporate sinful flesh, we will never be able to truly enter by faith into the present work of our High Priest in heaven, which includes the cleansing of the human temple (see The Great Controversy, page 488).  Just as it is impossible for us to appreciate forgiveness of sins unless we see Christ bearing the wages of our sins on the cross, so we cannot experience victory over sin’s power unless we see Christ conquering and condemning our law of sin in the flesh, which He did in His life and death.

Christ is waiting with longing desire to reproduce His character in His church.  How long are we going to keep Him waiting?

Psalm 102:16:
For the Lord will rebuild Zion [the church] and appear in his glory.

Ephesians 2:19-22; 5:25-27:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.


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