The Reality of the Christian’s Struggle Against Sin

It seems that there have always been those who have argued that Christians don’t sin after their conversion. Still, I would think that anyone who is even vaguely aware of the condition of their own heart will admit that they battle with sin every day.  James 3:2 tells us “we all are stumbling in many ways”.  Recently I came across Francis Turretin’s thoughts on this topic in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology (P & R Publishing, 1994).  Turretin (1623-1687) gave a five-fold proof to his negative answer to the question: Is sanctification so perfect in this life that believers can fulfill the law absolutely? (2:693-700)  He wrote:

  1. First, from the remains of sin.  Where sin dwells, there perfect sanctification cannot be, nor the fulfilling of the law.  And yet in believers, whoever they may be, sin always dwells…. (1 Jn. 1:8; Jam. 3:2; 1 Kg. 8:46; Prov. 20:9)
  2. Second, this very thing is confirmed by the “struggle between the flesh and the Spirit” which perpetually occurs in believers in this mortal life, and forces out of them so many groans and lamentations. (Gal. 5:17) [Turretin also argues at length that Romans 7 is the testimony of a believer.]
  3. Third, the impossibility of fulfilling the law is proved from Acts 15:10, where it is called an unbearable … yoke…. For if it could not be borne, how could it be fulfilled by anyone?
  4. Fourth, we are commanded to pray daily for the remission of our sins.  Now if it was possible for the renewed to fulfill the law of God, it is possible for the same not to need the remission of sins and not to be bound to say according to the command of the Savior, “Forgive us our debts.”
  5. Fifth, from the examples of the saints.  The saints everywhere openly acknowledge and confess this inability (Job 9:3, 20, 28; 15:15); David (Pss. 32:5; 130:3; 143:2); Solomon (Prov. 20:9; 1Kg. 8:46); Isaiah (Is. 64:6); Daniel (Dan. 9:5, 6); Paul (Rom. 7:14; Phil. 3:13); John (1 Jn. 1:8) James (Jam. 3:2).

Helpful words from a teacher who ministered in Geneva about 100 years after John Calvin.


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