9.4 When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin;1 and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good;2 yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.31 Col. 1:13; Jn 8:34, 36; 2 Phil. 2:13; Rom 6:18, 22; 3 Gal 5:17; Rom 7:15, 18–19, 21, 23.
Westminster Confession of Faith 9.4
In the previous paragraph, we confessed how, in the state of sin, we are all by nature “dead in trespasses and sins.” Thankfully, that is not the end of the story. By God’s free gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been translated into the state of grace by our regeneration or conversion, which the Bible describes as a spiritual resurrection—being truly set free from our previous bondage to sin and made alive again to serve God in righteousness (John 8:34, 36; Rom. 6: 13, 18, 22). Having the power of Christ’s resurrection working in him, the believer’s will is now posse non peccare—able again to refuse to sin and to choose instead what is pleasing to God. Indeed, your present identity is that of the very workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. 1:19–2:10; Phi. 2:13)!
But this also means that the sins of believers are even less excusable than those of unbelievers, since we have every ability to do otherwise. Christians are no longer allowed to say “I can’t help it!” when they sin. If you are born again of the Holy Spirit and recreated in the image of Christ’s own holiness and righteousness, you certainly can help it! God says that he has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).
And yet, God in his wisdom has also chosen not to erase every trace of corruption, but to allow some of it to remain in us as long as we are in this mortal body, such that even our best desires and deeds are all still mixed with sin. There are, as it were, two conflicting natures at war within us, the flesh against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh (Gal 5:7; Rom. 7:15–23). Doing right is possible to the Christian, but it will not come easily. There can be no laidback attitude if one is to resist the devil, the world, and the flesh. The choice to not sin is not a merely intellectual one, but one that will take all the “strength of the will”, so to speak. It will take nothing less than the daily putting to death and crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5). It will be agonizingly painful. But by God’s grace and through the faith which overcomes the world, the true believer will battle against indwelling sin until the day of glory when he gains the full victory over it, as God will certainly bring to completion the good work he began in us (Phi. 1:6).
If you confess this article of faith to be true, then take time to reflect upon how you have or have not been fighting this spiritual battle which is your most urgent and most important duty in this life. Do your choices this past week reflect the newness of life of one who has been raised again with Christ, who walks by the Spirit, and desires to please God and not the flesh? “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom 8:13). But give thanks and praises to the Lord if he has indeed been working in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure, which is a clear evidence of your salvation (Phi. 2:13).
This is the fourth in a series of five articles written on each of the paragraphs in Chapter 9 of the Westminster Confession of Faith “Of Free Will”. These articles were originally written to be read before worship services.