Part 3 - Of Thankfulness, Lord's Day 52, Chapter 3: Prayer for Deliverance from Evil

The question may be asked whether it is necessary for the Christian constantly to utter this second part of the petition, throughout his entire life. There are those that deny this. They are called perfectionists. According to them, he that utters this prayer confesses that he is not yet completely delivered from the dominion of the devil and from the power of his evil nature. And therefore these people claim that the believing, redeemed, regenerated, sanctified Christian cannot properly take this prayer upon his own lips, at least not always, and not throughout his entire life. This may be a very suitable prayer for the unconverted or for the partially unconverted, who is not under grace but under sin, but not for the believer. It is true that the Christian certainly must pray for constant grace of God to fight the battle against the devil and all sin; for he realizes that he cannot stand without the grace of his Father in heaven. But to pray for deliverance from the dominion and power of the devil and of sin would be a denial of the work of grace accomplished in Christ Jesus, and applied to him by the Holy Spirit. The believer, they emphasize, is already delivered from evil, and therefore cannot properly pray this petition, at least not every day and during his entire life. 

According to this doctrine, which is defended by all that make salvation dependent on the free will of man, it is possible for the child of God in this world to attain to perfection and to walk without sin. And of course, they appeal for this teaching to the word of God. In the first place, they appeal to those passages of holy writ that command the child of God to walk holy and to be holy as God is holy. Cf. Matt. 5:48II Cor. 7:1I Pet. 1:15. Secondly, they point out that the Word of God calls the church holy. Cf. I Cor. 2:6II Cor. 5:17, etc. In the third place, they appeal to the examples of perfection and holiness of the saints on earth, such as Enoch and Noah, who walked with God. And finally, they appeal to passages that apparently teach perfection in the child of God, as, for instance, I John 3:9 and I John 5:18. There are many other passages of holy writ to which they appeal. Scripture teaches, for instance, in Rom. 6:14: "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." And: "But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." Rom. 6:17, 18. And again: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new." II Cor. 5:17. And once more: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Eph. 2:10. And we are admonished: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body; that ye should obey it in the lust thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."Rom. 6:12, 13. How then is it possible for that Christian, that is thus delivered from all the dominion of sin and the devil, to pray, "Deliver us from evil?" 

This view of the perfectionist is spiritually very shallow and superficial. Reformed people usually have a much profounder insight into holy writ, and at the same time a more sober view of the reality of the life of the child of God in the world. They take the reality of sin over against the righteousness and holiness of God far more seriously than the perfectionist. A theory that claims that the child of God is able to live perfectly in this world, and that he can actually attain to perfection, must necessarily lower the criterion, or standard, of perfection. He who takes sin seriously, and has any idea of the righteousness and holiness of God, certainly cannot be satisfied with the outward keeping of some of the commandments of God. But he understands that God demands truth in the inward parts. And the child of God who knows himself and gains an ever deeper insight from a spiritual, ethical point of view into his own sinful heart and existence will not easily be tempted to imagine that his walk is perfect before the Lord. He is too vividly conscious of the very opposite. Those that claim that the child of God is able to attain to perfection usually speaks in a very superficial way about their conversion to God. They commonly speak of some very gross sins in which they used to walk and from which now they are delivered. Formerly they were drunkards, or lived in adultery; but since they were converted, they live soberly and in chastity. Little they speak of the inner fountain of the heart, out of which are the issues of life. Lack of proper self-knowledge is the basis of their imagination that they can walk perfectly before God. Sin is excused, and the life of sanctification consists in the external walking in some of the commandments of God. The teaching of the perfectionist, moreover, leads to a neglect in regard to watching and prayer. Of a daily seeking refuge in the cross of Jesus Christ, in order there to find forgiveness of sins and peace of mind and heart, they have no need. And therefore, from a spiritual point of view perfectionism is a very serious error. 

In this connection we need not in detail go into the refutation of the Scriptural arguments of the perfectionist. We of course readily grant that the Lord God demands holiness in life and conversation of His people. In fact, we emphasize this demand with far more seriousness and in a far deeper sense than the perfectionist. But from this demand of God does not follow the possibility that the Christian can live perfectly according to that demand, and without sin. It may also be granted that the church of Christ in theworld is called holy, and that she is actually holy in Christ Jesus. But it is true at the same time that the church possesses that holiness in Christ only in principle. In the same epistles in which the church and tile saints are called holy in the Lord the believers are rebuked because of all kinds of sins and corruptions. And as far as the texts are concerned that apparently teach perfection in this life, it is very evident from other parts of the same epistles in which those expressions occur that they mean perfection only in principle. Truly, in I John 3:9 we read that he that is born of God cannot sin, because His seed remaineth in him. But in the same epistle, in I John 1:8, we also read that if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. And as far as examples in holy writ are concerned, that are supposed to teach that the saints can and do walk in perfection before God in this world, we may certainly remark that in the entire cloud of witnesses in the old dispensation there never was one that lived without sin before God. 

Besides, we may remark that only he that is regenerated and that is a new creature in Christ Jesus can and will pray the petition, "Deliver us from evil." The natural man is dead in trespasses and sins. He is not free. He is enslaved to sin. Sin has dominion over him. And this dominion of, sin does not signify that the sinner is outwardly shackled, and compelled to sin against his will and against the desires of his inmost heart, but that he is bound from within. His heart is corrupt. His will is perverse. His mind is darkened, so that he can neither truly discern nor will that which is good. He is motivated by enmity against the living God. For: "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Rom. 8:7. He agrees with sin. He loves darkness rather than light. How then could such a man ever begin to long for and to cry out for deliverance from evil? True, the wages which sin pays even in this life may sometimes be too bitter for him, so that he could long for deliverance from certain sinful habits, in order to escape their bitter consequences. But sin as such, sin as it is transgression of the law, he cannot possibly hate. Nor does he feel the dominion of sin as a yoke from which he would fain be delivered. The prayer, "Deliver us from evil," therefore, is the cry that is pressed from the regenerated heart. Yes, indeed, the believer in Christ is a new creature. He is born of God. He is regenerated. And this does not mean merely, that he has reformed himself, that he has been cured from some bad habits, so that he used to be a drunkard, but drinks no more, or used to commit adultery, but now leads a clean life, or used to swear, but now utters no more profanity. But it means that his inmost heart has been radically changed. In his inmost heart, whence are the issues of life, he has received a new life, the resurrection life of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in that inmost heart Christ, through His Spirit, has taken up his abode, and will never, even for a moment, leave it again. The Christian, therefore, is no longer a slave of sin. He is free from the dominion of the evil one. He is changed from death to life, from darkness to light. Old things have passed away; behold all things are become new! 

But does this mean that the believer, regenerated and called out of darkness into light is completely perfected, so that there is no sin left in him whatsoever? There is perhaps no one who, in the face of the testimony of Scripture to the contrary; and in the face of reality and everyday experience, would dare to make such a claim. O, indeed, the word of God teaches us that he that is born of God cannot sin, which means that exactly in as far as he is born of God, or in the capacity of one that is born of God, he cannot commit sin. But the same Scripture, as we have already quoted, teaches but too clearly that this does not imply that the believer as he is in this world is completely free from all the pollution of sin. In fact, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." I John 1:10. And the apostle Paul gives us an inspired picture of his own experience in Rom. 7:15, ff.; and it is quite impossible to apply this to his state before he was regenerated and converted: "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the lath of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Such is the testimony of holy writ. Such is also the daily experience of every Christian that takes the trouble to examine himself before the face of God. He has a new heart. And in that inmost heart of his he is united with Christ. But he has an old nature. And in that old nature there are the old motions and ruts of sin, motions of the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eye and the pride of life. And his life is a continual battle. Always again he must hear the truth as it is, in Jesus, "to put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of (your) his mind." The Christian in this world has a small beginning, a principle, of the new obedience. But there is still the old flesh, that hankers after sin. 

During his whole life; therefore, the Christian must fight the battle of faith against the devil, the world, and his own flesh. And in that battle, looking forward to the final victory, he always must pray, "Deliver, us from evil." Perhaps you remark that in the way of watching and praying and of constant battle the believer can overcome and gain the final and perfect victory over sin in this life, so that he reaches a state in which he sins no more. Or; you reason that the Spirit does not only regenerate God's elect, but also sanctifies them, and that in the process of sanctification the believer is gradually delivered from his old nature and reaches perfection. But neither of these two views is correct in the light of holy writ. As to the latter, sanctification consists so little of a gradual regeneration of our whole nature, body and soul, that, on the contrary, in the way of and through the work of sanctification the Christian is not delivered from his old carnal nature whatsoever, not even in the smallest degree: Always he has but a small beginning of the new obedience, a small principle of the new life, no matter how old he becomes or how truly he is sanctified by the Spirit of God. Sanctification simply does not consist in a gradual shedding of our old nature. That old sinful nature always remains, and goes with us to the grave. Only in and through death are we delivered from the body of this death, not before. By sanctification we do grow in the knowledge and, grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are strengthened in our faith. We become more fervent in love, are confirmed in hope, receive more light and understanding of the perfect way, more strength to fight the battle and to subject the body of this death to the service of righteousness. But the old nature, with its carnal lusts, remains until we breathe our last. And it is exactly those Christians that are spiritually most sensitive and that have advanced farthest on the way of sanctification that will most deeply bemoan their imperfect state, and confess that they have but a small beginning of the new obedience. It is they that feel the need of the constant prayer, "Deliver us from evil." 

And as to the former statement, that we even with our sinful nature always present can so fight and watch and pray that it is possible to live sinlessly, one has but to take sin seriously, and then cast a look into his own inner life, in order to know how thoroughly untrue such a statement is. 

H.H.