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First of all, let’s look at the consequences of causing someone to sin.

Matthew 18.6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!

The consequences of causing believers to sin are unimaginable. We must deal very harshly with those things that cause us to sin.

Matthew 18:8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

On another occasion, Jesus taught his disciples again about things that cause people to sin.

Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 So watch yourselves.

Then Jesus taught that it is within our power to forgive our brother who has sinned against us.

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Jesus commands us to do something that is entirely against our human nature. If someone hurts us even once, it is difficult enough to forgive that person even if he repents and asks for forgiveness. We like to remember what he did. It is virtually impossible to forgive that brother seven times in a single day. This would be a mountain that is simply too huge to move. Two thousand years ago, the apostles realized this. They asked Jesus for more faith to move the mountain of unforgiveness into the sea.

Luke 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. 7 “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?

In response to the disciples’ plea for more faith, Jesus spoke of commanding a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. It is against the very nature of a mulberry tree that lives only on fresh water to be planted in the sea which consists of salt water. But Jesus taught the disciples that it can in fact be done if one had faith as a mustard seed. Even though the mustard seed is among the smallest of seeds, it will grow up to become one of the largest garden plants.

It is clear that the faith to command and move a mulberry tree into the sea is very similar in nature to the faith required to command and move a mountain into the sea. Therefore Jesus is essentially teaching here the same faith which is required when exercising authority to heal the sick—the faith of God. When with the faith of God we command something under our authority to move, it will obey us. What is it that obeys us? Our servants obey us. And Jesus goes on to teach us about the relationship between a master and his servant.

Two thousand years during the time of Jesus, a master would not have spoiled or coddled his servant. This is not how a master exerts his authority over his servant. Eventually a spoiled or coddled servant will begin to disobey his master’s orders. We know that we as believers have been given authority over diseases and demons in the context of proclaiming the gospel to the lost. We exercise this authority with spiritual violence. Scripture teaches that we also have authority over our sinful nature.

Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live…

The apostle Paul teaches that we have authority to put to death our sinful nature. Just as we rebuke disease and demons, in the same way we also have authority to rebuke our sinful nature in Christ’s name. We can put it to death by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus when our sinful nature tempts us to sin, we do not coddle it by entertaining it suggestions, but rather rebuke it harshly.

Illustrations of Resisting Sin

When someone hurts us (whether once or repeatedly) and comes back to us asking for forgiveness, our old nature would tell us not to let the person go so easily. He suggests to us quite convincingly that bitterness against that person is very much in order. However, Jesus teaches us not to coddle our sinful nature when it whispers such things into our ears. Rather we are to put it to death and rebuke it as if we were coming against a disease or demon. This is the only way to accomplish something which is ordinarily against our own nature, like making a mulberry tree to plant itself in the sea. We must master it and it must become our servant.

When someone sins against us, we are naturally hurt. For example someone in our church gossips about us or slanders us. Our sinful nature, who is our servant, may come to us and whisper in our ear: “What a terrible person she is. She has hurt you so much. You are innocent of what she said about you. You should never forgive her for hurting you so. You should hate her and get revenge.”

What ought we to say to our servant our sinful nature at that moment? We are naturally tempted to say, “What a wonderful suggestion! You are such a good servant. You’re so right about that horrible woman. Let’s sit down together and eat. Tell me more.”

But Jesus teaches us not to coddle or spoil our servant. Instead, we are to treat him very strictly and order him around. We should rather say to him at that moment with authority and mountain-moving faith, “I rebuke you in Jesus’ name. Be quiet and leave me.” In such a way, we can resist bitterness and overcome the sin of unforgiveness. We can do that which is against our human nature; we can do the miraculous. Our sinful nature will obey us.

Let’s take another illustration—the temptation posed by pornography, especially on the internet.

A poll was taken from the men attending a Promise Keepers meeting. One-half of the men admitted that within the past week they had looked at pornography. According to an article by Kenny Luck on the website, over 9 out of 10 men at a Christian men’s retreat revealed that they had a problem with pornography or fantasy lust although they knew that it was not pleasing to God. Over 500 men were surveyed at the retreat. According to a separate survey taken by the magazine Christianity Today, 40% of the pastors surveyed have visited a pornographic website. Over half acknowledge that they can be tempted by internet pornography. Shockingly, 37% of them are now struggling with pornography. The link below will take you to a 2016 article in Time Magazine which limits its discussion to the physical consequences of pornography only. (Please exercise discretion if you would like to read the article.)

Porn and the Threat to Virility

We can overcome this temptation by applying Jesus’ teaching. Let’s say you are struggling in this area but can usually keep your head above water. When you are checking your email one day, you accidentally type in the wrong address and suddenly you find yourself on a pornographic website. Seemingly irresistible images jump out at you from your monitor to draw you in. Your servant, your sinful nature, picks that very moment to approach you.

“Ohhhhh! It’s OK, don’t be afraid. One look won’t hurt you. It’s the second look that’s bad. Just look at that woman! Stay for a moment…don’t worry. The Lord is merciful and very patient; He will forgive you again. Remember that He died to bear your sin and cleanse you from all sin and unrighteousness. Just confess your sin to Him later. That link down there looks especially interesting…just click on it.”

At that very moment, we must know what to do and what to say to our servant. If we invite him to sit down and serve him food, if we receive him with open arms, we are in trouble. We will fall into the sin of fantasy lust and pornography again. Yes, if we are contrite afterwards and ask the Lord to forgive us, indeed He will. But there will be a price to pay for failing to be strict with our sinful nature and to exercise our authority over it. Among other things, we may once again need deliverance from the spirit of pornography. And this time it may be more difficult. Luke 11:26 tells us that when the unclean spirit returns, he brings with him seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and our final condition will be worse than the first.

Instead of coddling our sinful nature when it tries to seduce us, we should immediately rebuke it, commanding it authoritatively with mountain-moving (or mulberry tree-moving) faith to be quiet and to leave in Jesus’ name. Our sinful nature will back off, and we will leave that pornographic website and escape from temptation. Just as we rebuke diseases and demons, we should also rebuke our sinful nature.

There are of course other many other ways besides unforgiveness and fantasy lust with which our sinful nature can tempt us to sin. Some are the temptation to anger, greed, covetousness, fornication, adultery, pride, and jealousy. Whatever our sinful nature says to us, we must immediately take authority over it with mountain-moving faith. Like a servant, it will obey us.

This principle is found also in the Old Testament in the second generation of man as recorded in Genesis. There we are taught to master our sinful nature or else it will have us. This is how the Lord counselled Cain when he was hurt and became furious at God’s favor upon Abel.

Genesis 4:4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

Because Cain was unable to master his anger and sinful nature, he became the first murderer in human history.

But there is yet another temptation we might face even when we have successfully exercised authority over our sinful nature and over disease and demons.

Luke 17:10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Our sinful nature may tell us to become proud and think that we deserve preferential treatment because having overcome our sinful nature we are now so holy. Because we have successfully exercised authority over disease and demons, our ministry has become big and well-known. Now we are special in God’s sight. Now we may need a personal bodyguard to keep the “riff-raff” from touching “God’s anointed.” We require being picked up in a limousine and insist on being accommodated only in very expensive hotels when invited to minister out-of-town. We will charge a certain minimum “fee” (likely exorbitant for “an unworthy servant”) for ministering as a guest preacher, and rationalize it by explaining that it helps us to limit our busy ministry schedule. The argument can be very persuasive and even based on Scripture. Jesus teaches us to resist and rebuke such temptations severely as we would a lazy servant.

When we are tempted especially to lust and to commit adultery in all its various forms, we should treat it as a life-threatening cancer.

Matthew 18:8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

1 Corinthians 9:27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Yes, to sin is entirely in accord with our sinful nature, which would rule over us. But like the apostle Paul we must beat it and make it our slave. The reason for this ruthless course of action is not to be taken lightly—that after we have preached to others, we ourselves will not be disqualified for the prize. Whatever “being disqualified for the prize” may mean, it is certainly not worth suffering this disqualification in exchange for the temporal pleasures of sin.

When we understand our authority over our sinful nature—our servant—we will be able to succeed in doing that which is impossible for our human nature.

In the context of this chapter there are three things that are under our authority as servants—the sinful nature, disease, and demons. It makes no sense for us to serve them. What will happen if we disregard this scriptural injunction and coddle our servants? They will end up ruling over us and making us miserable.

Proverbs 19:10 It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury— how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!

We who have been given authority over our sinful nature, disease, and demons must rule over them ruthlessly. This is not only to safeguard our own salvation and well-being, but to bring lost souls into the Kingdom of God as the gospel is preached with signs following.

The believer who can successfully exercise authority over his sinful nature is prepared to exercise authority over disease and demons fruitfully and safely.