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The Dreadful Nature of Indwelling Sin

volume 21, number 39, September 29, 2022

“The person who sins will die.” – Ezekiel 18:20

The other day Jim Shaw and I were at the pier on St. Simons Island walking around and engaging people in gospel conversations when we met two older couples sitting in the shade. We began a conversation with them and they told us they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. So I began to ask them questions. After listening to them deny the deity of Christ and the fact of His bodily resurrection, I asked, “Based on the differences between your faith and Christianity as I have explained it to you, “Do you think Jim and I are going to hell when we die?” To this one of the men replied, “Well, there is no hell, just a place of death where everyone goes.” I then spoke of the wrath of God which hangs over every person because of original sin, indwelling sin, and actual sin. He had no concept of the wrath of God for sinners.[1] Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that those who do not follow their religion or rules go to a place of death but eventually are annihilated. 

In preaching about original sin which never leaves us until we reach the glory of heaven, George Whitefield, the great 18th century evangelist said, “When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder—How came I to be so wicked? The Spirit of God then strikes in, and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature. . . that he is altogether abominable. . . that God would be just to damn him, just to cut him off, though he never had committed one actual sin in his life. . . And if you have never felt the weight of original sin, do not call yourselves Christians. I am verily persuaded original sin is the greatest burden of a true convert; this ever grieves the regenerate soul, the sanctified soul. The indwelling of sin in the heart is the burden of a converted soul.”[2]

Have you ever wondered why gifted pastors or other Christian leaders can have severe character issues, like stealing money from the church, like running off with a young woman intern, like bullying the elders or staff? Why does this happen so often? But then, stop for a moment and look intently at your own life? I bet you have a few character issues too. Maybe you are not altogether honest with your company’s monthly expense and reimbursement report. Maybe you are guilty of exaggeration. Maybe you carry around a spirit of revenge or impatience. Maybe you are a little too closely and emotionally involved with a woman at work. Maybe you bully your wife or children. Maybe you are rude to store clerks or waitresses. 

Now I am not excusing such behavior. We must call it what it is—sin. Nor am I saying that pastors or any of us need not accept the consequences of such sinful behavior. I am simply saying that indwelling sin is a dreadful reality for everyone in this world, including believers. Indwelling sin, which is original sin we received from our father Adam, is always with us. It will not be eradicated until we reach heaven (Heb.12:23).

I am seeking to give a brief overview of what every unredeemed sinner must know. It is our responsibility as Christ followers to paint a clear word picture to the lost of just how dreadful and hopeless their situation is until God decides to show mercy on that person. Simply and succinctly stated, God says through Ezekiel the prophet, “The person who sins will die,” (Ezekiel 18:20). That means all of us will die. All of us will face the judgment of God unless something drastic and glorious happens to us and we know, of course, that that great work is Christ’s death on Calvary’s cross, followed by His resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. We must preach the whole gospel. We must not mitigate any of its contents which others may deem problematic or objectionable. This includes a fully developed doctrine of indwelling sin.  

How can you go about making known the doctrine of original or indwelling sin? Here’s one way I try to do it—I ask questions either while preaching on a campus or doing one on one evangelism. It goes like this. Why were six million Jews murdered by Hitler? Why did Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia murder between one and three million of its people? What possesses a man like Jeffrey Dahmer to murder and then eat the flesh of those he murdered? What causes a man like Ted Bundy to murder young women, bury them in the woods, and them dig them up have have sex with their dead bodies? Why do young men in Chicago expect to die before they are twenty-five years old? Why do fathers or older brothers sexually abuse their own daughters or sisters? And if you are not guilty of such heinous sins, why do you lie, why do you seek revenge on someone who has wronged you, why do you hate your father or mother, why do you use a girl and then discard her, why do you as a man dress like a woman, why do you as a young woman have sex with other women? Why can’t you kick your porn habit? Why do you drink too much? Why do you sell or use illegal drugs? Why do you hate people of different ethnicities? Why do you hold grudges against people? Why do you cheat or deceive others? And why are so angry with me for asking you such questions? Why do you hate people like me who are simply trying to tell you the greatest, most wonderful news in all the world?

Here’s why. We all have a serious, dreadful problem called original sin. You and I were born with a rebellious heart that hates God and loves sin. Psalm 58 says that the wicked are estranged from the womb and those who speak lies go astray from birth. It says we have the venom of a cobra in our mouth. Original sin which now indwells and controls you distorts and perverts everything about you. It adversely affects your mind, your emotions, your thoughts, your desires, your speech, your actions. Everything about you has been severely marred by sin. And furthermore, you can do nothing in yourself to break the chains of your sin. Maybe you have tried AA or some rehab center and it has not worked. You know you need to get a grip on your alcohol, drug, or porn addiction but you can’t seem to do it. You know you need to love your mom and dad but you just can’t stand them. You grew up going to church but that did not seem to work. You tried eastern mysticism but that wore off too. Listen, you are far worse off that you can possibly think. You really have no hope at all in anything you can possibly do in this world to take care of your sin problem. You hate God, you probably hate lots of other people, and if you really went deeply into your own desires, you may find that you hate yourself too. Maybe you have even thought that you might as well go ahead and kill yourself.

Now when you begin to see how hopeless your condition is then maybe you are ready to hear about the only thing which makes any sense at all, the only thing which can you give you hope, the only thing which can forgive you of your many sins and the enslavement these sins have brought upon you. Are you ready to hear it? Okay, I am going to tell you about Jesus. I am not talking about religion. I hate religion. So does Jesus. His problem was with the religious leaders of His day. They eventually murdered Him. I want to tell you about the One who loves His people and died for them, the One who can set you free from the judgment of hell which you deserve. Are you ready to listen?

  1. For a good overview of what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe go to “The Eleven Beliefs You Should Know about Jehovah’s Witnesses When They Knock at the Door,” <>
  2. Justin Taylor, August 17, 2017.“The Method of Grace,” George Whitefield, page 9, The Chapel Library.

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