(Again I want to remind the readers that this blogpost is for those who are truly Christians. If you are not a Christian, your first course of action is to repent from your life of sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ first. Here is a link to help you understand the importance of this act of faith.)
Three weeks ago I began a series on how a Christian can overcome sin. Indeed, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1), but Christians still struggle against sin’s power and influence (Rom 7; Heb 12:1; 1 John 1:9). So how are we to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18) if we are continually harassed with our sinful inclinations?
1) Practice the Presence of God
2) Study and Memorize Scripture
3) Surround Yourself with God’s People
4) Repent and Rest in God’s Forgiveness
Today we look at two more ways to overcome sin:
5) Re-discipline yourself
The Apostle Paul shows clearly that the grace of God trains all true Christians to live a self-controlled life (Titus 2:11-12). Furthermore, the New Testament is full of admonishments to work hard at holy living. Check out these passages:
“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12a)
“Cleanse [yourselves] from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1)
“Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you” (Rom 6:13b-14a)
“So now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Rom 6:19b; 12:1)
“I … implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1; cf. 1 Thess 2:12; Col 2:6)
In the Apostle Paul’s own life he likened the Christian walk as a fight (1 Tim 6:11), a battle (Eph 6:13ff), a race (1 Cor 9:24-27), and work (Eph 2:10). These associations should tell us that the Christian life is one that should be disciplined. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews says discipline to not sin is something that everyone in the church to be working at it (Heb 10:23-24). Why are we to be disciplined? In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph 6:15-16).
So, how do we do this? I suggest you begin with questions about your sin. Ask: what external circumstance led me into being tempted to sin? What could I have done to avoid it? How did God provide a way out while I was being tempted (1 Cor 10:13)? How can I avoid this situation when (not if!) it comes again? Who can I speak with in the church to help me be more disciplined so as not to sin?
For further help in this self-discipline, my friend Peter Goeman has 13 Practical Steps to Self-Discipline that have been helpful to me. May I recommend them to you in your fight against sin.
J. C. Ryle: “Never, never be content, if your soul does not grow [in grace].” (Holiness [Moody Publishers], 184).
6) Never under estimate sin again (i.e., never trust yourself again!)
We come again to theology means practical application. Ask yourself: “do I really understand sin?” I could wax eloquently here, but I prefer to go to one of my teachers who has been most helpful to me in this area. J. C. Ryle writes:
“Concerning the extent of this vast moral disease called ‘sin.’ let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture. ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart’ is by nature ‘evil,’ and that ‘continually.’ ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9). Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution, and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will — are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right — unless it is enlightened by the Holy Spirit. In short, ‘From the sole of your foot to the top of your head, there is no soundness — only wounds and welts and open sores!’ (Isa 1:6). The disease may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners and outward decorum — but it lies deep down in the constitution!
“I am convinced that the greatest proof of the extent and power of sin, is the pertinacity [a quality of sticking with something, no matter what]with which it cleaves to man, even after he is converted and has become the subject of the Holy Spirit’s operations. To use the language of the ninth Article: ‘This infection of nature remains — yes, even in those who are regenerate.’ So deeply planted are the roots of human corruption — that even after we are born again, renewed, washed, sanctified, justified and made living members of Christ — these roots remain alive in the bottom of our hearts; and, like the leprosy in the walls of the house, we never get rid of them until the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved.
“Sin, no doubt, in the believer’s heart, has no longer dominion. It is checked, controlled, mortified and crucified by the expulsive power of the new principle of grace. The life of a believer is a life of victory, and not of failure. But the very struggles which go on within his bosom, the fight that he finds it needful to fight daily, the watchful jealousy which he is obliged to exercise over his inner man, the contest between the flesh and the spirit, the inward ‘groanings’ which no one knows but he who has experienced them — all, all testify to the same great truth — all show the enormous power and vitality of sin. Mighty indeed must that foe be, who even when crucified, is still alive! Happy is that believer who understands it and, while he rejoices in Christ Jesus, has no confidence in the flesh, and while he says, “Thanks be unto God who gives us the victory,” never forgets to watch and pray lest he fall into temptation!” (Holiness [Moody Publishers], 24, 26-27)
From this I hope you get a sense that you cannot trust yourself. Sin is too deceitful in our pursuit of holiness. You must be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18b), meaning the Christian must be involved day-by-day, moment-by-moment submission to the Spirit’s control. This is not some feelings-based emotional high, rather it is letting “the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Col 3:16), meaning to take the Word of Christ (the Bible), and let it infuse every thought, action, and word of every moment of our day. We must bleed Scripture. We must always think, “what is God’s view in the Bible on such-and-such an issue?”
Put another way, James says we must be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (Jas 1:19). Many people take this verse and use it as a catch phrase for their Christian life. That’s fine, but it misses the context. The context James is dealing with is being a “doer of the Word” (Jas 1:22) and not just a hearer. So, in verse 19, James is saying to Christians, “you need to be quick to hear the Word of God (i.e., be controlled by it) and be slow to speak your own sinful thoughts and intentions.” Indeed this passage goes back to point #2 (Memorize Scripture), but it drives the point of not trusting your own thoughts. We must be filled with the Word of God so that we can be quick to be controlled by its truth and be very slow to thing we are wise in our own eyes (Prov 12:15; 26:12).
One final note: I had a pastor once tell me “Today’s successful fight against sin does not guarantee a successful fight tomorrow.” In other words, one day or one moment of overcoming sin does not mean the next day or the next moment will be as successful. As you and I grow in defeating sin, the world/flesh/Devil will attack harder. But be encouraged …
“31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:32-39)