I have to confess: sometimes I write posts on this blog that does not move me. Everything I have written I believe and has changed my life in one way or another. But somethings don’t move me to action.
Yet, some have.
One year ago (today), I began a 3-part series on “How to Overcome Sin.” This was an intense study of my own and it moved me to action. The fruit of that study which I shared on PS23 has been helpful again and again to me as well as to others who I have shared it with. So, I decided to share it with you again. Either you missed it, or you need to hear it again (I know I do).
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HOW A CHRISTIAN CAN OVERCOME SIN
In the book of 1 John, the Apostle John is making a case for showing the difference between what a true Christian is and what is not. A true Christian obeys God, loves God’s truth, and loves God’s people. The one action in this list that is hardest is obeying God. John tells us, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). How can this be possible?! I still sin. So do you. Thankfully the verse goes on, “And if anyone sins …”
The point is that after initial salvation, when God justifies and forgives our sin thereby freeing us from the penalty of sin (eternal Hell), we are still sinners. Yes, we are given the Holy Spirit who conforms us into the image of Christ. But our old nature, our built-in-at-conception sinful nature still lives within us. So what do we do with these sins? How can we overcome our sin? This the question I wish to answer from Scripture.
It doesn’t matter the size of your sin. You could be a regular lair or cheat. You could be an adulterer or a porn user. You could be lazy or gluttonous. Whatever your sin, God has a solution for you.
1) Practice the presence of God
Here is where theology meets practical application. God is Ominpresent. Omnipresence means God is everywhere present. Probably the most familiar verses that affirm this truth is Psalm 139:7-12. King David in this Psalm is stating God is inescapeable!! More than that, God is everywhere in the totality of His person. Wherever God is He is there as Lord, Savior, Judge, Holy, etc. Therefore we get away with NOTHING! God is always present. He is always right here and here and over here too. God actually declares this truth: “‘Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord’” (Jeremiah 23:24).
How does this help you overcome sin? The always-presence of God is not meant to scare us into obedience. Rather, it is meant to remind us that God is ever-present to bless obedience or hold back blessing in disobedience.
2) Study and Memorize Scripture
The Apostle Paul wrote a very familiar passage: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
Note carefully that God’s Word has a purpose. We don’t just read it to get “warm fuzzies” for the day or check off “I-did-my-spiritual-tithe-today” box. The purpose behind God giving us His Word was so that we could be “equipped for every good work.” If you are struggling with besetting sins that just seemingly won’t go away, I ask you: how is your Bible reading and study time AND how is your Bible-memorizing? Yes, study, but also treasure up God’s Word in your mind. The promises for doing so are incredible and is one of the best weapons against sin (Ps 119:9, 11; 37:30-31)
3) Surround yourself with God’s People
The Bible has a whole lot to say about the influence of others (1 Cor 15:33; Prov 11:3; Prov 12:5; Prov 12:26). From these verses, it might be easy to think that we need to stay isolated, far away from any bad influence. But this is not how God wants Christians to be. Rather, you need the church’s wisdom because “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom” (Prov 18:1)
The writer of Hebrews was explicit about this. In Hebrews 10, notice how all the personal pronouns are “we” or “us,” pointing to the fact that your growth in your Christian walk is a community activity with other true Christians in the church-life.
“19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb 10:19-25)
I could also talk about the church being the Body of Christ and that, just a our physical bodies need each part, so to the Body-Church needs each member (1 Cor 12). So, Christians need to prioritize regular, intentional interaction with other true believers. Yes, on Sunday morning (“our own assembling together”), but this needs to be a daily part of our lives. Find a small group Bible study and join. If you don’t have any small groups, then make some friends in the church and have them over to your home weekly. Get with other godly people regularly and habitually. By doing this, your fight against sin will increasingly stop being about your personal fight and more being a part of the holy, blameless church which Christ cleansed (Eph 5:25-27).
4) Repent and Rest in God’s Forgiveness
Remember 1 John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins…” Sin is still attached to a Christian. So what do we do when (not if) we sin? First, repent! Recall 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The Apostle John is writing to believers to remind them that when sin occurs in the Christian’s life, don’t ignore it. Repent! This truth is why Martin Luther started his famous 95 Theses with “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Second, rest in justification theology. If you have truly repented from sin and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, then there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). You must rest in this truth. God is not a liar and is faithful to keep every promise, including keeping you in His salvific arms (John 10:27-28).
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 (Phil 2:12; 2 Cor 7:1; Rom 6:13-14; Eph 4:1; 2 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).
6) Never under estimate sin again (i.e., never trust yourself again!)
Ask yourself: “do I really understand sin?” As J. C. Ryle helpfully put it:
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
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?”
Finally, remember that today’s successful fight against sin does not guarantee a successful fight tomorrow. 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 …
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 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? (Rom 8:31-32)