How would you describe your struggle with sin? An unexpected guest? A stalking enemy? A dangerous raging river? A constant threat? An unwanted intruder? An intense war? Sin relentlessly wreaks havoc in the world generally and in people specifically. Sin blemishes. Sin distracts. Sin impoverishes. Sin steals. Sin breaks. Sin stains. Sin scars. Sin misdirects. Sin deceives. Sin distorts. Sin enslaves. As followers of Christ, sin occupies the space around us, formerly dominated us, and continues to influence us (Eph 2:1-3). Often when we confess it or desire to fight it, the well-meaning, yet woeful advice we receive from others is, “Well, stop it.” If it were that simple, who would struggle with sin at all? Why would Paul exclaim, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Romans 7:25)? Thankfully, the good news is that there is help and hope in Christ.
Why is the battle with sin so hard?
The Bible describes the problem with sin as a war. The desires of the flesh war against the desires of the Spirit. They are opposed to each other and often leave the Christian doing the exact opposite of what is biblically expected (Rom 8:5-17; Gal 5:16-26). In Paul’s analogy, the flesh refers to an internal drive that is opposed to God; in fact, it is God’s enemy (Gal 5:17). The flesh desires what is in opposition to God and godliness. The flesh encourages sin; so much so that all sin is called the “works of the flesh.”
What makes the flesh so powerful? It is ever-present. Sin dwells within us. Sin is so entrenched in each person that Paul calls it a law warring against the law of God (Rom 7:13-25). As a law it compels, coerces, bullies, and intimidates us to do what it wants. It promises us rewards when we follow its will or commands, and threatens us when we do not. Similar to the law of gravity, even when we do not pay any attention to it specifically, it is always exercising its power against us.
If you consider a stream or a mountain, sinning less and becoming more like Jesus Christ in day-to-day living is similar to rowing upstream or skiing uphill. Both are extremely difficult, if not seemingly impossible. Thankfully God has not left us alone in our battle against sin. Instead, as we seek to honor Him in daily living, He works in and through us to conquer sin’s stronghold (Eph 2:10; Phil 2:12-13).
Hope arises from Christ’s work in you.
At salvation, Christ removes your sinful disposition, the old man, which formerly dominated your being (Rom 6:6-7; Col 3:9-10). Honoring God in anything was impossible before salvation. However, when you accept Jesus, you become a new man where impossibility becomes possibility, where inability becomes ability, where incapacity becomes capacity, and where you now can live a life that honors God (Col 3:12-17).
This divine change begins in your inner man (2 Cor 5:17). God gives you a new heart that desires to follow His will and not to submit to the desires of the flesh. Regarding your position in Christ, you have been given new life, raised with Christ, hidden with Christ in God, and sit in heavenly places in Christ (Eph 2:4-10; Col 3:1-4). God has made you a new creation in Christ and uniquely equipped you to conquer sin and live for Him.
Although you have been equipped to grow in Christlikeness, living for Jesus takes effort. This process demands concentrated energy as you set your mind on the things of Christ (Col 3:1-4). As you begin to focus on Christ, you also identify areas in your life where you need to change, such as in your thinking, motivations, attitudes, words, and actions. As you recognize these areas that do not honor Christ, you seek to replace them with thoughts, motivations, attitudes, words, and actions that do honor Christ. The Apostle Paul describes this process through a series of commands where the Christian is to “put to death” and “put off” that which is sinful (Col 3:5-9) and “put on” what is consistent with the lifestyle of a follower of Christ (Col 3:12-17).
Specificity is important. As you consider your sin, you know it. Sin impacts your entire being. You know the taste, touch, look, sound, and smell of sin; you live it. With practice, you become increasingly capable of pinpointing unrighteousness in your life. However, many Christians suffer disappointment and fail to change when they neglect to consider righteousness with the same precision.
Two observations: 1) to just put off is not enough, and 2) generalizations are the enemy of real change. Using Paul’s example of daily clothing, whenever one takes off specific layers and items of clothing, it is helpful and necessary to put on other specific layers and items. Related to conquering sin, if you fail to get specific in terms of righteousness and settle for religious platitudes, clichés, truisms, or general principles, often growth is hindered. For example, out of conviction to just resolve to love your neighbor more produces minimal change. Conversely, when you determine to write a note of encouragement, to say a word of kindness, to listen carefully in a conversation, or to provide a meal for dinner, change is more likely as you intentionally strive to love your neighbor. Hope for victory over sin and progress in Christlikeness grows as you experience Christ’s work in you through the Spirit’s power as one who is in Christ.
In part 2 you will learn about how battle rages in the heart with desires, what is the process of temptation, and that your circumstances never make you sin.
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In what helpful way would you describe sin in your own life?