The reality is that most of you reading this article know the gospel. And I bet many of you have already responded to the gospel by repenting of your sins and putting your faith in the blood of Christ and the regenerate power of the Spirit as your sole source of righteousness. Although I discussed in my previous article the nature of sin and mankind’s relationship to it from primarily the perspective of a nonbeliever, the question is now: how does this change once a believer is truly “born again?”
The Relationship Between Sin and the Christian
First and foremost, we ought to hate sin more than we hate anything else in this world (Romans 12:9). Our hearts should break over the way that it affects this world, others, and most importantly, our relationship with our Creator. Our minds must be renewed to see reality the way that God sees it, and God felt the need to crucify Himself on a cross so that sin would no longer have to exist for the rest of eternity. Therefore sin, especially our own, must be abhorred.
Secondly, we ought to resist our sin and fight against it. The Bible makes it very clear that though we are saved by grace through faith alone, a faith that works is a faith that is both alive and real (James 2:26). This is a faith that works from salvation not for salvation, differentiating it from a works-based faith. To look at this from a different angle, we can’t merely passively regret the things we are supposed to abhor (Romans 2:4). We must actively fight them with everything we have. Scripture talks about this as it consistently takes the believer’s response to sin very seriously.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
But How Do I Fight Sin?
You’re probably thinking that fighting sin seems to be a hopeless battle. And to some degree, you’re not wrong. Attempting to fight our sinful nature with a willpower that is tainted in the same sinful devices that got us into this mess in the first place does indeed seem remarkably unhelpful. However, I’m here to offer another way, and I’m going to do this by pulling from a sermon on Ezekiel 36-37 by my favorite pastor, David Platt, and by paraphrasing many quotes from a book by David Bowden called Rewire Your Heart. For the sake of space and clarity, I am going to be very blunt.
We sin because we want to sin (Romans 3:10-18). That is the real issue. We fight sin because we know it’s bad, but deep down, we still want to do it. Our hearts crave it. Therefore, we choose modification instead of transformation. We attack the symptoms while ignoring the underlying disease. We prohibit our ability to do something without changing our desire to do it. We treat sin as if it’s merely an action instead of a condition. As David Platt puts it:
It’s like we created the idea today that a Christian is someone who loves the ways of this world but finds out that the ways of this world lead to eternity separated from God in hell, so we pray a prayer, say some words, go through some ritual, to jump out of the line going to hell and into the line going to heaven. But deep down inside, we still prefer the ways of this world.
We sin because our hearts prefer it. The only way to prevent the heart from desiring sin is to give it something it wants to do even more than sin, and it would be especially profitable if we decided to give it the very thing it was designed to love, namely, God Himself. Simply put by David Bowden, “Affections can only be replaced, not cancelled…your desires already have momentum. Why try to stop a careening boulder when a simple course correction will do the trick?” We will seek sin less when we desire God more. The sanctification process is not about altering your actions; it’s about the Spirit forming new and holy desires within your heart (Romans 8:5-8).
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Before I move on to answer the inevitable follow-up question “But what can I actually do?,” I want to conclude with one more quote by Bowden that should inform the way we read the more practical steps I am about to offer.
Remember that this is not a passive battle where you “let go and let God.” This is an active battle where you constantly and with tears in your eyes throw yourself on the mercy of God.
What Can I Do?
Acknowledge the evil of your sin
Stop making excuses. Stop justifying it. Learn to hate your sin. See it for what it truly is and acknowledge your own depravity before God (Psalm 51:1-5).
Pray hard, pray long, and pray often
Pray for the Spirit to go to war against your heart so that you may have a heart that desires the things of God. Recognize your dependence on God (Psalm 51:10-12).
Confess your sins to others
Join or create an accountability group with a group 2-4 other close friends committed to pursuing the ways of God. Be specific in your confessions (James 5:16).
The very first of Luther’s 95 Theses was “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Flee temptations daily. Cut off access to temptation. Go to war against your flesh knowing that it will inevitably cost you something. Some things must be given up. Stay in constant contact with your accountability group during times where temptation could be more prevalent (Proverbs 5:7-8, Matthew 5:29-30).
Run towards the things that increase your affection for God
Spend extended amounts of time in prayer. Spend extended amounts of time reading God’s Word. Go to church every Sunday. And don’t do these things for some sort of magical incantation of protection around you now that you’ve checked the spiritual boxes for the day. Attending a service won’t change your heart. Do it for an increased love for God, for holiness, and for the gospel, because this actually will (James 4:7-10).
To wrap up, I would like to offer two pieces of encouragement I was given a few years ago that I have found very helpful in my personal war against sin.
First, returning to God’s ways after committing sin is not hypocritical. The sin itself is what is hypocritical. If you are in Christ, He has made you into a new creation. Therefore, what now defines you is a life of righteousness and not a life of sin. The sin is hypocrisy. Returning to God’s ways is simply returning to who you now are in Christ.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Finally, I used to believe that one day I would be so sanctified and spiritual that I wouldn’t need to pray every morning to defeat temptation. However,this is the farthest thing from the truth. Christian maturity has a direct relationship with dependence on God. The more sanctified you are, the more you recognize that you need to pray for strength every morning. And then, what started off as a need for prayer in the mornings will turn into a need for the Scriptures every morning too. Then, a need for God in the mornings will turn into a need for God in the afternoons, which will soon turn into a need for God within every moment of every day. And finally, slowly but surely, this need for the things of God evolves, without you even realizing, into a desire for the things of God. And this desire is one that will be satisfied in full on the day of the return of our Lord Jesus. What a beautiful day that will be.