Our battle against sin will only result in victory if it is waged at the heart level. Battling sin by removing the externals from our lives is only the first step in a multi-step battle. If we count our enemies retreat as a complete victory, we are going to be surprised when it regroups, rallies, and comes knocking again. The only victory we should settle for when it comes to sin is complete annihilation. The only way to annihilate our enemy is to wage war against it on the battlefield of the heart. How do we do that?
How Do We Battle Sin at the Heart Level?
The first thing we need to understand is that rooting sin out of our lives is not something we can do in our own power and strength. We need something more, someone, more. We need the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
(1) We need the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
One of the things the Holy Spirit does is produce fruit in our lives. The fruit the Holy Spirit produces pushes ungodliness out.
For instance, pride dies as we grow in love and humility, anger as we grow in patience and self-control, sexual immorality as we grow in faithfulness, self-control, and purity of mind and conscience, love of this world as we grow in love for God and heavenly-mindedness. As these and other godly fruits grow in our lives ungodliness is pushed out.
Another thing the Holy Spirit does is bring to mind the gospel. The gospel message is simple the good news about Jesus’ death on our behalf, which repairs our relationship with the Father. A relationship we can’t repair on our own through our own works. Instead, we need someone who is perfect, who doesn’t deserve punishment, to die in our place to satisfy God’s wrath against us. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, who dies for us. Through His death, we can have life, if we repent of our sins and believe Jesus is our Lord and Savior. One of the works of the Holy Spirit is to bring this message to mind so that we constantly think about it.
The Holy Spirit bringing the gospel message to mind provides another way for us to battle sin. You may or may not be familiar with the term “preach the gospel to yourselves.” By regularly preaching the gospel to ourselves we keep Jesus’ work at the forefront of our mind. Remembering that He is the One who saves, sanctifies, satisfies, and fulfills. He is the One who gives us peace and joy, as He repairs our relationship with the Father. These are all things we are looking for in the world, but we will never find. The world and sin don’t and can’t deliver like Jesus.
Along with reminding ourselves of Jesus’ work, we must also regularly remind ourselves of the utter bankrupt nature of the world and the false promises of sin. We must remember that Jesus doesn’t fail us. Instead, He fulfills us. He always delivers on His promises.
Remembering these things about Jesus by preaching the gospel to ourselves should draw our affections away from the world to Jesus. As well as our desire to please Him should grow. Not to earn our salvation, but because of our salvation. Out of gratitude for what He has done for us, we should want to live for Him, bringing Him glory and pleasure.
(2) We must practice the spiritual disciplines and use the means of grace.
John Owen says,
“If we seek to correct an outbreak of sin in the soul, but neglect the basic duties that promote spirituality, we labor in vain.” 
In other words, we must use the weapons God has given to battle sin.
Our God-given weapons are what we might refer to as the Spiritual Disciplines and the Means of Grace. While these are two different things, they are similar enough to combine. The Spiritual Disciplines and the Means of Grace refer to:
- Reading God’s Word
- Memorizing Scripture
- Fellowshipping with other believers
- Participating in an accountability relationship
- Hearing the Word of God preached
- Attending a Bible Study
- Observing and participating in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
While not an exhaustive list, hopefully, it gives you an idea of the weapons God provides us to battle sin.
Although we are given these weapons, I believe many believers fail to use them. Instead of brandishing God’s weapons and wisdom we attempt to fight sin with worldly weapons and wisdom, which is why we often do battle on the surface instead of the heart. Our attempt to fight sin using other means is why I believe many of us continue to struggle with the same old sins year after year.
Not fighting with God’s wisdom and weapons is like showing up to a gunfight with a knife. As soon as our opponent pulls his weapon we are a goner.
Not only, then, do we need the Holy Spirit at work in us, which means we must be a believer, but we also need to use that which God has given us — the Spiritual Disciplines and the Means of Grace. These weapons attack sin at the root killing it so that it doesn’t have the opportunity to come back. Employing these weapons is what makes it possible for us to remove sin from our lives, not just on the surface, but at the heart level.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you recognize and rely on the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?
- Are you using the weapons the Lord has provided?
Post adapted from my sermon: How Do We Deal with Recurring Sin in Our Lives?
 John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, 50.