How Do We Deal with Recurring Sin in Our Lives? – Part 4

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.” [1]

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
  • Praying
  • 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

  1. Do you recognize and rely on the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?
  2. Are you using the weapons the Lord has provided?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon: How Do We Deal with Recurring Sin in Our Lives?

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[1]  John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, 50.

How Do We Deal with Recurring Sin in Our Lives? – Part 3

Dealing with sin so as to remove it from our life is not easy work. It not only requires us to do the hard work of discovery, but we also must be determined to remove it from our lives. After we have accomplished those two things, we are set to do battle with sin. But how?

How Do We Do Battle With Sin in Our Lives?

Let me just say at the start that the only way we are going to successfully battle sin in our lives is to have had our heart changed by the gospel, which means we must be a believer.

We must be a believer.

If you aren’t a believer, there is no hope of changing. That might sound matter of fact and harsh but it’s true. Non-believers haven’t been set free from the bondage of sin. It has them by the throat, and their only option is to obey. Listen to what Paul says about us before we come to Christ,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:1–3)

I think Paul makes it clear that those who aren’t believers are in constant bondage to sin. They are controlled by it and have no choice but to submit to Satan and the passions of their body and mind. In order to deal with sin in our lives, then, we have to first be released from its bondage, which only occurs in Christ.

Jesus is the one who makes us alive, freeing us from Satan and sin’s mastery over us by changing our hearts. Once our hearts are changed our desires are redirected away from sin, Satan, and the world, to the things of God. Without Jesus, then, battling sin is impossible.

Just because we are a believer, however, doesn’t mean our battle with sin is over. In reality, it has just begun. Removing sin from our life is hard work and only happens as we attack sin at the root.

We must attack sin at the root.

The church where I serve as pastor is located in the country. It is surrounded by farmland. While the soil is rich for growing hay, it is also rich for growing stickers. If you were to walk barefoot through the fields surrounding our church, your feet wouldn’t be happy because they would be full of stickers.

Anyone who has ever battled stickers knows the only way to get rid of them is to attack the root. You can cut them down with the mower and it will appear as if there are no stickers for a while. But you can bet they are still there and they will pop right back up in a week or two. Removing stickers, then, requires the hard work of attacking them at the root. Cutting them down at the surface won’t do.

In a similar way, if we want to remove sin from our lives, we can’t just cut it down on the surface, we have to attack it at the root as well. The root of sin is found in our heart.

When the Bible refers to the “heart“, it’s not referring to that organ inside of us that’s pumping blood through our body. Rather, it refers to the inner man where our affections, will, and desires reside. The root of sin is found at the heart level, which is where we must battle sin.

We’ve been given incomplete advice.

While the battle against sin must take place in the heart, often times we are directed towards another battlefield and given different battle plans. The battlefield to which we are usually directed is the surface. We are told to deal with the externals rather than the internals of the heart.

For instance, we are told if we have trouble with pornography, we should throw our computers out. If we have a drug addiction, we should flush the drugs down the toilet and forget about them. If we are being influenced by the wrong people, we should move.

At one level, this is not bad advice, it is just not complete. Removing these things from our lives may be a good first step since they provide the time we often need to deal with our heart. But that’s all they are — a good first step.

While dealing with externals is a good first step, we often treat it as if it’s the solution. That’s a problem because it means we are only cutting sin down instead of rooting it out. Even worse, it gives us a false sense of victory, believing we have won, we usually head back to camp to celebrate, while our enemy, our sin, regroups for another attack.

Sin that has been cut down and not rooted out will come back.

You know what is going to happen? Eventually, we will buy another computer, see people from our past, or have to have surgery that requires us to take pain pills during our recovery. If we haven’t dealt with our heart, we are going to fall right back into these same sins. Dealing with the externals only buys us time. The sin we thought we defeated will come back, just like the stickers in the field will come back.

Frustration turns to weariness, then to defeat and acceptance.

When we see the sin we thought we defeated come back over and over again, our frustration will grow. After our frustration reaches the boiling point, we may decide to throw in the towel, giving up the fight because we see no use. We may even catch ourselves saying something like, “That’s just the way God made me.”

Keep fighting but on the battlefield of your heart.

But God didn’t make you that way, nor does He want you to give in and continue in sin. Instead, He wants you to continually wage war against sin in your life, and that war must be waged on the battlefield of the heart.

I’ll talk about how we do battle with sin at the heart level in my next post.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are you a believer?
  2. Are you fighting sin on the battlefield of your heart or on the surface?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon: How Do We Deal with Recurring Sin in Our Lives?

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How Do We Deal with Recurring Sin in Our Lives? – Part 2

In the last post in this series, I provided a few questions from Thomas Watson’s The Godly Man’s Picture that are designed to help you discover your beloved sin. Hopefully, you spent some time with those question, and, hopefully, they either convicted or helped shed light on that which you might have been unaware. Once you have discovered or admitted your beloved sin, the next step is to determine not to hold onto it.

Once you have discovered or admitted your beloved sin, the next step is to determine not to hold onto it.

You Must Determine Not to Hold Onto to Your Beloved Sin

As Christians, we shouldn’t want anything to come between us and God. But that’s exactly what happens when we hold onto sin in our lives. It comes between us and God, stealing our affections away from Him, and hindering our worship and fellowship.

John Owen, another Puritan says,

The unmortified soul [or the one who leaves sin unchecked] cannot say uprightly and truly that God is its portion, having something else that it loves. The soul and its affections, that should be full of God, cannot be full of Him, since it is entangled in worldly pursuits. [1]

As Christians, we can’t hold onto sin. We have to let go of our grip and seek to remove it from our lives.

But how? How do we remove sin from our lives? We have to do battle with it. How do we do that? We answer that question in the next post in this series.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you determined to remove sin from your life no matter the cost or effort?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon: How Do We Deal with Recurring Sin in Our Lives?

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[1]  John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, 23.