Dealing With Sins That Won’t Go Away: A Two-Pronged Attack
Some sins seem determined to hang around. No matter how many times we think we’ve beat them, they keep coming back. What’s a Christian to do?
In an old Mad TV skit, comedian Bob Newhart plays the role of Dr. Switzer, a discount psychiatrist helping a woman overcome her fear of being buried alive in a box. His advice?
When his patient attempts to explain the rationale behind her problems—her childhood, her mother, her dreams, her horoscope—Dr. Switzer interrupts and reminds her, “No, no, no; we don’t go there. Just stop it.”
“Just stop it” isn’t enough
From an objective point of view, it makes a lot of sense. If you’re running into trouble every time you do X, then the obvious solution is to just stop doing X.
Oh, if only it were that easy.
What most of us discover is that, even though we know it would solve a lot of our problems, “just stop it” is harder to implement than it sounds. We might want to stop—we might have every intention of stopping—but when the critical moment comes, we discover we’re lacking in the willpower department. Instead of stopping, we stumble and give in.
Making things worse
Sin exacerbates the problem. When we develop a sinful habit, we’ve moved beyond doing something unwise and into doing something explicitly forbidden by the Creator of the universe—something guaranteed to make our lives worse. The more we do it, the worse things get.
Paul warns, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and John tells us that “no one who abides in [Jesus Christ] keeps on sinning” (1 John 3:6, English Standard Version). Sin costs us our lives and it cuts us off from a relationship with God (Isaiah 59:2). It’s destructive, it’s painful, and it’s 100 percent fatal.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always make stopping any easier.
A two-pronged attack
So what do we do? If continuing in sin isn’t an option, but “just stopping” is not effective, what can we do?
When it comes to overcoming sin, the Bible provides us with two powerful steps designed to give us an edge against otherwise unstoppable habits.
If we’re willing to seek God out, to come before Him in prayer and study, we’ll receive the spiritual weapons we need to make victory possible.1. Draw strength from God
When a habitual sin digs its claws into our lives, breaking free can seem almost impossible—but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We might not have the strength to break free on our own, but then, we were never really intended to face it on our own. Paul remarks, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Why is that?
He later writes, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
In short: God provides us what we need to win the battles we face.
We’re not given any promise that it’s going to be easy. We’re not told that this doesn’t require any effort from us. But we are told that if we’re willing to seek God out, to come before Him in prayer and study, we’ll receive the spiritual weapons we need to make victory possible.
Homework for step one: Read up on the “Armor of God”—spiritual weapons designed to give us the advantage in our battles against sin. But remember, knowing about these weapons alone won’t help us defeat our sins. We have to use them.
2. Don’t settle for breaking even
As hard as it is to overcome a sin, ensuring it never comes back can be even harder. Every veteran of spiritual warfare knows how easy it is for a “defeated” sin to lie dormant for months or years, only to revive and rear its ugly head when we least expect it.
Overcoming sin isn’t the end of the journey. If we stop there—if our goal is only to eradicate a sin—then all we’ve done is created an empty void in our life. Until we replace that sin with something better, we’ve left an opening for something just as bad to walk right in.
Here’s what Paul wrote: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).
It’s not enough to stop stealing. We have to go one step farther and replace stealing with something godly—in this case, honest labor and a giving heart. Not only does this bring us into a closer relationship with our Creator, but replacing sins with their godly opposites makes it that much harder for an old sin to regain a place in our lives.
The biblical Feast of Unleavened Bread teaches us this lesson. Every year, God commands His people to remove leavened bread (which pictures sin) and replace it with unleavened bread (which pictures righteous attitudes and actions). To learn more about the Christian symbolism of this festival, read “The Feast of Unleavened Bread” or watch “Unleavened Bread: What to Do About Sin.”
Homework for step two: Make a list of the habitual sins you struggle with. Brainstorm their godly opposites (for example, the opposite of stealing is giving, the opposite of coveting is being thankful for what you have). Then, starting today, begin to work those opposing godly actions into your life. The more you make an effort to push what’s good into your life, the more you’ll naturally push out what’s bad.
Putting it into action
To recap: Overcoming sin requires more than a desire to “just stop it.” To really defeat sin, we need God’s help. He gives us strength when we’re weak and equips us to fight battles we’d otherwise lose. Get serious about your fight against sin by asking God for the right spiritual equipment to get the job done, and then immediately start replacing your sins with godly alternatives.
With these two strategies, you’re now equipped to do battle against the hardiest of sins and emerge victorious. It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to require a lot from you and it certainly won’t happen overnight, but with God’s help, you can do this.
Take up your armor and fight.
To go another level deeper, read: