Overcoming sin―changing―should not be left to chance. A definite plan is needed. What steps can we take to ensure success?
God has called Christians to a life of change. Peter summarized it this way in Acts 3:19: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”
Both “repent” and “be converted” are translated from Greek words that involve change. Repent is translated from the Greek metanoeo, which is defined as “change one’s mind” (Frederick William Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature). “Be converted” is from the Greek epistrepho, defined as “to change direction” (ibid.).
Any major project, whether building an office building, taking an extended trip or having a wedding, requires planning. Any task worth doing is worth devoting meaningful thought and preparation to.
Christian conversion―overcoming sin―is no different.
Here are seven tried and tested steps that, if used, will help us in overcoming sin.
Step 1: We must want to overcome
This sounds simple. However, too many people fail to change because they really don’t want to expend the time and effort necessary to make the changes they need to make. We will tell ourselves, “I want to overcome this problem.” But then we will not do what is necessary to overcome.
Most of us realize that we will always find time to do the things we really want to do. If there is something we really want to do, we generally don’t let anything stand in the way of our doing it.
However, it is also natural to keep putting off those things we really don’t want to do.
So why don’t we overcome those harmful habits, wrong words and evil thoughts that so easily beset us? We must ask ourselves, “Do I really want to overcome them?” How much effort and planning have we put into making the changes we need to make?
Changing old habits―ways of doing things, ways of thinking and speaking—is not easy. Sometimes such changes are literally painful (especially if there is a physical addiction to overcome). And changing any old habit of thought, word or deed is not easy because the change takes us out of our comfort zone. Old ways of doing things are comfortable. We follow those ways automatically. To change will require constant alertness, effort and a willingness to face the discomfort of change.
Therefore, the first step is to determine that we really want to change badly enough to expend the needed time, effort and planning. We will never follow the rest of these steps unless we really want to change.
Step 2: Clearly identify the sins we need to overcome
To honestly search for and see our own sins is unpleasant. Why? No correction is pleasant (Hebrews 12:11). Even self-correction is unpleasant. However, self-correction is less painful than being corrected by someone else. We don’t like to see the areas of our lives that need change. It is painful to see our failings. But, if we are going to change, we must be committed to finding and facing our faults.
To understand how painful this is, ask yourself, “When was the last time I asked my mate or anyone to show me a fault I need to change?” The answer in the majority of cases will be, “Never!” We don’t even like to ask ourselves. But we must, because self-examination is something a Christian is instructed to do (2 Corinthians 13:5).
In prayer we can seek God’s help to see where we need to change. We find such a prayer in Jeremiah 10:23-24: “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. O LORD, correct me, but with justice; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.”
If we ask God to show us our sins, He will. But be prepared to see them. Seeing our sins will be painful. If we don’t remember that we asked God to help us see them, we may try to forget what we see instead of learning from them and seeking to implement the steps for overcoming those sins.
Identifying sin in ourselves is more than just identifying wrong thoughts, words and deeds. We must also identify the cause of sin. Why did we think, say or do what we did? The reason will most often be some form of selfishness or lust (see 1 John 2:15-16).
Unless we work on overcoming the cause of our sins, we will keep repeating them. If we just stop the outward “show” of sin without changing the underlying reason, our sin will not be fully overcome.
To completely overcome sin we must be seeking to honestly see what the sin is and its cause, and be truly committed to overcoming both the sin and the cause.
Step 3: Study to learn what should replace the cause of sin
For every sin of selfishness or lust, there is a way of righteous love that should be put in its place. Once we have seen the cause of our sins, we must seek to learn the way of righteousness that needs to replace it.
The way of righteousness needs to become what we truly are. This involves studying God’s Word―the Bible―seeking to learn and understand the spirit of God’s laws. The letter of the law reveals what we are to do. But it is possible to outwardly do what is right with a wrong attitude. It is the spirit of God’s law that reveals how we are to think as well as conduct ourselves.
Jesus revealed this principle in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Every sin that we commit has some cause―some aspect of selfishness or lust. In order to overcome the cause of sin, we need to learn how God wants us to be. This involves learning God’s way of love as revealed by the spirit of His laws. Paul expressed this in simple terms in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Once we know how God wants us to think and conduct ourselves, we can proceed to the next step.
Step 4: Meditate on living by what God says is right
Knowledge is useless unless we understand how to apply it. Too often having knowledge of God’s way of living does not transfer to our daily living. Meditation—taking sufficient time to deeply think about a specific incident or concept—is an important tool in learning how to actually use the knowledge we learn from our study of God’s Word.
Every sin we commit is triggered by something we encounter in our daily lives. We may be late for an appointment. As a result, we get impatient with others if anything happens to further delay us.
Every sin is triggered by some occurrence in our daily lives to which we did not respond in a right manner. In step 2 we should have identified the cause of our sins. As we identify the cause, we should also be taking note of what triggered the sinful response.
Meditation helps us to mentally practice putting the right response in place before we are faced by the triggering situation. In our personal time of quiet reflection we can meditate on what we should do when we see or sense a situation may lead to a wrong response. We can call this mentally practicing righteousness. Or, as Paul said in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, … noble, … just, … pure, … lovely, … of good report, if there is any virtue and … anything praiseworthy―meditate on these things.”
If we are truly committed to changing, if we really want to overcome these sins, God through His Spirit will spark the right thoughts in our minds if we are asking Him to do so. God wants us to change. He will help.This kind of meditation helps prepare our minds for responding righteously when we should. For further study on this tool for spiritual growth, see the article “What Is Meditation?”
Step 5: Pray for God’s help to remember the right response
For each of us, it seems that there is some sin that “easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1). These are sins that we should be working on overcoming first. We should daily ask God in prayer to help us. We need to ask Him to help us remember to have the righteous response come to our minds when the trigger situations arise.
If we are truly committed to changing, if we really want to overcome these sins, God through His Spirit will spark the right thoughts in our minds if we are asking Him to do so. God wants us to change. He will help. One way we draw closer to God is by seeking to live righteously. God has promised to draw near to us if we draw near to Him (James 4:8).
But to draw close to God, we need to be committed to living His way of life and praying for His help. To learn more about prayer, see the articles in the section “How to Pray.”
Step 6: Begin living the right way
Right habits take time to build. They will not be built if we do not replace our old habits with new, godly ways of living. We have to implement what we have learned to actually change the way we live.
God offers us His power through His Spirit to help. That power will grow in us. And the ability to use that power will grow as we use it to live rightly. Paul reassures us: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Once we begin to practice righteousness, we must continue with step 7.
Step 7: Don’t give up
We may not use the right response the first time it is needed. However, if the right response came to mind (even after the fact) that was progress. We need to keep seeking God’s help. If we continue to strive to live rightly, we will begin responding sooner. Eventually we will begin responding correctly as our first response. The sin will be replaced with righteousness. Evil will be overcome with good.
These steps have been used and proven to work. But they will only work if we really want to use them. Learn more about the process of change in our free booklet Change Your Life!