How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?
Question: "How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?"
The Bible talks about the following resources that we have to overcome our sinfulness:
(1) The Holy Spirit - One gift that God has given us (His church) to be victorious in Christian living is the Holy Spirit. God contrasts the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-25. In that passage we are called upon to walk in the Spirit. "All believers already possess the Holy Spirit, but this passage tells us that we need to walk in the Spirit, yielding to His control. This means choosing to put "shoe leather" to the Holy Spirit's promptings in our lives rather than following the flesh.
The difference that the Holy Spirit can make in a believer's life is demonstrated in the life of Peter, who before being filled with the Holy Spirit denied Jesus three times, and this after he had said he would follow Christ to the death. After being filled, he spoke openly and strongly to the Jews at Pentecost of the Savior.
One walks in the Spirit as he tries not to "put a lid" on the Spirit's promptings ("quenching the Spirit" as spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 5:19) and seeks instead to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21). How is one filled with the Holy Spirit? First of all, it is of God's choosing even as it was in the Old Testament. He selected individuals and specific incidents in the Old Testament to fill individuals He chose to accomplish a work that He wanted done (Genesis 41:38; Exodus 31:3; Numbers 24:2; 1 Samuel 10:10; etc.) I believe that there is evidence in Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:16 that God chooses to fill those who are filling themselves with the Word of God as evidenced by the fact the the result of each filling in those verses is similar. Thus, that brings us to our next resource.
(2) The Word of God, the Bible - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that God has given us His Word to equip us for every good work. It teaches us how to live and what to believe, it reveals to us when we have chosen wrong paths to take, it helps us get back on the right path, and helps us to stay on that path. As Heb. 4:12 shares, it is living and powerful and is able to penetrate to our hearts to root out the deepest of problems that humanly speaking cannot be overcome. The psalmist talks about its life-changing power in Psalm 119:9,11,105 and other verses. Joshua was told that the key to his success in overcoming his enemies (an analogy to our spiritual battle) was to not forget this resource but rather to meditate on it day and night so that he could observe it. This he did, even when what God commanded him did not make military sense, and this was the key to his victory in His battle for the Promised Land.
This resource is commonly one that we treat in a trivial fashion. We give token service to it by carrying our Bibles to church or reading a daily devotional or a chapter a day, but we fail to memorize it, meditate on it, looking for application in our lives, confessing sins it reveals, praising God for the gifts it reveals He has given us. We are often either anorexic or bulimic when it comes to the Bible. We either intake just enough to keep us alive spiritually by eating from the Word just when we go to church (but never ingesting enough to be healthy, thriving Christians) or we come to feed often but never meditating on it long enough to get spiritual nutrition from it.
It is important that if you have not made a habit of studying God's Word on a daily basis in a meaningful way, and of memorizing it as you come across passages the Holy Spirit impresses upon your heart, that you begin making a habit of it. I also suggest you start a journal (either on computer if you type faster than you write) or in a spiral bound notebook, etc. Make it a habit to not leave the Word until you have written down something you gained from it. I often record prayers to God asking Him to help me change in the areas that He has spoken to me about as well. The Bible is the tool that the Spirit uses in our lives and others' lives (Ephesians 6:17), an essential and major part of the armor that God gives us to fight our spiritual battles (Ephesians 6:12-18)!
(3) Prayer - This is another essential resource that God has given. Again, it is a resource that Christians often give lip service to but make poor use of. We have prayer meetings, times of prayer, etc., but we do not find the use of it that the early church gives examples of (Acts 3:1; 4:31; 6:4;13:1-3, etc.). Paul repeatedly mentions how he prayed for those he ministered to. Nor do we, when we are by ourselves, use this great resource that is available to us. But God has given us wonderful promises concerning prayer (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 18:1-8; John 6:23-27; 1 John 5:14-15, etc.). And again, Paul includes it in his passage on preparing for spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:18)!
How important is it? When you look again at Peter, you have Christ's words to him in the Garden of Gethsemane before Peter's denial. There, as Jesus is praying, Peter is sleeping. Jesus wakes him up and says, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). You, like Peter, want to do what is right but are not finding the strength. We need to follow God's admonition to keep seeking, keep knocking, keep asking...and He will give us the strength that we need (Matthew 7:7f.). But we need to give more than simple lip service to this resource.
I am not saying that prayer is magical. It is not. God is awesome. Prayer is simply acknowledging our own limitations and God's inexhaustible power and turning to Him for that strength to do what HE wants us to do (not what WE want to do) (1 John 5:14-15).
(4) The Church - This last resource is again one that we tend to ignore. When Jesus sent His disciples out, He sent them out two by two (Matthew 10:1). When we read about the missionary journeys in Acts, they did not go out one at a time, but in groups of two or more. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst (Matthew 18:20). He commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as was the manner of some but to use that time for encouraging one another in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). He tells us to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16). In the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, we are told that as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (Proverbs 27:17) "A threefold cord is not easily broken." There is strength in numbers (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).
Some that I know have found brothers in Christ or sisters in Christ (if you are a female) who get together by phone or in person and share how they are doing in their Christian walk, how they may have struggled, etc. and commit to pray for each other and hold each other accountable in applying God's Word to their relationships, etc.
Sometimes change comes quickly. Sometimes, in other areas, it comes more slowly. But God has promised us that as we make use of His resources, He WILL bring about change in our lives. Persevere knowing that He is faithful to His promises!
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Questions about the Christian Life
How can I overcome sin in my Christian life?