Many times in the Christian life, we just want “the answers” don’t we? We just want to be told what to do in order to accomplish the desired goal we have. Well, I completely understand that! I know what it’s like to just want to be told the solution to my problem, and the Bible has everything we need to fully and finally understand what we are called to do in this life, so it follows that knowing the Word will help us know how to live in the world.
What I want to do here is to get extremely practical and offer to strategies for fighting the temptation to sin that we all face.
Before I do that though, I need to say briefly that ultimately, there is only one way to fight sin, and that is by believing the gospel.
What I mean by that is that only when we put our fight against sin inside the framework of how we relate to God in the gospel can we really find victory from sin. When we remove the gospel from our obedience, then many times, our obedience becomes just one more idol in our life, and thus fighting one sin leads to falling into another sin. And in this I write from painful experience after painful experience of trying to fight my sin all on my own, so I want to warn against that. Only by believing the gospel can we truly fight sin. Only as we remember and believe all that is true about us, and all that is true about sin, and all that is true about Christ, can we really fight our sin. How? Well, I will eventually devote more time to explaining this, but in short – we must remember that the gospel is much bigger than we often think.
The gospel is the news that Jesus showed just how devastating sin is. By suffering on the cross, by showing that it takes divine death to conquer sin, Jesus showed us just how harmful our sin really is. When we believe that, we are loath to pursue something that is such an affront to our Savior, but we also want to resist sin because we believe that it will continue to be harmful to us.
The gospel is also the news that Jesus removed the condemnation that we come under when we fail to obey God’s law. Because of this, all that’s left for us in our obedience to God is joy. God says that His commandments aren’t burdensome, and that to obey His word is the most joyful way to live, but that can only be true when our failures (which are many) are covered by the blood of Christ, and counted as righteousness instead.
There are many more ways that the gospel informs our obedience, but I just want to illustrate how important it is for us to keep the gospel at the center of all we do. When we forget the cross, we tend to forget that sin is truly evil and harmful to us. When we forget the cross, we forget that we can’t conquer sin without Christ anyway, and to do so in our own power is to idolize self. And when we forget the cross, we forget that God’s law is good, and that He doesn’t condemn us when we fail, and we are free to pursue His ways without fear of His wrath.
Ok, with that, I want to get really practical. Here are two ways that I’ve personally been helped in my fight against sin. I get these, not from any specific verses in scripture, but instead from my time spent especially in the Psalms and Proverbs.
When you are tempted to sin, what is primarily happening is that we are being tempted to prioritize ourselves and our desires more than anyone else. We are in essence being “us-centered” instead of “God-centered”, and we are saying that we are the worthy objects of our own affections and service. Such self-centered thinking is poisonous, and extremely dangerous, though it seldom looks that way at first. But, we are called in everything we do to serve and honor and obey and love God, and to put Him at the center of our entire lives. Sin is to put ourselves at the center instead, and so when we are tempted to sin, the best way to fight that temptation is to look outside ourselves. Each of these ways to fight temptation then, are both aimed at getting us to look outside of ourselves.
The greatest commandment in scripture is to “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” The second greatest commandment is “to love your neighbor as yourself.” The common way of understanding the relationship between these two commands is that one of the primary ways we show our love for God is by loving others BECAUSE we love God. If this is true, then to serve others is a wonderful way to put God at the center of our lives when we are tempted to sin. When we are fighting anger, or lust, or deceit, or covetousness, one of the easiest ways to win that battle is simply to stop whatever we are doing, and to find some way to serve someone at that very moment. If you are about to lose your temper at one of your children, stop whatever you’re doing, and offer to serve them however you can (this would be different than giving in to them if they are being rebellious). If you are alone in front of a computer screen and tempted to look at wicked images, get up, and go be around people for the purpose of meeting their needs. If you are struggling to find contentment in your bad circumstance, or are envying someone else’s good circumstances, go to that person and serve them.
There have been times where simply getting out and taking a drink to someone at work, or helping my kids with a chore, or calling and asking how someone else is doing, has completely removed that sinful desire I’d had. So, one strategy for fighting our sin -ie- putting ourselves at the center of our universe instead of God – is to serve others.
This probably isn’t one that people would often think of, but it is so helpful in our fight against sin. Again, the temptation to sin is the temptation to make “self” my God, and to put all my hope for happiness and joy and satisfaction on fulfilling whatever desire I may have at the moment.
A key in fighting sin then, is to remove ourselves from that center-place in the house of our heart. One way to do that is to stop whatever we’re doing, and study.
Study what? God of course! Many people in this world hate to “study” about God. They think it removes some of the spirituality from their relationship with Him, but the truth is just the opposite. To study God, to learn the deep truths about him, to seek to know him deeply and fully (though an impossible task), is a sure way to center your vision on him. To study the necessity of Christ being fully human and fully divine in order to procure our salvation, or to understand the nature of the Trinity as the very foundation for all community, or to study the Old Testament just so that you could see the amazing fulfillment of it in Christ…to do those things as a Christian is to increase your vision of God. It is to make him more weighty in your mind and heart.
When you are tempted to sin, remove yourself from that situation and fight that sin with an increasing knowledge of your great God and Savior! Pick up a book that will engage, not only your heart, but your mind also. Think hard about God. Read something heavy, and strive hard to understand. If you are a christian, then to think deeply about the great complexities and many wonders of our God is a sure way to put him in his proper place in your heart!
And it doesn’t have to be a huge “tome” or “systematic theology” (though those are wonderful and would work well!).
There are many good “small books” about the greatness of God, and there are many good devotionals that go deeper than surface level. A good commentary can be great also!
The point is simply that when we are tempted to sin, what we need most at that moment is to see God for the glorious center that he is, and to place him there in our hearts.
These two ways to fight sin are certainly not the only two strategies there are, but they are two that have been helpful to me, and they are thoroughly in line with God’s word on the subject, and I pray that you might find this to be helpful.