“You can’t stop birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your hair.” – Martin Luther
I occasionally hear professing Christians ask (with a helpless sounding voice), “Why won’t God take this desire away from me so I’ll stop sinning?” These are people who say they truly desire to be free from their sexual sin, substance abuse, gluttony, materialism, love for the world, etc. Again they ask, “Why do I keep sinning?” According to Scripture, the answer is simple — because they keep choosing to disobey God. Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.”
We humans are really very smart creatures. We are also very predictable. Our actions show our priorities. We have a conscience to know right from wrong and while we attempt to do good, we also are willing do wrong in spite of the fact that we know better. We also have the pathetic ability to justify our sinful choices with excuses that make us feel sorry for ourselves. While some do have legitimate trauma to overcome, most of us know that our sin is simply a pathetic choice to give in to our fleshly desires for a moment or two of comfort and pleasure.
Who’s the culprit?
Why do there remain those few pet sins — those few areas we just can’t get a hold of? Here are some questions I’ve found helpful to identify the culprit of our sinful actions:
- With what and with whom do you surround yourself?
- Are your friends helping you or hurting you when it comes to living right for Jesus?
- How do you spend your free time?
- What do you find yourself thinking about when your mind is free to wander?
- Do you find yourself making excuses for your sinful actions and then feeling sorry for yourself?
Listen to what the Bible says: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16). It’s pretty clear: If you love the world and the things of the world, God’s love is not in you.
Is your heart set on worldly things? Do you find yourself longing after things you see and don’t have? Are you financially discontent? Do you notice yourself overly concerned about the way you look? Do you need to feel important in the eyes of all your friends and family? Are you preoccupied with a desire for pre-marital sex or adultery? If your thoughts often fall into one or more of these categories, you may have found your enemy. Jeremiah reveals, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), and Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt. 15:19-20). Could the problem lie within your own heart? Only you know the answer to that question, but we all can be sure that an unredeemed heart will produce all these things in abundance.
I want to go out on a limb here and say that we all would do well at this point to put our pride in check and examine our hearts carefully. I was just reading a book called Alarm to the Unconverted by Joseph Alleine. I was up last night, pleading with the Lord to search and try my heart and bring to mind all the filth and grime that remains, that I might surrender myself still further to the mercy and transforming power of Jesus Christ. The self-deceived hypocrite is in the worst state of all. He thinks all is well between him and his God (so he sees no need to change or examine himself), when in fact, all is not well. Please, hear my earnest plea for your precious soul. Ask the Lord to do a thorough work of exposing the inner desires and intentions of your heart. Ask him to awaken your conscience and remind you of all the dominating loves and lusts within. This is the first and necessary step toward finding victory over your sin.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
This popular saying has helped me not worry about things that don’t matter, like spilled milk. But when it comes to transgressing God’s Law, we ought to sweat heavily.
When Jesus was in the garden He sweat great drops of blood. He was in agony, tormented by the choice he had to make between doing His own will or His father’s will. He knew that to obey God would bring Him great difficulty — physically and emotionally. He said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done… If by any means this cup can pass from me, let it be, BUT — not my will but Thy will be done.” Jesus knew the great cost of obedience, and paid it. His only choice as the Son of God was to obey.
Falling vs. Diving
When someone says they have fallen into a serious sin like having an affair (adultery), they didn’t just fall, they dove. They continually worked and nursed their sin until it became fully grown. Think about it. If you commit sexual sin (any sex outside of marriage), you have made dozens of intentional, wrong decisions to get yourself there. The first phone call. The lustful imaginations. The choice of how you dress, how you act, and what you say. With each one of these and following choices, you must actively deny your conscience (God’s Law written on your heart), ignore God’s Word, and insist on pursuing what you know is wrong. That is why the Bible says that we will all be “without excuse” on the Day we stand “before the eyes of Him with whom we must give account.” The Bible says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). This is why “adulterers … shall [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” The difference between a true believer and a false one is that a true convert falls into sin, while a false one dives. Do you ever plan to sin? Do you ever think of ways to get away with that which you know is wrong in God’s eyes? If so, you should be concerned about the genuineness of your conversion.
Yes, the true Christian will occasionally fall into sin, but how pathetic is that fall! For the Christian to dive into sin, is as wicked and disgraceful as a pardoned murderer allowing himself to be enticed back into his life of crime. Christ died for us. The call of the Christian life is to die to ourselves and crucify the flesh with its ungodly desires.
Jesus has broken the chains that once bound you to sin, but have you walked right back into your comfortable prison and put them back on because you like the way they make you feel? None of us have an excuse when we willingly give in to our favorite sins. Scripture describes the religious hypocrite as a “dog [that] returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” So the unregenerate will return to his familiar sins and lie down to enjoy the pleasure of his transgressions.
God is not slack in providing a way out of your sins. He is not holding back the answer to you who are still enslaved to your old nature. God is willing if you are willing. He says, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” You must get desperately honest with yourself. I must get honest with myself. God has given us a mirror to see ourselves in truth and we must look into it. So look intently at the Commandments, and then confess and forsake your sin completely. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Choose you this day whom you will serve. God is loving, forgiving, compassionate, redeeming, and all-powerful. But you must choose “whom” you will serve. No excuses, no self-pity parties: only surrender. We must once and for all let go of the deceptive pleasures of our sin and cling to the cross for mercy and a new heart that only God can give. God gives strength in abundance to those who repent and trust in him.
Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If you want to stop sinning, YOU need to stop. God gives you the strength, but YOU do the stopping. If you struggle with alcohol, don’t check out the specials at the liquor store. If you struggle with over-eating, don’t drive into McDonald’s for the “Big and Tasty.” Replace your belly’s lusts with a love for honoring God with your body. If pornography is your problem, stop your monthly subscription to the filthy publications and don’t visit those Web sites. It sounds simple because it is. But before conversion, a man (or woman) is a slave to sin, unable to bridle the lust of the flesh, but after true conversion, he is not longer a slave to sin (because he has willingly crucified the flesh) and is a new creature, a servant of righteousness.
Copyright 2007 The Way of the Master. All rights reserved.