A Three-Step Strategy for Fighting Sin

As you come to know God better, you will become more aware of your sin.

Suppose you go to the movies. While you are watching the film, you work your way through a bucket of popcorn drizzled with melted butter. When you come out, you realize that there are butter stains on your shirt. You didn’t see that in the theater because it was dark there. But when you come into the light, you see it.

Similarly, when you come into God’s light, you will see sin that you did not see before. And you will want to fight it.

The following is a three-step strategy for fighting sin and prevailing over it in your Christian life.

1. Know it.

When you become a Christian, the guilt of your sin is forgiven as you are covered by the shed blood of Jesus. The condemnation that would have come upon you is removed because Christ bore your punishment on the cross.

The reign of sin in your life is broken. You are no longer sin’s prisoner; you are now under grace. But the root of sin remains in the life of a Christian believer, and that is why the Christian life is always a struggle:

The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other. (Galatians 5:16)

Our flesh is drawn to sin. Christian writers sometimes refer to this as “indwelling sin,” the impulse to sin that remains active in your flesh throughout your Christian life. Indwelling sin means you have a battle on your hands. But if you are going to engage effectively in the battle against sin, you have to know where to fight.

How does God reveal your indwelling sins, so you can battle against them? Through his Word: “The entrance of your Word gives light” (Psalm 119:130). Use the Bible as a tool for self examination. When you read the Bible one question to ask is, “Is there a sin to avoid?”

Try to see if there if what you are reading points to a sin that could be lurking in your life.

The first priority in turning from sin is that you should know it. The entrance of God’s Word gives light. Once you know what you are up against, you will be able to make progress.

2. Stalk it.

Once you have identified an area of sin you need to deal with, start watching for its movements. Suppose we are stalking pride or lust or laziness or unbelief. Ask, When am I most vulnerable to these sins? In what ways do I see them being expressed?

Ask envy what it aims at. Murder and destruction are its natural conclusion. Set yourself against it as if it had already surrounded you in wickedness. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could. Every covetous desire would be oppression, and every unbelieving thought would be atheism.[1]

Stalking sin is how you move from knowing your sin to killing your sin. It means getting to a position where you can see sin’s movement so you can take action against it.

If you have become aware of a particular area of sin in your life and you do not move in on it, then it will grow. Sin is a power. It has life and vigor in it. You have to track it down and deal with it, or it will destroy you.

Imagine living in a primitive jungle village. One day, you hear that a huge leopard has come into the village and killed one of the children. So you take your spear, and you move out from the village to go hunt the leopard. You look for signs of the leopard’s presence. You walk slowly, because you know that while you are stalking the leopard, the leopard is stalking you.

That’s how it is with sin. You are stalking sin, and sin is stalking you. What sin might be stalking you at this point in your life?

3. Kill it.

Always be killing sin or it will be killing you. (John Owen)

The clearest Scripture on this subject is Romans 8:13: If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if, by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”

Put to death the misdeeds of the body. That’s what the word “mortification” means. John Owen says that mortification consists in three things:

  • A habitual weakening of sin. Every time you say “no” to the flesh, you weaken its power.
  • Constant fighting and contending against sin. Don’t expect an end to your struggle with sin in this life. Sin’s root remains in us. You will always be fighting.
  • Frequent success. “Sin’s activity and actions are fewer and weaker than before and sin is not able to hinder man’s duty nor interrupt his peace.”[2]

Notice this is the work God calls you to do. But you do it by the Spirit who lives in you: “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.”

Owen lists six ways in which the Spirit is at work in the mortification of sin. The Holy Spirit:

  • Convinces your heart of the sin to be mortified
  • Reveals the provision of Christ for your relief
  • Establishes your heart in the expectation of relief from Christ
  • Brings the cross of Christ into your heart with its sin-killing power
  • Begins and will complete your sanctification
  • Supports all your soul’s prayers to God

The mark of a true Christian is that he or she is fighting against sin. The Christian has many failures along the way, but this is the path on which he or she walks. God is telling you today that you can do this, by the Spirit who lives within you.

There is a Redeemer, Jesus God’s own Son

Precious lamb of God Messiah, Holy One

Thank you, O my Father, for giving us your Son

And leaving your Spirit till the work on earth is done.[3]

[This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon “Turning from as Much as You Know of Your Sin.” [1] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, pg. 86. [2] Ibid., pg. 38. [3] Keith Green, “There Is A Redeemer,” 1969.]

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Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Date Posted: Oct 9th, 2017