One of the writers I like to read is an old Scottish preacher by the name of Thomas Boston. He had a vivid imagination, and in one of his sermons, he pictured the soul and the body of a believer engaging in conversation after they are reunited in the resurrection....
I’m sure your battle against sin is similar to mine: You’ve had ups and downs, with different struggles in different seasons.
Sometimes you feel powerless to change your deeply ingrained sinful thoughts and habits. Other times encountering a truth from Scripture can prove a real game-changer in your outlook toward sin, and you grow.
10 Needed Mind-Shifts for Your Fight for Holiness
Growing in holiness involves taking out the trash of wrong thinking and learning to think with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) by filling our minds with God’s life-giving and holiness-producing truth (John 17:17). Below I share 10 ways of thinking you should adopt for your fight for holiness.
1. Think: “I need to focus on God’s grace” over “I need to focus on stopping my sin.”
If I tell you not to think about all of your past failures, what will you think about? Your past failures. Our focus must not be stopping our sin or failures because the law (simply knowing what you should and shouldn’t do) has no power to free us from the bondage of sin.
But the grace of Christ does. The grace of God teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions and say “yes” to living “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11-12). Instead of focusing on your sin, focus on the beauty and grace of Christ. Then when you begin thinking of sinning, you can rejoice that Christ has freed you from sin’s penalty and power (even if you still feel temptation’s draw).
Your sins have been nailed to the cross. Keep your eyes fixed on the cross and let your joy in grace dwarf the misery of sin.
2. Think: “I need help from God’s people” over “I can do it alone.”
Our culture idolizes personal autonomy and those who single-handedly muscle their way forward in the race of life. In God’s grace, this isn’t how the Christian life works.
In God’s perfect design, he has given us his church as his holy community formed by the gospel. We know God and his love better as we fellowship with one another. We push each other on toward deeper faith and holiness as we encourage one another, confess our sins to each other, and pray for each other. God has given gifted and experienced teachers to build up the body of Christ and lead us to maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Don’t short-circuit God’s design for you in the church by trying to do it on your own—you were never meant to.
3. Think: “I need to please God” over “I need to feel better about myself.”
If your repentance involves repenting just enough to make you feel better, it is not true repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:8-12). God-honoring repentance desires to please him—not merely avoid bad feelings or consequences. Merely trying to feel better about yourself means the root of sin will remain in the ground and will spring up again in the future.
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
4. Think: “I am fully equipped to obey all the time” over “It’s too hard for me.”
If you’ve ever thought that breaking sinful habits is impossible, remember that you don’t have to be a “super Christian” to live in obedience.
- In Christ, God has equipped you with everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). This means you are able to walk in the righteousness God wants of you.
- In Christ, no temptation is too strong for you (1 Corinthians 10:13). This means you always have what it takes to overcome temptation when it comes your way.
This mind-shift won’t mean you’re perfect, but it will remind you of Christ’s power to overcome sin and temptation and keep you from making excuses.
5. Think: “I need to live in obedience” over “I need to have victory.”1
This mind-shift focuses on terminology. The words we use matter and subtly shape our thinking and expectations—which is why we must espouse biblical terminology.
When we describe our battle for holiness as a “victory” or “defeat,” we might be tempted to think our struggle against sin is something external to us; something not in our control. But Scripture describes sin and temptation in terms of “obedience” and “disobedience,” not “victory” or “defeat.”
Don’t soften the weight of sin against a holy God. Take ownership for your sins by calling disobedience what it is.
6. Think: “I need to expose my sin” over “I need to hide my sin.”
Our sinful nature wants to hide our sins to avoid the shame of being found out. God wants the opposite of this: confession of sins—something counter to our sinful nature. Confession brings the darkness of sin into the light and zaps it of its power, bringing healing (James 5:16). Instead of fearing confession, let it remind you of God’s grace given at the cross.
People who truly hate their sin love to confess it, because confession is a God-given channel toward restoration (Psalm 32:1-2; 1 John 1:9).
7. Think: “Put sin to death” over “I’ll just try to stay away from it.”
If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13, emphasis mine)
Putting sin to death is active—something that doesn’t happen on its own. Yet so often in our battles for holiness, we don’t seek to put sin to death, but fool ourselves into thinking our problem will go away. That’s a recipe to fall into the same sin again during a moment of weakness.
Temptations flow from our desires, and merely avoiding them won’t make them go away (James 1:13-14). This may require drastic measures like dropping relationships, changing jobs, or limiting Internet access (depending on your struggles), but you will never regret sacrifices made in pursuing Christ.
We need the attitude that John Owen commended when he said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” This mind-shift comes with a warning: It is impossible without the next.
8. Think: “life in the Spirit” over “life in the flesh.”
We are not empty-handed in our battle against sin. God is actively working in us and giving us power through his Spirit to fight sin and live righteously. Strive for Spirit-dependent lives that fight sin and walk in righteousness. Live in obedience so you don’t grieve the Spirit with your sin or quench the Spirit by missing an opportunity to follow his lead.
Life in the Spirit is incomplete without the Spirit’s sword, the Bible (Ephesians 6:17). Make God’s Word your delight, part of your daily diet, and a weapon for fighting against the flesh and darts of the enemy.2 Heed Jerry Bridges’ warning: “It is hypocritical to pray for victory over our sins and be careless in our intake of the Word of God.”3
9. Think: “Repentance is worship” over “I’m ashamed before God.”
Has your sin ever made you ashamed to seek God? I used to think I needed to clean myself up before approaching God again. The cross frees us from this mindset because Christ has taken our sin upon himself and forgives and cleanses all our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Instead of keeping our distance from God due to shame, preach to yourself that Christ took your shame and punishment on the cross, and remember you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Take joy that in Christ you are forgiven, and see drawing near to God not as something to avoid, but something to run to because repentance is worship that greatly honors the Lord.
10. Think: “Prayer is vital” over “Prayer is optional.”
If ever you have felt powerless to overcome a certain sin on your own, remember all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). To grow in holiness and make progress in the Christian life, we must dedicate ourselves to prayer, pleading for the Lord’s help to resist temptation and shape our desires according to God’s.
One practical way to apply this is by daily praying the Scriptures. The Scriptures are profitable for “teaching,” “reproof,” “correction,” and “for training in righteousness,” and by praying them daily, we echo the prayer of Jesus in John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Only God will know the compounding effect Scripture-soaked prayers will have over a lifetime.