Strategies abound for dealing with sin.
There are mountains of books to help us develop habits to stop lying, beat various addictions, control our thoughts, grow in generosity, or develop contentedness. A quick Google search will reveal list upon list of verses about sexual purity, anger, worry, unbelief, idolatry, business ethics—any area you can think of where Christians struggle to live the way God call us to live.
By all means, read the books and memorize the verses. Many of them have been extremely helpful to large numbers of people. Bad habits do indeed need to be replaced with good ones. I’m not anti-strategy.
What we need to recognize, however, is that all these books and verses, and any other helpful tools, are just that—tools. They are not a cure. You will not suddenly cease to be tempted by porn just because you read Every Man’s Battle. You can memorize every verse in the Bible about financial responsibility and still be addicted to gambling. And those struggling with homosexuality cannot just “pray the gay away.”
Ultimately, focusing on sin will not rid you of it. It is Jesus Christ who saves, not books, tools, or strategies. No matter how deeply you understand the nature of your sin, you cannot rescue yourself from its power.
Jesus Changes Lives
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus changes lives. It’s a statement of unbelief to say you can’t stop or that you can’t change. It’s true that you can’t change yourself. But “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As new creations, we’re not to manage our sin, but to cease from it: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). We don’t focus on our sin as if we can defeat it through the right strategic approach. Instead, we focus on the One who has already done all that is necessary for its defeat and our redemption.
Jesus isn’t satisfied with simply eradicating this or that particular sin—he demands our whole lives. He didn’t die and rise from the dead just to save you from pornography or gambling or your bad temper. It is too easy for us to think and act as if a homosexual would be just fine if only they were straight, but that isn’t what the Bible says. Sin runs deeper than mere actions. All mankind is opposed to God and needs the redeeming power of the blood of Christ and his reconciling peace.
Love Motivates Holiness
Christian, know what you are forgiven for, but most of all love the One who forgives you. The Bible tells us we have forgiveness of sin through him. Jesus said whoever has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). We need to be aware of our sin, but not for its own sake; instead, awareness of sin drives us to repentance, to holiness, and to love the One who forgave us:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)
…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1b-2, NASB)
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
The Goal Is Jesus
If you are focused on your sin, you will run as one being chased. You will always be looking over your shoulder, and you may be overtaken. To win the race, focus on the goal—but the goal isn’t defeating your sin. The goal is Jesus Christ, who has already defeated it.
So cast yourself upon Jesus. Be conscious and deliberate about following and worshipping him in all things. Ask for his help. Pray without ceasing. Pursue him wholeheartedly in everything you do, for it is he, not you, who conquers sin.