Overcoming Habitual Sin

All sin condemns us before God. James wrote, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (2:10-11). The Calvinist doctrine of the “Continual Cleansing” denies the force of this passages. Those with Calvinist leanings say that a single act of sin will not condemn us, only habitual sin will. But James points out that we will stand before God as either guilty of sin, or pronounced righteous by the mercy of God. This principle is recognized by every court system on earth. If one is found guilty of stealing, he will not successfully argue for his freedom because he has never committed arson, murder, or assault. The criminal stands before the court as innocent or guilty. We will stand before God as having all our sins forgiven or as “a transgressor of the law.” There is no middle ground. A single act of unforgiven sin brings condemnation.

Sin is usually connected with some type of pleasure (Tit. 3:3; Heb. 11:25), if such were not the case there would be no basis for temptation. Satan uses our weaknesses to entice us to sin, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jms. 1:14). The word translated “enticed” is deleazo, which means “to lure by a bait” (W. E. Vine). The first time we succumb to temptation the easier it is to give in thereafter. Before we know it, sin becomes habitual. Jesus recognized this when He said, ”Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin’“ (Jn. 8:34). The verb “commits” is present, active which describes one who continues in sin. Being a slave of sin does not mean that it is impossible to break away (Col. 3:5-7), but the task is much more difficult. There are things we can do to overcome habitual sin.

Repent and pray for forgiveness. This is what Peter told Simon to do (Acts 8:22), and it is essential whether we’ve committed a single act of sin or are involved in habitual sin. Every time a Christian does this in sincerity of heart his sins are forgiven.

The word “repent” is often misunderstood. Strong defines it this way: “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction)” (#3340). Strictly speaking repentance is a change of mind. There are other things that accompany repentance. Godly sorrow is not repentance, but precedes it: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Many feel “the sorrow of the world.” They are sorry for the consequences of their sin, but not for the offense that they have caused God or others. Their repentance is not valid because it is not accompanied by godly sorrow. Repentance is also not reformation of life. Changing the way we live is necessary after we repent (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20), but a changed life alone does not indicate repentance. If one converts to Mormonism, he may change from a life of immorality to one that is morally upright. Yet, he would still stand opposed to God. God does not accept partial repentance. To repent is to make our thinking come in line with God’s in all things.

Peter also told Simon to “pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). While God knows what we need before we ask (Matt. 6:8), He still wants us to communicate that need to Him. And the greatest need man has is forgiveness.

Confess your sins. The N.T. speaks of two areas where confession is essential. First, we must confess our faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:37). This is something Christians should do throughout our walk on this earth.

Second, we are to confess our sins. In the case of public sin, public confession is necessary: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jms. 5:16). The word confess (exomologeo) means “of a public acknowledgment or confession of sins” (Vine). Too often, men who commit public sins want their repentance and confession to be private. And, too many brethren are willing to assume that repentance has taken place when there may be little outward evidence of such. The problem with these views is that they ignore the command for public confession.

But the Scriptures also teach us that we are to confess our sins to God. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9). Here the word confess (homologeo) means, “to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction” (Vine). To acknowledge our sins to God is to recognize our reliance upon His grace and mercy and acts as a reminder that God does not overlook sin (Hab. 1:13; Acts 17:30).

Study what the Bible says about the things that tempt you. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The reason two-thirds of the Bible is corrective is that God knows that man gives in to temptation easily. If we choose not to study we are rejecting God’s correction.

We are far less likely to sin if we have a clear understanding of the Bibles teaching concerning those things that tempt us. Strength to overcome temptation comes from God’s word: “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.” (Ps. 1:1-3). Those tempted by alcohol should have a clear understanding of passages like Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 5:18-20, etc. Those addicted to sexual immorality need to see the physical, spiritual, and emotional damage that they do to themselves and others by studying Prov. 5:3-14; 7:1-27; 1 Cor. 6:15-20, etc. Remind yourself often (2 Pet. 1:12-15).

Avoid tempting situations. Jesus clearly taught, “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt. 6:13). Notice that He did not say, “and do not lead us into sin,” but “into temptation.” Sin is less likely to occur where there is no temptation. James describes the connection between temptation and sin: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (1:14-15). Satan (the tempter, 1 Thess. 3:5) entices us through our weaknesses, but he has no power over us beyond what we allow him (Jn. 13:2, 27; Acts 5:3).

One of our greatest temptations is to flirt with temptation. We know that we must avoid sin, yet we are drawn by its pleasures. Jesus warned against allowing our minds to dwell on sin (Matt. 5:21-48). And James tells us that doing so makes us double-minded: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (4:7-10).

Turn to your brethren for support. “No man is an island,” according to the old saying. And it’s true! We often need encouragement to remain faithful: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:12-13). Those that are mature in the faith have the responsibility of helping and encouraging those struggling with sin (Gal. 6:1-2; 1 Thess. 5:14).

Remember, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jms. 1:12).

By Dan Gatlin

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