“For 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.”
“Be Killing Sin or Sin Will Be Killing You…” John Owen
There is, waging in us, and all around us, a battle for the righteousness of God. When you are made alive in Christ by faith, the Holy Spirit works to produce in you holiness. The indwelling, abiding presence of God casts out sin, purifies your heart, renews your mind, ultimately to conform you to the image of Christ.
Through Christ, we know that sin has been defeated and death has been conquered. His cross stands to remind us that the guilt and shame has been atoned for by His sacrifice; His empty tomb confirms our hope and faith that by faith if we have shared in a death like His, we will also share in a life like His – eternal, holy, and glorifying God.
This is the power of God at work for you, in you, and to His glory.
At the same time, there is a call to daily take up your cross (Matt 16:24), to die to yourself and live for Christ (Gal 2:19), to cast off the old manner of living and put on the new life (Col 3:9-10), to lay aside the sin that clings so closely and run with endurance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1). How do we join in this battle, how do we begin to mortify sin? Here are a few thoughts.
Seek Daily God’s Grace
It is crucial to remember that you do not naturally possess the weapons required to overcome sin in your life. To try to fight sin on your own is to fall back on the same moralism and self-righteousness from which Christ has delivered us. Only Christ has conquered sin, and only by trusting in Him and abiding in the power of His Spirit will we ever share in that victory. The only tools we have to fight sin is the armor Christ gives us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, which is word of God – and prayer (Gal 6:14-18).
Pray, then, that God will show you your sin, and teach you to hate your sin more and more. Hold that sin, whatever it might be that tempts you and leads you astray, hold that sin beside the cross, the symbol of His suffering and death, and realize that it is precisely that sin that put Him there. Pray that, by God’s grace, you may come more and more to despise your sin and to love your Christ.
Recognize the Pervasiveness of Sin
The hard core fact is sin is everywhere. It is easy, sitting there with a log in your eye, to point out the specks in the eyes of those around you. The temptation, when you begin to fight against sin, is to treat your growth in sanctification as a checklist of personal accomplishment, Kicked that Sin, What’s Next!?!
Paul opens his letter to the Romans with an indictment against the sins of the Gentiles – and the list is exhaustive. It includes everything from sexual immorality to disobedience to your parents. You get to the end of the list, and you might think to yourself, “I’m glad he’s not talking about me.”
Then Romans 2 begins, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same thing.” The war against sin should always be fought in humility and grace – or as we read in 1 Cor 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
The only reason we even join the fight against sin is because we have first been forgiven. The forgiveness that we have in Christ is the key that liberates us from bondage to sin, the fatal blow to our old enemy. That forgiveness is our starting point, our rallying cry. Because we have forgiveness in Christ, we are to forgive others (Eph 4:32). In fact, Jesus taught us in the sermon on the mount, that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:15). If you want to rob yourself of the triumphant power over sin, hold on to your bitterness toward those who have hurt you.
Foster an Affection for Christ
It is never enough to simply put sin to death, to leave the old way behind. Unless the old affinity to sin is replaced with a new affection for Christ, you will only resurrect those old sins, or find new ones to chase after. I’m reminded of this every Lenten Season: Don’t just give up, put on the new life.
Leave behind the sins that offer pleasure but leave you empty: cling to Christ who brings eternal delight. Leave behind the sins that bring momentary happiness; cling to Christ who is the source of everlasting joy. Leave behind the sugar coated nothings of sin, feast at the table of Christ’s Kingdom where your cup overflows.