Overcoming Habitual Sins
With an intense social stigma attached, some sins are easier to avoid because of our innate fear of exposure and shame. Other sins may have immediate, obvious consequences which taint their allure. Furthermore, some sins grossly injure or mistreat others such that even a mildly sympathetic soul recoils in disdain. However, other sins may appear to have no immediate or repugnant repercussions, which may make them more difficult to resist. Consequently, sins which appear to have neither victims, personal consequences, nor danger of exposure and which are inherently enticing are extremely difficult to overcome. Moreover, succumbing to such sins creates an appetite, which makes it harder to resist next time. Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to get sucked into a vicious downward spiral of sin, which creates a powerful desire, familiar habit, guilt-riddled conscience, and a snared soul. Was this God’s intention, that His children would be ruled and enslaved by such sins? God forbid (Romans 6:2, 12-19)!
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. (James 4:7-8)
For those desperately struggling with habitual sins and for those helping them, the following comprehensive steps, tips, and strategies will be covered in this detailed essay to assist applying the above passage to our lives:
- Step #1: Stop Blaming Others — Take Responsibility
- Step #2: Do Not Be Selfish — Know and Love the Lord
- Step #3: Do Not Let Sin Happen — Initiate a Plan to Overcome
- Step #4: Tear Out Evil Influences — Be Holy
- Step #5: Do Not Flirt With Sin — Flee Immorality
- Step #6: Beware Triggers — Play Smarter Chess
- Step #7: Beware the Void — Fill with Spiritual
- Step #8: Beware Procrastination — Act Decisively Today
- Step #9: Beware Shortsightedness — Fix Hope on End-Game
- Step #10: Beware Blindness — Open Eyes to Consequences
- Step #11: Beware Overconfidence — Walk Humbly
- Step #12: Beware Hypocrisy — Pursue Integrity
- Step #13: Beware Becoming Overburdened — Focus on Priorities
Let us open our Bibles, study God’s Word, and glean the help we need to overcome such difficult, habitual sins, so that we may “resist the devil” and “draw near to God”.
Step #1: Stop Blaming Others — Take Responsibility
All too often, the one caught in habitual sin is quick to blame others or his circumstances. He may at least mitigate — if not entirely rationalize or excuse his actions. However, the Scriptures make it clear that we are always responsible for our choices, because a “way of escape” is always provided by God for every temptation:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (I Corinthians 10:13)
Some might say: “But, you don’t understand my situation! Nobody is tempted as sorely as me!” The Bible makes the correct response very clear. Although our temptations and weaknesses vary within bounds from person to person, the above passage states emphatically that we confront no temptation so uncommon as to provide us with excuse. Furthermore, Jesus’ perfect life also frees us from this deadening excuse (Hebrews 4:14-16; John 15:22-25). He has shown us that obedience and holiness is not impossible!
Others might argue: “But, it is not my fault! My temptation is so overpowering, there is no way I can resist it!” Again, the Scriptures silence this excuse for the open-minded believer. Although many temptations are definitely no doubt difficult and extremely enticing, we are guaranteed the capacity to triumph over every sin that seeks to ensnare us! God has made us this promise based upon His own faithfulness! To deny this is to question God’s foresight, power, and honesty. The “way of escape” is a sure promise. Our task is to look for it and accept it, whatever the cost. Please notice how God explained Cain’s options, when he was confronted with terrible temptation:
... He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Genesis 4:5-7)
Did the Lord excuse Cain from the temptation and the sin that lay before him! No, God expected Cain to “rule over it”. God considered Cain competent, culpable, capable, and obligated. (Please notice God necessarily implied this possibility after the fall of Adam, which refutes Calvin’s notion of total inherited depravity. God’s use of “should” implies Cain’s obligation and therefore capability, unless one is willing to accept that God holds us accountable for the impossible!) Likewise, whenever “sin lies at the door” of our house, would not the Lord say the same to us, “But, you should rule over it”?
Consequently, we are always, fundamentally, and ultimately responsible for our sins. As long as we deflect the blame, repercussions, shame or accountability for our sins, we will undoubtedly continue to fail. One who remains in “damage control mode”, spinning the news of events to better salvage his image, will continue to deceive, because he is fundamentally self-deceived, whether in relation to his own guilt or the prospects of ultimate success in his deception.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Galatians 6:7-8)“Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. (Matthew 12:34-35)
Our words and deeds always reflect our hearts, which is all noticed and remembered by God. Therefore, let us each examine our words and the intents of our hearts, guarding against such hopeless, self-destructive deceptions. We may fool ourselves and all those around us, but the Lord’s gaze cuts through our veil of misdirection, and He has promised us justice!
... take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:23)
Although some sins may be hidden carefully and kept secret from men, there are no truly secret sins, because nothing is hidden from the Lord (I Samuel 16:7; Psalm 94:7-11; Proverbs 24:10; Hebrews 4:12-13). Therefore, we must be tender-hearted like David, who, when confronted with his sin, responded with no deflection, no excuses, no justification, and no mitigation. He did not even complain that his punishment was too severe. Only with an unqualified admission of guilt, did he respond:
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’” So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” (II Samuel 12:7-14)
The sinful man who has a truly “broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:1-19) will not have the strength or desire to resist the consequences of his sin, but he will in every sting of retribution — even if malicious, vengeful, or unjustified — see the hand of God, disciplining him, helping him to see the terrible pain, agony, suffering, and consequences he inflicted by his own hand, so that he may never so sin again (Hebrews 12:5-17):
Then Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city — from Giloh — while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy grew strong, for the people with Absalom continually increased in number. Now a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” So David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee; or we shall not escape from Absalom. Make haste to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly and bring disaster upon us, and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” ... Then the king went out with all his household after him. But the king left ten women, concubines, to keep the house. ... And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people crossed over. The king himself also crossed over the Brook Kidron, and all the people crossed over toward the way of the wilderness. ... Then the king said to Zadok, "Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” ... So David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up; and he had his head covered and went barefoot. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went up. ... Now when King David came to Bahurim, there was a man from the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei the son of Gera, coming from there. He came out, cursing continuously as he came. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David. And all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. Also Shimei said thus when he cursed: “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.” And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust. (II Samuel 15:12-16:13)
This touching reading offers a rich example of how a truly “broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” responds to the shame, affliction, and repercussion of his sin, which we must develop if we desire an eternal home in heaven with God (Isaiah 57:16; 66:2). Shimei’s cursing was entirely unjustified. As a descendant of King Saul, who the Lord replaced with David because of Saul’s rebellion (I Samuel 13:11-14; 15:22-28), Shimei naturally, but unfairly, blamed David for the destruction of Saul’s house, even though it was the Lord’s doing. However unjustified Shimei’s cursing may have been, David did nothing to reduce it — much less avenge it. Moreover, he welcomed it seeing the opportunity to learn, grow, and hopefully be blessed in his repentance. Likewise, as long as one is resistant to consequences of his sins, something is fundamentally wrong within his heart. He remains unconvicted and unbroken. Furthermore, as long as one stiffly apologizes or offers a meager penance — especially to avoid punishment, discipline, or shame — his heart again remains unchanged. (Outward compelling will serve neither truly nor long for inward compelling.) Let us forsake the political game of damage control and accept responsibility for our actions by accepting the consequences of them, thereby rebuilding trust among our relationships, wherever possible.
Step #2: Do Not Be Selfish — Know and Love the Lord
Many strong Christians are inclined to reprove their struggling brother, “You’re just selfish! You just don’t love the Lord enough!” A still somewhat unrepentant, deflecting brother may retort, “You don’t know my heart or all the unselfish things I do! How can you say that?” However, a more broken, contrite, discouraged brother may sigh silently, inwardly, “But, I am trying, because I love the Lord! I just don’t know what else to do!” So, at first glance, this may seem an ineffective way of motivating any brother; however, there is a critical gem of truth in this blunt rebuke.
My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. ... Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. ... Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. ...Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. ...For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. (I John 2:1-4, 15-16; 3:4-10; 5:3-4)
This lengthy reading indicates that whenever we sin, a fundamental heart problem exists within our soul, and only a fundamental correction in one’s soul will remedy the problem. The Scriptures are clear. If we truly knew God, if we truly loved God, if His Word truly abided within us, we would not sin! Therefore, in every instant of transgression, it may be accurately and succinctly stated that we truly do not love the Lord — not supremely, otherwise we would not have sinned. Furthermore, if that sin continues, then a fundamental reoccurring spiritual issue exists within our souls, and until that is resolved, no lasting change can be effected. This reality of our heart is revealed not by our fellow man — but by God in His Word!
Although the apostle John’s wording may be jarring, the Spirit’s words are nonetheless true. Furthermore, the Lord’s coming and His apostles writing were specifically for the purposes “to take away sin” and “so that you may not sin”. Therefore, we must permit these judgments to permeate our souls and use them as divine opportunities to examine ourselves in the mirror of the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:21-25).
Jesus also stated these same truths in His Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:19-24)
The focus of our spiritual eye must be singular. We cannot succeed in trying to serve God and this world! These masters are diametrically opposed. Furthermore, God will not tolerate sharing us with another master (Deuteronomy 4:24; James 4:4-5). Therefore, when we fall — especially to habitual sins — we must examine our heart, our highest loyalties, our ultimate desires, and our essential goals. The true reality is finally observed not in what we say (“in word or in tongue”) but in our choices and actions (“but in deed and in truth”, I John 3:18-19).
Therefore, upon each and every trespass, let us not only repent and confess our sins (I John 1:9), but let us also examine ourselves, peering deeply into our souls, turning over every thought and every deed in the bright light of Scripture, challenging every thought and every motive. In so doing, may we ever draw closer to that perfect image (Romans 12:1-2; I John 3:1-3; James 1:21-25).
Without this conviction, we will forever remain the “double-minded man, unstable in all his ways”, perennially “looking back ... unfit for the kingdom of God” — until eternity finds us (James 1:8; Luke 9:57-62; 17:32). The remaining steps provided in this article will help us both test and refine our committed love toward God, as we seek to overcome our habitual sins.
Step #3: Do Not Let Sin Happen — Initiate a Plan to Overcome
Does it seem like sin almost happens to you, that overwhelming temptations repeatedly materialize out of thin air? Why does this occur? Temptations overtake us, because we live in a world that is filled with evil influences, which are constantly pushing us, moving us toward sin, and if we do not deliberately fashion a plan to overcome, we will unwittingly drift downstream toward destruction.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (I Peter 5:8-9)
Because our enemy is vigilant, always seeking to consume us, we must likewise be equally vigilant, preparing and equipping ourselves with the armament that God provided for us to overcome:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:10-18)
This passage outlines many of the points we must pursue to equip ourselves to overcome our enemy’s “fiery darts”. However, let us start here by applying just this one point, “preparation ... being watchful”. One needs to examine his heart, but all the self-examination in the world will be insufficient if real, concrete changes are not made. Insanity is often humorously defined as repeatedly doing the same thing, expecting different results. If we do not change our thoughts and actions, then we are crazy to expect anything but continued failure!
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ezra 7:10)But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. (Daniel 1:8)
Like those saints of old, as part of “preparing our heart”, we must prepare a comprehensive plan detailing how we will overcome our troubling sins. If we are adequately prepared, then like Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, we will have no need to deliberate, decide, and form an answer in the moment of crisis, because will have already anticipated the challenge and readied an appropriate response (Daniel 3:14-18).
A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished. ... Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; He who guards his soul will be far from them. (Proverbs 22:3-5)
If we fail to foresee temptation and plan to overcome, we too will repeatedly “pass on and be punished”, suffering the “thorns and snares of the perverse”. Therefore, let us make a practical, concrete plan to overcome our repetitive sins!
Step #4: Tear Out Evil Influences — Be Holy
Once one accepts responsibility, prepares his heart, and begins planning to overcome sin, the single most important step of that plan is to eliminate all of the influences that directly tempt or pressure us to sin. The temptation to sin will always surround us, but we can dramatically reduce the pressure by eliminating things which directly entice us.
The strongest influences often are our friends through family, school, work, community, and church. Few influences hold more sway over us than that of our peers. Even if the pressure is not overt, we are sympathetic creatures, and often our conviction is weakened through repeated camaraderie with those of differing faith or weaker conviction. Unsurprisingly, the Scriptures repeatedly warn us to consider our relationships, and wherever possible, sever connections with those encouraging us to sin.
My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. ... My son, do not walk in the way with them, Keep your foot from their path; (Proverbs 1:10-15 )The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3)You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 6:12-7:1)
It has been well said that one cannot travel the path to heaven, if one foot remains in the world. Only by keeping both feet firmly in the Way may one arrive at his desired destination (Matthew 7:13-14). Compromising relationships indicate that we have already compromised, and we will be further compromised unless we purify our hearts and our relationships!
Some may argue, “My friends don’t influence me! In fact, I influence them! How do you expect me to convert people, if I only associate with Christians? Did not Jesus eat and drink with sinners?” Although it is true that Jesus did eat and drink with sinners, He only did so while reproving them and correcting them (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 7:33-50). He did not get to know them, kindle trust, build a relationship, and then reveal His true character in a surprising rebuke. They came humbly to Him as He called them openly to repentance. Jesus associated with those who were penitent, former sinners — not those unashamedly continuing in their sins. Which case represents our friends and our relationship with them? Are they humbly seeking instruction from God’s Word from us, or are we silently ignoring, tolerating their open error? If we are open in rebuking sin and pleading for repentance, then our true friends will be made clear, and those open to conversion will be made manifest. There will be little need to sever relationship with the wicked, because they will sever it first with us!
Many will hesitate to change their relationships for the sake of overcoming the sin that those relationships foster. Some will convince themselves that this does not apply to them, because they are more determined than other weak-minded souls, which is inconsistent with their current plight, but regardless, the Scriptures are clear:
Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” (I Corinthians 15:33)
The very words, “Do not be deceived”, are a divine recognition that many will be deceived, and they stand as a divine warning, especially to those who think that they are above this warning! “Evil company corrupts good habits.” This is a fact without exception. Moreover, the one looking for the exception, wanting to be the exception, is likely already — if not soon to be — deceived. Recognize, accept, and work around your weaknesses. “Do not be deceived!”
Beyond our relationships with others, please take stock and consider the following more subtle elements of your life. Do these influences in any way move you closer to sin or further away from it — whether by glorifying sin to you, numbing you to sin, or directly tempting you to sin?
So much of the media and content we consume is rife with sin. In various forms, sin is constantly pushed into our face until we feel that everyone is doing it, that it is insignificant. These influences can subtly foster inordinate appetites, making it harder for us to resist temptation, because our desire is aggravated by the constant bombardment. What should a Christian do? Stop listening to unholy music; stop monitoring godless radio; stop watching filthy television; stop consuming provocative movies; stop looking for inappropriate profile photos and comments; stop cruising ungodly internet sites; and stop reading worldly books! Does this imply that these mediums are inherently evil, requiring us to completely cut them off? No, the technology is not inherently evil, and it may not be necessary to eliminate them entirely. Much spiritual growth and holy edification can be obtained through all of these channels. One need not necessarily run to one extreme to avoid another. However, for struggling souls these media may present an easy, ready trap. By simply eliminating the ungodly influences — whatever the cost — one can make great strides in eliminating sin in his life by simply cutting off the greatest avenues of temptation! Yet, if one continues to drink images and sounds of ungodliness into his heart, he should not be surprised when he wants it and cannot resist it, since his heart is already consumed by it.
Step #5: Do Not Flirt With Sin — Flee Immorality
Once one begins to successfully eliminate sources of temptation and evil influence from his life, the next most important thing to recognize is our tendency to flirt with sin. If we are not very careful, we will unconsciously — maybe even consciously — move as close as possible to sin without actually committing it. Again, God’s Word is clear on such attitudes, especially in regards to several specific sins:
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. (I Corinthians 6:18)Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (II Timothy 2:22)Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things. (Proverbs 23:31-33)
If one truly fears falling off a cliff, does he creep up to the very edge of disaster? Or, does he stay far away at a safe distance? If one is locked into a life-or-death struggle with a lion, does he stick his head in its gaping mouth (I Peter 5:8-9; James 4:7)? If we are truly trying to overcome sin, we will not crowd the line. Please do not deceive yourself. A little sip, a little puff, a little look, a little touch, a little watch, a little listen — these are but the first steps in a slippery slope toward once again caving into the craving we are trying to kill! Be like Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12)! Do not be afraid to suffer the consequences of running from your temptation (Genesis 39:13-23). Whatever shame you may suffer from the laughter of corrupt men is nothing compared to the disappointment and scorn of our Heavenly Father and Holy Creator (I Corinthians 4:3-5; John 12:42-43; I Peter 1:13-19).
Step #6: Beware Triggers — Play Smarter Chess
Beyond tearing out evil influences and fleeing temptation, the next most important step is to realize that repetitive failures often follow patterns. As our strength, commitment, and solidarity in the Lord grows, we may not be so easily snared by an obvious temptation or the allure of tip-toeing to the edge, hoping we might (or might not) pull back from disaster at the last moment. Instead, having overcome these snares, we may still occasionally fall, being blind-sided by a strong temptation we did not see coming. The next big key is to recognize any innocent “triggers” that make us more vulnerable to temptation. At least, we may consider them harmless, but often they are only one or two moves removed from defeat. Many choices set us up for other bad choices, which set us up for more dangerous choices, and which finally moves into position to finally sin. We must become conscious of this multiple-step pattern and cut it off:
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:11-14)
Whether consciously or unconsciously, whether innocent or deliberate, we must examine our hearts and our past failures, looking for common elements. Too often we “make provision” to sin, which unsurprisingly leads to sin. In many ways, we are engaged in a spiritual chess match with our eternity at stake. Our opponent, Satan, is thinking many, many moves ahead of us. He is trying to lure us into positions that make us more vulnerable to other positions, which make us more susceptible to others, until at last he springs the trap! For the sake of our soul, we must recognize what is happening to us and play smarter chess!
Perhaps the sin occurs late at night, when we are tired and our guard is down? If that is our case, then we should spend the wee hours studying our Bible and go to bed early. No one became refreshed watching television.
Perhaps our failures occur after visiting certain kinds of web-sites, which remind us of other web-sites, which maneuver us into position to be tempted to visit even worse web-sites? Then, we must at least stop visiting the first web-sites that begin the downward spiral.
Maybe spending too much time away from family makes us more vulnerable? Then, we must spend more time with our spouse, children, and grand-children.
Maybe eating lunch with certain coworkers always coerces our mind into a discouraging or even vile frame? Then, we must eat lunch somewhere else with someone else.
There are always triggers that make us more susceptible to temptation and sin. Many of them appear innocent and harmless on the surface. Identify them and avoid them! Find a way! It is your soul that is at stake.
Now, someone might say, “Nothing triggers me to sin. I could be doing anything and then fall into my bad habit. Everything triggers me!” Well, it may seem that way; however, this is not entirely true. None of us sin all the time. There are certain people and certain places that make us feel enough uncomfortable that in those environments, we control ourselves. And, in so doing, we prove to ourselves, others, and the Lord that we can indeed control ourselves! Do not be deceived! Furthermore, if there are indeed no subtle triggers, then we must act more radically and cut off entire avenues to sin!
If our sin involves the internet, and we ultimately cannot control ourselves when using the internet, then unplug! Which is more important, our soul or the internet? If we cannot control ourselves, when watching television, then unplug! Which is more important, our eternal soul or television that you will not even remember in a few days? If our sin involves using our smart-phone, then downgrade to a simple cellphone without any data access! Which is more important, our eternal life or a luxury phone? Does that seem crazy, unreasonable, radical? Does it seem excessive to deprive yourself of something innocent and accessible to most people, just to avoid sin? Let us ask Jesus!
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire — where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:43-48)If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Dear friend, this is simply a matter of priorities. If you have already cut out the evil influences, if you have already fled temptation, if you have already identified the triggers and avoided them, and yet you continue to sin — which is more important? Make the priority call. Cut out the stumbling block, and “cast it from you”. Does a serious recovering alcoholic leave any alcohol in his house? Does someone intent on kicking nicotine leave any cigarettes laying around his house? Whatever means or instruments lead to your habitual sin, do not leave it laying around, readily accessible, where you can easily pick it up and resume old habits. Here the world discovers who you truly are. Here you reveal your heart of hearts, despite your boasts. Will you be like the rich young ruler?
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:20-22)
Dear friend, if you have tried everything else and eliminated every other possibility, then what choice do you have, assuming you have indeed chosen Jesus as your Lord, committed your life in service to Him, and fastened your hope on heaven? Do you think there are some triggers you overlooked? Sure, go back, and see if you can identify some more. However, if the sin continues, then it is time to eliminate the avenue of sin, no matter how innocent, dear, and useful it may otherwise be. Of course, one would not have to cut off his literal hand or pluck out his literal eye, but Jesus’ symbol makes the point clear. If something is truly causing you to sin, then why are you clinging to it? Which is most important to you? Who are you, really? If this passage does not apply to you, then what is the difference between you and the person to whom it truly applies?
Step #7: Beware the Void — Fill with Spiritual
Although this step has been separated for emphasis’ sake, it must be vigorously pursued simultaneously with the preceding three steps, which each remove harmful influences of varying degree from our lives. As we eliminate anything from our life, it is paramount that we recognize a void remains which must be filled. Otherwise, the darkness will return, often stronger or in more sinister subtlety with increased tenacity. Consider Jesus’ parable, which pictures this crouching danger:
“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:23-26)
It is entirely insufficient for a man to merely not oppose Jesus; likewise, it is wholly inadequate for a man to merely separate himself from evil, its influences and its triggers. Rather, one must actively pursue Christ and fill any void in his life with sound, healthy, spiritual occupations. First, one should fill his mind with spiritual influences that will foster noble thoughts:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mindsthrough Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:21-22)
As one lets go of evil with one hand, he must grasp righteousness and the things that make for it with the other hand, like filling our hearts and minds with God’s thoughts (Isaiah 55:7-9). If we are immersed in God’s Word daily, it will be difficult to consciously surrender to sin. Hear the Psalmist and John again:
Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You! (Psalm 119:11)Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. ... We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. (I John 3:9; 5:18-19; see also, I Peter 1:23-25; Luke 8:11-15)
The only way we can sin is to push consciousness of God and His Word out of our minds (Romans 1:20-22, 28). The more our minds are filled with God’s Word, the more difficult that prospect becomes. Please understand that this refers to a deep, permeating knowledge, not just a surface awareness of facts and truths (like the Corinthians, who swelled arrogant in their knowledge, I Corinthians 8:1), but rather it is an intimate awareness of God’s true character, nature, will, and disposition, which is surely manifested in obedience (I John 2:3-6, 29; 3:1; 4:8; Hebrews 8:11; Titus 1:16). If such a knowledge abides in us, the wicked one will not touch us, influencing us to sin!
How much time do you spend in prayer? Jesus Himself was diligent in prayer, and He linked it directly to one’s ability to overcome temptation and trial:
“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)
Prayer is a direct support for our “weak flesh”. Without it, we are relying upon our weakness! Not only does prayer fill the void, it directly makes us spiritually stronger.
How much time do you spend singing spiritual songs? Time invested by singing godly hymns both comforts the fainthearted and provides outlet to the joys of our soul:
And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:23-25)Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (James 5:13)
The internet abounds with sources of free gospel music, to which a person can listen while driving to work, going to school, studying, or just sitting around the house. Here are a couple of sources:
From where do you seek advice, counsel, and encouragement? Is it from godly counselors (Proverbs 11:14)? Again, this web-site and others abound with sound gospel sermons, which will edify, encourage, and exhort:
Please download these sermons and listen to them. The Sermon on the Mount series is especially helpful, since it focuses on correcting and restoring the heart of the listener, which is fundamental to all spiritual challenges. Where could you listen to these, making these part of your day, instead of something that neither helps you move closer to God nor further away from sin? What is truly most important to you?
If you fill your life with godly influences, not only will you wisely listen to God’s counsel for overcoming sin, but you will also fill the void and replace the need for the evil influences that you will have eliminated from your heart, mind, and life. Furthermore, you will also be transformed by these godly influences so that your desire for sin lessens, your disdain for it grows, and your sincere desire for righteousness and goodness will supplant the footholds that sin has maintained in your heart for far too long.
Step #8: Beware Procrastination — Act Decisively Today
Too often, people push off reform, saving it for tomorrow. Similarly, too often, people willingly choose sin, thinking they will merely request forgiveness immediately thereafter. Too many times, people say, “When I am older, I will turn to Jesus. I still have too much living to do!” All of these terrible decisions reveal 2 fundamentally flawed assumptions: 1) God will either not see or overlook your attempt to “play” Him, and 2) You will at least remain unchanged, and you may even naturally be better tomorrow and want salvation more than today. The first assumption God both anticipated and addressed specifically:
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Galatians 6:7-8)Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:14-17)
Again we find that divine, flashing, neon warning, “Do not be deceived”! Again, this indicates the tendency for us to be deceived in this very way. We cannot outwit, outlast, or outplay God! He cannot be gamed! If we think we can spurn His invitation willfully, knowingly, while living however we want and suffering no consequence, only to at the very last scrape through the closing door — we are grossly deceived about God! He is not manipulated, easily or otherwise. In so attempting, we not only blaspheme God, but we test His mercy and patience, which is strictly condemned (Matthew 4:5-7). Learn from the failures of others. Do not be like Esau and give up your precious blessing, exchanging it for the “passing pleasures of sin”! It may be too late, when you decide you really do “want to inherit the blessing”!
Furthermore, God would have us know that sin changes us. It changes our conscience and heart, making them hard, dark, bitter, less resilient, and less hopeful:
But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:13-15)This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Ephesians 4:17-19)
Even if God permits us merciful time to see the day we planned to repent, please do not assume you will still desire it, because we will be darkened through unrepentant sin, and our conscience may no longer even recognize sin by that point! Take decisive action now! Do not procrastinate. Do everything you can, while God has still permitted you time to repent — while you still have life, conscience, and desire for righteousness!
Step #9: Beware Shortsightedness — Fix Hope on End-Game
It is a carnal perspective that believes eliminating sin will leave a void in one’s life, which must be filled. Naturally, this is how the sinner feels at first — or at least fears he will feel — if all of his pleasures are stripped from him. However, in reality the void was placed by God, and it can only be filled by Him:
I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. ... Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 3:10; 12:13-14)
Within each of us there lies a God-created void, which can only ultimately be satisfied with God Himself. For too long we have dumped all kinds of sins and pleasures into this void, seeking to satisfy this deepest craving, and we fear pulling out the rubbish, rubble, and bobbles we have collected, afraid we will be even more empty; however, only in so doing can we make room for the Holy One, Who is the One for whom this need was designed! He is the only One Who can satisfy this deepest need. We have already tried to fill the void with sin, and did we not fail miserably? Now, it is high past time to fill our lives with the only good influence, Who can make us whole (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)!
What is the end-game of our current path? Where will it lead? Will it truly make us happy and satisfy us? Is it truly what we ultimately desire? Or, are we being shortsighted, filling our lives with the “passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 10:24-26), which may satisfy for a little while but will at last lead to emptiness, bitterness, misery, and ultimate loneliness? Where is your habitual sin taking you? What happens to people who spend 5, 10, 20, 50 years — a lifetime — pursuing what you cannot deny? How well has that worked for them? Wake up from your sleep and shortsightedness! Do not ignore the clearly evident fact that habitual sin leads one down a path of ultimate destruction and ruin. If you open your eyes to these sins’ eventualities, it will help you to turn away.
Likewise, it is the Christian’s fixed hope — his attention to his end-game — which helps drive him on to holiness:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifieshimself, just as He is pure. (I John 3:2-3)
Are your eyes open to where you are really going? Have you considered the end-game? Set your mind on a different end-game, on being transformed to be like Jesus when He returns. Begin purifying yourself “just as He is pure”. Allow that pure and lofty goal to fill your hopes and drive you onward and upward!
Step #10: Beware Blindness — Open Eyes to Consequences
Often, when people continue to sin habitually, their reluctance to resist is reduced, because they feel no consequences to their sin. They may be numb to how they hurt other people, because they have already oppressed people so severely for so long that the people in their lives have withdrawn, leaving them to suffer self-destruction. However, before that near final state is realized, people may lose feeling to the consequences of their sins, if the people surrounding them do not react. Whether because of fear, reduced self-esteem, or lack of love, such quiet people offer little to no resistance. They are easy to sin against, because they do not complain significantly, if at all. Although such people are actually doing the sinner no favors by ignoring his sin, the sinner must open his eyes to the myriads of people and ways he is hurting others through his sin. Put yourself in the situation of those against whom you are sinning. How would you react?
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
Known as the “Golden Rule”, Jesus’ central principle of morality revolves around awareness of others, being sympathetic to them, and treating them how you would want to be treated, if you were in their position.
Too frequently, people are cold or indifferent to the results of their sins. Look in the mirror. If this represents you, it is an extremely bad sign, because it indicates a lack of basic concern and love for your fellow man. Those who fail to care for their families are considered “worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8). Those who truly understand how they have hurt their fellow man, especially those they have loved, will be crushed. When one understands the magnitude of his betrayal, not only will deep emotion overtake him, but he will also learn to truly “hate evil”, because he will finally understand the great violence, injury, and harm it inflicts upon his fellow man. Often the wounds are unseen, but these hidden hurts that lie deep within the recesses of the heart are those slowest to heal. Such emotional damage can last for generations. Even the Lord describes the man abandoning the “wife of his youth” and his “godly offspring” as “covering one’s garment with violence”, as “dealing treacherously” (Malachi 2:13-16). It is a great willful ignorance that too many people accept, who pretend their sins are without consequence, that they are small, or that their victims are responsible. In so accepting, they deceive only themselves!
Those whom we mistreat will raise their tearful prayers to God and cry to Him for mercy and justice — against us! Especially to assist the helpless wife or abandoned child, God has promised a furious anger upon their oppressor (Exodus 22:21-27). When we act selfishly, giving no regard to those who cannot or will not resist us, we have assumed the role of bully, oppressor, and tyrant, and we must realize that God will be coming for us, because He always, ultimately avenges the innocent who are mistreated (Proverbs 3:31-33; 14:31; 22:22-23; Isaiah 1:16-24; Ezekiel 18:12-13, 18)!
Open your eyes to how your sins affect other people! Do not be blind to the consequences of your choices, even if you do not want your conscience hindered by their suffering. Open your eyes, before the Lord visits you, before it is too late! How will God answer, when prayers like Psalm 17, Psalm 42, and Psalm 43 come before Him? Will you be the subject of their prayer for His reprisal? Will He show you mercy, when you have shown your brother or sister none in your cruelty (James 2:13; Matthew 18:21-35)? Mercy is only granted to those who show mercy, and often that begins first at home.
Those who truly understand what they have wickedly accomplished will fall on their hands and knees, begging God and their loved ones for mercy. They will be angry with themselves (II Corinthians 7:10-11), and they may even be filled with self-loathing. They will be brought so low, they will need to be raised up by those they love and have afflicted (II Corinthians 2:6-8, 11). Ultimately, they will be overcome with so much drive to redeem themselves, they will do whatever it takes to humble themselves, make restitution, regain trust, and move forward. If someone is still maintaining so much pride that they cannot so humble themselves, something is critically wrong. Beware the one who persists in damage-control behavior!
Furthermore, not only do our sins affect our fellow man, they also affect God!
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:26-32)
When we are cruel to others, we show contempt for the One who showed mercy toward us (Matthew 18:23-35). We grieve Him! Furthermore, we invite further reprisal, because He cannot allow the charge of hypocrisy, injustice, or favoritism to be applied to Him (Malachi 1:11-14; Romans 2:1-24; 3:4). When we give occasion for the Lord’s enemies to blaspheme Him, we seek His angry retribution:
So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” Then Nathan departed to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill. (II Samuel 12:13-15)
Sin is inherently unfair. It is the very expression of mistreating those who are due better. Unsurprisingly, the consequences of our sin are also far reaching and often seemingly unfair. Is this really what you want to unleash on the world? Is it worth that much to you? Recall the old saying, “Sin will take you further that you ever wanted to go. It will keep you longer that you ever thought you would stay, and it will cost you more than you ever wanted to pay!”
We need to recognize that our greatest betrayal is against God Himself (“Against You, You only, have I sinned”, Psalm 51:4). Whenever we transgress and persist in “willful sins”, God sees that as “trampling the Son of God underfoot, counting the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:26-31), and again, “crucifying again for themselves the Son of God, and putting Him to open shame”(Hebrews 6:4-8)! How do you think Jesus feels — how would you react — if you were being crucified and put to open shame — and for what? The next time you feel the urge to sin, imagine yourself as a Roman guard, scourging the back of Jesus, ripping open His flesh, or as a Roman guard, grabbing the spear, jabbing it into His side, twisting it until blood gushes out — all the while remembering that the physical is less than the spiritual reality! Hear His cry of anguish, see His face twist in agony as you betray Him — again and again and again! How can any of us continue in sin with that picture firmly fixed in our mind — as ourselves, the torturers of our dear Lord and Savior? How can we ever so sin again?
Step #11: Beware Overconfidence — Walk Humbly
As one grows spiritually, adhering to the above steps and other wisdom that Scripture provides, one naturally develops a sense of confidence. However, we are extremely susceptible to misplacing our confidence, swelling in pride — once again over-estimating our own abilities and minimizing our vulnerabilities. Against such, the Scriptures warn explicitly:
Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud. He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he. (Proverbs 16:18-20)Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers ... were baptized ... all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. ... But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. ... Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (I Corinthians 10:1-12)
Nothing makes us more vulnerable to sin than convincing ourselves we are not. And, nothing makes us more so inclined than a few successive victories. When things are going well, pause and take heed. Is the Devil setting you up for a grand fall? To Whom are you giving the credit and thanksgiving? Where is you confidence? What do your actions reveal?
Practically, this overconfidence reveals itself by once again making ourselves susceptible to the triggers and influences that originally weakened us and made us vulnerable. Humility helps us to recognize our weaknesses. When we recognize our weaknesses, accept them, and work around them by trusting in Christ, obeying Him, and glorifying Him — then we can become strong! When we ignore our weaknesses, we are snared by them, sin, feel guilty, do better for a time, fall again, and so the roller coaster continues.
We may be able to eventually, cautiously resume those innocent activities, which were several steps removed from a predictable fall. However, one must take great care, because old habits come back fast and with a vengeance. Pride is a great enemy here. We may need to forever forego some innocent activities and environments, but that is a small price to pay for purity, peace, and heaven!
Step #12: Beware Hypocrisy — Pursue Integrity
Although one should fill his life with noble deeds, good thoughts, and spiritual influences, continuing to teach (especially preach) while overtaken by habitual sins can be highly destructive — to everyone involved. First, please notice the qualification for those commanded to reprove others:
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. (Galatians 6:1-4)
Those who are themselves “overtaken in any trespass” are set in contrast to those, “who are spiritual”. Therefore, as long as one remains “overtaken in any trespass” he simply is unqualified to instruct others to do what he has yet to do for himself. Jesus Himself also set forth this principle:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Although often misused to condemn all judging, this passage does clearly condemn hypocritical judgment! Although opportunities may exist and the need may be great, as long as we practice what we condemn, we ignore Jesus’ clear command. Not only does this provide even greater, more obvious “occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme” (Romans 2:1-3, 17-25), a deep, guilt-filled, conscience-seared hole opens in our heart under the spade of such hypocrisy. We do something terrible to our conscience, when we excuse and persist in what we publicly condemn. Hypocrisy does not just make one a pariah — it kills a man inside! Furthermore, nothing undoes a man’s life work like scandalous exposure of carefully concealed sin (Ecclesiastes 10:1). People are directly affected — possibly discouraged and weakened to destruction — by the hypocrisy of their preachers, teachers, parents, and advisers (I Timothy 4:16). Therefore, hypocrisy may not just ruin us, our hypocrisy may ruin others who hear us!
The purpose of this warning is not to punish or further shame a man, rather it is essential to focus a Christian’s energies on his number one priority at that moment — overcoming his habitual sin.
Someone might resist, “But, I have to keep teaching for me. Teaching is what helps keep me focused on doing good. I need it!” Jesus’ correction is clear. What we truly need is to “first remove the plank from our own eye”! Our pride may “need” the public exposure and the adulation that public teaching offers (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18), but what we truly need is to first eliminate the sin that is consuming us from the inside out, whatever it takes!
Another might argue, “So, you have no sin (I John 1:8-10)? If sinners cannot teach or preach, then no one can!” This represents a gross misunderstanding, if not a straw-man attack. The Scriptures do not require that only perfect people teach or preach; however, it does delegate such duties to those, who are not “overtaken in any trespass”. If one is continuing regularly in a sin, and if he is generally unable to resist his sinful habit, has he not been “overtaken in any trespass”? If it is not him, then who is such a man? Furthermore, such comments reveal ignorance of the behavior of mature Christians. Strong Christians do not continue regularly in sin. If they do, something is fundamentally wrong and needs to be fixed (I John 3:4-10). That is the number one priority for a brother and sister in sin. Until that is resolved, all extra burdens must be laid down, until one is strong enough to first carry his own burden (Galatians 6:1-4).
Finally, one might question, “But, teaching and preaching are my greatest talents that I use for the Lord! If I stop doing those, then what will I do? Is there no way I can serve, lead, or help?” This is a good and fair question. Although one may not be positioned to offer public judgment, exhortation, or correction, a multitude of other avenues exists for service to the Lord and His people. From helping the elderly, sick, and young by mowing yards, providing meals, maintaining houses and other forms of benevolent service, one may continue to lead by his godly example in character, brotherly love, purity, holiness, and faithfulness. This not only rebuilds trust, but it also allows one to serve while maintaining a spiritual focus first on his own spiritual development, growth, and fortitude through Bible study, prayer, and self-examination, all aimed squarely at his own heart — not others’.
Step #13: Beware Becoming Overburdened — Focus on Priorities
Lastly, after one has triumphed in removing evil influences, identifying triggers, and avoiding various pitfalls, there remains a final unexpected danger (at least for purposes of this writing). For the spiritually mature, who have overcome various sins, the Devil may yet still weaken them gradually over time, wearing them down through the steady onslaught of various needs and pressures upon their time:
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)
How does one “not lose heart”, when a seemingly unending stream of demands are placed upon his or her time? Strong Christians focus on their priorities. They keep their eye on Jesus and a home in heaven (Hebrews 12:1-2). They recognize and accept the values learned through God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:3-11). They continually purify themselves, remembering the holy God they are continually drawing near (Hebrews 12:12-29). Furthermore, they strive to spend some time every day in self-examination, prayer, and Bible study (Proverbs 4:26; Lamentations 3:40; I Thessalonians 5:17; II Timothy 2:15; Joshua 1:7-9), lest the Devil flank them while they were focused on helping others. Never become so busy that you do not have time to refresh yourself and renew the inner man in God’s Word:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18; also, Romans 12:1-2)
Beware becoming overburdened in teaching and serving others, stretched so thin that you do not have time to save your own soul! Let us not be so busy with doing good that we fail to do what is essential, critical, and necessary. Borrowing Jesus’ language — but changing one word — to make a similar point: “What will it profit a man, if he saves the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). If you save everyone in your whole community, but you yourself are lost, what will you have gained? Plus, what people follow a lost man to heaven? Make sure you go to heaven first (Luke 14:25-35)!
Man is a unique creature, comprised of 2 parts, flesh and spirit. Generally, these halves are opposed to each other (Matthew 26:41; James 4:1-5). Therefore, to be mature, we must fight our war on two fronts, subduing the flesh and invigorating the spirit. Recall James’ words again:
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. (James 4:7-8)
Both fronts must be pursued simultaneously. As long as we remain “double-minded”, trying to have the best of both worlds, we are doomed (Matthew 6:19-24). We must choose righteousness and God alone; otherwise, we choose compromise, the flesh, and destruction.
We have examined multiple applications of the above passage, ordering them as one logically leads to the next. However, the ultimate application is simple: Do everything you can to draw near to God on every front and at every turn. The more diligently, frequently, and consistently we do this, the more quickly, steadily, and obviously He will draw near to us. Likewise, and simultaneously, you must also do everything you can to thwart the Devil’s attacks on every front and at every turn. The more diligently, frequently, and consistently we do this, the more quickly, steadily, and obviously He will flee from us. However, do not forget that he will be back, because he is always waiting and looking for “an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Yet, if we continue to draw close to God, He will remain with us and also be there waiting, when the Devil returns (Hebrews 13:5-6; Romans 8:31-39).
No magic pill, miraculous medicine, or easy change exists to cure this spiritual disease. However, habitual sins can and must be overcome! Are you willing to do what it takes? What are your alternatives (John 6:68; Jeremiah 2:13)? Will you be like David, freely admit your sin and accept their consequences, whether wholly justified or not? Will you be like Joseph and flee immorality, regardless of the cost? Or, will you be like the rich, young ruler, who left sorrowfully after learning what he lacked? What specific things will you do differently today to avoid repeating yesterday’s failures tomorrow? Do not be deceived. Have faith and overcome habitual sins!