We all know the fight against sin is a difficult battle, but have you ever noticed how we ask God for the strength to overcome sin, yet avoid taking responsibility for how we choose to give into temptation instead of resisting it? The Bible does not say God will resist sin for us, so why do we pray that way?
In Order To Overcome Sin, We Have To Take Responsibility For Our Choices, And Start Making The Right Ones
Whoa, that is just too crazy right?
Seriously though, I have spoken with numerous Christians over the years who look at the battle against sin as if they have no influence on it, often praying things like:
“God, please give me the strength to fight temptation”
Sure, this is often a sincere request for help, but it does not reflect someone who is taking full responsibility for their choices, as we should really be praying something like this:
“God, I keep choosing to give into temptation instead of resisting it, please give me the wisdom, and the strength to stop”
See how the second prayer is more honest, and descriptive of what we are actually going through?
Instead of just asking God for strength to overcome sin as if he is one day going to fix problem areas miraculously for us, we should acknowledge how we are choosing to give into temptation, and ask for guidance as to why we find it appealing in the first place
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him
Now, I want to be clear this article’s point is not to make anyone feel condemned about the way they pray, but it is important to understand the difference between these two types of prayers, as we often completely overlook just how important, and powerful, our choices are in the fight against sin–which brings us to our next point
Newsflash: Nobody Forces Us To Sin, We Do It By Choice
I know right, news and sports at eleven!
But this is a point many people overlook when they talk about their struggles with sin, as there is nothing that forces us to think, act or say anything, we do it by willing choice
So, wait, that means we actually have to take responsibility for our own choices?
Okay okay, anyway, we have all experienced those moments when temptation feels impossible to resist, but what many Christians misunderstand, is we give into temptation not because it has control over us, we give in because we want to
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death
James makes it clear we fall to temptation because something about it seems desirable to us, yet this pattern is not exactly new, as we follow after Eve, who, in the same way, gave into temptation because she thought the result of disobeying God was pleasing
Nobody forced Eve to disobey, just as we are not forced to disobey God today, we do it because we choose to
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it
Ironically, the enemy’s games have not changed since they first started, which says a lot about how easy it is to lead us into sin once we decide something, regardless of how disobedient it is, looks appealing to us in some way
Without a doubt, our willingness to sin is an uncomfortable thing to admit, but it is only our pride, and/or fear of rejection that keeps us from praying to God with complete honesty, which is why it is so important to be humble, and take full responsibility for our choices with a repentant heart
2 Corinthians 7:10
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death
Even though the enemy’s games of tempting us with things we find desirable are not new, the cure for them has always been the same, as God gave us the power to choose to follow what we want, regardless of the consequences–even the angels had the opportunity to choose whether they served God or not!
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day
(The word “abandoned” in Greek means “reject, forsake, leave behind”, indicating it was an act of will, not something they were forced to do)
Okay, so we understand how both men, and angels have the power of choice, but why is this so important in the battle against sin?
The Enemy Wants Us To Believe We Are Powerless To Resist Temptation
First, we know the enemy enjoys fighting a weak opponent, especially one that does not understand how powerful they really are
Even though the enemy goes around like a prowling lion looking for someone to devour, all we need to do is resist them, and they will flee
1 Peter 5:8
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour
(It is interesting to note how Peter refers to satan as a “roaring lion” when they are on the prowl, but lions do not go around roaring when they hunt, they are extremely silent, which just goes to show how the enemy likes to talk a big game in the hopes that we become afraid)
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you
This is important to keep in mind, as the enemy knows they have no real power over us because of our relationship with God, so they do everything possible for us to think we are weak by lowering our self-esteem, and telling us we have no power to resist–this is so untrue!
Based on what James taught above about being tempted by things we desire, we know the enemy is not going to tempt us with things that are unappealing, but what is even more important to keep in mind, even when temptation feels impossible to resist, is God’s promise he we will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, which means God makes sure we always have the ability to overcome temptation when it is brought against us, we just have to make the right choice in order to reject it
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it
Really think about this verse though, as no matter how irresistible some temptations feel, God promises he will never allow us to be put in a situation we cannot overcome, which is amazing, but also shows how it is our responsibility to make the right choices when the time comes
God is not going to magically resist sin for us, he shows us the path to righteousness, but we need to set our minds to walk it
In fact, as we have discussed before, the meaning of “grace” in the Greek means, “through favor, receiving God’s influence on the heart”, which is important to understand as Paul taught openly that God’s influence still requires us to put it into action, and that if we do not follow it, we can receive it in vain
1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me
2 Corinthians 6:1
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain
Receiving God’s influence directly on our hearts is an amazing tool in the battle against sin, as it is one of the main benefits of the new covenant, in that God prophesied his righteousness would be written on our hearts after Jesus came, which is what “grace” is really about, receiving God’s direct guidance, rather than rely on a set of rules to provide our only source of guidance
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”
You know what is really mind blowing though, think about how people in the OT did not have God’s influence like we do now, they had to fight sin, and temptation without this amazing weapon, talk about difficult!
So then, I have to ask…
Our Excuse For Giving Into Temptation Is What Exactly
Even though James’ scripture above is clear about how we are tempted by our own desire, we are surrounded by pastors, authors, bloggers, etc… who teach messages about how we have the power to overcome sin, and live righteously, yet they almost never talk about how much of a responsibility we have in our own growth process, nor do they talk about the power we were actually given to overcome sin
What do I mean?
Just think about how many times we have heard someone say things like:
“Through the power of the blood, Jesus has defeated all sin in your life!”
“All sin and death have been overcome by Jesus’ work on the cross!”
“You are an overcomer!”
Yes, these statements are all true, but yet somehow, mysteriously, we still struggle with sin in our lives, achieving very little or no growth at all in some areas, but how does that make any sense?
The simple, but difficult, answer, is sin only exists in our lives because we choose to hold onto it, ignoring God’s guidance from within us to resist it
Even though it is something we do not always hear about, Paul talked about how we not only received a spirit of power to overcome sin and temptation, but also the self-discipline to overcome it–but we have to actively choose to exercise it!
2 Timothy 1:7
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline
Even though we hear many teachings about God having overcome sin on our behalf, the authors of the Bible never told us God would resist sin for us so we would not have to, or that he would cause us to miraculously grow in a way that removed sin’s ability to be tempting, in fact, they said the total opposite, encouraging, and rebuking us with the understanding that, even though we were given the tools to overcome sin, the battle against it requires effort on our part
Without perseverance, and sincere, consistent effort, we will never overcome sin in our lives, regardless of the tools, immeasurable power, and encouragement God has given us
2 Corinthians 7:1
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God
(A lot of Christians talk about how they are holy regardless of how they live, but Paul told us to “perfect” holiness out of respect for God, he never said we should sit back and coast because we think our work is done!)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us
2 Peter 1:3-9
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations
Now, before people get upset thinking this article is somehow advocating the idea that we can overcome sin without God’s help, I want to be clear this is not the case, as yes, Jesus overcame all sin, and death on the cross, once for all mankind, but we still have to actively choose to tap into God’s power, as we have the ability to completely ignore God’s guidance, and willingly embrace sin if we want to
This is incredibly important, and should affect the way we pray for help when facing sin, as we need to submit ourselves to God, seeking his wisdom, and power in order to overcome sin, but in order to do so, we need to actively choose not to give into temptation, and actually resist it!
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up
We are told to ask for wisdom as part of our growth, and told to persevere, not just ask God for strength in the hope he solves our problems without us lifting a finger!
Peter openly told us to purify ourselves by “obeying the truth”, which shows we have an active part in our purification, but this is not about “faith not works!”, it is about living a life of righteousness, and holiness as we were called to through the power of God’s spirit guiding us towards righteousness!
1 Peter 1:22
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart
2 Peter 3:19
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him
1 Peter 1:13-16
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”