At the time I’m writing this, it’s been a rough past few days. I’ve been battling some sinful thoughts and, for the most part, have been failing to win. It started out as just one little thought that briefly flickered across my brain. By the end of the week, it was a full on deluge with no end in sight. I couldn’t help but ask the questions: What happened? Why is this so hard? Why can’t I just stop sinning?
The simple answer: Sin is sin and God never promised it would be easy to fight. I realized in my devotions this morning, however, that there’s a little more to it. Yes, sin, in its very nature, can be difficult to fight, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain things that we can do on our end to make the battle even harder. Unintentionally, we can handicap ourselves. We can tie our hands behind our back without even knowing it and then get frustrated when we fail. As much as I hate the sin I’ve been struggling with, God is still using this experience to teach me some important lessons.
Fighting Sin 101: You never start sinning out of the blue. You aren’t just going strong one day and then inexplicably biting the dust the next. Let me explain it this way: If you get sick, it’s not because whatever bacteria that is causing your discomfort found its way into your body the second you started feeling symptoms. The bacteria has probably been there for days, or even weeks, as it painstakingly fought your cells and invaded your bloodstream. Then, as time wore on it began to multiply. What started out as a handful of threatening invaders quickly becomes a conquering army with legions in its ranks. Eventually, there’s enough of them that you start to feel the effects.
I want you to notice something in this example. First, it takes time for you to start feeling sick. Second, there is a noticeable progression. The bacteria starts out small, but when left alone, it grows bigger and bigger.
Sin is like bacteria. It starts out small, and if you don’t do anything about it, it will grow bigger and bigger until one day you collapse on the couch with a headache, sore throat, and a body weary from fighting.
Psalm 1:1 gives us a clue when it comes to this progression:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…
Notice the words the Psalmist uses here to describe the man who is not blessed. First, the man walks. Then, he stands. Finally, he sits. Coincidence my dear Dr. Watson? I think not! The point is that wandering from God’s way (and thus falling deeper into sin) isn’t a sudden veering from the path. It’s one little compromise after the other; one small step and shift at a time.
As I look back over my struggle these past few days, I realize that the problem didn’t really start at the end of the week when I was wading through piles of muck in my mind. No, the problem started way back at the beginning of the week when I had that quick, little thought. I gave my sin time to grow by leaving it in the dark. By the time I switched on the lights, that little seed that had once been a brief sinful thought had developed into a full grown tree.
So I turned on the lights, saw that big nasty tree, and I swung right around and said: “I got this!” Okay, well, I didn’t literally say I got this, but I didn’t need to, my actions pretty much said it for me. Long story short, for the next 24 hours I did my best to quell my sinful thoughts by mustering up my own willpower and trying to fight them all by myself. Aren’t I brilliant?
If you’ve had any experience with sin, and more specifically, victory over it, then you know that trying to fight it on your own is about the worst thing you can do. We end up frustrated, exhausted, and deeper into our sin then we were when we started– kind of like how I was a couple days ago.
You see, at the beginning of the week, my sin had started out as a weed, easily rooted up with a few quick stabs of a spade. But when I first switched on the lights and saw that tree, I acted like it was still that weed. More than that, I didn’t even need a spade, I could just use my bare hands. I shoved and I sweated and I grunted. It didn’t matter what I did, because in the end, it didn’t change the fact that my sin wasn’t a weed anymore. Getting rid of it wouldn’t be that simple.
Not even a spade would work now– I needed an axe.
So I didn’t deal with my sin when it sprouted that first little leaf. I allowed it to grow into a tree, but what should I have done? For my morning devotions I was continuing to work on my church’s ladies study through Psalm 119 (to find out more about that, go here). A few weeks ago we finished up the first stanza under the Hebrew letter Aleph. This morning I was working on answering the questions for the Beth stanza when the Psalmist asked a question of his own:
How can a young man keep his way pure?Psalm 119:9a
I love that question so much. As Christians, it’s one that we often ask. I also love that the Psalmist specifically asks this question in regards to a young person. But even more, I love the answer he gives to this question in the second half of the verse:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.Psalm 119:9
The Psalmist recognizes that the only way to keep our way pure, to live a life that is honoring to God and that pursues Him above all else, is to guard our heart according to God’s word. Just a few verses down the Psalmist continues:
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.Psalm 119:11
I made several mistakes this past week. First, I failed to confront my sin the moment it reared its ugly head. Second, when I did confront it, I tried to do so with my own strength. But there’s one more mistake I made, and it by far was the biggest one: I didn’t go to God’s Word. I didn’t search scripture for help. I didn’t run for the axe.
2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says:
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…
Of course, this verse doesn’t really do anything for you if you don’t know what the weapons of our warfare are. The ESV Study Bible footnotes offer up a few suggestions: prayer, God’s Word, faith, and the Holy Spirit– all of which we have if we are Christians.
God, the power of the Holy Spirit, His Word– this is our axe when we find a tree where a garden should be– and this is our spade when our sin is yet a little seed. God’s Word should be the first place we run to when we begin to feel ourselves slip.
So, how can we use God’s Word to help us battle our sin? Here are a few practical suggestions:
- Do what the Psalmist did! Store up God’s Word in your heart by memorizing verses that specifically apply to something you are struggling with. Now, please know that this comes from someone who, until very recently (as in this week), hasn’t tried to memorize scripture in a very long time, and for the most part, hasn’t wanted to. God really helped to show me through my struggle this week, however, that I can’t treat memorizing scripture like an optional add on to the Christian life. I need God’s Word in my mind and heart.
- Begin and end your day with scripture. This is something I’m still working on. As much as I’ve been trying to prioritize morning devotions, I’m also just beginning to realize how helpful it can be to end my day in God’s Word too. For me, that usually looks like family devotions around the supper table, but I’d like to start reading a short devotional before I go to bed too.
- Write a few choice verses on index cards and put them where you can easily see them. As I was struggling with my sin this week, I had a few verses in the drawer of my desk where I did my school work and another propped up on the desk itself, and it was really helpful to just have it right there.
Earlier this week, I tried to fight sin without scripture.
I think by now you know that that didn’t work out. I can’t fight sin on my own, I need God. We all need God. We’ll never be able to fight our sin perfectly, but 1 Corinthians 10:4-5 gives us hope that we can fight sin– if we take advantage of the wonderful gift that God has given us in His Word, and, even moreso, in Himself. Praise the Lord that we have not been left to ourselves! God is working in us.
I think I’ll close this blog post with one of my favorite verses from Philippians:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.Philippians 1:6