I remember moving into my university accommodation in September 2014. “On fire for Christ”, having been a Christian for 2 years, I had plans to win the University of Birmingham for Christ! I decided to commit my time at university, and my room, into God’s hands. “This room will be a room of righteousness”, I declared. I thought that prayer would keep me for my entire 3 years at university.
It appeared to only keep me a few days.
By the next week, I had already brought home 2 women after nights out, had casual sexual encounters (triggering a relapse into watching pornography) and completely blew it. I’d been overcome by temptations that many people, including Christians, experience daily. This led to an almost existential crisis wrestling with the question “I’m Saved… so why do I keep on falling into sin?”.
Fast forward 6 years later, and thanks be to God, I’m in a completely different place. And I’ve also learned much about the Christian walk through trying to answer that question. As I seek to share my learnings, I hope that you will be given full assurance of God’s love, a joyful understanding of a Christian’s “battle” with sin and the motivation to walk in holiness.
Can I Stop Sinning?
All men and women are born in a state of rebellion to God. For the Bible nerds, this is what is called “Original Sin”. The teaching that because of Adam’s disobedience to God in the garden of Eden, all of us are born corrupt and prone to disobeying God ourselves (Romans 5:12).
Notice that you weren’t taught to lie, kick or bite as a child (Psalm 51:5). We are “fallen” from birth and by nature, deserve God’s judgement for our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).
We are not called sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.
BUT, here is where the good news of the Gospel comes in! If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we believe the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3), miracles take place (more than I can explain in this article, or a lifetime). A few perks of salvation are:
- The penalty of our sins is forgiven (Colossians 2:14).
- We are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).
- We are promised eternal life (Romans 6:23).
- We are dead to sin (Romans 6:2)
So What Does it Mean to be “Dead to Sin”?
Surely that must mean I am sinless now? Not exactly. Not yet, anyway. But you didn’t really need me to tell you that. Being “dead to sin” does not mean that Christians become sinless. If that was the case, the Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 1:15), the Apostle John (1 John 1:8-9) and James (James 4:8) wouldn’t refer to Christians or themselves as sinners! To be dead to sin means that sin no longer has jurisdiction over us.
For sin will have no dominion over youRomas 6:14
Glory be to God! So now we who were slaves to sin can instead be slaves of a beautiful, perfect, loving saviour God. Hence Paul’s next instruction,
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.Romans 6:12
This is why the New Testament is full of commands to love and forgive and abstain from sin. Because you now have the power to do so. You have the power to say “NO” to sin.
You are not dead in sin, you are alive!
So Why Do I Still Struggle?
Many have been surprised when they find themselves “struggling” with sin. If that weren’t the case, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article. Temper tantrums, lusting over the person you saw at the Christian BBQ and bouts of laziness plague many a believer. In these low moments, we can often question if we’ve even been saved in the first place. Or how God could love such a “wretch”.
Let’s not forget two ultimately glorious truths:
1. God did not die for the best version of you. He died for you, at your lowest moment and loves you in spite of your sin (Romans 5:8).
2. When a believer sins, Jesus stands up on our behalf and says “I know they fell again. But they’re mine. I gave them my righteousness, and I paid the price for their sin” (1 John 2:1-2)
As a believer, we should always have assurance. Not in ourselves, but in the faithfulness of God. We also need to understand our battle. Although we have been freed from a life of sin, we still wrestle against the urges and passions of our sinful nature (Matthew 5:28). Once, sin was what we loved. Now, sin is what we wrestle against.
Romans 7 is a perfect description of this battle. Paul, speaking as someone who “delights in the law” in his inner being (something only a Born Again believer could say), writes:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.Romans 7:22-23
There is a war going on. But not just any war. A war where the outcome has already been secured (Philippians 1:6). The fight against sin is not merely a miserable fight. It is meant to be a Spirit-filled fight for joy. Joy in Christ that surpasses anything that sin could provide (Hebrews 12:1-2). The fact that you’re struggling does not mean you are not a Christian. The reason you “struggle” is because your God-loving spirit is at war with your flesh (Galatians 5:17). The war between the flesh and the Spirit is very complex, which is why we need to constantly study the word of God to better understand our battle. Notice that this is in no way an excuse for lawless living. No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning, and no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him (1 John 3:4). We must be real with our battle against sin, but not give ourselves a false sense of security if we live unrepentant lives.
So, What Do I Have to Do?
The fact of the matter is, as John Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” We should reframe our view of “self-denial” or “killing sin” from a draining and joyless task to a pursuit of greater joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:13), God describes Himself as a fountain of living water in comparison to the “broken cisterns” of sin that “can hold no water”. By pursuing delight in Jesus, we will find it incredibly easier to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). As we enjoy prayer with the carer for our soul, we push away fear. As we see the beauty of God-given marriage, we overcome temptations to seek a cheap substitute through promiscuity, homosexuality, or porn. Consider the following commands given to us as Christians from the book of Colossians, chapter 3:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these, the wrath of God is coming. In these, you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.Collosians 3:5-10
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.Collosians 3:12-15
Imagine we all lived like this? Imagine the joy and peace we would have. Imagine the joy we would bring to our families, our friends, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This process of continually training ourselves in godly habits is what we call “progressive sanctification” (1 Timothy 4:7-9).
When we lay down at night or go through the day tempted with sinful thoughts, He is calling us to fight by instead meditating on His beautiful commands (Psalm 1:1). Would we need these commands if we were not meant to engage in radical sin-killing, Holy Spirit empowered, joyful warfare? Of course not! But we must remember that as even as God commands us to strive for these things, He gives us the strength to do what He commands (Philippians 2:12-13).
Will I Struggle Forever?
The good news is that this battle will end. And those of us who trust in Christ will be victorious. There is no sin or struggle in God’s new creation. That means no tempting thoughts, no angry urges and no prideful tendencies. We will be “glorified” (Romans 8:30). The Bible tells us that death will pass away, and nothing unclean will enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27).
We, believers, will be given new resurrection bodies that will never perish or be corrupted (1 Corinthians 15:52).
In the words of Jonathan Edwards, an American preacher born in 1703:
“Even the very best of men, are, on earth, imperfect. But it is not so in heaven. There shall be no pollution or deformity or offensive defect of any kind, seen in any person or thing; but every one shall be perfectly pure, and perfectly lovely in heaven.”Jonathan Edwards
So to the person “struggling” with sin, hold on. Don’t give up the fight. Fight the good fight of faith with joy (1 Timothy 6:12). Is it easy? Nope. Is it worth it? Heavens yes!