Growing Down: The War on Habitual Sin
By Glenn Ansley
Jason is a fourteen-year-old student I met while working with a youth group in college. He struggles to live his life purely before the Lord. He was raised in a non-Christian home by parents that failed to spend time with him. Plagued by his past involvement in drugs, pornography, and violence, his heart is broken over the inner battle that takes place within his mind every day.
"I know it's wrong to sin," he says, "but I always return to it. How can God believe anything I promise Him? I've asked for forgiveness a million times, but the old habits inevitably return."
"I feel so dirty."
The Universal Problem
My heart broke for Jason that day, but it wasn't because of the magnitude of his struggles. I was touched because of this student's honesty in the midst of such a universal battle.
Everybody struggles with reoccurring sin but few have the courage to seek out the help they need to overcome it.
That afternoon I was able to lead Jason through Romans seven and eight. Together, he and I rediscovered the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jason and I still struggle to remain strong in certain areas of our life, but there is now a peace that comes through knowing the truth of Scripture. I pray that you would likewise be blessed by the power of Jesus Christ, which "sets us free from this body of death."
The Cycle of Sin
Habitual sin is that which you know to be wrong before you do it, but then choose to forge ahead anyway. It unfolds within a powerfully defeating three-stage cycle of temptation, decision, and guilt. Satan is a master of deception and often rules each of these stages with surprising influence and stealth.
The greatest battle, as you well know, takes place during the stage of decision. You are faced with the temptation. Sin sits at your door, you are aware that letting it in is wrong and even weigh the consequences of shame and guilt but inevitably you yield to its call and open the door.
You were defeated before you began.
Step 1: Identify the Participants
Enter stage left: You are a child of God, pure and spotless before the Father. Even now, your spirit is seated with Christ in heaven (Eph. 2:6). Your spirit is at union with the Spirit of God and its desire is to glorify the Lord in all you do.
Enter stage right: Referred to as your flesh by the Apostle Paul (Rom. 7:14), it represents your past. Everything you have been conditioned to up to the point of salvation. It's your desire to live separately from the will of the Father.
Step 2: Identify the Battlefield
Romans 8:5 says, "For those who are according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit."
Your mind is the battlefield. Everything goes down right here. Satan may tempt, but he doesn't cause you to sin. He places the sin in front of you (stage one), your flesh swallows it hook, line and sinker, but your spirit resists. Agreeing with the Law of God and confessing that it is good (Rom. 7:16), a battle ensues within your mind and results in a decision (stage two). The consequences (stage three) are noted by Paul in Romans 8:6. "For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace."
Step 3: Becoming Prepared for the Battle
It is no wonder that Paul writes in Romans 12:2, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
Again, in 2 Corinthians 10:5. "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
Philippians 4:8, "Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things."
The key to winning the battle and defeating the dominance of a habitual sin is the status of your mind. Accountability partners, pledges and promises to God, and even total isolation from that which tempts you will not prevent your flesh from longing after that which is sinful.
Step 4: So Let's Win Some Battles!
Temptation and your flesh will be with you until the day of Christ's return. Victory will only be available to those who embrace the battle plan of Jesus. You must make daily time with Him a priority in your life. This won't happen on your own, though. You must wake up and ask for the desire to spend time with Him. Be honest. Ask for the Holy Spirit's conviction to come upon you when you don't begin the day with Him.
Stay away from that which perverts your mind. Remember that a clean battlefield will be much easier to maneuver on than one laden with landmines and enemy soldiers.
Finally, remember that you have not yet arrived. Your spirit is at continual war with your flesh (Rom. 7:23). Even the slightest wandering away from the will of God opens the door for the enemy's onslaught to begin. Your relationship with God prior to the temptation is key to the decision that will be made in the midst of the battle.
You can do it. You are a soldier in the Lord's army. He has already secured victory for the war; your task is to remain strong throughout the battles. Rest on His strength and don't be afraid to ask Him for help.
Read Romans 7:13-8:17 several times over. Identify the different players in the war, the ways they interact, and the consequences / benefits of which side you fight for.
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin (Rom. 7:24-25).
I stumbled across this article today just after hanging up from talking to a dear friend who is struggling in the area of lust. It seem like the church is a step behind in helping people (especially men) in this area. It is hard to approach the topic of sexual sin. It makes us feel uncomfortable and is an awkward topic. Still I see this as perhaps the single largest struggle in the life of men. In just the past year I have encountered at least five men who are struggling in this area. In particular all of their struggles lead to on spot. The internet.
The internet has provided a place for people to anonymously view pornography. It gives a place where in our own homes, we can hide and look at things that used to be only available by going to a trashy bookstore or order pay per view. The internet is such a great tool. Being in the Northeast and in Maine in particular I rely on the internet for networking, ideas and shopping for resources. But like everything, Satan has made evil dwell on the internet as well. All your lust can be fed with only a few keystrokes.
Sin is not usually hard to fall into, but the internet has made it even easier. Sometimes I will be surfing and will be innocently looking for things for ministry and be accidently linked to a site of questionable value. Before you know it sometimes you are being bombarded with images. Unlike the bookstore or the television, internet porn can just jump up on your screen without your invitation and without warning. Satan must sit back and laugh with glee as he sees men (and women) fall into his devious trap.
I believe the modern church needs to address this issue head on. We should start prayer ministries that are specifiacally designed to pray against this sin gaining a foothold in our congregations. We need to be addressing this sin from the pulpit. We need to be offering help for those who are struggling in this area in the manner of support and counseling We need to offer these services readily and upfront. The sin is anonymous and I fear that if we do not freely and openly offer our help, those caught in the struggle will be more likely to hide in their "closets" and not come out to share. In a sense we have to do what we can to remove the stigma that accompanies this sin and while not belittling it, openly share that it is a common struggle and there is peace and forgiveness to be found. There is a way out of the trap.
I pray that we, as leaders of Christian communities will be able to stand up against this attack. I pray that we will be able to provide hope and help for those who struggle.