Every Christian who is honest says these words: It is a struggle to overcome sin. As an avid reader and a pastor and speaker for many years, I realize that the bulk of sermons, books and articles about this subject speak largely of our responsibility. And we do have a huge responsibility as debtors to the grace of God to obey and live the way we are supposed to. This article is going to focus on what God does to help us in this battle.
Sometimes we feel as though we are in this fight alone. I want you to realize that you are not in this battle alone. Your heavenly Father is very concerned about how you live as well. Theologians often call this struggle for personal holiness – sanctification. When you get saved, when you accept Christ, your standing with God changes. You become “righteous” in his eyes.
After that there is a continual process in your life of becoming more like Jesus. It is a process that God uses in our lives to purify us. Our God is involved in “setting us apart.” God is not up there up there on the throne uninvolved. He is active in your life. Before this article is over you will see that your God, like a loving Father is there to guide you, to strengthen you.
This is my prayer for you today as you read this. It is a biblical prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” In other words, Paul was praying for the church at Thessalonica and basically he said God has a part to play. Notice the words: “May God himself sanctify you…” God is active in the process.
That word sanctify you means to “set you apart”. In other words, may your life be different, may every area of your life through and through be as God wants it. Pure. blameless. And then he ends with a promise. That the one who called you is faithful and he will do it. He is not going to leave you fight this battle all alone. He is going to be active in your life.
You probably have these questions
- What is God going to do?
- How is God going to sanctify me?
- How is he going to be faithful to do it?
- How is God going to set me apart?
- What does this process look like from God’s end?
Let me give you two things that God has already done and then I will share two things that God is doing currently in your life as a believer. Before you ever got saved, before you even thought about giving your life to Jesus, even before you were born. God gave you a wonderful gift in your struggle to overcome sin.
- GOD GAVE YOU A CONSCIENCE.
Those of you with little children will be amazed at how soon those children under your care can recognize good from bad. How quickly they recognize right from wrong. Why? It is because a loving heavenly Father hard wired them with a conscience. They quickly learn the meaning of “no” and when they have been disobedient – they not only act guilty, they feel guilty. Why? They have a conscience.
Webster’s defines the word conscience as “a knowledge or feeling of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right.” This is a universal truth. It doesn’t matter if you were born the wealthy son of a billionaire in the first world or if you live your life in the jungles of New Guinea. God in his love for us hard wired all mankind to have a conscience. All men have a conscience.
This is a biblical concept. In the New Testament in the KJV. The word conscience is used 31 times in 29 verses. You see before you even knew Jesus, your heavenly Father did not want you to mess up your life with sin and so he in a loving way gave you a wonderful gift. Your conscience is a gift from God.
You may remember the Bible event when they brought to Jesus a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and they threw her at Jesus feet. The crowd had stones in their hands. And Jesus of course being true to his mission that he had not come to condemn the world, said Whoever is without sin, let him cast the first stone. And then he stooped down and he began to write on the ground. No one is sure what he wrote. But we do know what Gods word says. He wrote on the ground. Many feel he started writing names with a list of sins. Every person in the crowd was convicted by their own conscience and left. John 8:9 KJV says “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one…”
You see God loved you so much he gave you a conscience. 2 Corinthians 4:2 NIV Paul is defending his ministry and he says, “On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Note what it says in that verse that every man has a conscience. Why? It is because God wants for men to choose what is right. And so from the very beginning it is evident that God wants to spare us the harm that takes place when we sin. Let me tell you about the conscience. It doesn’t take away your freedom to choose. You can ignore your conscience.
The Bible tells us that you can even sear your conscience by continually sinning to the degree where it doesn’t speak much to you or very loudly.That is why a lot of people don’t feel those twinges of conscience anymore. They have chosen to ignore it. They have seared it. Sometimes we as believers need to pray, God restore my conscience.
The Second thing God has done to help you in this battle is that
2. GOD GAVE THE LAW
Before you were saved, or before you were born or even your great, great grandfather was born, God loved you so much that he gave to the world through the Jewish nation what the Bible refers to as the law. It is my firm belief that the laws and rules and regulations that we live by, the legal code of this land have their basis not only in the Jewish History but in the Law Giver himself. All laws can be traced to a loving Law Giver who wanted men to know his ways. All laws can be traced to a God who said, I will give my laws to men that they might know right and wrong.
That is one reason why that there is such a move today to take the 10 commandments out of every public place. Because to have the 10 commandments there it is a reminder that God is the one who revealed the moral code by which men should live. The law is the God’s authoritative and revealed revelation of right and wrong. It is the Ten Commandments. It is the Old Testament Torah, the Decalogue. The law is not our enemy. The law is good. The law is our friend and teacher. Because not only does it show us what is right and wrong. It show us our sin and that we are in need of God.
Romans 7:7 says, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” You see God has not been uninvolved in the process of setting you apart. You could not be sanctified through and through without a knowledge of right and wrong.
You would never have turned to God for help in the daily battle and struggle against sin if the law did not show you the utter helplessness you have against sin. From the very beginning it was his plan that law would produce a recognition of sin in you and when you recognize sin that you would turn to God for help and strength. God’s law is a gift to you. Psalm 119:9, 13-14 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statures as one rejoices in great riches.” God gave you the law so you would know his ways.
But you are probably thinking. Okay, that is great, but how is God helping me in the battle today? I need help in the battle right now. One pastor constantly preached about heaven. One unhappy parishioner told him, Listen, I won’t need help in the sweet by and by. I need help in the nasty now and now. What is God doing right now to help us in the battle against sin.
Let me give you specifically two things that God is doing right now.
3. GOD IS GIVING YOU THE HOLY SPIRIT
The disciples had the wonderful privilege of walking with Jesus. They actually got to live with Jesus. Any sinful area that came up was immediately dealt with. Sin was exposed for what it was. The devils schemes and plans were brought to light. When the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus dealt with their proud sinful attitudes by teaching them about servanthood. When Peter said the wrong thing, Jesus rebuked him. Stuff was dealt with because they walked with Jesus. And I know that there are many believers who say. “If Jesus was right there beside me, If he was right alongside me, I could really be obedient. I could really be victorious. I know I could just win the battle. It would be wonderful.”
The days before Jesus death, burial, and resurrection were traumatic in the lives of the disciples. Because Jesus told them plainly he was going to die, and not be with them anymore. The disciples knew that there was a multidimensional struggle against sin. They wanted to be obedient. Jesus knew the struggle they were having and so he gave them a wonderful promise. He said, “I will not leave you like orphans. I will give you another.”
In John 14:15-17 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. (Jesus is saying, live right, He is acknowledging the struggle. Then notice the promise.) And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-the Spirit of truth.”
The word translated Counselor here, or comforter here is the word in Greek called paraclete – it literally means “one called alongside to help”. In the early part of the disciples lives they walked with Jesus. They lived with Jesus. But they also had the privilege, after he ascended to heaven, and after Pentecost, to walk with the Holy Spirit and live with the Holy Spirit.
And that is our great privilege even today. You are not alone in your struggle to overcome sin. God has not left us to fight the battle all by ourselves. I am telling you that you are not out there all alone fighting this multidimensional battle against sin. There is one who is called alongside you to help. The Holy Spirit. Jesus did not just ascend into heaven and say, I hope you guys can do this thing. No. He asked the Father to send another. Every believer has the great privilege of knowing the Holy Spirit.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
- He is God.
- He is the third person of the trinity.
- He is as much God as Jesus.
- He is not a feeling or force.
- He is a person.
- He is there alongside of you as your counselor, as your comforter.
Whether you realize it or not, if you are a believer, he is right there beside you willing and wanting to help you. What does he do?
The first thing he does is
a. He convicts us.
John 16:8 “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” Before you come to Jesus and accept him, it is the Holy Spirit who is the one that convinces you that the way you are living is not right. He convinces you that there is a better way to live. He convinces you that God loves you and that his way is better. He will convince you of judgment.
We talk about and know the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I feel like one of the things we need to welcome as a church is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He convicts. We need the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I pray all the time for the church I pastor, “Lord, we want your presence.” If Gods presence and God’s glory is there, then there will be conviction. What does it feel like? It feels like a heaviness. It feels like a sorrow. It feels like our conscience bothering us, but it is like our conscience is supercharged.
How many of you remember the day when you gave your life to Jesus? At first there was a struggle in you. That struggle, that pain, that sorrow, weighed upon you. It drives you to the Lord. It is a good thing. It is God’s goodness that causes us to repent. It makes you look at your sin and say this isn’t right. I shouldn’t do this. I have found out is that when a church prays that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is augmented. It is though He is released to do his work. I believe with all of my heart that more people are converted by experiencing the presence of God than by all of the intellectual arguments ever given. Us preachers think we are “all that”! We aren’t anything. I have heard testimonies that said, “I don’t know or remember what the preacher said but I remember that loving, convicting, caring, wooing, wonderful presence of the Lord that captured my heart.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t stop convicting just because we become a Christian. I want you to understand that the Holy Spirit purpose is not to condemn you. It is not condemnation. It is conviction. There is a difference.
Condemnation says: I am telling you this because am angry with you and you will never change and you are on your way to hell!
Conviction says: I am telling you this because I love you, I want to help you, I believe you can change, you are not acting according to who you are. The Holy Spirit not only convinces us that sin is wrong, but that we can live above it. Our District Superintendent Brother Joseph Granberry has commented about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. He said something like this: The Holy Spirit does not take away your ability to sin. You can sin as a Christian. But the Holy Spirit takes the fun out of it. You may sin, but you will have a feeling of why am I doing this?
But how many of you have ever been sinning and down in your heart you felt such conviction that you said, I am miserable. In fact, do you know who the most miserable people are? I will tell you. Lukewarm Christians. They don’t have the joy of the Lord. They don’t have the temporary happiness that the world offers either. They are miserable. I want you to know that there comes a joy in your life when you repent and turn to God.
King David knew God yet he sinned with Bathsheba. He committed adultery. He committed murder to cover it up. When Nathan the prophet pointed his finger in David’s face, David felt conviction. He was miserable when he saw his sin for what it was. He cried out to God a prayer of repentance. Psalm 51: 12 he said, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”
God did it. He gave David back his joy. And he gave him a willing spirit! That is what God does to help us in our struggle to overcome sin. He is the faithful convincer. Every time you and you start to pray, isn’t the Holy Spirit faithful to bring to your mind those areas of your life that you have failed in? Sure. As you confess and repent, joy will come.
b . He strengthens our inner man
The Holy Spirit is able to make you strong inside. We need that willing spirit to sustain us. The Holy Spirit is able to make you strong. You may ask, Why doesn’t he? I feel weak. I have the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I speak in tongues from time to time. But yet I feel weak why? Let me tell you why. In order for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, you have to spend time with Him. You have to acknowledge him. One of the greatest mistakes many people make is not learning how to seek God and pray and commune with him. Jesus said, My house will be called a house of prayer. We need to learn how to linger. We need to let the Holy Spirit sweep over us.
We need to just soak. There is an atmosphere of God’s presence and it is easy to get into the flow and just soak up that supernatural strength. Get in the presence of the Holy Spirit and he will strengthen you!
Ephesians 3:16-4:1b “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (A few verses later he gives you the reason why we need to be strengthened.)…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
When you listen to praise and worship music in your car, the Holy Spirit will envelope you and there is a strengthening that takes place. When you practice the spiritual discipline of worship in God’s house there is a strengthening that takes place.
c. He teaches and reminds us
The Holy Spirit is so faithful in the daily battle. He will teach you and remind you. John 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” As you live your daily life, in the business world, at the beach in Galveston, at the shopping center, just open your spiritual ears up and be aware to that still small voice and you will hear him constantly and continually teaching you and reminding you. You are not fighting this battle all alone. The Holy Spirit is with you. He wants you to win in your struggle to overcome sin.
What if I ignore all that? What if as a Christian, I decide I am going to sin anyway. It is possible. When that happens we can grieve the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” What happens if I choose sin and continually life a life for the flesh. What happens?
What does God do? Does he hate us? Does he blot us out of the book? God then begins to discipline us.
4. GOD DISCIPLINES US
Just like a loving Father or Mother disciplines their children so that they will not continually choose a life of sin, Our wonderful heavenly Father will extend his grace to us and will discipline us in our lives. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a young man. This is kind of an extreme case. This young man came to church, he sat on the front pew. He lived a double life. On the one hand he said, I am a believer. He was married with some kids. A lovely wife. One time he told me something incredible. He said, I don’t know why I can sin and get away with it. He said, I sin and nothing happens. He said, I can be in church on Sunday morning after doing something wrong on Saturday night and nothing happens. I told him the following, I said, God is giving you space to repent. He is saying to you right now STOP! But he did not. He continued. The day came and his marriage was destroyed. He was left alone. He lost the respect of those who knew him, he lost the ability to live with his children. You say, Was that the chastening of the Lord? Was that the discipline of God? You better believe it!
Here is the good news. The sorrow that man felt lead him to repentance. He turned. Today he is living for God. The most loving thing that God could do (after space to repent and after the conviction of the Holy Spirit) was to resort to a loving discipline. How does he discipline believers?
a. By allowing things to be brought to the light
We all kind of have a fear of that. I don’t want my every thought broadcast on the screen, none of us do. One time many years ago, a man had many enemies, he didn’t know what else to do, he resorted to some crazy tactics. He wrote each one of his enemies a note. It was simple. He said, “You have been found out. I know what you have done. Leave town immediately or I will expose you.” They all left town.
God loves you enough to let your sin be exposed. You may have never heard a message like this. You say, I don’t think God would allow such a thing. This is what his word says in Mark 4:22-23 “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” That is God’s word. If you don’t believe that God exposes sin in the church, read the letters in Revelation to the seven churches. Jesus spoke plainly. God is the one who choose what gets exposed. 1 Timothy 5:24 “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.”
Another way God disciplines us is in our struggle to overcome sin is:
b. By allowing the consequences of our sin to come to fruition
A wise man once says that God gives us freedom to choose any lifestyle that there is. The one area of freedom that God does not allow is that we don’t get to choose the consequences of our sin. It is true. God chooses the consequences. Sin has consequences.
The prodigal Son in Luke 15 chose to spend his money living it up. He chose a lifestyle of sin. But the prodigal would have never chosen to have had the consequences he had. He wound up feeding the hogs and wishing he could eat the hogs’ food.
Another way God disciplines us is
c. By allowing us to feel disconnected from God.
Sin separates us from God. When we sin, we feel disconnected from God. Whether it is on our end or his end, I am not really sure. I will guarantee you that if you continue a life of sin. It is only a matter of time until you personally will not feel God as close to you as you once did. Whether or not or spiritual man becomes weak and our flesh becomes strong, I am not sure. Whether God somehow will take his manifest presence from us, I am not sure. I do know one thing. You feel disconnected.
David felt disconnected. He feared the Holy Spirit would be taken from him. Psalms 51:11 David is praying. He has committed adultery with Bathsheba. He has murdered to cover it up. This is what he says. “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” I don’t know about you but to me that is the worst feeling that there is.
Jonah the prophet knew it. He was in disobedience with God. God told him to go to Ninevah. He wouldn’t do it. He got on a ship going somewhere else. A storm arose. He wound up being cast over the side. He wound up in the belly of a great fish. He was being disciplined of the Lord. Jonah 2:4a we know he felt the separation from the Lord. He said, “I said, I have been banished from your sight;”
I am telling you as a believer you start feeling that separation. You feel it when you are out of fellowship. You are saying, I don’t understand all of this! Why would God discipline me? What does it prove? Does this mean that I am no longer his child? No! It proves that you are His child. Hebrews 12:4 “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding you blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lords discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
We look at these things and we think, I am not his son or daughter anymore. That is wrong thinking. It proves to you that you are His child. Just like a good Father or Mother when they discipline their children. They reassure them that they are loved. They may be spanked but then they are hugged. That is the way our God is. He may discipline us but as we return. The good news is that He will love us. He will hug us. We will know we are accepted.
God is involved in your struggle to overcome sin. Look at all he has done.
- He has given you a conscience
- He has given you the law.
- He has given you the Holy Spirit.
- He lovingly disciplines us.
So that in the end It will produce in us a harvest of righteousness and peace.