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Repetitive Sin

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How can I stop doing the same sin again and again?


Steve Answers:

The best way to stop doing the same sin
again and again is to die!

That’s right. I said you need to die. But please finish reading this column before you decide that I’m crazy!


Here’s how Paul put it: “Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NLT).1

You’ll find a similar message (but with more words) in Romans 6 (read the entire chapter). Here are a few statements from it:

“Sin’s power over us was broken when we became Christians and were baptized to become a part of Jesus Christ” (verse 3, TLB).2

“Your old evil desires were nailed to the cross with him [Christ]” (verse 6, TLB).

“When you are deadened to sin you are freed from all its allure and its power over you” (verse 7, TLB).

“Look upon your old sin nature as dead and unresponsive to sin, and instead be alive to God, alert to him, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (verse 11, TLB).


I’ve observed that it’s easy for people to get focused on a particular sin that seems to keep recurring in their life. For some people it’s a sexual sin; for others it’s pride or put-downs. Some struggle with peer pressure, and others seem completely addicted to shopping. You might know someone who gives in to drinking quite easily or dissing authority.


But all of these are merely symptoms of something much deeper. These are just outward demonstrations that something is wrong inside. If you focus on the outside, you’ll just be concealing the real problem. You can try behavior modification, such as changing a habit pattern or having an accountability partner, but what you really need is a change on the inside. 


This is also true for those who have already accepted Christ into their lives! Without Christ you’ll just naturally do acts of sin, because you have a sinful nature on the inside that keeps expressing itself in sinful actions on the outside. But when you accept Christ into your life, you now have a new purpose and a new power to counteract your sinful nature.


Your new purpose, when Christ dwells within, is to live for Him instead of living for yourself. Practically all sinful actions have their root in “me, me, me”—selfishly wanting things your way. You may try to cover this up in various ways, but your motives are usually all about you!


With Christ inside of you, your new power is supernatural instead of merely human or even superhuman. Only that can change your sinful nature, which will be present to at least some degree until Christ returns. That means your reliance on Him will continue. And if you mess up even though Christ is within you (because you still have the power of choice), simply confess your sinful action and your selfish motive and continue to depend on Him. He’ll forgive you and cleanse you (see 1 John 1:9).


If you want to see the difference between struggling with sin on your own and living in the power of the Holy Spirit, read Romans 7:14-25 and then contrast that with Romans 8:1-14. I like the way the New Living Translation presents it, although any version will do.


I should warn you that concentrating on a sin will keep you trapped in its small world. To illustrate that, say out loud “Don’t think about the screaming monkey!” Say it again: “Don’t think about the screaming monkey!” Say it five more times.

“Don’t think about the screaming monkey!”
“Don’t think about the screaming monkey!”
“Don’t think about the screaming monkey!”
“Don’t think about the screaming monkey!”
“Don’t think about the screaming monkey!”


Now, are you no longer thinking about the screaming monkey? Or are you instead thinking about the screaming monkey more than you’ve ever thought about a screaming monkey before? That’s the way it is with focusing on fighting a sin by yourself.


I’m not saying to ignore the “screaming monkey” (the sin you keep repeating). I’m saying to hand it over to God or ask Him to get it off your back. That frees you to do many positive things rather than just trying to stop doing something negative. Live for others. Take God’s kingdom where it isn’t, or celebrate it where it is.


Instead of using all of your energy to fight the devil, go to God! Immerse yourself in Him. Claim promises from Him. Revel in His goodness, power, and joy. Here’s God’s promise through Isaiah: “Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31, NLT). 


Those who think that sin stops when you accept Christ are clueless. The difference is that you can actually fight against it now. So keep returning to God, your source of strength.


You may not have ever read the little book of Titus, but the following verses from it are related to the question we’re discussing, and provide a good summary:


“The grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them” (Titus 2:11-15, NLT).

 

___________________________________________________________
1Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright  1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
2Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. Used by permission.
 



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