Trying Harder to Overcome Sin Doesn’t Work
Overcoming Sin Has a Low Success Rate
There seems to be a disconnect when it comes to sin and the believer in Christ. The Bible is clear that sin is no longer our problem, since it was done away with, and we have been set free from its power. The apostle Paul declared that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:56-57). Yet the main focus of many believers is “trying to overcome sin.” Something is fundamentally and theologically wrong with this. There must be a better way.
I propose that much of our struggle with sin is in the area of belief rather than performance. Trying harder to stop sinning has not worked well for most of us who will be honest about it. Actually, this was the basic approach used by God’s people before the Cross. Keeping the Law is no easier since the cross than before it. We may sin less in overt behavior, but sin includes much more than just outward behavior. We also sin in thought and motive, not just in what we do or don’t do. Some people appear to be better at controlling their behavior than others, but on the “perfection spectrum,” we all come up very short. However, God has a better plan. It is has to do with grace and the finished work of Christ.
Someone long ago asked, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” The Apostle Paul answered with:
“May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:1-4)
The answer to dealing with sin is not in somehow overcoming it, but in figuring out how we are to walk in the “new way of life” as people who have died to sin and been raised up with Christ.
Truth believed with the heart transforms us.
Sin becomes less and less of an issue when we know truth in our heart and walk accordingly. To the degree that we KNOW the truth with our hearts we will experience transformation and spontaneously express the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit is not something we can ever produce ourselves, since it is God’s fruit. But then, we also cannot overcome sin any easier than we can produce fruit. It seems we are helpless on both ends of the spectrum.
The fruit is the natural and expected outcome of “Christ in us” living his life through us. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:19-20). This is how we produce fruit and also the way we deal with sin; faith.
When I say know the truth, I am not saying that if we can quote a particular Bible verse that we will be transformed by it. For this is not so. Knowing the truth intellectually will only carry us so far. We must know it by faith, with absolute certainty, and with complete assurance and conviction (Heb 11:1). This is heart belief.
Only God can grant this level of knowing. He does this when He grants “you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him… [and when He opens] …the eyes of your heart… [so you] …may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling…” (Eph.1:17-18).
When we see the truth with the eyes of our hearts, we will believe and be transformed by it. It is heart belief that transforms us and moves us away from sin. The Psalmist said it clearly when he declared, “Thy Word have I hidden in my heart that I may not sin against thee” (Psm. 119:11) When I know the truth in my heart, transformation always follows! When I know the truth in my heart, it will feel true because I believe it.
When I know the truth in my heart, it will feel true because I believe it.
Read each of the following truths and feel what you read. Does each one feel true? Notice that I did not ask, “Are they true?” or “Do you believe them to be the truth?” but rather, “Do they FEEL true?”
Does it feel true that…
- You are complete in Christ. “… in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority…” (Col. 2:5).
- You are alive with Christ. ”…even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” (Eph. 2:5).
- You are set free from the law of sin and death. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2).
- You are born of God, and the evil one cannot touch you. “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 Jo. 5:18).
- You are holy and without blame. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4).
- You possess the mind of Christ. “…we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16)
- You have put off the old and have put on the new. “… you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—” (Col. 3:9-10)
- You are God’s child. “…you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).
- You are God’s workmanship. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
- You are a new creature in Christ. “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
- You are a joint-heir with Christ. “… if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17).
- You are more than a conqueror through Him. “… in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37)
- You are a partaker of His divine nature. “… seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
- You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. “… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Pet. 2:9).
- You are the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21)
- You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
- You are forgiven of all sins and washed in the Blood. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…” (Eph. 1:7).
- You have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus. “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…” (Col. 1:13).
- You have been raised up with Christ and are presently seated in heavenly places. “He raised us up together with Him [when we believed], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, [because we are] in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2:6).
- Christ lives in you. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
As you read these truths did they feel true to you? When we know the truth it will feel true. If any of these truths did not feel true it is because you believe something else. Trying harder to believe will not profit you any more than trying to overcome sin. We must identify what we believe that is contrary to the truth and ask the Lord to grant us “a spirit of wisdom and knowledge” and to “open the eyes of our heart” so that we can see the truth He has for us with our heart. TPM is a tool that can help us in this.