An email I recieved:
“I have seen your website and read through some of the things on there. I have already prayed to receive Christ and feel God calling me to ministry. But right now I am really struggling with a particular sin in my life and I cannot seem to get victory from it in my life. It has caused me to have doubts of salvation and calling. How can I get victory over this sin? If you have any advice or answers that would be great.
Dear brother in Christ,
I am not sure what the sin is or how particularly destructive it is in your life, but let me try to encourage you. I spent from the age of 20 through 23 praying nearly every night that God would get rid of destructive sins in my life (primarily fornication). I felt the calling at that time as well. God would just not seem to give me victory. Every time I would muster up the will to get rid of it, I would let all my friends know that it was over. Then, within just a couple of days or weeks, I would be back into it. And, to top it all off, when I got back into it, I seemed to become more depraved than I was before. It was so frustrating and disheartening. I even had to quit teaching a Bible study I began to teach, because I fell back into the sin three months after I started the Bible study. This was embarrassing and shameful. I often just wanted to give up trying because I felt God was not going to come to my rescue and give me deliverance. I would sometimes, with tears in my eyes, blame him for making me that way.
There are still sins in my life that I can’t seem to get rid of. I just prayed last night with the same zeal that God would change me. Sure, the sins are not evident and destructive like sleeping around, but they are, for some reason, just as disheartening. I often wonder why God does not answer sincere requests for things that are good. He is slow. Often, very slow. John Piper once said, “I don’t doubt God due to the problem of evil. When I doubt God it is due to the slowness of my sanctification.” I am glad he said that. It helps me a great deal. My sanctification is so slow. I mean, like, come on Lord. Just sanctify me completely and instantly once I ask. What gives? But he does not. Even the great Apostle Paul says that he did not do the things he wanted to do, but continually practiced the very things he hated. Read Roman 7:15-24. We will always struggle with sin this side of heaven.
So, in one sense I am saying, “Join the crowd.” However, there are things that cause me to have victory in my life more than others. The basic principle I try to live by (though it does not always work!), is that I have to quit dwelling on getting rid of the sin and focus my attention toward other things. Dwelling on getting rid of the sin can sometimes, ironically, give it greater control over your life. A wise pastor, a mentor of mine, once told me that there are two ways to get the air out of a glass bottle: 1) Try to suck it out or 2) fill it with something else. I think when we focus on our sin, it is like trying to suck the air out of a bottle. However, when we fill our lives with other things, we will look back after a while and see that the sin just naturally went away. I suppose that this is part of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we are, we cannot sin (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18).
A few words of advice:
- If you have the opportunity, make a big change. This could be moving, getting a new job, or going on a long vacation. Sometimes our ruts have more power because they have become such a habit, which can be facilitated by our surroundings.
- Make sure that you are surrounding yourself with the right people. This is not so they can ask you about your sin every day (as I said, this sometimes makes things worse), but so that you can be inspired by new examples. This could relate to #1, as you may have to get away from some bad examples.
- Don’t give yourself the opportunities to sin. Sometimes this comes in idle times. Being idle is the handmaiden of sin. Make sure you stay busy. If you don’t have a job, find ways to volunteer until you find one. Just make sure you are not sitting around staring at the wall. Stay busy.
- Run from those things that aggravate sin. Joseph ran from the wife of a man who wanted to sleep with him (Gen. 39:7). I don’t figure this was because he was so strong. It was probably because he knew he was so weak. Get rid of those things in your house or life that instigate this sin. Run from them. I had to run from my drinking buddies, whom I loved dearly, in order to even begin to recover. Some people need to get rid of friends too. Others need to get rid of cable, the Internet, clear out their food pantry, or quit their job. It may seem drastic, but it’s the whole “If your hand causes you to stumble . . .” stuff Jesus talked about (Matt. 5:30).
- If possible, get involved at a deeper level at your local church. It is harder to sin when people are relying on you to stay strong. When you are the only one you disappoint when you fall into sin, it will be very hard to remain consistent. After all, it is easy to get used to letting ourselves down. It is harder to let the Body of Christ down.
- Never give up. One person has once said that the Christian life is a life of new beginnings every morning. You may live with this sin for a long time. It may plague you the rest of your life. But never give up the battle. Never quit bringing it to the Lord. He may allow it to be a humbling weakness. I don’t know why he works the way he does, but I do know that giving up is not an option. If you have to pick yourself up off the ground and make a new beginning every morning for the rest of your life, join with me and do it!
- Finally, and most importantly, don’t quit accepting the grace and forgiveness of God. He forgives us an infinite amount of times (Matt. 18:22). I know how hard it get to accept God’s grace after the twenty-thousanth time I have fallen into the same sin. I know how you just want to say, “Just forget it. I am not asking for your grace again. I am too ashamed.” Don’t ever go there. God’s grace is enough to forgive you this time and the twenty-million times that follow. God’s grace is a radical, unbelievable, strange, and inexhaustible grace.
Remain encouraged, my friend. There are few people I know who are not in an ongoing battle with some sin. Those who say they are not . . .well . . . they are lying!
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]