Does sin have a stranglehold on you? Are you struggling against its grip, but losing more battles than you are winning?
Sin is a living, dynamic force in human nature! It is actually a law — a law as real and certain as the law of gravity. The apostle Paul was very much aware of sin's power when he wrote about the "law of sin which is in my members" (Rom. 7:23). The apostle John also understood the nature of sin, and wrote, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8). If we fail to comprehend this little understood truth about sin, we will continue to lose in our daily battles with it. We tend to think of sin as simply an act of disobedience, and fail to recognize that sin is a law or cancerous condition that reigns in our bodies. Outward acts of sin are only symptoms of the greater disease within. We must lay the ax to the root of the tree if we are to achieve total victory. If sin exists in our very nature, is there any lasting hope of conquering it? Yes! Paul exhorted, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" (Rom. 6:12). Paul further declared, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). We cannot conquer sin on our own, but God will provide the power we need. But first, before we can successfully reckon with sin, we must see sin for what it is.
Sin has power
You know you shouldn't sin, but you find yourself succumbing to sin's lures and temptations time and again. "But how can this be?" you may ask. Perhaps you are baptized, and think: When I was baptized I thought I was cleansed of my sins and that they would never emerge again. Yet I am still plagued with the lusts and temptations of my former life. If you ask yourself this question, then you do not fully understand the nature of sin. It is true that when you were baptized, the slate was wiped clean. You were justified before God and all your past sins were forgiven. But baptism did not remove the energy and power of sin that remained in your nature. As we shall see, it is this lingering power of sin within us that we must deal with and overcome. You need to understand how sin works as a dynamic power within your nature — and how to overcome it! A number of analogies from nature demonstrate how sin works. For example, we know how one spot of decay on an apple will eventually cause the entire fruit to rot. Rust in a few spots on a car, if not repaired, will in time destroy the value of the entire automobile. Similarly, one cancer cell, if not contained, will spread through the body till vital organs are reached, bringing death. That's power! And sin, unless controlled and conquered, has the same power to destroy us — for eternity. Perhaps the most graphic analogy in all creation of how sin works is that of leaven. Leaven starts small — just a pinch of yeast will leaven an entire loaf of bread (Gal. 5:9). But, because leaven is a living organism, it soon grows and spreads through all the dough, actually changing and assimilating to its own nature the original dough with which it is mixed. Sin, too, starts small — with our first wrong thought. If we allow this thought to linger in our mind, it will grow into a strong temptation or desire. Then, if we give the temptation or desire enough time, it will become uncontrollable and overpower our will to resist. Left weak and defenseless, we will succumb to the temptation and sin. James 1:13-15 explains this process in a simple but powerful way: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." But sin doesn't stop there. With each succeeding act of sin that we commit, the sin will pick up momentum and strength, eventually searing our conscience. The sinful act will then become an enthralling, pleasurable habit. This will lead to self-will, hardness of heart and outright rebellion against God. Once the sin is firmly established, it will open the way for other sins to enter. And eventually our whole heart, mind and being will become corrupted. The end result of sin, then, is total disintegration of righteous character so that we cannot and will not repent — the unpardonable sin: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:4-6). Sin, then, like leaven or yeast, has the power to permeate our entire being. Is it any wonder, then, that God builds the second of His seven annual festivals, which show His plan of redemption for mankind, around this analogy of leaven? The Days of Unleavened Bread picture our responsibility to completely eliminate sin — spiritual leaven — from our lives (I Cor. 5:7-8). After our sins have been forgiven through repentance and application of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, pictured by the Passover, the first festival, we must strive to overcome this power of sin that still influences our nature. This requires us to remain in a constant state of repenting, because we will stumble and sin again on occasion — we must daily ask God to again apply Christ's sacrifice to atone for our sins. Satan the devil also plays a role in perpetuating this destructive power of sin. After all, he is the author and instigator of sin — the actual living force behind it — the one who gives sin its life and energy. Satan broadcasts the thoughts, attitudes, lusts and temptations that arouse within us the desires to break God's laws. Satan works in the disobedient (Eph. 2:2). Thus we are confronted with a two-fold battle — that of abstaining "from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (I Pet. 2:11) and that of resisting Satan the devil (I Pet. 5:8-9).
The key to overcoming
We are born into a world filled with temptations and sin. We become subject to a carnal nature before we even know it. We often refer to this as human nature — or it could be defined as the power of sin. But now we come to a vital distinction. After repentance and baptism, even though we still have a carnal nature that works in our members, we also have received another nature — a new, spiritual nature from God. Notice how Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong explains this significant truth in his booklet, What Do You Mean — The Unpardonable Sin? "God's Holy Spirit within you is the presence of a new nature — a different nature — you are now a partaker of the divine nature (II Pet. 1:4). The nature that not only wants to be good — but wants to do righteousness. But, mark this well! The reception of God's divine nature within us did not remove the old human nature, with its pulls and temptations. Nor will the human nature be completely removed until the resurrection, and change into spirit composition — until you are no longer composed of matter, but of spirit." Clearly, we now have two natures coexisting side by side, but these two natures are diametrically opposed to each other: "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:17, see also Rom. 6:11-22). The battle of the Christian life, then, revolves around the struggle between these two natures. Many Christians stumble, become discouraged with their lack of spiritual progress and fall. Not fully realizing that sin is a power that is energized within them by Satan, they easily fall prey to their own lusts and Satan's devices. The key to winning the battle over sin is simple: We must feed our spiritual nature and starve the sinful one. And we are not left to battle by ourselves! We have an advocate with God — Jesus Christ the righteous (I John 2:1) — who intervenes for us. Jesus sits at God's right hand in heaven to plead our cause and to pour out mercy and forgiveness — we have access to God's throne and God's help (Heb. 4:15-16). But God is also dwelling in us by the Holy Spirit, and that is our hope of victory and glory (Gal. 2:20, Col. 1:27). We overcome, by the blood of the Lamb, Satan's evil accusations (Rev. 12:11), becoming free from sin. And we are enabled to walk blameless before God with increasing spiritual strength and power by the very life of Jesus in us, which saves us (Rom. 5:10). The process of overcoming sin, then, involves rejecting the things of Satan and growing in the nature of Christ.
Feed the spiritual nature
Just as our physical body needs daily food to sustain energy, strength and health, so it is with our spiritual life. We need spiritual food to derive the strength to fight our foes. Here are some practical steps that will provide us with a concentrated diet of spiritual food: • Bible study. Jesus Christ said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Our purpose in Bible study should be to so saturate our minds with God's thoughts that we will instantly be ready to combat Satan, the world and our own flesh. By filling our hearts and minds with the Word of God, we will reinforce our ability to resist the forces of evil and to strive steadily toward God's Kingdom. We are to be literally washed by the Word of God (Eph. 5:26). • Prayer. We must be in a constant state of prayer. Paul told the Romans to continue " instant [constantly diligent] in prayer" (Rom. 12:12). In order for God's strength and life to flow into us, it's imperative that we keep in daily contact with God. Our spiritual strength is thus renewed each day (II Cor. 4:16). If we walk closely with God, God will give us the help to conquer. • Meditation. David found that meditating on God's law day and night was one of his greatest sources of strength: "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made we wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation" (Ps. 119:97-99). Meditation, coupled with the power of God's Holy Spirit, opens for us new realms of understanding. Meditation is a process of assimilating the Word of God, the bread of life. The more our minds are filled with spiritual truth, the less room there will be for Satan to enter. • Sermons and Bible studies. God's ministry is commissioned to feed God's flock (John 21:15-17). God's ministers have been specially trained to expound and enlarge the meaning of the Scriptures. When we attend services with a keen desire to learn God's truth, we will discover rich gems of knowledge — tools of spiritual warfare — we could never find on our own (Rom. 10:14). • Fellowship with God's people. Frequent fellowship with brethren of like faith provides a wealth of spiritual food and motivation. Hebrews 3:13 commands, "But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." We must always strive to keep our fellowship and conversation positive, edifying and encouraging each other at every opportune moment (Gal. 6:1-2,6, 10). By mingling with brethren who are close to God and filled with His Spirit, we will absorb much spiritual strength (Rom. 1:11-12). • God's Holy Spirit. The bottom line to winning the victory over sin and Satan lies with God's Holy Spirit, where we get our true power for battle (Eph. 3:16-20, Rom. 8:1-4). Ephesians 5:18 commands us to "be filled with the Spirit." In every prayer, we should ask God to give us a renewed supply of His Spirit. When we are filled with God's Spirit, there remains no place for sin to enter or Satan to work.
Starve sin and Satan
The secret to conquering our sinful nature is to cut off its "food supply." In other words, we must starve it to death. To the degree that we accomplish this feat — starving our sinful nature, but feeding the spiritual — we will overcome and win the victory over sin. Here are steps to overcoming sin: • Bring every thought into captivity. Paul exhorts us to bring "into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Cor. 10:5). This requires a high degree of discipline. Guard the door of your mind and examine every thought. Allow nothing to enter except what is pure and clean in God's eyes (Phil. 4:8). Follow the lead of God's Spirit and develop a right conscience. Don't rationalize with temptation, but crush it immediately. Keep up your defenses at all times (Prov. 16:32) and look to God for help. • Flee from temptation. We are commanded to "Flee fornication" (I Cor. 6:18). Jesus Christ revealed the urgency of getting away from sin in His instruction to pluck out our eye or cut off our right hand if they tempt us to sin (Matt. 5:29-30). Of course, He was using a powerful figure of speech; He did not mean we should literally cut off our hand or pluck out our eye. Our hands and eyes only obey our mind and do not by themselves lead us into sin. Colossians 3:5 shows what Jesus was literally telling us to cut out. We should either remove ourselves immediately from the scene of temptation or take whatever means are necessary to choke off the power of temptation's influence. Do you take a second or third look at something or some situation that you know to be wrong? If so, you are feeding your sinful nature and playing into the hands of the enemy. Grab yourself by the collar and run as far away as possible! Don't look back, leer or linger — quickly cast out the wrong thought. • Control your natural drives. God gave us our five senses to enjoy the good things of life in a balanced, wholesome way. But when we indulge them to excess, the power of sin begins to exert itself and take over. God commands us to be temperate, or moderate, in all things (II Pet. 1:6). Master yourself and never allow physical lusts to take preeminence. • Control your temper. Giving vent to uncontrolled anger is one of the surest ways to let the devil find access into your mind. "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil" (Eph. 4:26-27). Determine to keep a cool head and a steady disposition. Try to anticipate problem situations and avoid or neutralize them. The key is to remain close to God so that, with His Holy Spirit, you can constantly be alert and use the power of instant self-control. • Love not the world. This society is the devil's playground — a carnival-like atmosphere designed to arouse unholy lusts and distractions for a Christian. Even though we must live in this sinful world, we should remember that we are God's people and not be drawn into the world's wicked practices (Rom. 12:2). John wrote: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (I John 2:15-17). Clearly, the battle lines are drawn. We must resist and reject the lures and lusts of the world and Satan as though our lives depended on it. For, spiritually speaking, they do — eternally! Sin is more sinister and pervasive than just an act of disobedience against God's law. Sin is a power or law that works in our very members. Overcoming, then, is the process of nourishing God's nature within ourselves and starving human nature. This calls for constant self-discipline and making use of God's power. By God's power, we are enabled to overcome. And, with God's power, we will!