Last week, I had a good conversation with a friend of mine about habitual sin. He was finding it so difficult to overcome sin in his life, and he kept falling back into failure. I know what this feels like because, like everyone else, I struggle with certain sins that never seem to release me from their grip.
How do we overcome these sins? How do we escape the enslavement of lust, fear, worry, pride, and a whole slew of sinful habits and attitudes? And, above all, where is God? Doesn’t He see how hard we are trying to overcome sin? Why doesn’t He help us? Why doesn’t He honor our pleas to take the temptation away?
I think the answer to this question comes from an observation I’ve made — that without fail, the worst failure and sin comes on days when we fail to study the Bible. From talking with other guys and holding them accountable, I’ve come to believe that this almost a rule set in stone. When they don’t spend time in the Word, they end up falling back into sin on that very day.
I realized, while talking to my friend, that so often we let the tail wag the dog. We see Bible study and prayer as a means to combat sin. While this is true, it’s not the right perspective. I think what God is trying to teach us through these trials and temptations is not “you need to stop sinning in this area” but rather “you need to depend on Me more.” If we don’t turn to His Word, we’re missing the whole point — so it’s no wonder we continue to lapse into sin! The sin is simply the result of not relying on God’s Word — of not viewing it as incredibly precious. If we don’t view God’s Word as precious, then we don’t view Him as precious.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). If our response to habitual sin is “I’m grieved that I’m sinning and I just want to stop,” that’s worldly grief. It sees the sin divorced from God’s plan for our lives. Thus, when we can’t overcome the sin by using tricks, gimmicks, and accountability partners, we sink into discouragement. Godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation because it says, “Even though it grieves Him, God is allowing this sin to take place. He wants to show me that I’m not relying on God’s Word. I’d better cling desperately to it as my only hope to be saved.”
Later on in 2 Corinthians, Paul described how God humbled him, giving him a “thorn in the flesh” — in this case, a “messenger of Satan” sent to harass him (12:7). He wrote,
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (12:8-9). God told Paul that this trial was meant to make him weak — to crush him so that he would turn to the power of Christ. That’s what we’re called to do as well.
Our goal can’t merely be to escape habitual sin. That would be missing the point of what God is trying to teach us. He allows us to struggle because it forces us to fix our eyes on Jesus — to immerse ourselves in the Word of God, to cry out to Him in prayer, and to humble ourselves under His hand. Our goal must be to rely on God alone, for only then can sin be brought to an end.