We all carry something around with us; it lurks in our hearts and follows us closer than our shadows. It is hungry and wants to devour our lives, consuming everything good and leaving nothing behind but destruction. There can only be one thing that matches this description: sin. Sin is a destructive force that will take everything that we are and strip us of all our long-term happiness for the sake of temporary pleasures.
We live our lives with sin, crouching at the door (Gen. 4:7). Temptation comes day by day, and we once again find ourselves in the whirling emotional and spiritual struggle to maintain integrity, holiness, joy, and peace as sin attempts to pry open the doors to our souls. We saw in my previous article that John Owen understood this and gave some helpful thoughts on putting sin to death.
Likewise, he left behind some practical notes on how to resist indwelling sin. In this article, we will expand on the idea of sin a little bit. My previous article served to begin a foundation on this idea, and now I hope to set the ball rolling towards helping you put sin to death in your daily struggles.
Temptation covers many things, from thinking about hurting other people to lustful actions. The world gives us a plethora of temptations every day. Some people are affected by some temptations more than others, but what is certain is that you struggle with your temptations, and sin knocks on the door of your heart in different ways to that of those around you. My struggle is not the same as yours, so I cannot speak directly into your situation. My struggle, however, is on the same level. I am a sinner who desires to no longer sin. I want to be pure and holy, but sin somehow manages to get a death chokehold of me to drag me down just when I think that things are going well. We can all, as Christians, relate to this; therefore, my current observations should be relevant to all readers, no matter what your specific sins and temptations are.
Think, for a moment, about your greatest struggle with sin. Now think about what draws you to that sin. What pleasure is it that you gain from giving in and sinning? Now think about the times that you are most vulnerable to your specific sin. What causes you to fall, when do you most fall, and why do you fall? These are questions that we must all ask ourselves periodically as we think about sin. When you begin to ask yourself these questions, you will be able to see where temptation most manifests itself in your life, and you will also begin to start making steps to conquer that sin.
Let us generically use the example of chocolate because who does not like chocolate? You love chocolate, and (realistically) if there were no negative consequences to eating it, then you would eat it all the time. However, you know it is wrong to be gluttonous, and you know that it will have a seriously negative impact on your health if you overeat it. Knowing this, you leave the cupboard where you have left a big bar of chocolate and put it out of your mind.
Unfortunately, you cannot forget about it; it lingers in your mind and will not go away. You tell yourself, “Well, dinner is a while away. I can have one piece.” But you go and eat the single piece only to find yourself eating more, and then more until the whole bar is finished. As you throw the wrapper in the trash bin, you hate yourself, and you vow that this will never happen ever again. Yet, somehow you find yourself in the supermarket buying another bar, and the whole situation repeats itself yet again.
When such temptations (no matter what they are) come to us, we must learn how to deal with what is in front of us. Paul told Timothy: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). That goes for all of us, young or old. Flee from your temptations. If that means you throw the chocolate bar that tempts you to gluttony out the window, then (responsibly) do that. If you have to sell your laptop to stop looking at pornography, then do that. If you have to stay away from a certain group of people so as not to be influenced by wrong, do whatever you need to do.
We see that our first goal is to identify what draws our flesh to sin the most. After this, we must identify what causes us to be tempted and avoid that temptation (see the story of a young man tempted with lust in Proverbs 7). Do whatever you have to in order to get away from temptation.
Psalm 1 shows that avoiding sin and temptation leads us to righteousness and even happiness. We are not to sit, stand, or walk with those things which would lead us into sin (v. 1). Instead, we must replace those sins with something else, holy things, such as meditating on God’s Word (v. 2). This way, we are like spiritually prosperous trees (v. 3) and not like dust which the wind blows away, leading to serious judgment (v. 4;5-6).
Do what you have to in order to get sin and temptation away from your life so that you can be like the spiritually prosperous tree of Psalm 1. We must be constantly watchful as Paul once wrote: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12), but he also followed this up by saying: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (v. 13). God can help you in this struggle, but you have to stand watchful, avoiding temptation, resisting and fleeing when it comes, and constantly asking Him for daily strength and looking to the example of His Son.
Replace Sin with Holiness
When we have identified our sins and temptations, doing all we can to avoid them, then we must find things that replace those sins and temptations. Jerry Bridges helpfully wrote: “Every sin we commit reinforces the habit of sinning and makes it easier to sin”. Bridges then goes on to show how we should, instead, form habits of holiness. On paper, this is simple; you take your sin and replace it with holiness.
Practically, the matter is a lot more difficult. Sin claws at us and will not go down without a fight. We must daily mortify our sin and improve all areas of holiness in our lives. We do that by avoiding and fleeing temptation while looking for how we can replace our sin with holiness. Ask yourself this: when you are tempted, how much do you flee from that temptation by praying? When you are right before your sin, how often do you say, “I will read the Bible instead?” In just those two examples, you can see how you can begin to have victory over sin by replacing the thought and draw of sin with things that are pleasing to God.
Reading the Bible instead of sinning will not be easy at first, but that is why you need to form it as a habit. Commit yourself to prayer and Bible reading every time temptation draws close to you, and you will begin to see victory over sin. We truly have amazing and powerful spiritual resources. We must all ask ourselves why aren’t we using what is available to us?
When Sin Returns
There will be a time when our successful pattern of replacing sin with holiness has made us stronger in faith than ever before. We rejoice at that; however, other sins may manifest as a result of previous victories. We might become proud that we have grown in a separate area of faith. Or maybe we will start looking down on those who struggle the way we used to: “I got over it, why does he not?” Sin will seek whatever way into your life it can possibly find, and your heart is always receptive to it. Jeremiah affirmed this when he said: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Our hearts are sinful and evil, constantly desiring to rebel against God, and even our very thoughts are of evil (Gen. 6:5). Is it any surprise that sin will come constantly but also at unexpected times? We often think we have completely uprooted sin from our hearts, but realistically it remains and is waiting to be stirred up again. Wayne Mack writes, “Our evil desires and inclinations may be compared to a fire that has died down. As long as the ashes are left alone, the fire will do no damage. But if someone stirs up the dying embers, that fire may become a raging inferno.” I have witnessed this in a camp in western Romania. I went to a camp with some children for a week, where we would have a campfire every night. One morning, long after the fires had died out, a child was playing in the ashes. The ashes, however, were still warm, and the child managed to restart the fire.
This is an excellent illustration of sin as there are many times when we think that sin is over and done with when it is not. Our individual sins may have burned out by mortification. We may have replaced sin with habits of holiness, but the ashes of sin will always remain warm. Never play in the ashes, or you might just set up an uncontrollable fire once again in your life.
The biggest deterrent from sin is for us to remember from what we have been saved. The Bible is clear about the existence of Hell and the punishment of sin is Hell (Rom. 6:23). Those who suffer in Hell are suffering the eternally conscious unending burning wrath of God. We, however, have been saved from sin by the cross of Christ as He died to satisfy the Father’s wrath (1 Thess. 1:10). How could we spit on that sacrifice by continuing to sin?
Knowing what our Lord and Savior suffered in order to give us salvation from our sin, can we not be motivated to stay away from sin and focus all our lives on Him? Yes, this is a warfare for our souls, but the victory is already secure in Christ. If we look to what we know is the certain end of this life, how can that not give us daily encouragement to put mortification of sin into firm practice in our lives?
Sinclair Ferguson writes: “Indwelling sin seems to be like an onion in the soul; the unravelling of one layer simply reveals the next – on and on continue the painful revelations of our sinfulness.” This will continue all of our lives, but it keeps us humble. We will never strip away the final layer of sin in our lives, but we will, by God’s grace, continue to see how deep our sin goes and be enabled to be equipped for the fight. Are you prepared to use the spiritual resources that He has given for your use in this fight? Are you prepared to take what you have read in these two articles and begin to orient yourself better against your sin? If so, take up those things which you have learned and be ready to fight against the tricky and deceptive ways of sin for this life so that you can enjoy eternity in sanctified perfection in heaven.
 Bridges. J. The Pursuit of Holiness. NavPress. Milton Keynes. England. (2006). 98.
 Mack. W & Mack. J. A Fight to the Death: Taking Aim at Sin Within. Presbyterian & Reformed. Philippsburg: NJ. (2006). 100.
 Ferguson. S. Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification. The Banner of Truth Trust. Edinburgh: Scotland. (2017). 119.