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Series: How to overcome sin

We are continuing tonight on our theme – How to Overcome Sin, or how to get rid of our sinful behaviors and habits which enslave us and destroy our life with God.

This morning we heard the call to stop sinning; to put away those sins that we know about – and yet choose to do anyway. And if this is indeed our goal, then we need to understand what we are up against. So I want to give you some teaching on ‘How Sin & Testing Work.’

First of all we look at –

How sin works

And here we begin with the biblical concept of  the flesh. This refers to our human weakness and frailty apart from God. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. This weakness is connected to our human desires, longings and fears. For instance, Paul speaks of “the passions of our flesh . . . the desires of flesh and senses” in Ephesians 2:3.

Specifically, the flesh is weak in regard to doing God’s will. That’s because the desires of our flesh lead us into conflict with God’s will for us. God requires things like love and sacrifice for others. But our flesh is all about self-interest and comfort. It wants the easy way out. It wants to feel secure. It wants to soothe its fears. It is self-centered. What? Love God? Love others?

Paul says it this way, “For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other . . .” – Galatians 5:17.

Now, to clarify, God gives us basic desires, for instance the desire to meet our needs for food, clothing and shelter; or the desire to be in relationships with others. There is nothing wrong with these. It’s what we do with these desires as we put them into practice apart from God that’s the problem. Our self-centeredness twists and distorts these desires.

Here’s a couple of examples of this:

  • God created us with a desire to meet our basic needs, you know, daily bread, but we turn this into greed – a craving for more and more beyond what we need.
  • God created us with sexual desire, but we seek to fulfill it in our own way, not God’s way, and so it leads us to sexual immorality.

So the flesh is not some alien thing, or some “other” nature in us, it is simply our humanity in all of its weakness as we try to live our lives apart from God. And this is where sin comes from. It comes from us; as we follow our distorted desires, longings and fears – instead of following God’s path. To use the language of James 1:14-15 – “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin . . ..”

And then there is our human pride which makes everything worse.

God designed us to seek after peace and to find fulfillment. This is the way we are made. But it has always been God’s plan that we find our peace through him and his will for our lives. And, indeed, this is the only way we will find real peace. God is our maker, after all, and God knows what is best for us and what will bring us fulfillment.

But, we -and this is our pride – we think we know more than God, even Christians, at least in certain areas of our lives. So instead of doing what God wants us to do, we seek after peace through the flesh. We do things in our own way, not God’s way. We act according to our wisdom, not God’s. We pursue peace through our own self-centered pursuit of what makes us comfortable; what soothes our fears; what we think will solve our problems.

And it might seem to work for a while. Hebrews 11:25 talks about the “fleeting pleasures of sin.” But it doesn’t usually take long before the other shoe drops. That’s because, although we may freely choose our sin, our sin comes to take over our lives. As Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” – John 8:34.

And we come to realize that what once seemed good and the answer to our problems, we now hate because it’s ruining our lives. Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way of death” – Proverbs 14:12.

Now, for sure, most who are caught in this slavery don’t see themselves as weak or in bondage, but as strong and free, choosing their own way in life. When we walk in the flesh we think, ‘we don’t need God!’ As Paul says in Romans 8:7, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” And it is this very pride that keeps us in our slavery.

This is the tragic irony of sin. Jeremiah 2:13 says it well. Speaking of us, the Lord says, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” God is “the fountain of living waters,” pure, bubbling, refreshing; providing all we need to quench our thirst and give us life. But in our pride we choose to go our own way and we forsake God. We follow after the flesh digging our own water holes, thinking this is the way to happiness. But our water holes don’t hold water! And so we are left with nothing – thirsty, despairing, dying.

The very thing that would give us life and peace, we will have nothing to do with. This is our pitiful state, when we walk according to the flesh.

Next we look at –

How testing works

I want us to see, not just the dynamics of what goes on in our hearts with regard to sin, but also what happens outside of us that can influence us to sin.

Even as Christians, who seek to do God’s will, we have to confess that without God’s help we are mere flesh – weak and given to self-centeredness and pride.

But God wants us to grow and to come to a place where we humbly rely on him in our weakness, and to be transformed so that we find our true fulfillment in doing his will.

And this is why he allows us to be tested – that is, to go through hard times and difficult struggles. He does this for our own good. As Hebrews 12:10 says, he tests us “for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Even Jesus was tested as Hebrews 5:8 tells us.

Satan, however, the one who actually tests us, has a different agenda which has nothing to do with what is good for us. Being aware of our weakness and pride – he uses testing to lead us to sin, judgment and destruction.

– He asks God permission to test us. We see this in the book of Job. And Jesus talks about it in Luke 22:31.

– He tries to catch us unprepared for testing. Peter tells us that “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5:8. Satan is like a lion, who picks off the weak and the unprepared.

– He tests us by putting us in a difficult situation so that the desires of our flesh and the desires of the Spirit are brought into clear conflict, and we have to choose. We will either look to God for help or give in to sin. We will either move forward with God or backward with Satan. And he banks on the latter being the more common response.

– In a time of testing, he encourages us to sin. He lies, deceives and in general seeks to confuse us with regard to God’s truth and God’s will for our lives. Jesus tells us that he “he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44. We are also told that he is “the deceiver of the whole world” – Revelation 12:9.

And as we struggle he tells us, ‘It’s OK, it won’t hurt you,” or, “everyone else is doing it.’ He works through “the world” – other people who are not trying to do God’s will. Scripture tells us that he is “the god of this world” – 2 Corinthians 4:4. The world tells us “It’s OK.  Sin is normal.” And then if we do try to live according to God’s will, it pressures us to conform.

So this is what we are up against in our struggle to overcome sin. The weakness and pride of our own flesh and heart and the reality that Satan seeks to pressure us to sin.

But let’s end with –

A note of encouragement

  • Although the flesh is weak – Jesus overcame it by the strength that the Spirit gives to do God’s will.
  • Although Satan is powerful – Jesus overcame him by the authority he has and the truth of God so that he did God’s will.

And Jesus shows us how to follow in his path to be overcomers as well. This is what I want to show you next time – five steps to overcoming sin.

William Higgins

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