(In response to a friend who asked how I was able to overcome smoking and ultimately sin)
I know what you mean and it breaks my heart to see someone who has accepted the will of God but is struggling as I have. It scared me that I would forever be stuck in that place of yoyo-ing back and forth. The one thing we have is scripture. If you feel worn down read a portion of scripture. It has changed my life. I can’t accurately decribe why, all I can say is I know that it will do you good. The next time you feel down, start reading 1 Peter from the beginning. It’s not what 1 Peter will say, but what the word of God will do. No matter how silly it may sound try it, when it works glorify your father in heaven.
I know this is long but in order to answer your question I have to explain my terms. I’ve noticed that most people would rather read a phrase from the bible and it would change their entire outlook, but the way it actually works is you have to read an entire outlook in the Bible just to understand a phrase. I hope you can finish this.
I read your words and I see me. You might think I would say me before, but no, listen to your heart, for me in my place there is nothing good. It’s hard to get a clear idea about the bibles position on sin, at first. There are those who quote Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8-2:2, with a bent to say that these scriptures are proof that we don’t stop sinning after we are in Christ, we are just forgiven. But I believe that these scriptures only say that we HAVE sinned, not that we continue. Then there are those who quote 1 John 3:6 and 1 John 2:3-17 with a bent to say that we can’t sin after we are in Christ, and I find biblical basis to state otherwise as well, but first, I would encourage you to read those verses a few times and commit a lot of it to memory so that the Holy Spirit can make it grow. My words were never guaranteed to be useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, but scripture was, (2 Tim 3:16) and if you read my words they only have authority if they conform to scripture. So I encourage that you check me in all that I say, (I’ll give references) so that you can glory in the word of God which brings life; and not in my interpretation which is as good as yours, because the Spirit that is in me and the Spirit that is in you is one. If you don’t read these scriptures you’ll rob yourself of the point I’m trying to make.
When I was 26, I asked God to search me as the Psalmist did in Psalms 139:23. Looking back, I believe he caused ME to search myself instead, and because I wouldn’t search his word to find out what he would have me hear, he did it in a new way, to me. Now “How”, I ask, “can God reach out to a man, if he doesn’t listen to his heart and conscience?” (both are ways of which God convicts us 2 Cor 3:3 and Heb 10:16 and all of Romans 14) “And, if he does not read the Bible so that God can speak to him through that method of communication?” The answer is, I believe, that God sends someone to speak to him. I didn’t realize it at first, but that is what he did for me. The way he caused me to search myself is with a question. This man of God asked if I believed that God can deliver me from the bondage of my sin. This didn’t hit me right away, and I didn’t have enough time to consider it before he simplified it for me. He then asked if I believe that God can deliver me from the bondage of smoking. I couldn’t say no because I believed that God was at least that powerful, but if I say yes then that means I have chosen to smoke when I have the ability through God to not smoke. I started thinking, “I attribute a lot of power to God, but at what point do I say, ‘God’s power is limited to this much'” whatever that amount might be.
It changed my whole way of thinking. I couldn’t limit God’s power anymore. I used to think that we can’t stop sinning, but I realized then, that God can deliver me not only from the bondage of smoking but of sin as well. The hardest thing about that is the next question, and that is, “Why haven’t I stopped sinning? I’ve been saved for years and I haven’t been delivered from the bondage of sin.”
After searching the scriptures I realized that God wants us to stop sinning, but many don’t accept this freedom because they think that the bondage they live in is the real freedom. “We know some pretty funny jokes”, or “We feel relieved from the effects of the drugs, alcohol, or nicotine”, or “We really aren’t touching so it’s not like we’re violating this person who, in reality, is dressed that way because they want to be noticed, right?”. We can find many ways to justify our actions and say that they are the real freedom, and that God would really be calling us to bondage if he wanted us to “stop sinning”, but if we try to give them up for God, we find out that we are slaves to these actions. We justified them in order to possess them and found out that we actually offered ourselves to them and they now possess us. When I accepted that -which is from the Holy Spirit- I realized that I have accepted something that Christians live in defiance of (because they usually say I don’t understand grace at all when all I’m trying to do is encourage them to maturity and perfection). I started thinking that because I stood in a minority that maybe I DIDN’T understand. I read and read and, against what I was reading, I changed my approach to a more accepted version of repentance and the message I have been given started to fall apart. I realized quickly that I have a view that is from God and is scripture and I have to preach that or I have no authority at all. After I have accepted that, I’ve now seen people’s lives changed from it, and now I’m prepared to go to the end of my life with the “Holiness” message because God has been faithful to it.
You see, if I am saved, what am I saved from? And if I’m saved from sin then why am I still living in it? Christianity is not forgiveness but repentance. So if I’m living in sin still then I haven’t repented. And there are many scriptures that show that there has to be repentance first before God will even hear your prayer, much less, forgive your sin (Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 1:15-19, and 2 Chronicles 7:14) If a man is drowning, you don’t reach in and pull out chunks of the man, you pull out the whole man in order to save him, and that is what Christ came to do. He doesn’t want to pull you out in chunks. Yet we still try to offer chunks of our self not realizing that we’re still drowning.
This is where I explain what the bible’s position on sin is. But first you have to understand another term: repentance. Repentance is first: saying that you have accepted God’s judgment and have judged that a sin (specific or general) is wrong and unlawful, and in so doing you judge yourself guilty and a criminal and then second: you turn from it and you don’t do it (Eph 5: 11-14). Here’s where it gets tricky, because as easy as that sounds, it most likely doesn’t happen that way at first. Instead, you struggle with it over a period of time and sometimes you win and some times it wins, and it gets harder and harder to take because you want to be faithful to a God who has been faithful to you even in your unfaithfulness, but instead you go to your knees after a weak of victory, on the night that you lose to Satan and you pray the Psalm 51 again and you feel broken and unholy and you repent again. But it doesn’t feel like repentance. You begin to wonder if you really repented the first time. I’ve been here and if that’s where you are, then your right where God wants you. How can this be? James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways”. Stumbling is not walking. If we are walking in sin, we haven’t repented, but if you are on your knees before God and repenting when/if you sin, then God “…is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). . Likewise, Jesus said that “…things that cause people to sin are bound to come” (Luke 17:1) and in that same paragraph he says that “…if your brother sins, rebuke him, if he repents forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times and seven times comes to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him.” We are called to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1) and I don’t think that Christ is giving us commands that God himself doesn’t honor. So we see that a man can sin up to seven times a day (and more I’m sure but Christ says seven I won’t be dogmatic either way, but I believe that our Lord is using seven as a symbol) and be forgiven… IF WE REPENT. Yet, don’t forget the rebuke part, which is earlier in that paragraph. God hates sin, and still rebukes you. “He disciplines those he loves” (Hebrews 12:4-7). So all that being said, where should sin be in our lives? Stop reading this and read Romans chapter 6, all of it.
The reason I say that you’re right where God wants you is because he wants us to be broken over sin and truly repentant. We have to die to sin to be holy. Jesus said “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24,25) The reason it is so hard to walk a straight line is because we’re dying to self and breaking this slavery that we gave ourselves to. You will reach a slavery to righteousness and you will praise God for what he has done.
The bible says not to OFFER ourselves to sin, but IF you do sin, we have one who speaks to the father in our defense- Jesus Christ, the righteous one. (1 John 2:1)
I’m convinced that like me this struggle will produce in you a hatred for that sin that you are trying to free yourself from. Prayer and memorizing scripture is the best thing to do to overcome your sins, because you have the word of God constantly on your lips and the presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart. It was harder for me to sin when I was in the presence of God. God is ever present but many times we’ll force ourselves to ignore God’s presence to carry out something that is sinful. If we do that then we are offering ourselves to sin. Don’t offer yourself to sin and TRUTHFULLY repent and “…there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
I started to hate myself because I couldn’t quit smoking. But I finally quit cold turkey and relied heavily on God’s strength, something that is completely by faith. It worked for me because I was willing and obedient. ( Isaiah 1:19) God is always willing. If your not willing then it’s hard to say that your not cherishing sin in your heart, (Psalm 66:18) but if you are willing then your weakness is being picked on by Satan, and what you struggle against is spiritual not physical (Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8)
Persevere. You are on the right track because you acknowledge sin as sin. You’ve pointed out that you are weak and now comes the time when God glorifies himself through your weakness, by conquering your sin by your being willing and obedient. For this is your testimony. Read Revelation 12: 10-12. ‘Satan’ means accuser, and the blood of the lamb is a reference to Christ’s work for us on the cross, but how does our testimony come into play? Our testimony is what glorifies God because he takes a powerless wretch and makes him Holy. God’s greatest feat is to take an unholy man out of an unholy world, make him Holy and then put him back in and keep him Holy. Our testimony helps others to see our good works and glorify our father in heaven.
If you made it through this then you have something of perseverance already . I hope this encourages you to serve God and to know that you are being made Holy (Hebrews 10:14). God Bless you, Sam