The New Testament gives three broad categories to help think about and work through temptation. The resolution to debilitating short-term and life-long habits do not always happen the same way.
Not only are there different strokes for different folks, but there can be different strokes for each of person depending on how a specific temptation causes you to stumble. These three ways to overcome temptation and sin can intersect or overlap as you are working through a problem.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. – Matthew 5:30 (ESV)
In this passage, Jesus is teaching if your eye sins, you should pluck it out, or if your hand offends, you should cut it off and throw it away. He is using hyperbolic language that you should not take literally.
He is using “cut-off language” to give a picture of how to think about and respond to sin patterns and problems. Sometimes you should cut off things that tempt you to sin (2 Timothy 2:22). What do you need to cut out of your life?
- Should you say “no” to food?
- Should you resist the temptation to shop?
- Should you turn off the television?
- Should you walk away from Social Media?
- Should you stop engaging someone of the opposite sex?
- Should you get up on time or go to bed on time?
- Should you put blocks on your computer to stop looking at certain things?
What is in view here are external habits and behaviors. In some cases, the cessation of sin is accomplished instantaneously through the cutting off method. That is not always the case.
In other situations, the battle is more intense where cutting the sin out of your life does not end the temptation. There is more work to do.
It is also true how the ongoing temptation to sin is a measure of God’s kindness to you. The LORD may allow struggles in your life to help you draw closer to Him (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 12:7-10). Also, read the story of Joseph beginning in Genesis 37. The LORD can use sin sinlessly.
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. – Romans 8:13 (ESV)
In Romans, Paul introduces another idea for overcoming sin problems. He asks you to mortify the deeds of the body. In our modern Bible, it may read to make dead or to put to death.
Mortification is different from cutting something away from you. Mortification suggests you may need another method to overcome sin. Sometimes you amputate and other times you mortify. In some situations, you may do both.
The mortification of sin reduces the vitality of something until it dies. It takes its strength away. I have illustrated this by using the “common cold” analogy.
I can wipe my child’s nose (amputation), and it will take away the manifestation of the problem while bringing limited external help, but these behavioral practices will not address the root issue.
The problem is deeper. The disease is in the body. There needs to be an internal solution. Therefore, I give my daughter medicine that I trust will render dead the disease that is internally defiling her.
I can tell my child to stop coughing, but that would probably exasperate her. She cannot quit; it will take time. The mortification of sin is a matter of the heart. Here is a list of some of these types of sins:
- Lust for food.
- Bitter toward someone who wronged you.
- Wrongly motivated by guilt.
- Afraid of what others think about you.
- Worried about making a poor decision.
- Regretting a wrong decision from the past.
- Anxious about how God views you.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. – Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)
The Hebrew writer is teaching how you should lay aside any weight that hinders you. He is not saying the hindrance is a sin; it does not have to be a sin, but it can be a negative influence.
Sometimes non-sin things can be sinful, which is why you limit the practice of or participation in those activities. You may not be able to make a biblical case for it being a sin, but you must be honest about how temptation grabs your heart.
There are many illustrations of non-sin things that can be sinful. Television, technology, shopping, alcohol, friends, Facebook, and money are a few examples of non-sin things that can work against you, even to the point of your heart leading you into sin.
It is important to have a comprehensive understanding of your temptations, weaknesses, and sin patterns so you can be vigilant in refraining from the things that keep the LORD’s glory from being reflected by your life.
You must think realistically about how and why you sin, as well as biblically informed methods that enable you to conquer the things that want to defeat you.
Your efforts happen under, in, through, and by the empowering favor of God. You defeat the enemy’s enticements and keep from his entanglements as you respond to the LORD’s mercy to you.
Call to action
- What are your struggles?
- How do you fight the battle against sin?
- Do you have clear sin categories? Do you call what you do sin when it is sinful, or do you round the corners off your sin by relabeling, redefining, or other minimizing tactics?
- Do you have a few friends who will call you out in love?
- Have you given your friends permission to speak into your life?
- Have you shared with them how you sin and how you are tempted to sin?
- Do you keep your struggles private?
The Gospelized person is a free person. He has nothing to hide, nothing to protect, and nothing to fear. He radically battles sin in a community of friends.
Also published on Medium.