By Ryan Itzel
The Christian walk is one of constant struggle as the world, the enemy, and our unredeemed flesh strive to lead us back into patterns of sinful disobedience. The lure of sinful lust beckons to the believer, urging him to return to the deeds he once enjoyed. But God has not called His people to serve two masters. Though the fight is strenuous and constant till the believer leaves this life, the Scriptures give clear instruction on how he ought to battle sin and temptation. This post will discuss 4 often misunderstood means of grace given to the believer to effectively fight sin: Scripture, prayer, discipleship, and the Spirit.
The first God given grace for fighting sin is the Word of God. Jesus said on the night before His crucifixion in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The Bible is not a mystical book which is full of fantasy. Rather, it is the true Word of God given to reveal the person and character of God and is the means of salvation and sanctification to all who believe. With this reality of sanctification through the Word of God, we must know the Scriptures if we are to fight sin by the Scriptures. First, we are called study the Word to know what God has said. Paul encouraged Timothy, to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The purpose for studying in this way is found in verse 16, that we might avoid “irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.” Studying the Word is vital for holiness, for it is God’s primary avenue in sanctifying His people. Paul Shirley says it this way, “Of all the means of grace God has designed for our growth, none is more powerful than the preached Word.” The Word is powerful to save (Romans 1:16-17), it gives light to those in darkness (2 Corinthians 4:1-6), it is the lamp to the path of the righteous (Psalm 119:105), it is the weapon of the soldier of God to fight the good fight (Ephesians 6:17), and it is the life source of all who believe (1 Peter 2:2-3).
Second, the Christian must not study the Word only, but also memorize the Word. The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Memorization is key for times of battle that you might have the sword of the Spirit in hand. Our enemy will not wait for us to find our sword before he attacks, so we must have it ready in our hearts. Finally, Christians must meditate on the Word of God rather than on the temporal things of this world. We are sanctified through the preaching of the word and study of the word, but if we do not think on what we have learned, our spiritual growth will stagnate. The righteous man meditates on the Law of the LORD “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The wicked on the other hand, run to evil (Proverbs 1:16). Ultimately, the Word of God is effective because God has ordained it to be so. Isaiah 55:11 says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” To fight sin, we must crowd our lives and thoughts with the truth of God’s Word.
The second tool for the believer in fighting sin is prayer/petition before the Father. Prayer is the precious gift for those who are in Christ, allowing them to bring their needs, sins, thanksgivings, and praises to the Lord. Paul in Philippians 4:6 tells the believer, “let your requests be made known to God.” This is a privilege for every believer as the sovereign ruler of all hears the humble prayers of finite beings. While prayer has many aspects, here two will be pointed out as part of the Christian’s fight for holiness. First, Christians should bring their supplications before God. The God we serve is omniscient, meaning that He knows all things. Yet, He is also a good and loving Father who is gracious towards His children (James 1:17). If we ask God for aid as we wage war on indwelling sin, He is willing and able to give us the strength we need. Hebrews 4:16 tells us this great truth in light of our Savior’s impeccable humanity, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Therefore, we must ask of God with faith, believing what God has said and that He can and will answer our cries for help.
Next, God has called us and granted us repentance as related to prayer (2 Timothy 2:25). Repentance is not a one-time action that gives you a lifelong pass to do whatever you want. Christians are called to live a life that is, “keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance is an acknowledgement of your sin, confession of what you deserve (condemnation), and a turning away from your deeds of wickedness to God (Isaiah 55:7). But repentance also includes a commitment to God to obey His laws going forward. Psalm 119:57 says, “The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep your words.” Those who turn from sin must also commit themselves before the Lord to faithful obedience going forward (Psalm 51:10-12). As we confess our sins, we must also ask God for the strength to obey and commit to Him in repentance to strive for faithfulness as He is faithful (1 John 1:9). In this He will prove Himself powerful as he helps His children.
Christians often try to battle sin alone without the help and support of other believers. This is not how God designed it to be, and usually results in failure. Rather than taking the lone wolf mentality, believers should seek the blessings found when we, “[b]ear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Christ has called all of His disciples to not only preach the gospel, but also to continue in discipleship by teaching those who respond, “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). For effective discipleship to take place in regard to fighting sin, believers should help one another make no opportunity for sin. Paul admonishes believers in Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Trying to do this on your own is exceedingly difficult. We are often too blind to see what areas make it easy to sin and often even promote sin. Having mature believers walking with us allows for them to correct us where we are wrong. Pride is common to all men, but when we humble ourselves, acknowledging our need for the help of others, we will find the grace to not only kill sin but also remove opportunities for sin (James 4:6).
Finally, if we are to effectively fight sin, we must do all of these things by the power of the Spirit. Though the Holy Spirit is not a means of grace, He is the giver of grace, and His role must be understood rightly for spiritual growth. Often our battle with sin focuses on our own ability, which is not capable of truly dealing with our flesh. Paul makes this reality clear in Romans 8:13, “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.” John MacArthur, commenting on this verse says that, “the apostle says the Spirit provides us with the energy and power to continually and gradually be killing our sins, a process never completed in this life. The means the Spirit uses to accomplish this process is our faithful obedience to the simple commands of Scripture.” Without the Spirit’s power and help, all our effort is exerted in vain. But thanks be to God that in our battle for holiness, the Spirit is ready, willing, and able to provide our daily needs in the fight against sin.
The Scriptures are often viewed as either magical or irrelevant, prayer is often neglected due to a lack of faith in God’s ability to answer, the church is frequently disregarded due to sinful pride, and the Spirit is regularly overlooked as a present helper able to make any real difference. This is not how it ought to be. The Word is powerful for salvation and sanctification; live by it, for “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). God is faithful to give help to the one in need, but he must ask in faith, believing and living by what God has said (Hebrews 13:5-6). Life with the Body of Christ is not an optional addendum to the Christian life but a necessity and a gift for believers that we might be helped when we stumble in sin (Galatians 6:1-5), and the Spirit is not an ambiguous force, but the one who regenerates us and progressively sanctifies us for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5). When these means of grace, given by God for the sanctification of His people, are understood and believed by faith, the people of God will find help for the fight. We should not try to battle sin isolated from the graces of God. Only by the power of our great God can we stand firm in the fight against the flesh (Ephesians 6:10-20).