Q: I am a person who is considered very strong in The Lord by those around me. I know I am going to heaven and I know that God can and has done great things through me but I have struggled with a powerful sin in my life for nine years. I have dealt with others like it but God has faithfully defeated them for me. This sin on the other hand has survived like a plague. For the first time in my life I feel like my own weakness and addiction has nullified the power of the cross to help me. I know that sounds like some kind of ill-informed misconception but I have begged and pleaded God to take this from me for years but yet I still fail Him like a hypocrite. How can I defeat this biblically that I may more faithfully serve God in my life?
Answer: There are few things as challenging to our faith as stubborn sin. I can hear the desperation in your note, but more importantly I can hear the discouragement.
Billy Graham once indicated that at least 90% of Christians in the Body of Christ are living defeated lives because of carnality due to habitual sin in their lives. Thatís a sad reality, because there is freedom in Christ. The fact that you havenít experienced that freedom yet isnít a commentary on whether that freedom is available. Itís simply a commentary on how stubborn certain kinds of sin can be. However, the Bible gives us insights on gaining our freedom which I would like to share.
The Role of Prayer and Fasting
Prayer with fasting can play a huge part in getting free from the bondage to stubborn sin. Not only is prayer is huge tool as you cry out to God and rely on His strength, but the discipline of fasting establishes a sense of self-control over the appetites of the flesh.
Letís face it, the reason we got into trouble with sin in the first place is because we indulged our flesh. We gave in and let the flesh have its way. Well, fasting is way of taking back control. During a time of fasting and prayer, hunger (the flesh) cries out to be satisfied, but we deny it (for a time) in order to give that time instead to the Lord. This establishes a precedent in our lives whereby we control our flesh, rather than the other way around. As Paul said:
But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27 NKJV)
Fasting is a way we discipline our bodies in order to bring them into subjection (obedience). Itís not the only thing we doÖbut itís certainly not a step we want to miss.
The Role of the Word
I wonít say a lot about this one because I get the feeling youíre probably already doing it, but never underestimate the power of the Word of God in your life. As Paul said, itís living and active. I strongly encourage you to memorize passages of Scripture that speak directly to your area of sin, and use those passages as one would use a sword. Remember that although the flesh is certainly involved here, there are spiritual realities you must consider as well.
The Role of Limiting The Flesh
Closely connected with fasting is the idea of not allowing the flesh freedom to sin. Paul wrote:
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:14 NKJV)
I really love this phrase, ďÖmake no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.Ē
The strange thing about sin is that we are often the ones giving it room to grow and express itself.
Do you remember how radical Jesus told us to be with sin and the things that cause sin? He said:
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30 NIV84)
Obviously Jesus wasnít counseling us to mutilate our bodies in this passage. But He was telling us that stubborn sin requires radical action.
You need to sit down and prayerfully think about the freedoms you have allowed yourself that give room for this sin to flourish. Is it financial freedom? Is it freedom of extra time? Is it freedom on the Internet? Freedom when youíre alone?
Once the Lord opens your heart to the areas where youíve allowed provision for the flesh, you will next need to consider how you limit those freedoms. But a word of warning: donít attempt that on your own. Do it along with my next point to consider.
The Role of Christian Accountability and Support
Paul wrote to the Galatians saying:
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. (Galatians 6:1a NIV84)
We all need people in our lives who are more spiritual and who can become for us an accountability partner, offering prayerful support and encouragement. Itís humbling to confess to others that weíre struggling with sin, but itís also vital. Humility is a key element to gaining your freedom, so I would strongly encourage you to seek out a brother who can hold you accountable and help you with this process. (It goes without saying that this person needs to understand what you want to accomplish, and is strong enough to hold your feet to the fire, if necessary. Donít go it alone!
The Role of Faith
As Christians we sometimes forget that the faith we placed in Christís finished work on the cross is the same thing that gives us victory over sin. In other words, you are not saved by faith but kept by works. You and I are saved by faith AND we live each and every day of our lives by faith as well. As the Word says: The righteous will live by faith. (Romans 1:17)
But I want to focus for a moment on Paulís words to the Romans in chapter six where he writes:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11 NIV84)
Paul tells is to ďcount ourselves dead to sin.Ē Other translations use the word ďreckonĒ or ďconsider.Ē It means to believe that the flesh has truly been crucified with Christ and no longer has the power to dominate your life. We do this by faith.
You said in your note that you know that youíre going to heaven. That confidence comes by faith. Now, ask God to give you the same kind of confidence to see your sinful flesh as dead and unable to rule your life.
Satan wants nothing more than to get you to focus on the weakness of your flesh and your failures in this area. If he can do that, he can defeat faith. If he defeats faith, he wins.
Donít doubt that God will give you victory. He wants it more than you do. If it hasnít happened yet itís not that it wonítÖitís just that it hasnít happened yet.
The Role of Personal Weakness
The last thing I want to talk about is the role that personal weakness plays in your life. When we fall down and fail, the natural tendency is to get up and try harder. The problem is, when we fail again, we struggle with greater disappointment because we tried and failed. But itís in the trying where we get into trouble. Paul wrote:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV84)
Paul explained here that he actually got to a point where he delighted in those things in life that highlighted his weaknessesÖbecause he came to understand that they were the key to walking in Godís strength.
What Jesus told Paul is just as true for you: His power is made perfect in your weakness. You and I canít add anything to the power of God. All we can do is to confess our weakness so as to put ourselves in a place to receive Godís strength.
I suggest a regular prayer that confesses your absolute weakness and utter dependence on God. Something like: God, I canít do this! I donít possess the ability in and of myself. Iím a weak manÖand without You I will only fail over and over again. So I come to You by faith, and I ask You to do in me what I canít accomplish in myself.
This response to your question is long because the issue is a hard one. Sin is a hard thing to root out. That's why it's something to be avoided.
Donít ever let anyone condemn you by saying that true born again believers never struggle with sin. Thatís just not true. The fact that youíre struggling means you want to glorify God and thatís a sign of the life of Christ in you. May the Lord bless you and fill you with His Spirit.