How do I overcome sin?
The simple answer is that there is nothing that you can do in your own strength, because in our natural state we are people who are full of sin, who are easily attracted to sin and who are comfortable with sin. This is a big problem for us because there is only one punishment for sin in the Bible, and that is death (Romans 6:23).
However, the Bible tells us that God gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but be saved from their sin and have eternal life (John 3:16). When we believe in Jesus, He credits us with some of his righteousness (Romans 4:5), and our sins are covered by it. However, we are still waiting for that which we have not yet received – the redemption of our bodies (Ephesians 1:13, Galations 5:5).
Hebrews 10:14 says “by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”, and this describes life for the Christian. When Jesus died on the cross He took our sin upon Himself and made us perfect forever, BUT we still live in bodies that like to sin, and each day that we live we are being made holy. The apostle John explains this well in 1 John 1:8-10 where he says that Christians still sin, but when they do they should confess their sins, repent and ask for forgiveness. This is what the Bible means when it says that we are “being made holy”.
We can see from these verses that overcoming sin is not only a single decision which changes the rest of our lives, but also a daily struggle that we must be determined to win. So, what can we do in our daily lives, to give us the strength to ignore temptation and stay away from sin?
The first thing to recognise is that all sin is based on the devil’s illusions and lies. The devil makes sin look exciting and satisfying, and he tells us that there will be no consequences if we sin. So, we need God’s truth in our lives to fight the devil’s lies, and the best way of doing this is to read our Bibles every day. This gets our minds focusing on truth rather than lies, and it will train our minds to think in the right way. Both of these are important because unchallenged – the devil's lies will confuse and trap us, and untrained – our minds will think about wrong things, and this is where sin begins in our lives. The apostle Paul speaks about the importance of getting God’s truth into our minds in Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3:2.
So, read your Bible every day. Try to read through whole Bible books (1 or 2 chapters a day) or look for a Bible reading plan that you can follow. Also try to memorise verses that are helpful to you (start with 2 Corinthians 10:13). God’s word undermines the devils lies, and trains our minds to think in a good way, and this is very important if we want to overcome sin.
Daily prayer also needs to be a priority in our lives. We must get into the habit of talking to God about our lives, and the things that we do each day. When you stop and listen to temptation, tell God about it when you pray. When you fall into sin, then tell God about it, ask Him for strength not to continue in the sin, and offer your body back to Him. Keep on talking to God about every part of your life, and invite Him to be a part of everything that you do. The writer of Psalm 119:37 says "Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word", and this is a prayer that you need to pray every day.
With both Bible reading and prayer, it is a good discipline to decide to set some time aside every day to focus on God. Some people find it useful to have a fixed time and place when they stop, and focus on God. Others will change their time every day, but decide that you will have this time - no matter what happens around you. This is not legalism because you are not doing it to follow a law. It is a really important discipline to have if you want to defeat sin in your life, because there is then a time each day when you turn to God and focus on Him. When you do this, the temptations in your mind, and the sins that have entered your life, are disrupted as they come against God and His truth, and you have the chance to tell them "No - I will not let you continue".
During this “God time” it is a good idea to have some time when you just stop, perhaps close your eyes, and simply listen for what God wants to say to you. We will not always hear His voice, but this habit does make it easier to understand what God is saying to us.
These things are really important if we want to overcome sin in our daily lives, but we must also change the way that we live so that we are not close to the things that tempt us to sin. Ask yourself – What is it that tempts me to think wrong things? What is it that encourages me to sin? Ask God to open your eyes and show you the areas where you are weak. Then, plan your life so that you are not living in the middle of these things. If we are serious about overcoming sin, then we must be ready to change our lifestyle. We cannot overcome sin if we are surrounded by temptation in areas where we are weak!
Finally, it is important to understand that you will not overcome sin if you are not determined to do it. Many Christians say that they want to defeat sin, but they make no real effort to fight the battle, and so they miss the best that Jesus has for them and live second best lives full of sinful habits. Don’t settle for second best, but be determined to get rid of sin.