Striving and Thriving
In striving against sin, it should help to remember that…
#1. You are not alone.
Your temptations are not so rare that no one can relate to them. Sometimes, a Christian may begin to believe that he’s all alone in his struggles, that no one could possibly understand. This pleases Satan, since it inclines us to isolate ourselves. But the Scriptures deny that we are alone in our struggles: “No temptation has taken you except such as is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:13). It doesn’t matter what your temptation is—laziness, sinful anger, pornography, gossip, lying, homosexuality, etc.—someone else has been down that road. And in most cases, someone you know. You are not alone. Other Christians have walked (and are walking) in your shoes.
#2. Your temptations do not define you.
Occasionally, a Christian may begin to grow discouraged, thinking that because he is tempted by a thing he must be outside of God’s favor. After all, how could a Christian ever have such thoughts?! But Christians are in the flesh. Yes, it is true that “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14), but this does not mean that you and your temptations are one and the same. If it did, what would that say of the Lord Jesus, “who was in all points tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15)? That he was tempted proved only that he was in the flesh (as it does for you). You are not defined by your temptations; you are defined by what you do with your temptations. As the Scripture says: He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
#3. God will not permit you to be tempted beyond your strength.
“God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God does not facilitate failure. He is not out to get you. Rather, He wants to see you succeed (2 Peter 3:9) and so makes the test passable. That you are tempted by something is as much a sign of latent strength as it is of any weakness.
#4. You will not achieve perfection.
This is especially important for some to think about. Sin is going to exist in your life. It must never be excused, but we have been told to expect it. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:17). Even as “we walk in the light,” says John, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). While we walk the earth, then, the Christian life is not about perfection but direction. The goal is not flawlessness but continual improvement: “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8, ESV; see also NAS/NIV/NRSV). We can take note of, and take heart at, every victory. Sin is not an occasion for debilitating despair, or a binge, but rather the signal to repent and recommit, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Even slow progress is real progress. God is pleased when we engage our whole hearts in seeking Him (Jeremiah 29:13), and as a result, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
#5. The battle is the LORD’s (1 Samuel 17:47).
We must do what we can, but we cannot successfully win against sin on our own power alone. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6; Ephesians 3:16; Romans 8:13). Israel tried to battle the Amalekites and Canaanites on their own power and failed (Numbers 15:40-45). Ahab tried to take Ramoth Gilead on his own, and failed (1 Kings 22:17-38). The Bible is replete with such examples. “Work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12), yes, but only while simultaneously trusting “that it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
#6. You have died to sin (Romans 6:2, 10).
This is a powerful reality. Those who have died physically no longer respond to physical stimuli. Similarly, since you have died to sin, you no longer have to respond to sin’s stimulus. “For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:7).
#7. Jesus will reward for what you do.
“But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). Holiness and hope are companions. “Pursue…holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Diligent attention to purity of life will not go unnoticed by Him to whom we must give an account. The Lord will reward. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).