Changing sinful habits requires a change in the way we think.
Lies from the world, the flesh, and the devil can cloud our thinking, making us ineffective and discouraged in our personal battles for holiness. If you’re discouraged and can’t see out of the haze, I invite you to change the way you think about your battle against sin.
Martin Luther said that all of life is repentance. It is a continual battle to conform our minds and wills to God’s perfect standard. This repentance involves taking out the trash of old and unhelpful thoughts that pollute our thinking and filling our minds with God’s powerful truth that gives health and life, leading to holiness.
I’m sure your battle against sin is similar to mine. You’ve had ups and downs, with different struggles in different seasons. While we will never totally rid ourselves of all sin while here on earth, it is important that we keep pressing forward like a football team fighting for yardage. Each moment that we have is like a play where we can move the ball down the field. Sin may cause us to sometimes lose yardage, but we must never give up. The next play we can continue to make progress down the field.1
We need the following five needed mind-shifts in our battle against sin if we are going to make progress and move the ball down the field:
1. Think: “I need to please God” over “I need to feel better about myself.”
If your repentance involves repenting just enough to make you feel better about yourself, it is not true repentance.
If your repentance involves repenting just enough to make you feel better about yourself, it is not true repentance. God wants our whole hearts to repent in order to please Him—not merely to avoid bad feelings or consequences. Fear God more than the consequences of your sin.
2.Think: “I am fully equipped to obey all the time” over “It’s too hard for me.”
If you’ve ever thought you can never break your sinful habits, remember that you don’t have to be a “Super Christian” to live in obedience. In Christ, God has given you everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). No temptation is too strong for you (1 Corinthians 10:13). While this mind-shift won’t mean you’re perfect, it can remind you of Christ’s power to overcome sin and temptation.
3.Think: “I need to live in obedience” over “I need to have victory.”2
This mind-shift focuses on terminology. Many talk about their sin struggles by claiming to have lived in “victory” or succumbed to “defeat.” This terminology can tempt us to think the struggle is something external to us; something not in our control. And in a sense, we are in a spiritual battle—but a spiritual battle that’s already been won at the cross. We should call our disobedience what it is and not try to soften the weight of sin against a holy God.
4.Think: “I need to expose sin” over “I need to hide sin.”
Our sinful nature wants to hide our sins so we don’t get caught or shamed by those who find out. Confession of sins is counter our sinful nature. People who hate their sin love to confess it. Confession brings sin into the light. It brings healing (James 5:16). Instead of fearing confession, we should take joy in it because it is a restorative practice blessed by God (Psalm 32:1-2).
5.Think: “Put sin to death” over “I’ll just try to stay away from it.”
“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). Putting your sin to death is active—something that doesn’t happen on it’s own. Yet so often in our battles for holiness, we don’t seek to put something to death, but rather try to pretend it will go away. That’s a recipe to fall into the same sin again during a moment of weakness. We need the attitude that John Owen commended when he said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” But putting sin to death isn’t something we were meant to do on our own.
6.Think: “life in the Spirit” over “life in the flesh.”
We are not empty handed in our battle against sin. God is actively working in us and giving us power through His Spirit to fight sin and live righteously. Christian: you need to work hard at living in the Spirit at all times. This means living in obedience so you don’t grieve the Spirit with your sin or quench the Spirit by missing an opportunity to follow His lead.
It is hypocritical to pray for victory over our sins and be careless in our intake of the Word of God. ― Jerry Bridges
Life in the Spirit is incomplete without the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God). Make God’s Word your delight, part of your daily diet, and a weapon for fighting against the flesh and the enemy.3 Jerry Bridges says it this way: “It is hypocritical to pray for victory over our sins and be careless in our intake of the Word of God.”4
My prayer is that these six mind-shifts would give you the help and confidence you need to make strides forward in your obedience to Christ by the power of the Spirit. None of us can expect perfection in this life, but by God’s grace, we can continually grow more and more into Christ’s likeness.
1 Illustration borrowed from sermon by Colin Smith called “Move the Ball Forward.”
2 I’m indebted to Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness for this idea.
3 See Romans 8 or Galatians 5 for more on life in the Spirit.
4 Bridges in The Pursuit of Holiness, page 75.