I made a mention of it in my post yesterday that there are over 50 armed conflicts ongoing right now in the world. Add that to any kind of “culture war” or athletic rivalry that some call “wars,” and the terminology of war is all around us.
However, by focusing so much on these wars, we may be missing out on the most important war we’ll ever fight – the war on sin in our own lives.
It’s very easy for me to get caught up in fighting the battles that are visible. And I think it’s that way with many believers. But by focusing so much on getting culture to agree with us or keep Christ in Christmas, we might be missing out on fighting against a much deadlier enemy, our sin nature.
Sin sucks. Sin is horrendous. Sin is deadly. Sin is the reason people miss out on eternity with God. Sin is the reason people wander far from God. Sin is the reason people reject Jesus. Sin is the reason Christians’ relationships with God and each other are strained sometimes. Sin is the reason we are not who we are called to be every single day.
That is the war we must fight, each and every day. And we must be on guard. Paul speaks clear truth in Ephesians 6:12 –
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Our war, our primary war, if not the only war worth fighting, is against the sinful desires of our own heart and the work of Satan to bring us down.
Now, this is not an indictment on any individual “culture war.” Some of those may be worth fighting. I’m not going to pass a judgement on those wars here, although I may have in the past.
I’m simply saying that, at each and every moment, we’re engaged in a battle with Satan. We’re engaged in a war with the enemy of our soul, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
We must do everything within our power to strap up our armor and fight sin in our lives with every breath we have, every available method.
If it’s lust, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then watch where you look, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.
If it’s pride, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then remember the blessings you’ve been unfairly given as a child of God, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.
If it’s fear of man, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then remember God’s approval is all you really need, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.
If it’s anger, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then seek after peaceful solutions in difficult circumstances, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.
If it’s getting impatient with a waiter at the restaurant, pray to God for a redeemed heart. Then put yourself and their shoes and ask what you would want others to do for you, confess slip-ups to God and to others, and keep going.
It’s not always that simple, and there are a lot more steps that go into each of those scenarios. But that’s the basic pattern. Pray to God for healing, make conscious practical decisions and steps to fight the sin, confess when you fall short and don’t give up.
This isn’t a war where waving the white flag is an option.
I’m about to get all nerdy and historical up in here.
The American Revolution has long been a fascination of mine, but it peaked many in high school. I loved the stretches in history class when we studied it, and a audiobook version of Jeff Shaara’s excellent book The Glorious Cause was what I went to sleep to most nights.
The Americans should have gotten crushed. We did not stand a chance against the Brits. They had a bigger and better army and we were a relatively inexperienced, unorganized bunch of backwoods farmers and wanna-be city slickers. Historian Jack Kelly sets the dilemma this way: “George Washington called the American victory in the Revolutionary war ‘little short of a standing miracle.’ In 1776, an overwhelming British army had defeated his poorly trained force, driven them out of New York City, and chased them across New Jersey. Washington then lost Philadelphia, and his men had barely survived the wretched winter at Valley Forge. In 1780, the British captured the major southern port at Charleston, imprisoning the American garrison there, and utterly defeated a second patriot army. Before that year was out, his long-suffering troops were on the verge of mutiny and one of his senior generals had gone over to the enemy.”
How often in our fight with sin does it seem like things are going that way? We may have put together a stretch of victories over the sin in our lives and look to be on the up-and-up, but then there’s devastating defeat. It can be disheartening and discouraging. But there are going to be losses. There are going to be days where the fight is too hard and we quit.
But there’s no need to quit fighting. Oh, there are reasons. Well, you could call them excuses, but in the moment, they feel like reasons. But we should NEVER quit fighting sin. And we can take our example from the Americans in the Revolutionary War.
We may feel alone against sin, but we’ve really got brothers and sisters who can go in the fight with us.
It is doubtful the Americans would have ever won the Revolutionary War without the help of the French. The French supplied men, ships, supplies and the biggest push in some of the crucial battles late in the war. Kelly writes, “French muskets, uniforms, gunpowder and money helped sustain the Continental Army. French soldiers and sailors enabled Washington to trap and defeat British General Cornwallis at Yorktown. The threat from French forces required Britain to transfer resources to the West Indies and even to worry about a French invasion of their sceptered isle. It was from this wider war that the American patriots (emerged) victorious.”
The British (center) surrender to French (left) and American (right) troops, at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.
In our fight with sin, we can feel like the Americans in the beginning stages of the War. Early on, America was alone, and they were getting crushed. Some sin does a fantastic job of making us feel alone in the fight.
What does Scripture say? “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Only when Ben Franklin was able to convince the French to join the American side did any real change happen and things began to slowly swing in the favor of the patriots. In the same way, we can ask brothers and sisters in the faith to come alongside us and help us win our war while also helping them in their fight. The early church started as a collective of people who did all things together and shared all things. I bet they shared sin burdens with one another.
Brother and sister, keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. I promise. I’m there with you. Don’t quit.
We may feel outgunned against sin, but we’ve really got the best weapons, armor and tactics.
Kelly on the Brits: “The British military establishment was well organized and formidable. They enjoyed a very seasoned officer corps, many of their top generals having joined the ranks as boys and seen action in wars with the French. They were well-versed in military theory and how to apply it. Just as important, the British had a robust governmental bureaucracy devoted to war. Various ministries, boards and departments were experienced in supply, armaments, transportation, accounting, and the other logistical duties that are the foundation of any military effort. The Americans went to war with amateur officer and untrained troops; and they lacked the organization needed to supply and maintain an army in the field.”
Satan has an army against us much like the Brits did against the Americans. His forces are powerful. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). If C.S. Lewis’ incisive work The Screwtape Letters is half as insightful as it seems about what demons are attempting to do to mankind that loves Jesus, we’re really and truly up against it.
What does Scripture say? “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:16-17). “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).
Common rifles used in the Revolutionary War.
In the beginning of the war, the Americans were definitely outgunned and outmaneuvered in the beginning. But when the French aided their weapons game, and they learned new ways to fight and took a different approach, things changed. We as Christians truly have better weapons. God has supplied us with everything we need for godliness, including the weapons needed to fight against the temptations and the snares of the devil and of sin. It’s God who supplies us, not ourselves. It’s God’s strength, not our own.
Brother and sister, take heart. You really have the better weapons, which which you can withstand sin and temptation. I’m there with you. Don’t give up.
We may feel like we’ve already lost, but we really have a reason to keep fighting: God’s love and grace.
Kelly purports that one of the reasons the Americans won is their perseverance. He writes, “Americans won their independence because they continued to fight. Again and again during the war, they reached points when they could have thrown in the towel. At times, the Continental Army seemed only weeks or days from disbanding. In spite of defeat after defeat, in spite of no pay, rampant disease and inadequate supplies, they kept at it. George Washington was no military genius. But his faith in the cause, his determination to fight, and the mutual love he came to share with his officers and men carried him through many dark nights.”
Sin can give us a real feeling like we can’t do anything, that we’ve already lost the war, that God doesn’t love us anymore, that we’ve quit being “good enough” for Him. Just like the Continental Army who “seemed only weeks or days from disbanding,” we can feel at times like we’re moments from quitting following Jesus because it’s too hard or sin feels too good.
Americans at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.
What does Scripture say? “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). “…if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
The Americans had perseverance in the war, and it was one of the main reasons we emerged victorious. They had a cause. We as Christians, likewise, have a reason to keep fighting. God doesn’t quit on us when we sin. He continues to love us and care for us and show us grace and mercy. This is not license to sin; nay, it is instead a motivation to keep fighting. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). We’re not down and out when we sin. Instead, we’re given a fresh chance at obedience.
Brother and sister, stay at it. God loves you and cares for you and forgives you. I’m there with you. Don’t give up.
There are days when I feel like the patriots at Valley Forge. I’m disappointed, I’m worn out, I’m discouraged, I’m ticked off at how things are going in my daily fight with sin.
But I must, I repeat, I MUST recall these things to my mind, or else I lose all hope of ever attaining victory. We have won the war already. Jesus won it for us on the cross. But we get a chance to fight the battles leading up to that end, opportunities to defeat sin and give glory to God each and every day.
This is the third part in a series on fighting sin based on Ephesians 6:10-18a. See the second part in the series here.
There have been a couple days this year when I’ve gone to campus with jeans a bit too big and no belt on. I’m constantly tugging at my hips to pull my pants up and keep them around my waist. I can’t stand when I sag, so this is frustrating.
Two Wednesdays ago: I walked outside towards my car in order to drive to campus for class, and I realized I had no belt on. Silly me, I thought, and walked all the way back into my room upstairs in my house, grabbed a belt, put it on and then drove to class.
Secondly, have you ever been to a dress-up event where you’ve got to wear suits and ties and stuff like that, and you’ve forgotten a belt? I did that a couple times when I was younger, and maybe even once in college. I feel out of place! I feel like I’m missing a vital piece of clothing that completes the outfit that I’m supposed to be wearing.
The primary purpose of a belt is to hold things together. Pants that are too loose fall down without a belt on. It helps holds things in their proper place.
Funny, because that’s what truth does in the life of a Christian.
In John 8:31-32, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus placed such an emphasis on truth and the freedom that comes from knowing the truth. Truth comes from the word of God. If we know the word of God (and I think there’s a deep emphasis on knowing there), we will find freedom. I don’t think it’s a mere academic acceptance of truth; it’s a heart-change, soul-believing truth. It’s not just knowing 2+2=4, it’s believing in the truths of Scripture, the word of God.
Ephesians 6:14 tells us to fasten on “the belt of truth” as part of the armor of God in fighting sin and Satan. How does truth become our belt?
Truth frees us up to be obedient to God. Without a firm knowledge of truth, we have nothing to go by, no standard to judge our lives by. If we abide in the word of God, we will see what is true and we will be able to grasp how to be obedient. It is that truth that holds our armor in place, that truth where we store our sword. If we’re not rooted in truth, we will be like the double-minded man in James 1:6, “like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
If we wrap ourselves in truth, we will be able to grasp how to fight sin because we will rightly understand how to use the tools in our arsenal, we will be able to wisely choose what to use at what time. If we don’t wrap ourselves in truth, the breastplate of righteousness will seem impossible to find; the gospel of peace will bring no peace at all; the shield of faith will deflect nothing; the helmet of salvation will be more like a handkerchief over our skull; and the sword of the Spirit will appear as a weak pool noodle shredded by lack of use. Only, and only, if we see it all through the lens of truth, wrap ourselves with the belt of truth and hold it all together, then we will be able to rightly attack sin.
Two more things to remember.
It’s a mindset. I know that if I put my belt on in the morning, my pants are less likely to sag, hopefully. It’s a mindset, and that’s what wrapping yourself in truth brings: a mindset ready to attack and defend against sin. It’s a proper understanding of the other tools. It starts in the mind. In a battle, a soldier doesn’t actually use his belt, but it gives you the confidence that everything’s in place, everything’s where it’s supposed to be.
This belt can only be provided by God. This is not a belt we manufacture. We cannot develop a firm belt of truth on our own; it would be like a piece of string tied around our waist. It might like 10 minutes, if we’re lucky. That’s how good our selfish version of the truth is; it’s weak, pitiful, ineffective, not good at all. God’s truth is a truth that will stand. God’s truth is the truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” We must cling to this God-given, freedom-inducing, mindset-chaging truth if we dare try to kill any sin that proves to be invasive in our lives.
Check back for Part 4 on the “breastplate of righteousness.”
Two summers ago, I was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for Campus Outreach’s Summer Beach Project (I think I’ve mentioned this before). One day, I was taking a shower in my room when I turned around and there was a cockroach on the wall of the shower.
Quick note about me: I hate bugs. With an undying passion that will last until Jesus comes back. I almost posted a picture of a cockroach, but I didn’t even like looking at the picture, so it stayed in its place in cyberspace.
Anyways, I quickly freaked out (may or may not have audibly expressed my fear) and looked around for something to kill the roach. I can’t remember how I killed it, or if I even did. But somehow it got away or got smashed and I was able to shower in peace. A couple days later after I got over the fear.
About a week later, my roommate Matthew P. and I were sitting in the room chatting when a cockroach appeared on the wall. I picked up a nearby shoe and beat the thing to death with no hesitation this time. See, I had faced Herr Roach before and had kicked his tail, er, smashed it.
John Owen, author of, among others, “The Mortification of Sin.” Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Puritan theologian John Owen is famous for saying: “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”
It was quite shocking how true that statement was when I first thought about it, but it shouldn’t be. The Scriptures are littered with texts on the danger of sin, the killing properties of sin in the life of a believer and a non-believer.
If only I consistently tackled sin the way I tackled that cockroach.
Do we seriously seek to kill our sin? I think some people do. I think some people don’t. I think some people, like me, fall into both categories daily. Sometimes I seek to kill the sin I notice in my life, sometimes I let it go because I think one of two things: “It’s not that bad” or “I want to sin.”
Yeah, there are many times I say to myself, “I’m going to do this even though it’s sinning, even though it’s not representing God well at all.”
It’s bad, huh? It’s part of our sinful nature, part of our life as humans that we seek to do things that are contrary to the Word of God, even when we really don’t want to. Paul expressed this frustration in Romans 7:21-25:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
I feel like I often find myself in the same situation as my brother in the faith Paul. I hate my sin, but I often give into it.
I realized this recently in my life, that I wasn’t as serious about killing my sin as I should be. The Bible is the life-giving Word of God, “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), so I turned to it, specifically Ephesians 6:10-18a.
Armor. Photo courtesy of gmor.com.
It’s a passage commonly known as the “armor of God” passage. Here is the passage in its full:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…
Over the next few posts, I endeavor to break down that passage in the hopes of finding the key to killing sin in the life of a believer. Disclaimer: I am not perfect and will never claim to be. If in fact you catch me doing that, call me on it right away. But this is a passage that has revolutionized how I fight sin in my life, and I want to share the Word of God with anyone who reads this.
Centrally, the focus is on the Gospel. We cannot fight sin without an intricate knowledge and belief of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You’ll see that throughout the posts to follow.