Recently, as our church has been studying 1 John, we’ve discussed the difference between “making a practice of sinning” and “practicing righteousness.” Those who are true believers will pursue a continual and habitual lifestyle of righteousness instead of sin, since 1 John 3:9 says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.”
This doesn’t mean that believers never sin anymore, but rather that they don’t make a deliberate habit of practicing sin on a regular basis. They desire to kill their sin, repent of it, and walk in accordance with the Spirit.
One of the “vows” on my Covenant Year vows this year was, “I vow to take purposeful steps to kill my sin and repent quickly when I cherish it in my heart.” I realized that many times I get lazy about the sin in my heart and instead of actively fighting it, I push it to the side and allow it to slowly grow. But this is not what God has called me to do as a believer, and so as I thought and prayed through this vow, the following steps for killing sin came to mind.
Step 1: Meditate on the truth
Meditate on the truth of who God is, of who you are, and of God’s great love for you. When the tormenting thoughts of sin come, start replacing them with truth. Be more obsessed with God and his infinite love for you than with the obsessive temptations to lesser things.
Satan is the father of lies, whereas God is the father of truth. So when tempting, beautiful lies come trickling into your brain, you must stop and replace them with truth. Jesus did this when faced with temptations in the wilderness. He simply repeated Scripture back to the devil.
And thus why it’s so important to be daily immersed in the Bible—so that truth is readily available. The truth that says, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20). Or the truth that says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Even if your feelings are saying something else, repeat the truth back to your feelings until it flows through your veins.
Step 2: Honestly recognize the presence of sin in your heart
Don’t try to make excuses. Don’t gloss over it because it makes you uncomfortable to be honest. Acknowledge all the ugliness in your heart and call it what God calls it—sin. Rebellion against God. Unbelief. Chasing after idols. Putrid, nasty, hideous. You want what you can’t have, and you pretend like all is well while you make up little scenarios in your head where you can have the pleasures of sin without experiencing the consequences in real life.
Guess what? Pretending can’t last forever. And the sin in your heart that no one can see is just as awful in God’s sight as the sin fully on display for all to see. So get it all out on the table before God. Confess it all and be brutally honest with yourself and God so that you can fully repent of it. Not repent of half of it and hold onto the other half that gives you secret delight. Repent of all of it and stop playing the whore like Israel in the book of Hosea. Remember 1 John 1:8-9 that says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Step 3: Repent—not through your own “penance,” but by accepting the atoning sacrifice of Christ for your sins
Nothing you could ever do—no prayer you pray, tears you weep, righteous acts you do—nothing can wash away your sin. Only the precious blood of Jesus can do that. So surrender to his already finished work on the cross. Accept that his perfect righteousness is now covering your sinful heart as you trust in him. Don’t put forth mental effort to “make it right” on your own. Simply run to Jesus and ask for his grace to fully accept his atonement on your behalf.
The beautiful truth that 1 John 2:1-2 says is this, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
He has not left us without hope. He has not left us without salvation. He’s provided the salvation so that we can have blessed relief and forgiveness from our sins.
Step 4: Learn the signs of “cherishing it in your heart” so that you can repent as soon as you’re aware of it.
You must become an honest student of your own heart and mind for this is the only way to identify the warning signs. You must be aware of your overly active imagination and the scenarios it can generate in the blink of an eye that reveal your true desires.
And when that happens, you must not linger on them, for that is when the “cherishing” begins, and it only becomes more difficult to root out later. Don’t start making ruts that will be impossible to get out of later. Instead, recognize the good, repent of the warped, give it to Jesus on the altar of sacrifice, and dwell on his beauty more.
As we think about the battle against sin, it feels exhausting because it is sometimes. But then there is Hosea 6:1-2: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
God’s intention is always to heal us and bring us to fuller life in him. Some days the battle is fierce, and we feel exhausted by the fighting. And some days, he mercifully lets us rest and holds us in the loving protection of his arms. The raging winds die down. The waves become a gentle roll. The clouds part, and the sun comes out to shine on our tear-streaked faces.
And he reminds us that our old selves must die over and over again so that true and meaningful life might be restored in us. And that’s where I’m at today. At peace with the work he’s doing in me. Surrendered to the designs of the cross and a Savior who’s never done loving me. I can do this faith journey not because I’m strong, but because He’s strong and always faithful.
The battle against sin is always worth it if it leads us to deeper sanctification in Christ. Praise be to his name.