HANDLING SIN (BY MARK OVERTON)

Copyright © 2019 by Mark Overton.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. I highly recommend the NKJV as it’s easy to read and my Greek-checks show it’s as accurate as the NASB.


Most churches treat sin lightly. But the truth is, sin is dangerous because it can cause you to be put in hell. Sin is a variety of behaviors that anger God. You can avoid them by (1) vowing to never sin, thus crucifying sin, (2) taking practical steps to avoid it, and (3) living in the Spirit by praying, reading the Bible, and obeying the commands of Jesus. If you do these things, the Holy Spirit will help you to never sin. But if you are caught off-guard and sin, God has a procedure for forgiving you and removing that sin from you.


What should a Christian do about sin? To answer that, we should first know why a Christian needs to avoid sinning, and what sin is. After that, I will discuss how we can avoid sinning, and what to do if we slip and commit a sin.

Sin is Dangerous

As a Christian, you must carefully avoid sinning because it puts you in danger of hell. Jesus said the following in the sermon on the mount:

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

Jesus said this to His disciples (Christians) and to the multitudes, so this command applies to everyone. Jesus is telling us to do whatever it takes, no matter how drastic, to avoid sinning, because sin will put us in hell.

Here is a passage you should memorize:

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

This passage tells Christians that if we sin deliberately, we will not be forgiven, but will face God’s wrath. Note the word “willfully” in this passage. It means premeditated, or planned ahead of time. But if you have taken strong precautions against sinning, such as never being alone with a member of the opposite sex, and yet you are suddenly caught by an unexpected temptation, God will forgive you if you repent. I describe this process later in this article.

You might find these two passages hard to believe because your church has probably given you the impression that once you “accept Christ” or “come to Christ”, you will be saved regardless of your behavior. This false impression is conveyed by several subtle methods:

  • Seldom talking about sin in sermons, and being vague about what it is, including blurring sin with hurt feelings. Christians are left with the impression that sin is not important to God. In fact, they often don’t know what sin is, so they can be committing sin ignorantly. I have met Christians who were having sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends, not knowing they were guilty of the sin of fornication.
  • Stressing how to be happy in this life by teaching that God will solve our problems if we pray. Excessive emphasis on happiness gives the impression that God wants us to be happy and not suffer. Resisting sin is usually painful, so this happy-now message (as I call it) reduces people’s resistance to sin because it encourages them to think like this: “God wants me to be happy, so I’ll go ahead and cheat on or divorce my wife.”
  • False doctrines that imply that sin won’t bring pain. A few examples include “We are under no law but the law of love,” “God sees us through Christ,” and “Once saved, always saved.” There are over 40 of these false doctrines, and you can learn about them in my free article, Behavior Matters.

These techniques and false doctrines have one thing in common: they leave the impression that sin is safe and not dangerous because it will not bring you pain. Jesus said the opposite.

What Sin Is

Here are some passages in the New Testament that list specific sins we must avoid, and the consequences of committing those sins:

VersesSinsConsequence
Matthew 15:19 Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, blasphemy Defilement
Romans 1:29-32 Unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, coveting, maliciousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil mind, whispering, backbiting, hating God, violence, pride, boasting, inventing evil things, disobeying parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful Death
I Corinthians 6:9-10 Fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality and related sins, thievery, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling, extortion Won’t inherit the kingdom
Galatians 5:19-21 Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, dissension, heresy, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelry Won’t inherit the kingdom
Ephesians 5:3-5 Fornication, uncleanness, coveting, filthiness, foolish talk, coarse jesting Won’t inherit the kingdom
Revelation 21:8 Cowardice, unbelief, abominable, murder, sexual immorality, sorcery, idolatry, all liars Lake of fire (hell)

From these consequences, you see why Jesus so strongly told us to not sin. In addition, the Lake of Fire (hell) is also called the “second death”, making it likely that the consequence of “death” stated in Romans 1:29-32 is actually referring to hell. Sin is dangerous.

In addition, you can sin with your mind. For example, Jesus said:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

The rule I use for such mental sins is, “If you could have and you would have, you’re guilty.” That is, if circumstances had allowed you to commit the sin with your body without a penalty, and you would have done it, then in God’s sight, you did the deed. So watch your desires, making sure they don’t cross the line into would-have-done-it.

You might have been taught that “we are under no law.” The Apostle Paul stated this several times, but he was referring to the law of the Old Testament, which is known as “the Law of Moses”. We are not under those laws, as they were voided when Jesus died on the cross. However, we are under the laws of the New Testament, most of which are listed in the table above. Some of them are identical to those of the Old Testament, causing confusion, resulting in the foolish doctrine that we are not under any law, which implies that it’s okay with God if we sin. Both sets of laws (Old and New Testament) are expressions of God’s righteous nature. The description in this paragraph is over-simplified, but you can learn the details and rationale behind these laws in my article, Are We Under Any Law? (free download).

Perhaps the most common sin is fornication, which is sex outside of marriage. God requires that sex only occur between a married man and woman, where “marriage” means they have made a life-long commitment to each other before a suitable official, such as a minister in a wedding or a justice of the peace. Sex outside of official marriage is sin, and as you saw above, it can put you in hell.

How to Repent

To stop sinning, you must kill it. Here are a few verses discussing killing sin:

  • Galatians 5:24 says “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Look again at the items in the above table. They include fornication, envy, violence, and many more. These are passions and desires in your flesh. You will not belong to Christ until you have crucified (killed) them.
  • Galatians 2:18 says “For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” Paul is saying that he destroyed his prior sinful way of life. That’s what we must do to sins: destroy them! Furthermore, he states that if he were to start living that sinful way again, he would be violating God’s laws (listed in the above table).
  • Regarding the inhabitants of the land which Israel was about to enter, Deuteronomy chapters 7-8 say “you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them.” Deuteronomy 20:16 tells Israel to “let nothing that breathes remain alive.” The Promised Land given to ancient Israel is a picture (symbol, type) of our personality. The enemies in the land represent the sins in us. As Israel was required to ruthlessly destroy those enemies, we are likewise required to ruthlessly conquer the sin in us.
  • Deuteronomy 15:5 says “only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today.” Such careful adherence to the Old Testament law is a picture of our strict adherence to New Testament law. Matthew 5:28 shows that New Testament law reaches deep into our heart, so we must be careful to stamp out even thoughts, flirtations, and other predecessors of sin. We need to kill sins before they get started.

How do we kill the sin in us? You must make a solemn vow to yourself and God that you will never sin again. You fiercely resolve to never sin again. You vow “never again!” God requires that you forsake sin so ruthlessly that you can say you crucified it (read again Galatians 5:24 that was quoted above). This is the proper way to repent of sin. You must reject it with all your might.

…make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:14)

This verse says you must take practical action to ensure that you won’t sin. If you don’t, you lied when you vowed “never again.” You must identify your weak areas, and do whatever it takes to avoid yielding to those sins. Here are common examples of what you must do:

  • If sex is your problem, make sure you are never alone with a member of the opposite sex. I strongly suggest following this never-alone rule even when sex is not your problem, as it will keep you safe and prevent false accusations against you.
  • If porn is your problem, then only use the computer when somebody else is watching. And you can replace your smartphone with a simple flip-phone.
  • If alcohol is your problem, remove all of it from your home, avoid places where it’s sold, and avoid people who are drinking.
  • Likewise with illegal drugs.
  • If cursing is your problem, then when you’re under pressure to curse, pray “God, please help me!”

One practical way to help push a sinful desire out of your mind is to take up a captivating hobby. If you are engrossed in restoring a classic car, or learning woodworking, or mastering figure skating, or helping a charity, it’s easier to keep your mind off of sex or some other longing.

Keep in mind that demons intensify temptation, so you cannot control what you thought you could control. You must take strict steps to prevent sin, even when this puts social pressure on you. Angering God is worse than angering people, so go ahead and be rude about avoiding sin.

If you do these things (forsake sin and avoid it), the Holy Spirit will help you, as Paul states in Romans chapter 8. In fact, this supernatural assistance against sin (grace) is what makes the New Covenant superior to the Old Covenant. Read Romans chapters 7 and 8. Chapter 7 describes life under the Old Covenent (i.e., under the Law of Moses), and chapter 8 describes life under the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, you knew what sin is, but that knowledge made the sin more tempting. We even have an adage for this: “Forbidden fruit tastes best.” This intensified temptation pushed you into sin, making you a slave of sin. This slavery to sin has been broken under the New Covenant.

Unlike the Old Covenant, the New Covenant offers you a choice, as Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 8. You can either live in the flesh, doing what your body and mind want to do, or you can live in the Spirit. Living in the flesh obviously will cause you to sin, and you’ll face its consequences. But it’s also possible for you to live in the Spirit, which means praying, reading the Bible, and obeying the commands of Jesus and His apostles. If you do these things, the Spirit will help you to avoid sin, and He will also help you in other ways, such as giving you insights.

The good news about the New Covenant is that we don’t have to sin. We can stop sinning, avoiding its consequences, by killing sin (repenting whole-heartedly), and living in the Spirit instead of following our desires.

I have observed that conquering a sin usually is not too difficult once you’ve made up your mind to stop it (i.e., “died to it”, as Romans 6:2 puts it). If a person repeatedly decides to stop a sin and yet keeps committing it, it means he hasn’t made up his mind deeply enough. He wants to stop, but deeper down a voice is telling him, “Go ahead; it’s not so bad. God won’t put you in hell for this.” If that’s you, pray! Pray that God would put the fear of God in you by making His punishments real to you.

You might have heard that “a righteous man may fall seven times, and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). This verse can be used as an excuse to sin, but it was written for the Old Covenant which provides little help in resisting sin, and the context suggests that it’s not referring to sin. Under the New Covenant, with its greater grace (power), you are expected to stop sinning.

Hebrews 12:1 says “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…” Almost all of us have a sin which tempts us strongly. That is the sin “which so easily ensnares us.” It is usually fornication or pornography, but alcohol/drugs, abortion, gossip, violence, lying, cheating, glory-lust, and female stubbornness are also common in our culture. That sin will be the center of your battle for years, perhaps the rest of your life. Like the Jews of old, you must kill every speck of it, not allowing your thoughts to relish it or your body to express it. The long battle against that sin can be miserable and discouraging, but always pray that God will remove the temptation from you. Until He does, that temptation is part of the cross that you must bear. God wants to know whether you will be faithful under that prolonged pressure. Your faithfulness will determine your worthiness for God’s kingdom and for the resurrection. Read Revelation chapters 2-3 and notice the rewards to the overcomers—those who overcome sin. The rewards are great!

Repenting of sin means you vow “never again,” refusing to let your thoughts relish it or your body express it.

And pray every day that God would give you power (grace) to overcome sin.

Oops!

You did fine for a while, and then you sinned. You were suddenly hit with an unexpected pressure that exposed a gap in your wall against sin you didn’t know was there, and down you went. The crucial fact is that you did not plan to sin. You were caught in a fault, despite having taken precautions against sin. God has made provision for this situation:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

This verse is so important that I suggest you memorize it. It gives us a procedure to handle unexpected sins:

  1. Confess the sin. Implicit in this is repenting of it, vowing to never do it again.
  2. God will forgive you.
  3. God will help you not do it again by cleaning that unrighteousness out of you.

So you can stay in good standing with God, despite having sinned, provided you repent of it. However, you might face consequences of the sin. For example, a sexual sin might make you get herpes or pregnant. Sin is dangerous in this life, as well as the next.

Here’s an actual example from my own life. I work in a laboratory, and was wearing a badge for that lab. I went outside the lab to the restroom, and then to another building, wearing the badge the entire time. After I returned to the lab, the lab supervisor told me that we are not allowed to wear that badge outside the lab. Under sudden social pressure, I told him that I had gone to the restroom, giving the false impression that I had stayed near the lab. A few minutes later, I realized that I had lied by leaving a false impression. That is, I omitted the fact that I went to another building, giving a false impression. Lying is sin.

Back in my chair in the lab, I immediately prayed to the Lord, confessing “I lied by false impression!” I was frightened by the sin, because I know that God is rough on sin. So I repented of it and confessed it at the same time, resolving to never lie by false impression again. And I asked God to help me never do that again.

Deliberate Sin

You are in trouble if you plan ahead of time to sin. The discussion above only applies to getting caught by surprise. But God will not forgive you of premeditated sin. Hebrews 10:26-27 makes this clear, so let’s read it again:

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

“Willfully” means deliberately. You were not swept off your feet, but you planned the sin when you were in control of yourself. That’s terrible in God’s sight. If you repent, God might accept you. But Hebrews 10:26-27 says He will not accept you.

My advice is: Never get in this situation. Instead, do your best to never sin by killing it and taking practical actions to ensure it won’t happen. Follow Christ with all your heart. Do all you can to ensure you never sin, accidentally or willfully.

An area that God might regard as deliberate sin is failure to guard against sin. If you know you’ll be tempted in a situation, and you walk into that situation anyway, then when you sin, God might not forgive you. This commonly happens with sex: You know you will be under pressure, and you allow yourself to get into that situation anyway. Don’t gamble with God.

Conclusion

The apostles expected that sin would be unusual among Christians. We see this in Ephesians 5:3:

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you…

You could visit that church in Ephesus, and examine the life of every person there, and not find one instance of those common sins. This is the normal Christian life. This is how God expects us to live. And through the Holy Spirit, He has given us the power to live like this.

As an aside, reread the verses quoted in this article. They are indented, so you can find them quickly. If you are perceptive, you will notice that those verses possess ferocity and strength. You are sensing God’s personality in them. As you serve God over the decades, you will notice ferocity and strength forming in you. These traits arise from God forming His law and personality in you (Jeremiah 31:33). You will begin this process by being fierce and strong against sin.

Let’s summarize the main points of this article:

  • Sin is dangerous. Churches teach many lies (both explicit and by impression) saying that sin won’t bring you pain. Reject them. Fear sin, because it can cause you to be put in hell.
  • Sin consists of specific behaviors. They include sins you would have committed but didn’t only because you lacked opportunity.
  • You must avoid sin by (1) repenting, which means vowing to never sin, (2) taking practical steps to avoid sin, and (3) living in the Spirit by praying, reading the Bible, and obeying the commands of Jesus.
  • If you do these things, the Holy Spirit will help you to never sin.
  • But if you are caught off-guard and sin, God’s procedure for handling it is: (1) you must confess and repent of the sin, and (2) God will forgive you and clean the sin out of you.

By avoiding sin and serving God, you will be righteous, and you will receive the reward of a righteous person.

(“Handling Sin”, 4354, 20190531)

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