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Stopping the Sin Cycle

By Laura J. Bagby - Sometimes we think that when we become Christians, either we will be perfect or we must be perfect, and when we are not, when we sin terribly against God, then there is nothing for us to do but spin deeper into our own sinfulness.

If you have ever felt like that, I bring you hope and a plan of attack to get out from under the mire.

We All Fall Short of the Glory of God

We might despair in the pattern of our own sinfulness because we recognize our own inability to fix the problem. But I thank God for the apostle Paul; he too struggled with the vicious cycle of his sinful nature. He says, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil " (Romans 7:19, NIV).

It is not simply a matter of recognizing our sin. And although we must repent of our sins before the Lord, we can have a repentant spirit and confess our sins before the Lord and still return to our own evil desires, just as Paul explains. So how do we break the pattern of sin's hold on our lives? There are some key concepts that I have found in my own personal study of the Bible that I would like to share with you.

God is Stronger than Our Struggles

First we have help from God. God knows we are weak in our own power. Return with me to Romans 7. Paul is confessing his wretched state of sin, that spiraling cycle that keeps pulling him away from what he knows is right and good. This is the same man who wrote mightily under the power of the Holy Spirit the letters we read in the Bible, yet, he too struggled just like us. But instead of floundering in self-pity over his plight into sin or becoming fatalistic, Paul remembers the power of God to overcome his weaknesses: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7: 24-25, NIV).

And we can take comfort and confidence in the knowledge that according to 2 Corinthians 2:16 we have the mind of Christ.

Therefore we can be strong in the assurance that though we are struggling in our own weaknesses, whatever they may be, God is stronger. He who is in us is by far stronger than he who is in the world. Praise God!

Put on the Full Armor

Second, we have the power of God to vanquish evil -- wrong desires, evil thoughts, unwise actions, and the like with the weapons God has given to us. Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God: the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the sword of the Word of God, and the shoes fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:14-17)

In this way the Christian can stand firm against the evil attacks of the enemy. See, we have all we need to take charge over temptation and pitfalls. We have faith in Christ, which is a gift from God; the Word of God set before us in the Bible we read; the righteousness that we received not because of our good deeds, but solely because of the fact that Christ died for our sins; and we have holy sandals to walk in peace.

Choose to Follow God

But there is something else we must not forget as we combat our sinful desires: God has given each of us free will. We have a choice whether to follow our sinful desires or to follow God's ways. If we truly want victory in our lives, we must consciously decide to follow God. We must recognize that we are responsible for the thoughts we think, the feelings we harbor, and the actions we choose to follow. Although our culture many times purports that we are victims of our own desires, we must reconsider what God says.

God would not give us commands to follow if He did not give us the grace to be able to carry them out. Just as a wise boss wouldn't ask you to do something that you are incapable of doing, God never gives us more than we can handle. So get that notion that you can't do it out of your head. You can with God's help.

Renew the Mind

Now God shows us how to control the sin nature. Let's begin with our mind. We harbor a thought that is contrary to the will of God. Perhaps we are jealous. Perhaps we have lustful thoughts. Before these thoughts turn into actions that go against God's desires, we must control them. How? The Bible tells us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). Give it to God and find out what God says about what you are thinking. What does God say in response to bitterness, lust, hate, slander, etc?

It is crucial that we as Christians know the Word of God. This is the essential ingredient in mind renewal. We have the mind of Christ, yes, but we too quickly forget what He is saying to us if we are not keeping in close contact with His Word. In Romans 12: 2, we gain a clear picture of how to handle our thought life: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will" (NIV).

When we detoxify our bodies, we rid them of impure things and consume only things that nourish. When I get sick, I avoid harmful foods like chocolate or simple carbohydrates and choose to eat the things I know will heal my body, like fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It is the same with our mind. Nourish it with the Word of God on a daily basis.

Get a Daily Dose of God

This is another key. Sometimes we think that we can live two or three days on a verse that we got from Sunday's message. But remember when God sent manna to the Israelites in Exodus? God specifically told them to pick up only as much manna as they needed for that day and no more. When some decided to hoard more for later, the manna became infested with worms and was no longer good to eat (see Exodus 16:17-20). In the Lord's prayer it specifically says, "Give us this day our daily bread." There is reason for this.

Sometimes we are not sure if what we are thinking is right or wrong. Don't be afraid to question. It is a valid response. The Bible tells us to use discernment. "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1, NIV). God even equips us in this area. We can test the spirits by seeing them in the light of the Scriptures, but there are times when we still do not understand what is right and good according to God. Therefore, God being rich in mercy, tells us in the first chapter of James to simply pray to Him for wisdom and He will give it to us without finding fault.

Walk in the Spirit

Once we have our mind righted, we are ready to walk in the ways of our Lord. Walking is such a great illustration of the entire Christian life, because it includes our mind, our will, and our active response. Before we place our foot on a path, our brain must signal our legs to move. Something must occur in our mind. But we also choose the path we take. This includes our will as well. Then our body must follow by taking steps. Thus the cycle is completed.

The next question is: How do we walk in a way that pleases God? First John illustrates our Christian journey as one in which we walk in the light. If we walk in the light, which is God, then not only will we have fellowship with others, but the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin (see I John 1:5-7).

In Romans 8:9 it says, "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you." Further in the same passage, Paul continues: "Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation -- but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:12-14, NIV).

As these verses and many others attest, we have the choice to walk and live in God's ways. And lest we forget, we also have help from God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to overcome the sin that wants to overwhelm us.

Give Burdens to God

Last, take heart, my friends. We all sin. We will again. But God forgives. God is the God of restoration and second chance --even third and fourth and fifth chances. When you are troubled by your own sin, rest in Him. God cares for you and He is ready and willing to help you at every turn. All you have to do is recognize your error and ask for His help.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV).

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