Disclaimer: Some of the ideas shared here about overcoming sin have been lumped into a category called “hyper-grace.” People who are quick to throw these ideas into that category have accused myself and many others of turning grace into a license to sin, even going so far as calling it the ancient heresy of antinomianism, claiming that because we emphasize Jesus more than the rules, we must hate the law.
Regardless of the false accusations, the principles in this post have helped countless people to stop struggling with sin; they’ve been proven to work. Therefore even if you’ve been confused about the hyper-grace controversy (or have never heard of it at all), I hope you’ll read this post without any preconceived judgments, because these truths here will change your life.
How To Overcome Sin
Overcoming sin is a lot easier than you think. If the Christian spent as much time and determination changing their thinking instead of trying to change their behavior, they’d find that the changed behavior is a natural result.
I was trapped in spiral of sin for my first six years as a Christian. Although too subtle to admit, I had a deep hatred for myself as a human. On one hand I knew how much God wanted me to do good, on the other hand, no matter how hard I tried to do good I always ended up doing something bad.
My life looked and sounded like many of the Christians who read Romans 7 and conclude that they are nothing more than sinners saved by grace, who are doomed to sin until they die. After all, if one of the most famous Christians writers in history struggled with that very thing (and that struggle is documented in the Bible no less!), who am I to ever think I could overcome sin?
However there is good news in this gospel!
If you read the full context of Romans 7, Paul is speaking about a man under Law, not grace. Romans 6 is where Paul is talking to people under grace. Romans 6 is a declaration of freedom from sin in grace (not freedom to sin because of grace, as some of my critics like to claim).
I made this picture to the left to illustrate some of the key differences between the chapters.
- Romans 6, “I’m free from sin! It doesn’t control me anymore. I’m no longer a slave to sin!”
- Romans 7, “I know the good I want to do, but I can’t carry it out because sin lives in me!”
This is good news because it means that, if you consider yourself to be under grace, then Romans 7 isn’t about you. It’s about the man who loves God, but continues trying to please God by the law, and as a consequences continues to find himself under condemnation of the law. But we all know and love to quote the verse in Romans 8:1.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:1 starts with a very important word: “Therefore.” This word indicates that Paul is not only continuing his previous thought from Romans 7, but also coming to a conclusion of his overall point. This is still a continuation of his thoughts in Romans 7.
Paul didn’t write his letters in chapters. For him Romans 5-8 is one continuous point about freedom from sin through grace, and condemnation to sin through the law. Read Romans 5-8 as one big point without chapter breaks and you’ll see what I mean.
Sin is a Choice, not a Struggle
Romans 8:29 says that we are being conformed to the likeness of Christ, not transformed as many Christians think and like to call “sanctification.” [tweetable alt=””]Sanctification is this: We’re already like Jesus is (1 John. 4:17), but we’re learning to walk it out.[/tweetable] Getting rid of your sin doesn’t make you holy, being holy is what makes you get rid of your sin.
The greatest secret to overcoming sin is knowing who you are. That’s it. The struggle isn’t with bad behavior as much as it’s with the ideas floating around in your head that tell you you’re something you’re not.
“Well, I’m just a sinner with a sin nature who is prone to sin!”
So then why are you surprised or disappointed when you sin? You clearly expect it. You anticipate you. You know you’ll sin every day until you die; so why are you so shocked when you do the thing you believe is in your nature to do?
[tweetable alt=””]If you believe you’re a sinner then you will always find yourself doing what sinners do.[/tweetable] When you know you’re holy then you can’t help but live holy because you know sinning is contrary to who you are. Sin is no longer just an action you’re “supposed to avoid,” it becomes something foreign altogether.
Do you leave the house to go to work or school and walk like a monkey? No. Because you know you’re not a monkey, so why would you do anything that resembles one? You don’t struggle not to act like a monkey, in fact, you would have to choose to act like a monkey because you are so convinced you’re not one.
[tweetable]Become convinced that you’re not a sinner and sin becomes a choice instead of a struggle.[/tweetable]
Does it mean you will lose your ability to sin? No. Does it mean you’ll never experience moments of temptation screaming in your ear? No. But the more wrapped up you become in who we are in Jesus, the less likely you are to do things that are contrary to Him. Not because you’re trying to uphold an ancient moral law to stay on God’s good side, but because you are so wrapped up in God’s good side (light), that anything of the contrary (darkness) just seems abnormal.
[tweetable]If I believe I’m a sinner, I’m less likely to do things that are holy. If I believe I’m holy, I’m less likely to do things that are sinful.[/tweetable] With a sin nature I have to try not to sin; with a holy nature I have to try to sin, because I realize I’m not just “prone to it.”
Holiness vs. Sinfulness
Many Christians still think they have evil desires when they don’t. They still think they’re connected to Adam when they’re not. They’re struggling to overcome sin when they have!
We all know the routine. Because of Adam we were all born into a depraved and sinful life. However the descendant of Adam that you were has died. All of the scriptures about dying with Christ, like “I no longer live…”, they’re not some empty, motivational fluff just to make us feel good about living vicariously through our good intentions. They’re telling us over and over that the old person, who was born of sinful man, is dead. That person is never coming back.
None of that means you can’t do bad things; even Adam sinned without a sin nature. You still have a responsibility to manage thoughts and take every thought captive that sets itself above the knowledge [knowing] of God. However your true nature is a mind set on the things above because you have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).
Christ doesn’t have, for example, a lustful mind. Therefore, in those moments where an uncomfortable amount of lustful thoughts are going through your head, instead of confessing those thoughts as your own and confirming suspicions that you have a “wicked heart,” remember who’s mind you have and what He thinks about.
If it’s not in His mind and His heart, it’s not coming from yours.
“But it feels like it’s coming from me!”
It only feels like it’s coming from you because you believe it is. It doesn’t matter what it feels like, it matters what the truth is. You have the mind of Christ; that is truth.
Earlier today I was browsing Reddit and someone left a comment with a link to a porn site. The thoughts ran through my head to click it. “What could it hurt?” “It’s fine just as long as I’m only watching it out of curiosity!” Blah. Blah. Blah. There’s always justification. But my justification for not clicking the link was, “I don’t need to. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”
There was still a tug, and the thoughts were still floating through my head, but I had already made my decision based on truth, not feelings. I didn’t just say no and those thoughts magically disappeared. I had to keep saying no every time those thoughts and feelings decided to get loud.
“I have the heart and mind of Jesus. He doesn’t want to click that link, so neither do I.”
We already have everything needed to overcome sin (2 Peter 1:3). But please don’t mistake this as an alternative version of law-keeping. Although there is still a practice of discipline in taking thoughts captive, it’s not that same “work yourself up” routine that we’ve been taught to do. It’s not meant to be a struggle of self-will, but a struggle to rest in the truth that you don’t really want those things to begin with.
[tweetable alt=””]Since holy is who I am, holiness becomes effortless.[/tweetable] Do my actions always look like it? Not at all! And I won’t pretend otherwise. However, I’m further along than I ever was when I was trying to battle sin through self-will and stressful determination. When I’m tempted to sin, I make an effort to rest instead of getting worked up and panicky. If I do sin, I’m still able to rest knowing that God has already forgiven me. Yes, before I even ask! And if He isn’t holding my sin against me, I won’t hold it against myself. I will learn and move on.
It doesn’t mean I willingly run around and sin. It only means that if I slip (I don’t plan on it because it’s not my nature to), I’m able to get up and instead of feeling guilty, I feel thankful that God isn’t hiding Himself from me until I perform some ritual of repentance. Instead of feeling hatred for myself, I feel love for God, knowing that He’s as close to me when I screw up as He is when I get everything perfect.
Beauty instead of ashes, joy instead of mourning–that whole deal! It’s great.
My Own Worst Enemy
One of the biggest tricks of the devil is to convince you that you’re the bad guy. When you think it’s you, you won’t exercise authority over him—the real culprit.
Think with me, if a guy broke into your house and stole all of your furniture, and then somehow managed to convince you that it was you who did it, would you get angry and go after him if you think you’re the one to blame? No. You’re most likely going to throw a pity party and talk about how stupid you were to do such a stupid thing.
Doesn’t that sound like a lot of church services nowadays? Another week, another altar call. “You haven’t been living right! You’ve been sinning. You haven’t been serving the Lord. Come up to the altar and recommit your life. God is waiting with open arms for you to come back. Some of you need to ‘get right with the Lord.’ “
But didn’t the Father say, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you”? Didn’t Jesus say, “Surely I am with you always”? So even if you sin, you don’t go anywhere, neither does He. You’re one with Him (1 Cor. 6:17). Where can you go where He’s not? Even David said, if you go to the highest heavens, He is there. If you make your bed in the depths of hell, He’s there, too! (Psalm 139: 7-8)
It’s called good news because you’re supposed to enjoy it! Yet how enjoyable is it to think that Jesus died so you could be forgiven of sin, but you’re still going to be trapped in sin until you die? For me, it wasn’t very enjoyable. It led to anger, anxiety, fear, depression, and an onslaught of suicidal thoughts. The gospel to me was “hell on earth and heaven when I die!”
That version of the gospel ruined my life and made me a very miserable person–I often took it out (unintentionally) on the people I cared about. But make no mistake, I could sing on key and put on a good smile on Sunday mornings! None of that fixed the internal struggle I dealt with for all those years.
“So You’re Saying You Don’t Sin?”
This is usually the part where people say, “But do you still sin?”
“So, doesn’t that make you a sinner?”
No. My identity is established in Him, defined by Him. [tweetable alt=””]Who I am is based on who He is in me and the work He has done for me, not the work I’ve done or do for Him.[/tweetable]
Why? “So no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-10.)
Since my actions don’t give me my identity or a higher measure of righteousness than those who keep rules better than I do, I can never brag about anything but what He’s done. The same thing that’s available to me is available to every human being on this planet.
That’s how Paul could say, “If anyone boasts, let them boast in the Lord,” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31) because Jesus is the one who did everything. Our only option in this life is to boast in His work because our work and performance can never add to or take away from what He did–what He did is complete.
Are We Sinners or Saints?
[tweetable alt=”You’re not a sinner who is prone to sin, you’re a saint who is prone to righteousness.”]You’re not a sinner who is prone to sin, you’re a saint who is prone to righteousness.[/tweetable] Righteousness is who you are, and the you that was prone to sin is dead (Romans 6:2, Romans 6:7, Romans 6:10-11, Galatians 5:24, Colossians 2:11). The reason you can’t be a sinner, even if you sin, is because who you are isn’t based on what you do, it’s based on who He is in you.
We’re not God’s righteousness because we did something for it, but because He did something for it and we reap the harvest of His work.
Do you get it? It’s all about Jesus! (Hey! That would make a good book!)
“Put Your Faith in Jesus!”
Having faith in Jesus is simple. It’s not a working yourself up and trying to believe these things I’m saying. It’s simply looking at what Jesus says about you and making a decision to take Him at His word, no matter how much your actions may look different.
Jesus told His disciples, “You are already clean because of the words I have spoken.” But we later find out that Peter had severe anger problems, he was kind of a racist (for a while), and he had loads of other issues. Now what are the greater odds: that Jesus was lying? Or that Peter just didn’t understand or believe what Jesus said?
We see this throughout the entire church today.
Jesus: “Come to me and you will never hunger or thirst again. Not ever!”
Church: “Oh Jesus! We are so hungry! We’re thirsty for more of you!”
Jesus: “You are already clean because of the words I’ve spoken.”
Church: “Give us clean hands! Give us pure hearts!”
See, the overall issue isn’t behavior. It’s that we just don’t believe what Jesus and Paul said about a lot of things because our thoughts and feelings often say different. Our “faith” is in what we think and feel instead of the words of the guy who created everything with a word.
When you can say, “Light, be.” and light is, I have to believe you know what you’re talking about when you say, “You’re already clean because I said so.”
Okay, okay! I’m clean! But I don’t think or feel or act like it! Hey. That’s okay! You’re learning. You’re changing your mind about the old, and making your thoughts and feelings line up with the new.
You’re not transformed by the effort of your prayers, the length of your fasting, the volume of your crying out, how genuinely you sing a song, or how well you can will yourself to avoid sin. You’re not transformed by how often you read, memorize, quote and preach the Bible. You’re only by renewing your mind (changing the way you think, repenting of every idea that holds you captive to lies about Christ and who you are in Him).
[tweetable alt=””]If you are struggling with sin, change the way you think. Renew your mind.[/tweetable] You’re not the victim of sin, but a victor over it through Christ’s finished work.
How do you change your mind? The same way you stop sinning. You make a choice to. You might not be a professional at it overnight, but be consistent in reminding yourself of who Jesus is (and by relation, who you are), and the rest will take care of itself.
If you’re going to make an effort to do anything, the writer of Hebrews said, “Make every effort to rest from your work.”