Be An Overcomer
By Norman S. Edwards
Most brethren who have had the spirit of God for a while have no question in their mind about the need to overcome sins and problems. We all can see misery and devastation to mankind as governments, business, and individuals seek to take things for themselves. We can feel the hurt in our own lives when individuals do not treat us according to the righteous standard of Scripture. Hopefully, we can also see how our own sins have hurt others and ourselves.
All believers are not alike in their sins. "The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them" (1Tim 5:24). Whether all sins are obvious to others or not is really not that important. We do not have to justify ourselves to others. It is our Savior, the Messiah who will be our judge (Matt 12:36; Rom 2:16; 14:10; 2Cor 5:10; 2Tim 4:1). He will judge with complete righteousness, no one will be able to "pull a fast one" and hide their sin from Him (Is 11:3-4). However, since each believer does have different kinds of sins and problems to deal with, we need to realize that different approaches may be required to overcome different kinds of sin.
This article covers specific things that we can do to overcome all sins, and other things that we can do to help overcome specific sins.
Facing the Problem
The first step to solving any problem is to recognize and admit the problem. Sin can be extremely deceptive:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-13).
As the above scripture indicates, the encouragement of other brethren is often very helpful in recognizing sin in our lives. When we have a sin that we find difficulty overcoming, it often helps to talk to someone else about it (not your entire congregation or the entire world.).
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16).
There is not a need to confess all of our past sins that are over and forgiven, but ongoing sins that we are trying to overcome. It is easy to convince ourselves that certain sins are not important or that we are making "adequate progress" in overcoming them. It is a little harder to convince an outside observer who may see very little progress.
How Can We Overcome Sin?
The above scriptures are the foundation: confessing the sin, praying for forgiveness and asking the Eternal to cleanse us from sin. Any attempt to overcome sin without this will be more difficult than it should be. We will go on to show how to overcome five major types of sin:
Sins Due to Bad Habits
These are sins that have come about primarily from neglect, not from some great trauma in our lives. Examples include: staying up too late, eating too much, driving too fast, forgetting to return borrowed property on time, etc. (get some better examples). Recognizing that these sins are sins is much of the problem. But specifically, these bad habits need to be replaced by good habits: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21).
Writing down a plan to replace a bad habit with a good habit is an effective method. Your plan may not succeed perfectly, but it will certainly be better than making no effort to overcome bad habits. After achieving a certain amount of success, a new plan can be made.
Sins Due to Ignorance of the Truth
Speaking of His people in the latter days, the Eternal says: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children" (Hos 4:6). It is easy to see how the sins mentioned in this chapter are destroying our nations today: "By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, They break all restraint, With bloodshed upon bloodshed" (Hos 4:2). But do brethren with the holy spirit suffer due to lack of knowledge?
We may not have many of the flagrant sins mentioned above, but we probably do suffer in our relationships with other peopleespecially with other brethren. Brethren often expect other brethren to treat them in some special way because they are brethren. This author once heard a long-time pastor seriously advise that members of his congregation not enter into business transactions with each other because his experience showed that the result was usually bad feelings between the parties. Yet this same pastor believed that he (and the converted people in his congregation) would be kings and priests responsible for teaching others how to live in the Kingdom of God. There is much that all of us can learn from both Old and New Testaments about how to live at peace with each other and ourselves.
Lack of knowledge applies to other relationships. Some people are sick, but do not apply what the Scripture says about health. Others are poor, but do not seem concerned about what the scripture says about this subject.
David frequently meditated on the law of the Eternal (Pslm 1:2; 119:97), yet he still had to pray: "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults" (Pslm 19:12). When we see difficulty in our lives, we need to pray and ask for the Eternalís intervention, but we also need to study to gain the knowledge that may prevent the problem. In Proverbs 8, where wisdom is personified, she (wisdom) says: "I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me" (verse 17).
Sins Due to Evil Influence of Others in the Past
These sins usually begin in our formative years and are very hard to overcome later. Most often, they come from those who raised us, but sometimes from people with whom we lived in early adult life. Examples are: intolerance, fear, drunkenness, vulgar language, sexual immorality, homosexuality, anger, violence, abuse of others, etc. People who have grown up around this kind of behavior or suffered under it have a great tendency to repeat it. Sometimes, such problems are so strongly imbedded in a person that they believe they cannot overcome thembut the scripture says otherwise:
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Rev 21:7-8).
We must learn to forgive the people who treated us so terribly in the past. Our Savior forgave the soldiers who executed him (Luke 23:34). He realized that they were caught up in an evil systemthat they either had to carry out orders or face death themselves. We do not need to be the judge of those people who ill-treated us in the past. We must realize that there is nothing we can do to change the way we were treated in the past. Knowing whether our past problems were mostly our fault or mostly someone elseís fault will make little difference. The only hope is that we change ourselves now.
When we leave the other people out and begin looking to our Savior and ourselves, overcoming is possible. The "parable of the minas" ("parable of the pounds" in KJV) gives us insights for this situation (Luke 19:10-26). The last man in the parable did nothing with his mina because he felt that he was treated unfairly. We should never conclude that we cannot overcome because our situation is so much more difficult than our fellow believerís situation. Even if it is, our Father has promised to give us extra help to escape from it:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1Cor 10:13).
Sins Due to Evil Influence of Others Now
These are different from the previous category in that the bad influence is still affecting us. Bad influence may be TV, movies, games, magazines, books, cars, clothes or other possessions. Also, the bad influence may be people: friends, those we work with and, in some cases, our parents or spouses.
If our problem is with things, we can usually just make a great effort to take the offending things out of our lives. However, the ultimate goal is to learn the right use of thingsand it may not be possible to take some things (like cars or clothes ) completely out of our lives. It is usually effective to first regulate, and if that fails, eliminate. For example, if you know you are wasting too much time watching TV, set a limit to how much you will watch each weekset a paper and pencil near the TV to keep track. If you cannot keep records and stick to your schedule, then just stop watching all togetherput the TV in storage if necessary.
The issue of people is even more complex. We cannot simply run away from everyone who might possibly cause us a problem. We are to help those who are weak in the faith:
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things" (Rom 14:1)
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted (Gal 6:1).
According to the last verse, we should not try to help someone else if their sin will adversely effect us. For example, a former alcoholic should be able to help another struggling alcoholic. But if the two get together to share their experiences and end up drinking a couple of bottles of whiskey, the "former alcoholic" must realize that he or she is not helping and switch to a different plan.
A similar approach, as we described above for "things," can be used. Yet, it must be done with much more love and sensitivity. (Your TV will not care whether you watch it or not, but people will notice how you treat them.) If you believe that your relationship with a certain person is causing you to sin, try the following three-step approach: evaluate whether you should continue a relationship with this person; if the answer is yes, then regulate that relationship; and if all regulation fails, then separate from that person as much as possible.
Evaluating a relationship is a very subjective thing. If a person who is encouraging you to sin is not a relative, business associate, neighbor, or long-time friend, and if that person has no interest in the Bible or changing his or her life, then the simplest solution may be to drop that relationship. It is better to lose an acquaintance than to continue to sin. With family, neighbors, and other relationships, you cannot simply walk away. If the problem is with another believer, you have a duty to go to them and tell them how they are offending you (Matt 18:15-17). If your problem is with an unbeliever who does respect your understanding of the Bible, you do not want to walk away from someone whom the Eternal may intend that you teach. After thinking through the facts, you can pray for the Eternal to show you whether or not you should continue the relationship.
Regulating a relationship is the next step if your "evaluation" says to continue the relationship. You may be able to take care of the problem yourself. For example, "I will continue to be that personís friend but if they ask me to go out drinking, I will simply say, ĎNo.í" In other cases, you may have to tell the person about your self-imposed restrictions. Suppose that a friend has a severe problem with anger that affects you when you are with them. You may have to tell them, "I want to continue to be your friend, but if you get into your angry mood, I will have to leave you because it has a negative effect on me."
This may sound simple, but if the person who "drags you into sin" is a parent, in-law, or even your spouse, you will have to be very careful in presenting the issue to them. The key is not to tell the other person how bad they are, but to tell them how you are affected and that you want to overcome your problems that occur when you are together. If the other person takes your decision to heart and tries to clean up his or her own problems, praise the Eternal! But if this repentance does not occur with your friend, then realize each person is responsible for themselves, and you have done your part by your good example.
Are there any Biblical examples of "regulated relationships"? Yes! They are called covenants. In both the Old and New Testaments we find numerous cases where the Eternal tells people that if they will do certain things, He will be with them, if not He will leave them. Even our Savior regulated our relationship: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matt 10:32-33).
Separating may be necessary if the other person refuses to cooperate with your regulation or if the regulation fails. The goal of any separation is for a person to get away from the negative influence long enough to establish positive habits and then to take those habits back to a resumed relationship in the future. But if any relationship is in a continual pattern of violence, immorality, or some other major sin or abuse, then the people should separate so that the sin may stop.
If the person in question is your spouse or other immediate family member, we recommend much counsel and prayer before making a decision to separate. This article does not cover all of the essential issues for such a difficulty. Nevertheless, "separation" is shown by the scriptures to be the "last resort" to save a troubled marriage (1Cor 7:11).
When it appears that a sin has been defeated, it is safe to resume the relationship, probably in a self-regulated manner. Even after the old patterns are broken, the recommendations of the previous section will probably still be helpful.
Sins Due to the Influence of Satan and his Demons
To some, this may seem to be a minor or even non-existent source of sin, but the New Testament clearly teaches otherwise:
And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one (Matt 6:13).
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).
Ölest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices (2Cor 2:11).
There are other examples of the influence of Satan (Mark 4:15; Luke 22:31; John 13:2; 1Cor 7:5; etc.) The problem can even happen to people "in the church":
But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? (Acts 5:3.)
When many people think of "demon possession" or "demon influence" or "Satanís influence," they often think of raving maniacs performing super-human feats of strength or self-mutilation. Some demons described in the Bible were clearly that way (Matt17:14-21; Mark 5:1-20; Acts 19:13-16). There is a tendency to think that everyone who has or has had "demon problems" should be avoided by righteous believers and not given any responsible part to participate in bringing others to righteousness. However, that was not our Saviorís attitude:
Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmitiesMary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herodís steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance (Luke 8:1-3).
We must realize that some evil spirits were of a much more docile nature, some causing sickness, blindness, or lack of speech (Luke 13:11; Matt 12:22; 9:32). Some demons invent false doctrines (1Tim 4:1-3). When we examine the vast amount of completely opposite teachings that exist among Sabbath-keeping brethren, one can only conclude that the false-doctrine demons must be very busy today!
When James gives a formula for overcoming, he stresses both drawing close to the Eternal, and resisting the Devil:
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:7-8).
We should not be ignorant of the work of Satan and His demons. Several times, our Savior gave power to his servants to cast out demons (Matt 10:1; Mark 3:14-15; 6:12; 16:17; Luke 10:17). The Bible never lists dealing with demons as a "spiritual gift" or something that only certain brethren can do. If we have illness, evil thoughts or other difficulties that seem to have no physical explanation, we need to pray for intervention and deliverance, and then commandin the name of our Saviorthat Satan and his demons leave. This should never be done to try to "show our spirituality" or to "beat up on the devil," but to put out sin and to become righteous.
When sins and problems prove particularly difficult to overcome, one effective solution is usually fasting. The voluntary abstinence from food for a period of time can be a great benefit to defeating sin: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? (Is 58:6, NIV). Fasting produces a humility and trust in the Eternal above physical things. It allows a person to look at him- or herself in a way that is difficult otherwise. The passage about resisting the Devil that we quoted above continues like this:
Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge (James 4:9-11).
Our Savior said that his disciples would fast after He left the earth (Matt 9:15). When they could not cast out a particularly difficult demon, he said: "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29). In addition to spiritual closeness to the Eternal, fasting gives us a sense of physical control over our bodies. This is particularly helpful to those suffering from eating, substance-abuse, or other bodily-related difficulties. The first day (sometimes two days) of a fast can be particularly difficult, but after that one usually has a much greater feeling of control over oneself.
Most health food stores will have a number of books on how to fast. We highly recommend you read and follow one of these books or seek the help of other qualified professionals before you undertake a long fast. It is true that Moses had neither food nor water for 40 days and 40 nights (Ex 34:28), but the Eternal has made no promise to sustain believers who attempt a similar fast. Fasting is not penanceit is not something miserable we do to make the Eternal do what we want. We should not tempt our Father (Deut 6:16). Most of the spiritual benefit of fasting can be achieved by simply going without food. This author is aware of many individuals who went without food for a few to as many as 20 days without significant physical difficulties. But each person is different. You must take responsibility for seeking and following competent advice in this matter.
To some degree, overcoming major sins and fasting seem like a lot of work. Is it not easier to slide along and hope we can improve gradually? The Apostle Peter had an interesting perspective:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives (2Pet 3:10).
Hebrews chapter 11 details many of the individuals faithful to the Eternal throughout the ages. The conclusion of the matter is found in the first two verses of the next chapter.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:1-2). &
Do We Need to Overcome Sin?
Since salvation is by grace, some people believe that it is not necessary to overcome sinthat Christ does all of that for us. If we read only a few sections of the Bible, we can easily reach that conclusion. If we put all the scriptures together, we find that our Savior gives us the power to overcome (the Holy Spirit), but that we are very much involved in asking for that power, and carrying out the process of our own overcoming.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of Godnot the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Eph 2:8-10, NRSV).
They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him (Titus 1:16).
James shows that our salvation and faith are intricately linked with the physical works we do:
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Jms 2:14-18).
Yes, it is the power of our Savior in us that gives us the ability to do good works. But if those works are absent, something is wrongwrong with us.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Rom 6:12-13).
Finally, in the "letters to the seven churches" in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 we find a very important phrase repeated to every congregation. Each one says "to him who overcomes" or "he who overcomes" and then specifies a reward (Rev 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21). The rewards are all different, but it appears that overcoming sin and Satan is necessary to obtain any reward.