How to Overcome Sin
by Toli Bohonik
Do you remember when you were baptized? Do you remember when you accepted Jesus as your personal savior and all of your sins were forgiven, all of your sins were washed away?
How about where you were baptized, do you remember the place? For some it was in a river, for others it was a swimming pool, and for still others it may have been a simple baptismal tank stored at a friends home.
I remember very well.
After thirty years the details are still fresh in my mind. I was baptized in an indoor swimming pool. The water was cold and smelled of chlorine. I was the only person baptized that afternoon. But what I remember best are my emotions. It was a very emotional experience. There was anticipation, excitement, and there was genuine joy.
Afterward, as I stood by the pool dripping wet and shivering (not from the cold water but from the excitement), I remember thinking, "Now I have been given salvation... and my salvation is certain". I was truly happy!
I also remember a unique and wonderful feeling. I sensed that I was now spiritually clean. It came from knowing that I had a Savior and that all my sins were washed away. It was a great feeling! I knew Jesus and the Father loved me, and that this was a clean new start, it was the beginning of a life-long journey.
I was now expected to live a good life, and I would need to overcome sins that not too long ago I had knowingly tolerated.
Over the years there have been lots of battles with sin. Some have been won and others have been lost. When I was baptized I didnít appreciate how many battles there would be. Nor as I stood there soaking wet did I understand how I was going to overcome sin. Yet I knew I had to overcome sin.
We all start our walk with Jesus in similar fashion: anticipation, excitement, joy, and the feeling of being really clean. But many of us didnít at baptism fully understand how to overcome sin. Some of us donít learn to overcome sin until much later in life. Iíve learned, and Iíd like to share what has worked for me.
Years After Conversion
Years after conversion many mature Christians still feel beset by sins. At baptism, when they came under the blood of Christ, they expected a clear and certain victory over sin. Many didnít think that they would be struggling against sin years and decades after baptism.
Many Christians fight mightily to overcome sin, but too often they just donít seem to make progress. Too often sin wins the battle and Satan is the victor. Many of us find that there are times when we are still the servants of sin, and sin does continue to reign over us.
Maybe you are fighting bad habits. Maybe there are secret sins. Or maybe you find that there are old sins that you thought you had overcome a long time ago, sins that once again have become a significant problem in your life
Coexisting with sin is not what Jesus Christ wants for us. The Lord does not wants us to live side-by-side with major sins that hurts us and that hurt those around us. Satan of course loves this kind of situation. He rejoices when we are in bondage to sin.
We are presented with two very simple choices in the scriptures. One is to overcome sin and live forever. The other is to live in sin and face a loss of reward or even possibly eternal punishment.
Two simple choices.
On the one hand we are promised great reward if we overcome sin. Jesus tells us that we will be rewarded according to our deeds. If we do well, if we seek glory and honor, we will be given immortality and we will be given eternal life. Notice Romans 2:6-7
Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.
Also notice Revelation 2:11. Jesus tells us that if we overcome we shall not be hurt by the second death:
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
In Revelation 2:26-27 we read that rulership over the nations is promised to those who overcome sin:
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
On the other hand, if live sinful lives, where we coexist with sin, we will be confronted with the sure punishment that will come upon all of those who purposefully break the commandments of God. We may be looking at the very real possibility of a reduced reward in the Kingdom of God or not being in the Kingdom of God at all.
Why face the prospect of a greatly diminished reward? Why face the potential of the lake of fire?
In Matthew 5:19 we read that we are to keep the commandments of God, and we are to teach men to keep the commandments. If we do not keep them and teach them we will be called "least" in the Kingdom of Godóa greatly diminished reward:
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
There is a terrible penalty to be paid by those who refuse to repent of sin and refuse to overcome sin. In Revelation 21:8 we find that some will be cast out the kingdom and face the frightening reality of the second death.
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
So we have two simple choices, to live in sin and face certain punishment, or to overcome sin and be given a reward in the Kingdom of God.
Some Sins Overcome On Our Own
At baptism most of us were determined to overcome sin. Most of us found that there were some sins we could overcome on our own strength. It might have been difficult, but we could do it.
Even people in the world who donít know God, overcome bad habits, things the scriptures would classify as sin.
But the bitter reality is that some sins are impossible for us to overcome on our own strength. There is no way! Jesus knew that. Jesus knew that each of us would have some sins that would be veritable monsters, they would loom much bigger than our ability to overcome them. But He made a way of escape, a way of victory. As our personal savior He offers His personal and individual help to overcome sin. He knew that with His help we could overcome whatever monsterous sins seek to overpower us. He offers help to overcome any sin.
There is one simple key to overcoming sin. It is the strength and personal intervention of Jesus Christ!
Jesus is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, John 1:29. Jesus by His own power and by His own might takes sin. He does it for us at baptism, and He does it for us throughout our lives. But we must ask Him to do it. You must ask Him to help you overcome sin. You have to ask Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, to take away your sin when it is too great for you to overcome.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"John 1:29.
It is a battle and Jesus is our Savior. He wants us to believe that, He wants us to look to Him as Savior. So when the battle with sin rages we call on His name and He saves us. Then we see His deliverance, and we know that He cares for us personally. The struggle with sin goes away. He gets all the glory. That is how it works.
Then we are free of sin and we know why. It is because of His personal intervention in our lives. He gets the credit for the victory, it is His victory and no flesh can glory! He wants us to experience His deliverance, and to feel His victory, and to know it comes from Him.
But it is still a battle. The apostle Paul experienced this battle against sin many years after conversion. As an older man He felt the deliverance that came from Jesusí personal intervention on his behalf.
The Example of Paul
Even the apostles of the first century had to struggle against sin. They were no different than you and I. Their battle against sin wasnít easy. Paul is a case in point. He had to continue to struggle against sin many years after he was converted.
In Romans 7:22-25 we read about Paulís renewed struggle against sin. The Lord caused this episode in Paulís life to be recorded for our benefit. It shows us how Paul overcame sin and how we too can overcome sin. Notice Paulís words. They ring of struggle and battle. They end with victory!
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Just like Paul, many mature Christians find they, too, experience a renewed struggle against sin. Paul gives the key to overcoming sin in verse 25, where he says, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord". When we are beset by sin we need to do what Paul did.. We need to look to Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on in chapter 8 of Romans to explain that we are "more then conquerors" through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is suffering. In fact, suffering is expected. At times we are to suffer with Jesus, so that we can be glorified with Jesus.
But we are still conquerors. We overcome through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He "...indeed intercedes for us". His love for us is steadfast. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, absolutely nothing. It is precisely because Jesus loves us that He helps us overcome sin. Our Elder Brother loves to deliver us, His brothers and sisters.
Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus truly looks on us as brethren. He is a personal savior who watches over each one of us. We are His. He loves us and He wants to help us. The way to overcome sin is through the direct and personal intervention of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the key to overcoming sin!
Jesus is the Key
So then how does Jesus help us to overcome sin? What must we do to have Him intervene for us? He is always there, His eyes behold our every action. His love is constant and unwavering. How do we get Jesus to help us?
It is really very simple. Ever so simple. The key to overcoming sin is to call upon Jesus Christ to deliver you from sin. We read in Romans 10:13
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
This scripture is an ongoing promise to all Christians. Whenever there are troubles, whenever there are problems, when we are beset by sin, we need to call on the name of the Lord and we will be saved. You donít just "call on the name of the Lord" at baptism.
It is Jesus Christ who strengthens us. It is Jesus who intervenes for us. It is Jesus who frees us from every sin... but only if we call on His name.
In 2 Timothy 2:22 Paul tells us to do just that. Notice this is after we are converted. This is after we have been baptized. This is after we have been a member of the Church of God. We are to call on the Lord out of a pure heart. We are to call on Jesus.
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
It does takes a "pure heart". We must call upon our Lord out of a "pure heart" and ask Him to deliver us. Our heart must be pure, sincere, dedicated to following our Friend and Savior! It is Jesus Christ who then takes away the sin. In Philippians 4:13 Paul says:
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
The strength is the Lordís strength. The power comes from the Lord. This seems so very simple, to just look to Jesus Christ. But it works. It is the only way to overcome sins that are too powerful for us. Paul realized this. He said in Romans 7:24:
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Paul knew that he could not stop sinning on His own strength. Freedom from sin comes through the direct intervention of Jesus Christ. At one time we were the servants of sin, and Jesus made us free from sin. Notice John 8:34-36:
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
What do you think Jesus has been doing for the past nearly 2000 years?
Jesus is the author and finisher of our salvation. That is His role in the church, anciently and today. For almost 2000 years He has been leading His church. He has been helping His people. He has been bringing His will to pass in world events.
Jesus has been a very personal savior to those in His church. He has been helping His people overcome sin. That is one of His main responsibilities. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Your sins and my sins. Before baptism and after baptism.
Paul looked to Jesus to overcome sin and told congregations of the churches of God to do exactly the same thing. In Hebrews 12:2 Paul exhorted Christians:
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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In times of need, in seasons of trial, when we are beset by sin, we need to come boldly before the throne of God and call on Jesus Christ to help us. It is solely by the Lordís mercy and grace that we win the victory over sin. Notice Hebrews 4:14-16:
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
When we come before the throne of grace we are looking to our personal High Priest, Jesus Christ, to deliver us. This is personal. It is one-on-one. No man needs to intervene for you. No man can do this in your place. You must go to the throne of grace and ask Jesus to help you in times of need to overcome sin.
Jesus Forgives Our Sins
When We Stumble
Jesus understands! He is touched by our trauma. He is touched by our pain. He feels our hurt. He knows what it is to have tears running down His cheeks.
It is true that Jesus never sinned, but He had many very good close friends on this earth who did sin. So He understands our weaknesses and He forgives all our sins if we repent, just as He forgave the sins of His good friends. There is plenty of grace. Jesus applies abundant grace.
Jesus is our judge, John 5:22-23:
The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
There are times we will stumble and fall. Times we will sin. At those times we ask for forgiveness and Jesus forgives our sin. There is plenty of grace. At those times, just like Paul, we need to ask our Savior to help us not to sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1Jn 1:8-10).
Overcoming sin is not just a one-time event. If it were we would only have to call on Jesus once, and then we would be free of sin the rest of our lives. But that is not how it works. Since we are to follow Jesus all our lives, and He continues to lead us all our lives, we find that temptation and sin may come often. That means that we need to call on Jesus for help just as often. When He helps, and He does help us, He becomes a real and very personal Savior.
We learn to walk with Him, and He wants us to learn to walk with Him.
The Power of the Lord
Is a Gift of Grace
We know that forgiveness of past sins is a gift of grace, but did you know that deliverance from sin is also a gift of grace?
When we call on Jesus to set us free from sin, Jesus doesnít tell us how He is going to remove sin from us. That is where faith comes in. We must believe we will be made free from sin, that Jesus will free us from being slaves to sin. In Romans 6:22-23 we read:
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The scriptures donít tell us how we will be made free from sin, the scriptures do not explain the details of how Jesus does things. Jesus does it and that is all we really need to know. It is a matter of grace. We are saved by grace, and we are freed from sin by grace. Notice Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Also notice Romans 5:15. The grace Jesus gives us is free. There may be battles and some suffering, but there is always free grace, i.e. "The free gift in the grace of one man, Jesus Christ".
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one manís trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
Notice also what Peter said in the book of Acts
On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (Acts 15:11).
Grace is any gift of God. Remember that all gifts from God come through Jesus Christ. One of the Lordís greatest gifts is His removal of sin from each of us. That is grace. Lets take a look at Romans 6:14-18:
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
We are made free from sin. Read that again. We are made free from sin. How does Jesus do it? It is by free grace. It is not a matter of works lest any man should boast. In other words, we do not overcome on our own strength apart from Jesus Christ.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
It is important to understand that we donít call on the Holy Spirit to overcome sin. The Holy Spirit does not work that way. It is not the vehicle by which we overcome sin.
At baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is that of comforter. It comforts us in times of trouble and stress. The apostle John wrote in John 15:26:
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.
The Holy Spirit also gives us qualities of mind and a quality of life that are not available to the unconverted. In Gal 5:22-23 there is a listing of these qualities:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
The Holy Spirit makes life a joy and it gives us peace. It provides a link to the Father and to His way of thinking and to His attitudes. We become directly connected to the Father by the Holy Spirit. We share the same qualities of mind that the Father enjoys. The world does not have peace. But we have peace and comfort through the Holy Spirit that abides with us or is in us.
In John 14:16-17 the apostle John tells us that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of truth, it teaches us what is right and what is godly:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
The Holy Spirit is our very own personal teacher, John 16:13:
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
But, the Holy Spirit on its own does not give us the power to overcome sin! Let me say that again: the Holy Spirit does not give us the power to overcome sin!
We cannot, whenever we choose, just call on the Holy Spirit and use it as the power to overcome sin. It does not work that way.
The Holy Spirit is not a personal power source for overcoming sin. If it were, then we would not need Jesus. All we would need to do would be to call on the Holy Spirit and then we could simply overcome sin. If we did that (and many have tried this in the churches of God) where would Jesus be in all of this? He would be excluded.
The Lord gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can have love, joy, and peace in this life. He gives us the Holy Spirit so we can be comforted in trials. He gives us the Holy Spirit to teach us the things that we as Christians need to learn.
But the Holy Spirit, on its own, apart from Jesus, cannot help us overcome all sin. That is Christís job and we must call upon Him do it!
What Does Christ Expect?
Jesus does not have to help us overcome every sin. There are some sins that we can overcome by ourselves. People in the world do it all the time. Jesus expects us to do what we can for ourselves.
Just because Jesus intervenes and takes away sins that we are not able to overcome on our own, does not mean that we donít have to be careful about our actions. We do have a major role in overcoming sin, and we do have an important part in the process. We must be careful as to what we allow ourselves to see and do.
One of the most important things we as Christians do in this life is build righteous character. Through Jesus Christ we literally become a new creation, a "new creature" who is righteous and pleasing to God, 2Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
The scriptures and the Holy Spirit teach us what is right behavior, and we have to learn to walk that way. Jesus wants us to live good lives. We need to do what we can.
For example we need to flee from temptation. If a man has a problem with lust he should avoid anything that would aggravate the problem. He should avoid pornography, immoral movies, and anything that would cause him to lust. The Lord tells us to flee from temptation. Notice the following examples, first 1Corinthians 5:18:
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
Also notice I Corinthians 10:14
Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
Also 2Timothy 2:22:
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
If some one has a problem with eating to much, with stealing, with lying, with fornication, with idolatry, and on and on it goes, that person must flee compromising situations. These are choices we must make. They are ours alone. And the Lord expects us to make right choices.
We must also resist Satan, who is the author of sin. Notice James 4:6-7
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith,God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
But when you have done all that you can do to resist sin, then it is the time to call on the name of the Lord and ask for deliverance. The Lord can take the wrong desire away. If there is a wrong spirit present causing some compulsive behavior, such as the "spirit of jealousy" or a "spirit of whoredom", the Lord will make that spirit leave.
When you arenít able to overcome certain sins on your own, then it is time to put the problem in Jesusí hands. Resist the sin and let Him remove the sin.
Rejoice! Jesus Delivers!
In the book of Acts we read that the early church talked with Jesus. They prayed to the Father, but they often did talk to Jesus. Notice Acts 2:21-22. The early church knew that they had to call on the name of the Lord to be saved.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves knowó
In Acts 1:21 the apostles were picking a replacement for Judas, and they discussed the qualifications for a replacement. The new apostle had to have "accompanied" the other apostles "during all the time the Lord Jesus went in and out among" them, verse 21. They prayed to the "Lord" in verse 24. They were asking Jesus to make a choice as to who should take Judasí place as an apostle. Matthias was chosen. The point is that they asked the "Lord" and these scriptures indicate that they are talking to Jesus.
Acts 1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from usóone of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection. So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas,who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyoneís heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."
When Stephen was being stoned and about to die an extremely painful death, notice what Stephen did. He called on the name the Lord, Acts 7:59. Stephen talked to Jesus.
Stephen asked Jesus to "receive my spirit". He also asked Jesus not to "hold this sin against them", those doing the stoning. Stephen talked to Jesus in this time of extreme duress. He knew Jesus was there with Him. He knew it was Jesusí job as the head of the church to help Him personally in time of need. Stephen knew that. So he called on Jesus to help him as he was dying, and Jesus did help him.
While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.
We can look to Jesus and call on Jesus for help just as the early church did, just as Stephen did. And we can be certain that Jesus will answer.
So rejoice! If you are having troubles, if there are trials, or if you are fighting sin and not making progress, then call on the name of the Lord out of a pure heart and ask Jesus to help you, to free you from the troubles and sin. This is not saying that our sins do not matter, but that a solution is available if we are willing to ask Jesus for it and give Him the glory.
Donít worry how He will do it. It is up to Him. Just have faith that He will do it! It is one of His responsibilities as our older Brother. By His grace and by His power He will deliver you from trials and remove the sin from you.