17. Overcoming Sin


Truth is often found in apparent contradictions. For example, John writes, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:10. Yet a few verses later he adds, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” 1 John 3:6.

The apparent discrepancy disappears when we discover that two different tenses are used in these verses in the original Greek in which John wrote.

The second passage may properly as be translated, “Whosoever continues to abide in him, does not keep on sinning.” What John is saying is not that it is impossible for the Christian to sin, but rather that the one who lives the Christian life will not live a life of sin, even though he may occasionally slip through human weakness.

Whether we will be forgiven of our sins depends upon our motive in sinning. The faithful Christian who through weakness or ignorance transgresses the will of God may receive forgiveness by approaching God through Christ as John explains, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2.

If, on the other hand, we rebel against God and intentionally sin, he will not forgive us until we have a change of heart. Thus, we read, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” Hebrews 10:26-27.

By sinning wilfully, we have rejected the only sacrifice for sins, Jesus Christ, and until such time as we sincerely repent there is no means of our attaining forgiveness. Of course, the rebel can be forgiven, but only by submitting his will to that of God and in so doing he ceases to be a rebel.

In this lesson, we are interested in ways in which the Christian may overcome sin. That it is not impossible to overcome sin is shown by Paul when he said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13. Certainly this includes resisting temptation. The following things are desirable if we are to be successful in overcoming sin.


The devil works in devious ways. He sometimes “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8. Sometimes he is a tempter, 1 Thessalonians 3:5.

But perhaps as often as not, Satan is “transformed into an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11:14. He dresses himself in such a way as to make evil appear good and is thus able to trick Christians into sinning.

The Christian must, therefore, carefully study the nature of sin and determine in his own mind in advance how he will act should he be placed in a questionable position. By thus anticipating the manoeuvres of the devil he may be able to avoid a situation in which he may be led to sin.


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1.

There are certain sins which beset us more than others. One person’s besetting sin may be the improper use of the tongue; another’s may be drunkenness. What is one person’s strong point may be another’s weak one. Each Christian should be honest with himself and frankly admit his own weaknesses.

The organisation known as Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that one cannot overcome alcoholism until he admits to himself that he is an alcoholic. So, it is with the Christian and sin. He cannot overcome it until he freely recognises his own weaknesses.


James teaches that the Christian in his petitions to God should “must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6.

As in our prayers, we must resolve in overcoming temptation that we shall not fail. There can be no room in our resolutions for “ifs” or “buts.”

The one who begins to defeat sin by saying, “Maybe I can do it,” is bound to fail, because he has faith neither in himself nor in God. Or, as James concludes his thought, “That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:7-8.


“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7. The word implies sincere, conscious effort. If we are to resist the devil, and hence temptation, we must put forth every bit of effort at our command that we may conquer.

Paul says, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Notice that Paul uses the words “fight” and “blow” to express his efforts to overcome his weaknesses. These words indicate a maximum of effort on Paul’s part. Certainly, if this great man of God was afraid that by not exerting himself to the fullest, he might be lost.

Christians today cannot expect to overcome sin and win eternal life if they give the Lord less than their best. “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 1 Peter 4:18. Even with his very best the Christian will have nothing to spare in the day of judgment.


One of the most blessed of all promises is expressed in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Notice that we are not told that we will not be tempted, but rather that the Christian will not be tempted beyond what he can bear. Furthermore, with each temptation God has provided an escape. It is up to the Christian to find that way and that requires searching on his part. Sometimes the way of escape is found in the next suggestion for overcoming sin.


A skilful car driver is not always a good driver. Although he may have the ability to react quickly and efficiently in difficult situations, he may through pure carelessness sometimes be placed in circumstances from which his skill cannot extricate him.

In the same way, the Christian who overcomes sin is not the one who tries to get as close to it as possible without succumbing, but the one who cautiously stays as far away from it as he can. Therefore Paul warns, “But you, man of God, flee from all this.” 1 Timothy 6:11.


“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12. The devil does his most effective work when we become complacent.

It is then that we relax our guard, and he is able to place before us a temptation for which we are no longer prepared. Constant vigilance is the price the Christian must pay for overcoming sin.


It is an old cliché that an idle brain is the devil’s workshop. If we succeed in rooting out sin from our lives, we cannot keep it out permanently unless we fill the void created with that which is good.

The ex-gambler, for example, will be overcome by an overwhelming urge to return to his previous way of life unless he fills the time formerly used for gambling with something profitable.

One advantage that the Christian has over the non-Christian is that in overcoming sin the disciple of Christ has more worthy objectives and may therefore more easily fill his life with that which is good.


Paul admonishes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2. Our burdens are not all physical. The assistance a Christian receives from the counsel of a brother in Christ often spells the difference between success and failure in overcoming sin. Even the very act of telling a brother our troubles often helps to bring the solution into proper focus.

“But just to feel you have a friend,

Who will stand by unto the end,

Whose sympathy through all endures,

Whose warm handclasp is always yours,

Although there’s nothing he can do,

It helps somehow to pull you through,

And so with fervent heart we cry,

‘God bless the friend who just stands by.’”

J.M. McCaleb.

10. PRAY

The closest friend of all is God. He is attentive to the petitions of his children. Therefore Jesus tells us, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you …If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?” Matthew 7:6,11.

This includes asking for wisdom and strength which we need in resisting temptation. And when shall we pray to him? At all times, but especially when we feel that we are being tempted. A silent prayer to God in the midst of temptation will be heard by him quite as quickly as one offered in the solitude of our closet.


Prayer implies trust, yet it is possible to utter a prayer to God without fully placing our confidence in him. Saving faith is trusting faith. We are not just to believe that God might or could deliver us from temptation, but rather that he will. When we place our hand in that of the Lord, there is no room for doubt.

Success in overcoming sin depends upon both God and the sinner. One who is not a Christian may make some progress on his own, but he can never conquer without divine aid. Therefore, these suggestions for overcoming the temptations of the devil are based on the supposition that one is first a disciple of Christ.


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