I am shocked at how easily, even in my most rational moments, I can sometimes walk willingly into sin. Even when I know a dozen good reasons why I shouldn’t do it, I can be overwhelmed. Sin has a powerful magnetism if we allow ourselves under its spell. Why?
I think a big part of the answer is hinted at in the following two passages:
Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. . .
But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit. . .
Notice that in both of these passages the deceitfulness of sin is highlighted. The attraction of sin is based on a lie, or actually a family of closely related lies. It is through these lies that sin presents itself to us as attractive, justifiable, even compelling. Let’s look at three of the central lies:
1. This sin is necessary.
When I knowingly and intentionally sin, I am basically saying to God that I have needs which can only be met by experiencing this sin, needs which God has failed (or is unable) to meet through my relationship to Christ. I am saying that I gain something necessary through committing this sin that I cannot gain in any other way. In saying this I have succumbed to a lie, for the truth is that Christ can be trusted to be my sufficiency, my all in all, in every area of life.
2. This sin is not fatal.
Often a sin’s appeal is enhanced (or its danger seems to be minimized) by the idea that, though this sin is bad, it is not so bad as to be fatal. I might even at the time of temptation defend this line of thinking by appealing to legitimate teachings such as that forgiveness will be available after I have sinned, or that this sin cannot directly endanger the security of my relationship to Christ. However, these appeals overlook the fact that each temptation to deliberately sin is part of a larger, calculated effort by the enemy of our souls to erode and ultimately destroy my faith. If my faith is finally destroyed, then I will no longer retain the security of being a believer (i.e., given that salvation is conditioned on perseverance in faith; see my separate essay “When an Immunization Becomes Fatal”). When viewed from this perspective, then, each deliberate sin does have a deadly potential to contribute to an overall long-term erosion of faith.
3. This sin is inevitable.
This is perhaps the most compelling of the three lies considered here. At those times in my life when I have allowed myself to become trapped in a cycle of deliberate sin (as with addictive behaviors), this lie that the sin is inevitable has often come to look very, very true. And yet, God’s Word promises that each believer in Christ has at all times the ability to withstand temptation and be free from the slavery of sin. Consider Paul’s reminder in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.
In his epistle to the Romans Paul dealt with this question in detail, arguing that the believer, who has died and been raised together with Christ, need no longer be under the mastery of sin:
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.
The power to live out this freedom comes from the Holy Spirit within the believer, as Paul made clear in chapter eight:
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
As a believer, my ongoing pursuit of an active, worshipful, submissive faith includes a daily “putting to death,” by the power of the Spirit living within me, any and all temptations to pursue the sins that would erode the vitality of my faith in Christ. This means that I must recognize as a lie the claim being pressed upon my mind at the moment of temptation that the sin I am being tempted to commit is inevitable (or not fatal, or necessary), and to affirm the truths expressed in Rom 6:11-14 and Romans 8:12-13 above. I have often found it helpful when being tempted to sin to immediately respond with an statement of faith such as this one:
I have within me a Spirit-enabled ability to refuse this sin and be free.
This is no magic formula, of course, but stating it (often aloud) in faith has many times jarred my mind out from under the spell of temptation long enough to bring me back into the light of truth:
that I belong to Jesus now and have no place participating in the deeds of the kingdom of darkness;
that as attractive and as compelling as this sin may appear at the moment, its power is based on the mere vapor of a lie which need no longer have any authority over me;
that the Spirit of God within me desires my sanctification, and that He can, with my cooperation, enable me not only to seek but to experience genuine holiness, to the glory of the true and living God.
In closing, perhaps the best way to combat the deceitful attraction of sin is to pursue a passionate, zealous love for Christ. Loyalty to Christ will be unassailable where love for Christ abounds. And love for Christ abounds when we most clearly perceive the beauty, holiness, and love of Christ–in short, when we perceive all the reasons why He is profoundly worthy of our absolute love and allegiance. This is where genuine truth lies, in contrast to the deceptive claims made by sin.
Copyright 2000, Robert L. Hamilton. All rights reserved.