The Sin You Can't Quit

Examining our misconceptions about habitual sin—and how to truly break it.

"If you’re not willing to stop sinning, you shouldn’t even call yourself a Christian.”

“The answer to habitual sin is to just stop it.”

“If you’re stuck in habitual sin, you should question whether or not you’re really saved.”

Christians manage to say a whole lot of stupid stuff when it comes to the subject of habitual sin. I bet you’ve heard some of those same ideas before. And I bet, just maybe, they freaked you out. That’s kind of the point, of course—to try and scare you into changing behavior.

But let’s take those item by item.

"If you’re not willing to stop sinning, you shouldn’t even call yourself a Christian."

There’s a few problems here. First, Christians don’t claim to be sinless—quite the contrary, in fact! 1 John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we lie and the truth is not in us.”

Second, if you actually talk to a person struggling with a habitual sin, what you’re almost certain to find is that they are very willing to stop sinning—they just don’t know how to do it. I work with a whole lot of people stuck in habitual sin, and, consistently, they hate the thing, they don’t want to do the thing, they’ve tried all kinds of stuff to not do the thing, and nothing has worked. Willingness is not the problem.

That brings us to the second idea.

"The answer to habitual sin is to just stop it."

Only someone who has never faced down something impossible would say this. I don’t know about you, but my sinfulness is too big for me. ... It’s almost like I need a savior.

Paul—you know, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament—had the same experience: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:19,24)

Paul’s answer to this was that he needed Jesus Christ to change him, that his willpower wasn’t enough. He wrote about this in the book of Galatians, when he chastised the people there for trying to live the Christian life “by human effort” (Galatians 3:3).

One of the ways Jesus changes us is to give us wisdom about what’s driving us to that sin in the first place. For example, maybe for some people, their sin of habit is pornography—and they feel really guilty about it. But very few of them have ever thought and prayed on the question, “What’s driving me to look at this in the first place?” A big motivator for some is that they use pornography as a stress release. Well, now, if we want to move past this habitual sin, we’d need to learn how to live a lower-stress life and learn what godly, healthy stress relievers look like. But we’d never come to that point if we’d clenched our teeth and decided to “just stop it” in our own strength. What is the root issue of your sin of habit?

"If you’re stuck in habitual sin, you should question whether or not you’re really saved."

No, no you shouldn’t. Here’s what the Bible says: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). If you’ve said, “Jesus, I’m a sinner, and I’m asking you forgive me and take control of my life and heart,” you’re as saved as saved can be.

As I said at the beginning, there are a lot of Christians who say dumb stuff on this topic, and, as we say in the South, bless their hearts. Some of them, I am certain, mean well. They do. They know sin is bad—and it is. They know God doesn’t want us to sin—and He doesn’t.

But these Christians are confused about how we move past a sin. The truth, as we were just saying, is that we do so piece by piece, bit by bit, with wisdom guiding the journey. Human willpower and gritted teeth alone don’t lead to changed lives.

The main thing that our well-meaning brothers and sisters are confused about, though, is the nature of God’s forgiveness. The truth is, it just doesn’t run out.

Jesus said if your brother wrongs you the same way seven times in a single day, you should forgive him (Luke 17:4). Further, you should be prepared to forgive the same person 70 times seven times (Matthew 18:22). And the Bible tells us our forgiveness of others is to mirror God’s forgiveness of us (Ephesians 4:32).

What all this means is that God has an impossibly high ability to forgive us. Which is good, because we have an impossibly high ability to sin. And isn’t that exactly what the Bible says? “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).

If you’re struggling with habitual sin, first, welcome to being human and a Christian. We’ve all been there. Second, relax for a minute. God’s not going to let you go. Take a deep breath and be still. Then, start asking God for wisdom. Seek out some older Christians who aren’t uptight about the subject. Seek the Lord on what’s driving the sin areas in your life. And step by step, address those behind-the-scenes problems; you will begin to see God change your life right in front of you.

Jed Brewer is the director of productions for Mission USA and blogs frequently.

Top Comments

Patrick

2

Patrick commented…

All due respect, it may be true about being forgiven in spite of continuing in sin. I hope it is. However I also have to respect the notion that perhaps not, it may depend on the sin and individual circumstances. Living a double life is not good in any manner.

While asking for forgiveness knowing all the time that you plan to sin again, how genuine is the request for forgiveness. I've done that and it left me feeling worse and my sins only got worse. Asking God to forgive, and by the way "forgive my plans to continue sinning", is not true repentance. Do not be deceived. Jesus told the adulteress to go, "and sin no more".

Due to crying out to the Lord in shame, realizing his forgiveness, and fear of hell, I think I have changed. This after often doubting my ability to ever do-so. I was touched by the Holy Spirit and now despise even the thought of sinning like before. I gave up 25 years of incredible love and sex with a women that I adored. I was living a double life and I knew it was very wrong in spite of how good it was.
I now know I am one of Gods sheep in a world full of wolves (the devil). I recognize his voice and he protects me. He gave his life for me and I have little doubt of my salvation now.
You can stop. You just need to understand the reason behind your sins. Sin is evil plain and simple and meant to destroy you. You don't need your sin like you think you do, but no amount of willpower will ever defeat it. What you do need is the armor of God to fight it and he will show you a better way where you no longer want it. In fact you will soon hate it, and joy in that you and God have defeated it together.

84,950

LT commented…

I believe based on what the Lord Jesus Christ said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount proves that not everybody that professes Christ as Lord or believes they are saved will actually go to Heaven, here is a short commentary on Matthew 7:21-29 by the late J. C Ryle (from his book "Expository thought on Matthew"):

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter
into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in
heaven. Many will tell me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in
your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty
works?' Then I will tell them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you who
work iniquity.'

"Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and
does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock.
The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that
house; and it didn't fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who
hears these words of mine, and doesn't do them will be like a foolish man,
who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and
the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell--and great was its
fall."

It happened, when Jesus had finished saying these things,
that the multitudes were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them with
authority, and not like the scribes. (Matthew 7:21-29)

The Lord Jesus winds up the sermon on the mount by a
passage of heart-piercing application. He turns from false prophets to false
professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers. Here is a word for
all. May we have grace to apply it to our own hearts!

The first lesson here is the uselessness of a mere
outward profession of Christianity. Not every one that says "Lord,
Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Not all that profess and call
themselves Christians shall be saved.

Let us take notice of this. It requires far more than
most people seem to think necessary, to save a soul. We may be baptized in
the name of Christ, and boast confidently of our ecclesiastical privileges.
We may possess head-knowledge, and be quite satisfied with our own state. We
may even be preachers, and teachers of others, and do "many wonderful works"
in connection with our church. But all this time are we practically doing
the will of our Father in heaven? Do we truly repent, truly believe on
Christ, and live holy and humble lives? If not, in spite of all our
privileges and profession, we shall miss heaven at last, and be forever cast
away. We shall hear those dreadful words, "I never knew you. Depart from
me."

The day of judgment will reveal strange things. The hopes
of many, who were thought great Christians while they lived, will be utterly
confounded. The rottenness of their religion will be exposed and put to
shame before the whole world. It will then be proved, that to be saved means
something more than "making a profession." We must make a "practice" of our
Christianity as well as a "profession." Let us often think of that great
day. Let us often "judge ourselves, that we be not judged," and condemned by
the Lord. Whatever else we are, let us aim at being real, true, and sincere.

The second lesson here is a striking picture of two
classes of Christian hearers. Those who hear and do nothing--and
those who hear and do as well as hear--are both placed before us, and their
histories traced to their respective ends.

The man who hears Christian teaching, and practices what
he hears, is like "a wise man who built his house on a rock." He does not
content himself with listening to exhortations to repent, believe in Christ,
and live a holy life. He actually repents. He actually believes. He actually
ceases to do evil, learns to do well, abhors that which is sinful, and
cleaves to that which is good. He is a doer as well as a hearer. (James
1:22.)

And what is the result? In the time of trial his religion
does not fail him. The floods of sickness, sorrow, poverty, disappointments,
bereavements beat upon him in vain. His soul stands unmoved. His faith does
not give way. His comforts do not utterly forsake him. His religion may have
cost him trouble in time past. His foundation may have been obtained with
much labor and many tears. To discover his own interest in Christ may have
required many a day of earnest seeking, and many an hour of wrestling in
prayer. But his labor has not been thrown away. He now reaps a rich reward.
The religion that can stand trial is the true religion.

The man who hears Christian teaching, and never gets
beyond hearing, is like "a foolish man who built his house on the sand." He
satisfies himself with listening and approving, but he goes no further. He
flatters himself, perhaps, that all is right with his soul, because he has
feelings, and convictions, and desires, of a spiritual kind. In these he
rests. He never really breaks off from sin, and casts aside the spirit of
the world. He never really lays hold of Christ. He never really takes up the
cross. He is a hearer of truth, but nothing more.

And what is the end of this man's religion? It breaks
down entirely under the first flood of tribulation. It fails him completely,
like a summer-dried fountain, when his need is the sorest. It leaves its
possessor high and dry, like a wreck on a sand bank, a scandal to the
church, a by-word to the infidel, and a misery to himself. Most true is it
that what costs little is worth little! A religion which costs us nothing,
and consist in nothing but hearing sermons, will always prove at last to be
a useless thing.

So ends the sermon on the mount. Such a sermon never was
preached before. Such a sermon perhaps has never been preached since. Let us
see that it has a lasting influence on our own souls. It is addressed to us
as well as to those who first heard it. We are they who shall have to give
account of its heart-searching lessons. It is no light matter what we think
of them. The word that Jesus has spoken, "the same will judge us in the last
day." (John 12:48.)

130 Comments

84,950

Jamey commented…

With all due respect, there is not one verse in the Bible that supports your comment. John 14:6 in fact tells us that Jesus is the only way to the Father. There has never been a Catholic Priest nor any other denomination's who has paid the price Jesus did ... they do not qualify ... ONLY Jesus.

Patrick

2

Patrick commented…

All due respect, it may be true about being forgiven in spite of continuing in sin. I hope it is. However I also have to respect the notion that perhaps not, it may depend on the sin and individual circumstances. Living a double life is not good in any manner.

While asking for forgiveness knowing all the time that you plan to sin again, how genuine is the request for forgiveness. I've done that and it left me feeling worse and my sins only got worse. Asking God to forgive, and by the way "forgive my plans to continue sinning", is not true repentance. Do not be deceived. Jesus told the adulteress to go, "and sin no more".

Due to crying out to the Lord in shame, realizing his forgiveness, and fear of hell, I think I have changed. This after often doubting my ability to ever do-so. I was touched by the Holy Spirit and now despise even the thought of sinning like before. I gave up 25 years of incredible love and sex with a women that I adored. I was living a double life and I knew it was very wrong in spite of how good it was.
I now know I am one of Gods sheep in a world full of wolves (the devil). I recognize his voice and he protects me. He gave his life for me and I have little doubt of my salvation now.
You can stop. You just need to understand the reason behind your sins. Sin is evil plain and simple and meant to destroy you. You don't need your sin like you think you do, but no amount of willpower will ever defeat it. What you do need is the armor of God to fight it and he will show you a better way where you no longer want it. In fact you will soon hate it, and joy in that you and God have defeated it together.

Joe Geranio

1

Joe Geranio commented…

The best verse in my opinion is Romans 5 vs. 18-25 and Romans 6 1-2. As one man Adam made us all sinners, the Adamic nature is always with us. Here is the Good part, but Jesus on the flip side of what i just said about Adam made us rightouess for all time. Yes, past , present and future sins. Now, If you really love Jesus you wont add to what sins you already have? Or if we do it just adds more guilt, but Faith points to no condemnation as a BELIEVER. You can't add one thing to the finished work on the Cross. It is finished.

Brandy Lastly

1

Brandy Lastly commented…

Thank you for this article, I felt so much love from God after reading this. I have been dealing with this issue for about 30 years and I'm only 32! But I definitely needed to breath and relax and know that God is not mad at me or frustrated with me!

Bianca Sparks

3

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