It was hard for me growing up to get at the root of my sin. Where was it coming from? It was hard to figure out how to fight sin, and I felt like I was constantly failing. The tradition I grew up in taught that sin primarily was “in the world.” So if I could keep myself unstained from the world, I would sin less. I tried to do this, but I didn’t sin any less. I grew frustrated and tired of trying to live the Christian life. Part of it had to do with me fighting in my own power, but another part of it had to do with my focus on where sin was attack me.
Depending on what tradition you grew up in, you most likely have a certain view of how sin attacks us. There seems to be three categories of how sin attacks us: Satan, the World, or the Flesh. As I have reflected more on these categories it got my wheels turning with two questions emerged:
- What are the flaws in each category as it relates to how or why we sin?
- Is one of these three categories more helpful than another in fighting sin?
Three Ways Sin Attacks
If you grew up in a more charismatic tradition, it probably was all about Satan and his demons. If your car broke down, it was the car demon. If you sinned, the devil tempted you to do it almost bordering on “the devil made me do it.” Therefore, the focus on fighting sin became to have enough faith and will power to withstand the devil and his attacks.
Maybe you grew up in a more conservative evangelical tradition, it probably was all about “the world.” We had to learn to be in the world, but not of the world. Sounds good, even biblical. But it became about hiding out from the world so we would not be tainted by “the sin out there.” We chucked the idea of being in the world because there was just too much sin out there. Then we huddled up together thinking we would not sin, while not engaging the world at all.
Perhaps you grew up in a more reformed tradition, it probably was all about “the flesh.” In this tradition, sin attacks us from within, while not paying much attention to the enemy or the world. This tradition sees us as totally depraved and corrupted the whole man. It is all about my sinful heart, and how I can’t do the things God is calling me to do.
All three of these are true. Satan schemes against us, the world is broken and filled with sin, and we are broken and corrupted by sin. Can it be dangerous to give one category of how sin attacks us more focus than another?
Flaws in All Three Categories
First, let’s look at the more charismatic tradition and the over focus on Satan. There is a real enemy seeking to destroy us like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pt. 5:8). He is a very real enemy who is looking to tempt us and entangle us once again in sin. We need to take our enemy seriously.
But the first part of 1 Peter 5:8, tells us to be sober minded and watchful. The devil can’t make us sin. Our sin isn’t ultimately the enemy’s fault. The Bible says,
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13.
God will give us a way out, or a way to endure the temptation of the enemy. We don’t need to focus so much on the enemy and who is against us that we forget who is in us and fights for us. We are called to submit ourselves to God so we can resist the devil, and he will flee us (Jas. 4:7). It is not about mustering up enough faith, or conjuring up enough will power to resist the devil. It is about the object of our faith that is Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit in us.
Second, from the conservative evangelical focus on the sin “in the world,” we must not be of the world (Rom. 12:1-2, Jas. 4:4). There are things in the world that are not good for us to engage. But when we huddled up, we realize the fact that sin exists in us as well. It was not just about the “sin out there,” but the sin we could not escape.
Not only that, but God has kept us in the world that we might display his love and grace. We can’t do that if we don’t engage the world we are in because we are huddled up waiting for the rapture. God calls us to engage people who will be worldly that we might show them otherworldly love.
Maybe some of the problem is more our reputation, our self-righteousness, and the appearance of good. We abstain from the world because we don’t want to look like we are friends with it.
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:18-19
Maybe we should worry less about our reputation, because people are going to say what they want no matter what we do. Being in Christ, frees us from what others think about us (we don’t need others approval). Being in Christ, frees us to not care what others think of us (meaning they don’t define or justify us). If we believed this, maybe it would free us to go places, without being “of those places,” because we are going to reach the people Jesus wants us to reach. Maybe it would free us to have “those kinds” of people over to our home, or go to their party for the purpose of loving them like Jesus.
Third, from the more reformed tradition of the sin of “the flesh, in some views of total depravity, we are “so bad” and “so sinful” why should we even try to fight sin? Then it can swing from “I so bad” to “I am so free” that I can do and indulge in anything. While it is true we are free in Christ, this freedom isn’t a license to sin which Paul warns us against (Gal. 5:13). Paul goes on to tell us that we are freed from sin so we could love our neighbor not ourselves. We have the Holy Spirit in us that gives us new affections and desires that we might not sin.
Is One Category More Helpful Than Another?
The reformed tradition helps us identify the root of sin better. Sin resides in us.
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” – James 1:14-15
While the world and the lies of the enemy can influence us, entice us, and deceive us, we chose to sin. We sin because we want to sin. We sin because sin is still in us. We can’t escape sin, but we can learn how to identify and fight our sin.
We must identify our sin. We need to see sins effects on those around us as well as ourselves. We need to know how we are being tempted, but when we stare too much at our sin we will find ourselves sinking deeper in it. The only way to find freedom from sin is in Christ Jesus. It is about remembering who it is that saves us, and what he has done for us. The key is to focus less on our sin, and more on our Savior and what he has done to free us from sin. We do this by looking to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.
We need to look at Jesus and see it is finished. When we remember our salvation accomplished by Jesus, God looks at us and doesn’t see our sin but Jesus’s righteousness, then we can look at our sin to address it. The way you deal with sin’s attack, whether it is the enemy’s deceitful voice or the influence of the world that lures and entices our desires, is to remember who’s we are, and what he has done to make us his own.
We need to remember who we are in Christ, and what he did to make us his (Eph. 1:3-14, 2:1-10). We need to listen to the Holy Spirit guiding us. The Spirit is applying all Christ has done for us, and testifies to our spirit that we are children of the living God (Rom. 8:15-16, Gal. 4:1-7).
When we see who we are in Christ, remembering what he has done for us by his perfect life, sacrificial atoning death, glorious resurrection, and that he is currently ruling and reigning over the universe, we can say no to sin and yes to his grace. His kindness leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). We can turn from our sin, and turn to our Savior. He stands to receive us, give us his grace, and empower us by the Spirit to seek new obedience in light of his gospel.
As pastors or small group leaders, let’s give people the gospel that transforms us from the inside out. As we point people back to Christ and all he has done, his grace transforms us and enables us to fight sin. With people being aware of their own sin and the one who has done something about it, our people are better equipped to withstand and fight the attacks of Satan and the attacks of the world.
Now, we can be better equipped to fight sin as it comes at from the other two categories of Satan and the world. We can tell the enemy he is a liar and needs to shut up. We can engage the world with love, grace, and truth without being of it. We can see the sin that remains in us, but not be lured and enticed by it because it doesn’t define us or have a hold on us any longer. We are God’s and he is ours. As the old hymn says,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace.
Clay Adkisson is the Pastor of Discipleship at Double Oak Community Church in Birmingham, AL. He has a B.B.S. in Speech Communication from Hardin Simmons University, and a M.A. in Religion from Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX. He has worked in ministry for 13 years with youth, college, young adults, men’s ministry, small groups, as well as being on preaching and teaching teams. He has had the privilege of working in many different kinds of churches from church plants to mega churches. Clay’s passion is to see people find freedom in the gospel by seeing it transform their everyday lives.