What’s your besetting sin—that struggle that comes back over and over? The one you repeatedly have to apologize for, and no matter what you try, it just won’t go away.
Impatience with your kids? Lustful looks or thoughts? Anger towards a coworker? Selfishness at home? Greed or envy? Seeking the approval of man?
I’ve been in enough accountability groups to know we sheepishly come back to one another and confess the same things over and over. It’s embarrassing. We hate to admit defeat week in and week out for the same annoying, or even debilitating, sin.
It’s tempting to offer one another tips and tricks and advice to finally get over it. We’re quick to say, “Well have you tried . . . ?” or “Maybe if you just . . .” We’re eager to say we’ve been there and we were able to conquer it with this or that life hack.
As helpful as the commiseration might be and as useful as some hacks are, we find that in the end, human effort fails. We loathe ourselves for allowing our failures. The heroic self-will falls short, counting to ten doesn’t keep the words in, and we know the computer software isn’t failsafe.
SAVED—AND GROWN—BY GRACE
Are we so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, will we now perfect ourselves with the flesh?
Like the Galatians, we who are Christians received the Spirit by hearing with faith (Gal. 3:2). The Galatians heard Paul publicly portray Christ as crucified (Gal. 3:1). And as he vividly conveyed the life, death, resurrection, and hope of Jesus, they believed.
So, in his letter ten years after he first led them to Jesus, Paul wonders if his spiritual children are foolish or bewitched (Gal. 3:1). He reminds them, you began by the Spirit, so why in the world would you now pursue growth through works of the flesh?
You were saved by grace, Paul says, and you will only grow by the same grace. It was grace at first, it is still grace, and it will always be grace that brings both spiritual birth and growth.
Over 2,000 years later, we’re still doing this. We understand that our salvation was supernatural. But then we almost inevitably ditch supernatural means for fleshly ones. It’s our habit to pursue growth by performance and works of the law (Gal. 3:5) rather than by grace.
Think about it: How many Christian self-help books (even the phrase “Christian self-help” should cause a visceral reaction in us!) have you seen in Christian book stores? How many “Ten Steps to Christian Maturity” blogs have you read? How many of your well-meaning Christians friends have responded to your confession with, “Well have you tried . . . ?” How many times have you responded the same way?
Steps and programs and measured progress can be helpful. There is a place for support like that. But having begun with the Spirit, do you and I now seek growth by the flesh? Is our hope in our own efforts or in the power of the Spirit?
HOW TO APPLY THE GOSPEL TO YOUR SIN
Like the Galatians, we have to stop looking inside ourselves for the power to change and instead, go back to the gospel, the only source of lasting change. The gospel is the only information powerful enough to change the human heart and break our patterns of sin, even those besetting sins we can’t seem to shake.
Here’s what it might look like to apply the gospel to your besetting sin:
Stop to dwell on the cross and imagine what Christ’s punishment and death on our behalf was really like. Remember that it is we who deserve to hang there.
Stop to remember that before we were saved, we were dead in our transgressions. Not sick—dead. We were without hope, lost in the kingdom of darkness. It was only the kindness of our Father that transplanted us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
Stop to remember that the breath in our lungs is from God himself—that he is the giver of life and everything else. Nothing is ours to take credit for.
Stop to remember that we serve a good and kind King, and whatever he asks of us is worth giving because he is infinitely good and trustworthy.
AN EXAMPLE IN ACTION
For example, when I am tempted to lash out at my children because of the besetting sin of impatience, it helps me to remember and apply the gospel. I am not my own, I remind myself.
Then I go on, saying to myself, This time, this day, this moment when I want to hurry, does not actually belong to me. Both this moment and I belong to the Lord. In his great mercy, he hung on a cross to endure the punishment I deserve. He was beaten and bled for my behavior. He is perfect and yet he paid.
If he is willing to extend mercy to me, how can I withhold mercy from my children? If he is eternally patient with me, how can I withhold patience from my kids? Am I greater than my King? Is my time more precious than his? May the power that enabled him to lay his life down for me, enable me to lay down my life for them.
It’s in this inner monologue that the Spirit helps me cast aside my meager efforts of the flesh and invite him to take over. As I shift my thoughts from myself and place them back on Jesus, I remember that I could not save myself before I became a Christian and I cannot help myself now.
REHEARSE THE GOSPEL
In the midst of temptation, rehearsing the gospel to ourselves grounds us in reality. We remember that we are mere flesh and our God is supernatural. We remember that we are weak, but he is strong. We are emboldened and empowered as we deploy the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
“Rehearse the gospel” might sound trite and cliché. But it was the Spirit’s work in the proclamation of the gospel that saved us, and it will be the Spirit’s work in the proclamation of the gospel that grows us.
Both salvation and sanctification—spiritual rebirth and spiritual growth—are by the Spirit, by faith, and accomplished by efforts outside the human will.
Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for nearly two decades on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women to a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at www.jenoshman.com.