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How Do You Get Recurring Sins Under Control?

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How Do You Get Recurring Sins Under Control?

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It’s late, you’re the only one awake in your house, and you’re alone in your room . . .

Your stomach is in knots and it’s hard to breathe—you sent that last text a few hours ago but haven’t heard back yet. Did I say too much and scare him off? you ask yourself. Your phone lights up, and your heart skips a beat. He wants you to send a picture of yourself. At first you’re shocked he’d ask that, but he’s not letting up. “Please, you’re so beautiful. Let me see . . . ” You know deep down that this isn’t right, and that nothing good will come of late-night, private messages back and forth with the guy you like. But you can’t stop thinking about him, and he makes you feel special. So you try to play along without sending anything inappropriate, but the longer you text the more you warm up to the idea . . .

Fill in the blanks. Guys, you may have never personally asked a girl to send you photos of herself, but have you ever looked for photos or videos of other women online? Ladies, you may have never been personally asked to reveal yourself, but have you ever changed your personality for a guy you liked or done something else you knew was wrong because a guy made you feel special?

I use this story as a stand-in for any number of things you might come to recognize are problems in your life—maybe you have a tendency toward rage, jealousy, gossiping, greed or disrespect. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24; compare Romans 6:4-7). But of course the struggle continues each and every day, as those desires keep haunting you. Just like the story I described, each of those things has a lead-up to the actual moment of sin. To be Christian means to recognize that lead-up and take action early in the process. It is to make Jesus’ way of life your way of life: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2, New International Version). And in so doing, it is to reap the rich rewards of a more abundant life (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4; John 10:10).

Consider this my hard-earned list of first steps to take in the struggle against sin. I, like anyone else, have overcome some sins with a high hand—but with that growth comes recognition of other sins in need of their own day of reckoning. Start your own sin-crushing endeavor here.

1. Pay close attention to what your heart is feeling so you know when you are being tempted

It seems like an obvious point to make, but how many times have you found yourself wondering “How could I let myself get here?” That usually happens because you weren’t paying attention in the lead-up to the sin. It’s critical to remain aware of your feelings at all times, because sin almost always starts in your heart (Jeremiah 17:9)—even before any thoughts can form, or your conscience can alert you to the temptation.

We get ourselves in these situations where our noblest intentions don’t stand a chance. But too often we aren’t paying attention to the small decisions we make along the way that have gotten us there. Most sins aren’t one big leap into the fire—they are the result of incremental decisions made when you weren’t even paying attention.

What is the sin in your life that tugs on you so gently that you choose to ignore the signs until it’s too late? These things start in your heart—and you need to learn to identify what your heart is feeling so you can choose to not follow it into sin. Reflect deeply and honestly, asking yourself questions like: What were you feeling during, immediately before and immediately after the sin? What were you feeling the entire day leading up to the sin? Write these things down.

2. Pay attention to the circumstances when you’re most tempted

A lot of sins are unthinkable when you’re around other people, but when you’re alone, they beckon you almost ceaselessly. Others are the kind that take place no matter where you are or the time of day. Some only take place when you’re around certain people.

At the end of step 1, you took note of and wrote down your internal circumstances—in step 2, write down as many details as you can about the external circumstances. Answer questions like: What time of day is it? Where are you? Who are you with, or are you alone? Are you hungry? Tired? In a good or bad mood? How long has it been since your last temptation? Have you been watching or listening to something in particular? Get really specific.

Evaluate these lists together. You can start to identify patterns of behavior from the feelings, people, places, times and other factors that are conducive to this sin. Armed with this info, you can be actively aware of these circumstances as they’re happening in real time. You can choose to stop yourself and heed that voice in your head before you go too far next time.

3. Share the most revealing and intimate struggles you have with someone you trust

It’s easy to rationalize things for yourself, and as you continue to struggle with your private sin over time, you can even become numb to its seriousness. You rationalize things that you previously would never have even imagined yourself doing.

Tell someone you deeply trust about your struggle (James 5:16). They can help cut through the mist of subjectivity. If you tell them the internal and external circumstances you’ve identified, they can help you look out for them. If they’re with you and see those patterns of behavior, they can take action to intervene. If they’re not with you, you have to reach out to them so they can take whatever indirect action is available to intervene. The key is immediacy, with the goal being them holding you accountable for your actions.

When confiding in someone, make sure it’s someone you trust to keep your struggle private. But also, it must be someone who loves and cares for you enough to stop you from continuing in the sin. False compassion is helping you rationalize it, letting you off the hook, or seeing it happen in real time but failing to take bold steps to put a stop to things (Proverbs 24:11-12). Make it clear to whomever you confide in that you expect them not to take your excuses, but to punch you in the gut (metaphorically, of course). Think of it this way: If they asked you to help them overcome their sin, how guilty would you feel if you didn’t do what it took to stop it from happening again?

These steps are only a beginning on the path toward complete repentance. As with anything, the hard work you put in makes your life far more satisfying than you could have imagined when you were waffling around in indecision. And there comes a point you realize that you cannot do it alone. You must learn to yield to God, which allows Him to mold, shape and grow you. What that looks like will be the subject of the second article of this series, in the next issue. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, English Standard Version).

Fighting this good fight of overcoming may be difficult, and there will be hardships. But coming through on the other side always results in a deeper, longer-lasting and more sincere grounding in the grace and peace of God our Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ.