United Church of God

How Do You Get a Handle On Recurring Sins You Can’t Seem To Get Under Control?

You are here

How Do You Get a Handle On Recurring Sins You Can’t Seem To Get Under Control?

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up


Your whole crew is together, having an awesome time. Friends you don’t normally see are in from out of town, you are at your favorite restaurant, enjoying what is maybe your favorite meal of all time. After finishing your meal, you all go back to one of your homes to continue having fun. Most of you stop on the way and pick up something to drink. The host sets out snacks and puts on some music. The hours fly by as you talk and laugh and share your time together. One drink, two drinks, three drinks—what time is it? Oh, okay, a fourth drink then. Time to leave, your spouse hasn’t had anything, so he or she drives you home.

You’re not an alcoholic. But how many times have you done this? Why is it that sometimes you’re very responsible with alcohol, and others it’s like you’re at a 21-year-old’s college frat party? How do you get a handle on this once and for all?

I use this story as a stand-in for any repeated, difficult-to-overcome, habitual sin you may struggle with. The substance of alcohol makes things tougher—it damages your ability to make good decisions while you’re under its influence—but so many sins can hold just as powerful a grip on us through chemicals we don’t literally consume through our mouths but instead are naturally produced and get released directly into our bloodstream. Lust, anger, adrenaline, jealousy, greed (and how often are they compounded by the alcohol you do consume, be honest). Everybody has their “cross to bear”—the habits and sins that you died to at baptism (Galatians 5:24; Romans 6:4-7) but which keep haunting you from their watery grave. To be Christian is to seriously reckon with these sins and to yoke yourself to Christ, who overcame the world on our behalf (John 16:33; 1 John 5:4), making possible the Spirit-led transformation we want so desperately at times—and which at other times we don’t want so much (again, be honest).

So you’ve examined yourself and have identified a sin that you know you need to crush, but it's just so resilient (because it feels good in the moment). The cold blue light of day brings guilt and shame and repentance. But it should also result in strategy to overcome.

Consider this my hard-earned list of first steps to take in the struggle with sin. Because like anyone I have overcome some sins with a high hand, confident in my growth and grateful for the repentance God has granted me. But with that growth comes recognition of other sins looming in my life, 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 to sin

It seems like an obvious point to make, but how many times have you found yourself wondering “How could I let myself get to this point?” 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 even alert you to the temptation. The heart skips a beat when you see that notification on your phone; the adrenaline rushes into your bloodstream before you can throw that insult back; the lustful desire swells before you even type anything into Google.

We get ourselves in these situations where our noblest intentions don’t stand a chance. But too often we’re only in those situations because we aren’t paying attention to the small decisions we make along the way that get us there.

What is the sin in your life that makes your conscience tug on you ever so gently, but you choose to ignore it until it’s too late? What’s the thing you feel guilty about afterward and know you need to stop, but can’t seem to get a firm grip on until it’s too late? These things start in your heart—and contrary to the world’s refrain to “follow your heart,” you need to learn to identify what your heart is feeling so you can choose to not follow it into sin.

Honestly evaluate what types of feelings lead to your sin. What are you feeling during the sin? What do you feel like immediately after the sin? What do you feel the day after the sin? Reflect deeply and be honest about those feelings, then write them down. Do this as soon as humanly possible so that everything is still fresh in your mind.

2—Pay attention to when you’re most tempted, and take note of what the circumstances are

A lot of sins are unthinkable in the daytime when you’re at work, school, or around other people, but at night when you’re on your own, they beckon you almost ceaselessly. Others are the kind that take place no matter where you are or what time of day it is because they take place in your heart and mind. Some only take place when you’re around certain people. To overcome, you have to take note of these things.

In step 1, you took note of and wrote down your internal circumstances for evaluation. In step 2, you write down and remember as many details as you can about the external circumstances. What time of day is it? Where are you? Who are you with? Are you alone? Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you in a good mood or bad one? How long has it been since your last temptation? Have you recently had a negative interaction with somebody? Have you been drinking? Have you been watching something in particular? Have you been listening to something in particular? Get really specific.

We get ourselves in these situations where our noblest intentions don’t stand a chance. But too often we’re only in those situations because we aren’t paying attention to the small decisions we make along the way that get us there.

Evaluate this and the first list together. Think about each circumstance—both internal and external—and recall other times you gave into this sin. You can start to identify patterns of behavior, feelings, people, places, times and other factors that are conducive to this sin. Then you can be actively aware of these circumstances in real time as they’re happening next time. You can choose to stop yourself and heed that voice in your head.

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

It’s easy to rationalize things to yourself, and as time goes by and you continue to struggle with your private sin, you can even become numb to its seriousness. You rationalize things that a month ago you would’ve never pictured yourself as capable of doing. Many people only come to their senses once they’ve hit rock bottom. We can’t trust ourselves to be objective. We know every detail of our lives so intimately that we tend to brush off this or that little lapse of judgment as being a one-off. All the while our spiritual condition worsens.

So tell someone you deeply trust about your struggle (James 5:16). They can help cut through the mist of subjectivity. If you tell them how you were feeling, where those feelings led and the sin that resulted, they can help you look out for those circumstances. If they’re with you and see the patterns of behavior you’ve identified, they can directly 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 as much as possible, with the goal being they hold you accountable for what you do. In other words, they don’t let you get away with anything—you do that for yourself enough already.

One thing to remember when confiding is that it has to be with someone you trust not to share your struggle with others, of course. 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 your sin, letting you off the hook for the guilt you rightfully feel in the aftermath. Or seeing it happen in real time but failing to take bold steps to put a stop to what they’re seeing (Proverbs 24:11-12). Keep in mind the reverse scenario: If someone asked you to truly help them overcome their sin, how guilty would you feel if they reached out to you and you didn’t do what it took to stop it from happening again? Make it clear to whomever you confide in that you expect them not to take your stupid excuses, but instead to punch you in the gut (metaphorically speaking, of course).

These steps are, of course, only a step on the path toward complete repentance. There is much to be said about learning to yield to God’s Holy Spirit, the process of not just killing the bad works of sin in our lives, but also replacing it with the good fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24), and many other deep spiritual points for consideration. We can thank God that, in His grace, He only reveals our sins to us in small doses. So there are probably sins in your life that you don’t even recognize yet—things your conscience doesn’t even know to tug at you for—because God is working with you to grow and mature in other areas before He shows them to you.

None of this is to make the Christian life sound brutal or exhausting, however. I hate it when people do that, because as with anything, the hard work you put in makes your life far more satisfying than you could’ve imagined when you were waffling around. Yes, it may be difficult, and yes there will be hardships you would never have imagined, but coming through on the other side always results in a deeper, more lasting and more sincere grounding in the grace and peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.