Why Can't I Stop Sinning?

Would you consider yourself a patient person?

We are in the middle of examining 2 Peter 1:5-7, where Peter writes,

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (ESV)

Peter, in these three verses, is attempting to help us have a robust faith. So far, he has told us to supplement our faith with good works, our good works with knowledge of God, our knowledge of God with self-control, and now, our self-control with perseverance or patience. Self-control, as Joseph Benson wrote, “the voluntary abstaining from all pleasure which does not lead to God.” This is, as many would argue, the relational call of each Christian. God created each human with a desire for relationship, which is evident throughout the Bible. Ultimately, though we were created for relationship with other humans, the deepest desire of our hearts is to commune with the living God, which is why we pursue freedom through the denial of ungodly passions. 

But, what does this have to do with steadfastness (or patience/perseverance)? On the surface, the two don’t seem to be inherently related, that is until you attempt to live a life of self-control. The challenge for last week was to begin each day resolving to control your desires in one specific area. If you did the exercise, you know how interesting it was. First, for anyone to identify which pleasures he or she is pursuing which do not result in closeness with God is hard enough. But, to try to resist those pleasures is even more difficult. In fact, it is probably a safe bet that most of us failed at least one of the days last week.

It is quite obvious that maintain self-control is not easy. However, through Peter, the Holy Spirit tells us to supplement our attempts at self-control with patience. And, while this might be easy to gloss over, this is huge and has incredible implications when viewed through the lenses of the gospel. One major issue that many Christians run into is that in their attempts to master the sin in their lives, they hope for an overnight fix. It’s similar to the way our lottery works. Everyone knows (or at least says they know) that wealth doesn’t just happen. Everyone knows that get-rich-quick schemes are just that: schemes. However, it doesn’t stop Americans from spending over $70 billion a year in lottery tickets (with about half of the buyers being low-income). Even though we know that no one gets rich overnight, we aren’t "no one," we’re different. We could be that lucky winner!

Sadly, most of us, in our pursuit of the freedom that comes from self-control, find ourselves thinking that we’ll have mastered it overnight. We know that most people don’t overcome their sins quickly, but we think we should. Like the illusory winning lottery ticket, we convince ourselves that we can conquer our struggles overnight. There are two problems with this (other than the fact that it's not true). First, this mentality assumes that we are ultimately in control. The reality is, though, we are responsible for our actions and aren't able to clean our hearts because that is the work of our Savior. We can try everything in our power to exhibit self-control, but when we lose self-control, (and we will) we can either press on knowing that God is ultimately the one in control, or we can dwell in misery on our constant failure. This is not freedom, and it’s not the life God intended us to live.

Second, it will lead to more sin. When you believe you can will yourself out of sin overnight, you will, as we’ve seen above, find yourself disappointed. Often times, if you’re like me, the next time you have the opportunity to exhibit self-control, you might engage in negative self-talk and say something like, “I can’t resist this. I’m not strong enough. I already messed up yesterday…so what’s the difference?” This will lead to you giving in to temptation and starting the cycle over again.

The answer is simple: we patiently rely on Jesus. Yes, you’ve heard this before. It’s not some secret formula that we’ve been waiting several millennia to hear, instead, it’s what Christians have been saying since the New Testament was written. This is what Peter is telling us in our passage: when it seems like your self-control is failing you, be patient! God is working in you and will bring you to freedom!

When we feel down-trodden, defeated, alone, weak, powerless, sinful, and without help, we can know that Jesus’ power is in us. In 1 John 4:4, (ESV), John writes, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” He who lives in us, the Holy Spirit, is more powerful than he who is in the world (Satan and his demons – who can tempt us), and more powerful than our sinful natures. We can overcome the sins in our lives – through the power of the Holy Spirit. But, this isn’t an overnight process; it is a patient, enduring, steadfast reliance on the Holy Spirit. It might take weeks or months or years, but God is working in you to bring you freedom.

When you feel like you’ll never break free of certain sins, lean into God and be patient. His timing is perfect, and he has a plan. In the meantime, do everything in your power to fight temptation when it comes your way, and know that he is there to guide you, correct you, and love you to freedom.

How, practically, do we live this out?

One way - perhaps the primary way - is to press into God through prayer. Below are a few verses that you can pray when you feel temptation, or in preparation for eventual temptation. When we consistently pray and meditate on scripture, we set our minds toward God and equip our souls to fight the spiritual battles.

Romans 8:37 - No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Hebrews 2:18 - For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:15-16 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

1 John 4:4 - Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Mark 14:38 - Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Notice, that none of these passages leave us to our own devices in our fight for freedom. Instead, we rely on the Lord to help us.

This week, start your day off by praying these passages. Choose a few to memorize so when you do face temptation, you can lean into God and reflect on his word.

Do you have any go-to passages in moments of weakness or temptation? If so, share them in the comments below!