It was the morning after a holiday party. As I stood in the shower, trying to wake myself up from an unplanned “night out”, tears and last night’s makeup streamed down my face.
“You’ve done it again. You’re so hopeless. You’ve failed your God. You’ll never be able to get over this sin. You’re so unworthy to be called a Christian. You’ll never be good enough to lead a ministry. Your faith isn’t real. If it was why would you be stuck here?”
All the lies from the enemy flooded into my mind.
Overcome by anguish and sorrow, I dropped to my knees. It was time for me to call out from the depth of my being to my dear Abba.
That day the Lord taught me a huge lesson. Simply feeling sorry about a sin tendency and telling Him I would “try harder” and “do better”, wasn’t cutting it. I was repeating the same sin over and over, stuck in a vicious cycle of guilt-driven apologies, eventual complacency, and then the same old sin. “What in the world is wrong with me?! Why does this keep happening?!”
As a Christian, I knew that Jesus had already paid the brutal price, in full, for my sins. “Doesn’t this strike a chord within me? Why am I blatantly abusing His grace?” There was obviously a partial disconnect between my head and heart. I thought Jesus was truly Lord of my life, but the sad truth was that He was only Lord of part of my life.
Ouch. This is a hard reality to face, but a necessary one when we find ourselves continually face planting over the same sin, again and again. For instance, take this analogy on sin to better understand what we’re saying:
Sometimes we slip on puddles that we didn’t see in our paths. But when we do, we get back up, wipe the muddy water off of ourselves, and proceed with renewed caution, awareness, and motivation to avoid future puddles. But that reaction is significantly different from slipping on a puddle, and afterward thinking, “Hmm, that was actually kind of fun…”. So much so that we back-track to the path right before the puddle and decide to grab a towel and a pool of floaties for the next time we slip! “Time to have some fun in the mud!”
Okay, we get that you probably don’t find joy in puddles anymore, but c’mon, at one point we all loved a good splash in a muddy puddle, especially when we knew Mom or Dad had explicitly warned us not to! Isn’t this how we sometimes find ourselves feeling with un-surrendered sin, though? Our Father has lovingly given us a blueprint for a joyful life, yet our childlike nature is to prefer our sin and to believe the lie that His blueprint is restrictive and dull.
So how do we bridge this natural, fleshly disconnect from our heads to our hearts?
The disconnect of knowing what the Word says, yet not having it penetrate our hearts so that it transforms every aspect of our lives?
First and foremost, we start with a certain prayer. One that I prayed in desperation on the shower floor:
“Lord, I surrender all of my life. I’m tired of keeping a tight grip on this sin tendency. Please transform ALL of my heart. Break me. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Change me. Change my heart to hate this sin and love your righteousness instead. Become my utmost. Become the only thing my heart desires, craves, and yearns for. Consume me like never before. Give me a new hunger for your Word and a new thirst for your presence. May I be satisfied in you alone.”
This prayer describes the key ingredient for freedom from habitual sin: Jesus.
Apart from Him, we can do nothing. We are dead in our sin until He makes us alive in Him. We are children of wrath, bent on fulfilling the desires of our flesh until He makes us adopted daughters of God, committed to carrying out the will of the Father. We need the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to step into this identity transformation and we need it to overcome any and all sin. We need it the day we come to Christ and we need it on our last day before glory. We need it in equal strength when we are young in the faith and when we are mature in the faith. We need it every day, for we are so prone to wander and forget our new identities in Christ.
It is so important to understand our identity in Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit before we move onto the next step, or else we may find ourselves trying to fight against sin in our own strength or, “grit our teeth Charlie Brown” and just “get er’ done” as one of our sweet and cherished mentors would say. This is because when we don’t fully understand our identity in Christ, we look away from Jesus and back to self. We begin to focus on the sin and our sinful nature and give ourselves opportunities to hear and believe lies from the enemy. So how can we reverse this habit of looking to self overlooking to Jesus? Rather than study our flesh, our sin, and the lies that surround them, we must study God and His Word, which will point us to The Truth that will set us free.
A verse to stow away and return to when you find yourself drifting from your identity in Christ is Galatians 2:20, and one to return to when you feel yourself trying to overcome sin in your own strength rather than Christ’s strength is 2 Corinthians 12:9.
So, after we’ve earnestly prayed for heart transformation and set our sights on Jesus, step two is to make a plan.
If you’ve gotten to this point of habitual sin, you know you can’t just fall back into the same old routine which got you into this mess. That’s also the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So just like if we had the desire to accomplish a different goal, let’s say to get a job, we would pray about it and make a plan to send out our resumes/take interviews. In the same way, we need to pray about our habitual sin and make a plan for a way out of it. This is what the Bible calls utilizing the wisdom and taking active steps towards fighting against sin. Keyword, active.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Matthew 5: 30 says, “And if your right-hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Demolish, take captive, put to death, cut off, and throw away. Those are all pretty intense active steps, so it seems pretty clear that God calls us to make war against our sinful desires and actions. When Jesus speaks of cutting your right hand off here in Matthew 5, He’s referring to a method many Christians have “punily” referred to as radical amputation.
For us, this has looked like assessing what environments, activities, people, or even media have been contributing factors in enabling, feeding, and encouraging our sin tendencies and patterns. Once we pinpointed these stumbling blocks, we had to honestly evaluate if any of these things were worth keeping around if they were going to inevitably threaten our fight against habitual sin. And nine times out of ten, the answer was no, they weren’t worth keeping around. So, we made a plan—to radically amputate these things from our lives and to pursue obedience to Christ instead. The plan also included spending more time reading and memorizing God’s Word, and getting into godly community to reframe and relearn what God-honoring fun, friendship, and romance looked like.
And yes, this was difficult and uncomfortable at times.
But sisters, God cares more about our holiness than our happiness and seeks to bless us in an even greater way in our pursuit of this holiness. We have found that as we exchange worldly habits for holy ones, embrace self-denial and the temporary discomfort that may come with it, that the Lord will be faithful to bring us deep joy, satisfaction, and contentment, and even better activities and communities to replace the old ones.
We’d like to close by leaving you with a couple more scriptures that will challenge and encourage you on your own journey of fighting against habitual sin.
John 14:21 says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
1 John 3:6 says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”
We hope and pray that the advice we’ve shared will help you find the sweet spot of relying solely on Christ’s strength and the work of the Holy Spirit while simultaneously choosing righteousness as you move forward in your battle against sin.
Finally, sisters, continue to fight the good fight and run the race Christ has set before you with endurance. You are not alone in this, and we joyfully stand with you. Grace and peace in Jesus’ name to you all.
MEET THE AUTHORS: Emma and Lucy Wagner are the founders of Repeated Surrender Follow them on Instagram to keep up with the latest.