Every believer in Christ has been freed from the domain of Adam and placed in Christ, meaning that sin is no longer his master. Sin no longer controls him; Christ controls him. Jesus is his master. He no longer gives his allegiance to sin.
Yet he still has capacity to sin. He still on occasion wanders back to the domain of sin and does the things that he habitually practiced as an unbeliever. Because of that propensity, the New Testament regularly calls the believer to fight against sin, put off sin, and even kill sin (Col. 3:5; Rom. 8:12-13). Every believer should be involved in radically addressing his daily enticements to sin.
As Wayne Mack noted in his book, A Fight to the Death, “Compromise or neutrality in our relationship with and attitude toward the unfruitful works of darkness will not be good for others, and it will not be useful to us in our attempt to put the desires and deeds of the flesh to death.” Put up the white flag, or surrender to temptation and you will be plunged into that sin. Attempt to negotiate a truce with sin and it will subvert and overwhelm you. There is no compromise with sin.
As Jesus warned the disciples on the night of His betrayal, resisting temptation includes a two-fold approach of watching and praying (Mt. 26:41). We must watch and beware for any inclination to sin and any possible entrance of sin into our lives. And we must pray for strength to resist and we must pray to stimulate fellowship with and delight in God — for we cannot genuinely pray and then sin at the same time. Prayer precludes sin.
Paul also asserts the idea of watching out for temptation when he says “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14; NASB). How can we prohibit providing for the working of the flesh and sinful temptations? One way is to be aware of some of the seasons of life when we are particularly tempted to sin. What are situations when our resistance against sin might be lower than usual? What circumstances particularly attract us to sin? In what seasons are we particularly inclined to disenchantment with God and enchantment with sin?
To fight against sin, consider some of these common seasons and situations when sin often seems more attractive than God.
Consider seasons of unusual affliction and suffering. Satan’s tactic to entice Job to curse God was to overwhelm him with suffering and illness. Even Job’s wife sided with Satan and affirmed the “logic” of cursing God (Job 2:9). In suffering it is tempting to despair (cf. Phil. 2:19-30). In persecution it is tempting to believe that something has gone wrong in God’s Kingdom and that something unusual has happened to us, and give up on God and leave the faith (1 Pt. 4:12; Heb. 12:12ff; 13:1ff). When you are suffering physically or being persecuted for your faith, you may face unusually strong temptations to forget the faithfulness of God. Watch for inclinations to sins of despondency, anger, bitterness, worldly regret, and unbelief.
Consider seasons of unusual prosperity. Not every gift is a gift of grace. Not every “blessing” is a blessing. Physical prosperity may lead to spiritual poverty. That’s why Solomon prayed, “Two things I asked of You, Do not refuse me before I die: Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.” (Prov. 30:7-9; cf. also 1:29-32). He was aware not only of the propensity to rebel against God in affliction, but also the temptation to wander away from Him in apathy and self-sufficiency when he had plenty. This might be a particularly significant prayer for Western Christians in the 21st century. Our financial prosperity may not actually be a blessing to us. Our possessions may be the greatest inhibitor of our fellowship with and dependence on the Lord. When you have much, watch that you don’t forget the Lord.
Consider seasons of idleness and leisure. David is the tragic example of this principle. He exerted his kingly authority and took a “vacation” from his responsibilities and ended up committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering her husband, and deceiving the nation for a year (1 Sam. 11:1ff). Not every season of rest will result in one becoming an adulterer and murderer. But seasons of idleness do entice us to “reward” ourselves with rest from God-ordained responsibilities and spiritual-keeping practices. Rest is acceptable, but rest should lead us to lean on Christ, not to wander away from Him (see Heb. 4).
Consider seasons of physical weariness and spiritual emptiness. Perhaps this was part of the psalmist’s cry when he said, “My soul thirsts for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1). Another psalmist asserts that his soul is in despair (42:5) because his worship has changed (42:4) and he is weary and hungry (42:2), and oppressed by mockers (42:3). Weariness undoubtedly was also part of Jesus’ admonition to the disciples to watch and pray in the Garden — the day had been long and exhausting and it was not over. Ironically, sometimes these seasons of weariness follow on the heels of seasons of great success. The disciples just days earlier had experienced the triumphal entry (Jn. 12) and on the night of Jesus’ warning had participated in the Passover meal with Him. And that night they also experienced great failure. Similarly, Elijah’s great temptation to despair came immediately after his great success at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18-19). When your body is weary or your soul is hungry and recently unfed, beware of temptations that particularly might entice you to sin and take steps to preclude their entry into your life.
Consider seasons that are particular to you. There are some sins with which you likely do not struggle at all. They are of no enticement to you. Other sins that are no attraction to your spouse or friend may be massively difficult for you to resist. What is the difference? The difference is that you both have hearts that are inclined to sin, but they are inclined in different directions. The important thing to remember is that you still have remaining sin and you still have the flesh and you will be encouraged to particular sins from that heart (Jesus reminds us in Mark 7:21-23 that all sin emanates from the inner man and our heart desires). What is your heart like? Where are you inclined to sin? What do you want and what are your sinful longings? Be careful to identify those desires and the circumstances in which they are most likely to rise into sinful actions.
Every believer is empowered and enabled by Christ to resist sin. But every believer will also have a battle with sin every day. The wise believer is the one who identifies the seasons when he is particularly inclined to sin and then does not make any provision for the flesh to act in those seasons and circumstances of life.