(Click to listen to an audio recording of this article, read by the author)
The Bible says in no uncertain terms that we as Christians are to live an overcoming life in our battle against sin. And that victory isn’t “by the skin of our teeth:” we are to be more than conquerors, (Romans 8:37) and God “always leads us in triumph!” (2 Corinthians 2:14)
Yet, though I want to live a life pleasing to God, it can be quite daunting to meet the reactions that come from my nature to events and situations in daily life. I think, say and do things that are not according to God’s will. Paul describes it very well in Romans 7:18-19: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” It can seem that this sin inherent in my flesh is just too strong to resist. So, how can I overcome it?
1. “As I overcame”
Jesus says something incredible in Revelation 3:21: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” These words are so great, they can almost be hard to grasp! All Christians believe that through Jesus’ sacrifice we can get forgiveness and be reconciled to God. But here Jesus is saying that I can also overcome as He overcame! This means there must be way more to it than forgiveness of sins.
So to find out how I can overcome sin, I need to look at Jesus, my forerunner and great example, and see how He did it.
2. “Not my will, but Yours, be done”
When Jesus came into the world, He declared, “God, You have given Me a body, and I have come to do Your will.” (Hebrews 10:5-7) Similarly, when He was facing enormous trials at the end of His life, He said, “… not My will, but Yours, be done.” Luke 22:42.
“My will” is another word for the sin in the flesh that we have all inherited. It covers a myriad of areas, including pride, impatience, selfishness, unrighteousness, irritation, laziness, vanity, complaining, sexual impurity, unbelief, discouragement, envy, greed, ingratitude etc. As a man, Jesus also had this self-will, and was tempted, but His firm resolve from the very start was, “Not My will, but Yours, be done!” For me to overcome as He overcame, I need to make that same decision and faithfully stick to it, no matter what happens or how I feel.
3. Humble myself
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, … being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus was in heaven with God but He voluntarily became a man for our sakes. You would have thought that this was the ultimate act of humility. But it’s written that it was as a man that He humbled Himself, and was obedient. This was because as a human being He had a self-will that was not in agreement with the Father’s. In the situations of daily life when He was tempted to impatience, irritation, envy, discouragement etc. the Father showed Him that His reaction was never because of the others or the situation, but always from the tendency to sin in Jesus’ own flesh. In order to overcome, Jesus had to humble Himself. He had to take up a battle against the sin, and carry out His pledge: “Not My will, but Yours, be done!”
Humility is the mind of Jesus, and must be my attitude as His disciple.
4. Pray with vehement cries and tears
“… who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Hebrews 5:7-8. Jesus really was a man like us. God didn’t give Him any special privileges or make the way easier for Him, because then the whole work of salvation would have been corrupted and worthless. Jesus fought a desperate battle against the sin in His flesh, and needed help. His “vehement cries and tears” were heard because they were genuine, the result of only wanting to serve God.
God taught Him obedience, and gave Him the strength and resolve He needed to deny Himself, every single time. How desperate am I to gain the victory? How vehement are my cries to God? How willing am I to obey? Do I want to be saved from death? To overcome like He overcame, I need to follow Jesus in everything, also in how I pray to God for help. In my situation, the lusts in my flesh and the pressures from outside can loom up like an enormous mountain. The battle can seem overwhelming. But I am not alone.
5. Grace to help in time of need
Jesus knows what it is like to be human. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15. Before He left the earth, Jesus promised His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit, the Helper, who would guide them to the truth. (John 14:16-17, 26; John 15:26)
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16. The time of need is when I am tempted, when I see and feel the sin in my flesh, when I am struggling to keep myself pure and not to sin. If I pray for help as Jesus did, with humility and loud cries and tears, desperate to gain the victory and be saved from death, then I will get help.
The Holy Spirit will come and show me the way to go. And the way is always: “Suffer in the flesh, like Jesus did!” If I am humble and willing to obey, He will give me the strength and resolve I need to endure in my battle. He will give me light and understanding to see how heinous sin is, and how great my heavenly calling is. He will give Me God’s Word as a guide, help and a weapon.
6. Using the Word as a weapon
God’s Word is a sword. (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12) It is the absolute truth, and a powerful weapon against Satan’s and sin’s deceit. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, His reply always started with “It is written…!” (Matthew 4:1-11) But Jesus didn’t only quote the Word; He had authority when He used God’s Word, because He also lived by it. In John 1:14 we read the astonishing words that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus could be described as the Word personified. His entire life was a fulfilment of God’s Word, and thereby God’s will.
When I read the Bible, I fill myself with God’s wisdom. It is the weapon He has given me; words to use against Satan’s deceit like Jesus did, words that show me what to do, words of comfort. I must do exactly what I read. Then I am wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I totally expose Satan’s lies and deceit and overcome all the sinful tendencies in my flesh. Living according to these words makes me invincible.
7. Suffer in the flesh, cease from sin
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2. This suffering was not the physical suffering on the cross of Calvary. It was the suffering of the cross He used daily, when He said “No” to His own will, the sin in His flesh, even when it bombarded Him incessantly with its demands and deceitful attraction. The sin in His nature had received its death sentence when He said “Your will be done, God,” and this sentence was carried out when the lusts were revealed in time of temptation.
As a disciple who follows Jesus, I must hate my own life, deny myself and take up my cross. (Luke 9:23, Luke 14:26) It costs something. It costs my will. It costs my life. I must pray and cry and my lusts have to feel the pain of being denied. On the “daily cross” they suffer and die. Then I will cease from sin.
This is the way the Master went. If I follow Him, I will end up where He is!
“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Revelation 3:21.