DEALING WITH HABITUAL SIN

(Last Updated On: July 13, 2017)[The following is a sermon by John MacArthur,pastor, auther and bible teacher with Grace To You. Sep 20 1992]

It is the nature of man, even the nature of a believer, to be easily entangled in sin. It happens so easily. And frankly, there are certain sins which more easily entangle each of us than other ones. It can be because we have in the past life cultivated habits of sin which now plague us even after our salvation. It could be because in our spiritual weakness even after becoming Christians we continued o develop habits of certain types of sin, certain specific sins that now we find more easily than others do entangle us.
It is true of every Christian that we have certain sins that easily capture us. But it is also true in general that sin easily entangles us. Not all sins are what we could call “our personal entangling sins,” or “our personal besetting sins,” “our personal habitual sins,” the sins which we commit and then confess and then commit again and then confess and then commit again and then confess and go on that way in our lives. Some sins fall into this category but in general all sin seems to have sway with us.
And maybe it will help you to understand why that is true if I just give you three very simple points about sin. First of all, sin has great power over our flesh. The reason it so easily entangles us is because of its power, its strength, its force. It exerts strong influence on our will. It exerts strong influence on our motions. it exerts strong influence on our affections. It rarely suggests things to us, it almost always commands them. It rarely leads, it most always pushes from the rear, drives, forces. Galatians 5:17 says, “The flesh sets its desire against the spirit.” They are in opposition to one another so that you may not do the things you please. The beachhead that sin has with its power is our flesh. And sin exerts tremendous power, tremendous strength against our flesh. It is a very powerful force. And it finds in our flesh a very willing ally, a very receptive environment.
Secondly, sin easily entangles us because it is so close. More than just forcing its way from the outside powerfully on our flesh, it forces its way on our flesh, as it were, from within us. It is very close. In fact, it is in our being. You can become a monk and sit in a cave and you will still deal with sin. Jeremiah 13:23 says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin? Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” The point being you can no more change the internal sinfulness that is a part of your life then the leopard can change his spots or the Ethiopian can change the color of his skin. It is a part of what you are. Sin is very powerful and finds a willing ally in your flesh because your flesh is fallen and your flesh itself has propensities toward sin. Sin is very close.
There’s a third component that makes sin easily entangled into our lives and that is that sin does not remain separate but it mingles in all our motives and all our actions. Sin is powerful, sin is near in that it is in us, and it isn’t categorically separated. You can’t draw a line and say…”Well this is where my righteousness ends and this is where my sinfulness begins.” It has a way of weaving itself into the fabric of all our duties and all our motives and all our thoughts and all our actions. It entangles itself with our purposes and our plans. In fact, even your best deed, even your best deed is not unmixed with sin. It is tangled up in our lives. In Romans 7 Paul cries out, “O wretched man that I am.” Why? Because no matter how I try I cannot disentangle myself from sin.
And so, sin is powerful and sin is near even within us and sin does not separate itself but is mingled into everything. It is interwoven with everything in our lives. The best that we do is somehow corrupted in some way, large or small, by a taint of self-will or self-pleasure or self-aggrandizement or self- righteousness, or self-gain or whatever. And so we become easily entangled. And as I said, there are certain sins that more easily entangle us, each of us, than others do.
But if we are going to be the kind of Christians God would want us to be, this verse says, “Let us lay aside the sin which so easily entangles us.” Put it aside, put it away. Now the question comes…how do we do that? How do we do that? It’s not the first time we’ve been commanded to do that. Second Corinthians 7:1 says, “Let us cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh.” Ephesians 4:22 says, “Laying aside the old self which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit.” Romans 6:12 says, “Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lust.” First Peter 2 and verse 1 says, “Lay aside all evil.” And verse 11, “Abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” So we are very often told to set this aside.
The question comes…how do we do that from a practical standpoint? We know, yes, it is the work of the Spirit and if you walk in the Spirit you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We give all the credit for this to the divine Holy Spirit and yet there is a responsibility that is ours as we yield to the Spirit. How can I lay this aside?
Let me give you some principles that will assist you in laying aside sin. Number one, don’t underestimate the seriousness of your sin. I think the major reason we don’t deal with sin strongly and firmly is because we underestimate its seriousness to God…to God, to us, to those with whom we fellowship, to the church, to the unbelievers. Our sin steals joy. Our sin ruins fellowship with God. Our sin diminishes fruitfulness. Our sin robs us of peace. Our sin renders our service useless. Our sin mitigates against our effectiveness in evangelism. Our sin hinders our prayers. Our sin brings the discipline of God. We need to understand the seriousness of our sin. It violates first and foremost our relationship with the Lord.
You look at your life and generally speaking you are distressed about your calamities and you are distressed about your miseries but you are tolerant about your sins. You do not understand what that man understood. There is more evil in the least sin than the greatest calamity. A calamity, a certain misery is not necessarily sin. Sin is sin. Treat your sin seriously. It dishonors God. It abuses mercy. It despises grace. It presumes on forgiveness. It defiles worship, service and fellowship. It stains and taints and poisons and destroys everything good and holy.
Secondly, another principle that is necessarily understood if you’re to lay aside sin, strongly purpose and promise God not to sin…strongly purpose and promise God not to sin. Take a solemn vow and say, “God, I do not want to sin. I don’t want to break Your law. I don’t want to grieve Your Spirit. I don’t want to dishonor the name of Your Son which I bear.”
The psalmist did that in Psalm 119:106, “I have sworn and I will confirm it that I will keep Thy righteous ordinances.” Unless you have that kind of resolution in your life, you’ll find it more easy to be entangled by sin. In fact, I believe it is that kind of heart purpose, it is that kind of bold affirmation that is at the root of all holy living. And until you make that kind of conscious commitment to the Lord, you’re going to battle the same things over and over and be defeated.
There’s a great verse, verse 32, in the same Psalm, Psalm 119, “I shall run the way of Thy commandments for Thou wilt enlarge my heart.” It’s a very beautiful picture. I shall run the way of Thy commandments for Thou wilt enlarge my heart. What it means is I’m going to run in the way of obedience because I have a heart to do that. It starts in the heart. It’s like a runner, very good illustration, a great runner, a long-distance runner, an endurance runner, a marathoner very often has an enlarged heart muscle because of the tremendous development of his running ability and the strengthening of his heart to keep pumping all that is needed to that body as it pushes itself beyond normal limits. And a great runner can run the way he runs because his heart is enlarged. And the psalmist is saying, “I will run in the way of Your commandments because You have enlarged my heart, You’ve given me a heart for obedience.”
That’s the kind of purpose that is absolutely essential. There’s a great difference, you see, between sin dwelling in us and sin entertained by us. There’s a great difference between sin remaining and sin harbored or sin preserved. And to lay aside sin means to purpose and promise God to obey, a firm promise…I promise You I will obey You.
There’s a third component in this kind of commitment to lay aside sin and it is this, be suspicious of your own spirituality…be suspicious of your own spirituality. Paul said it this way, “Let the one who stands take heed lest he fall.” Job 31:1, Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes, how then can I gaze on a virgin?” He said I’ve got to be careful where I look because I don’t trust myself. I’ve got to start with what I see because I don’t trust myself.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence for our of it are the issues of life.” There’s a certain watchfulness. You have to be watching for sin’s subtle movements within your own supposed spirituality. Your heart is, as I noted, desperately wicked, very deceitful. And Satan is desperately wicked and very deceitful. And the seducing motions of your own heart can sometimes rise out of the moments of your most supposed spirituality. Be suspicious of your own spirituality, don’t trust it. Understand that except for the grace of God you would fall into any and every sin and you can be deceived so easily.
Fourthly, resist the first risings of the flesh and its pleasures…resist the first risings of the flesh and its pleasures. Don’t try to stop the process near the end, stop it near the beginning. James notes for us a certain process, “People are tempted when they’re carried away and enticed by their own lust, then when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin.” Well you want to stop it at the point of conception not try to stop it at the point of birth. You want to stop sin at conception after its been conceived and run through a certain period of pregnancy, if you will, and now is about to give birth to the sin. You don’t try to stop it at that point, you resist and oppose the first risings of the flesh and its pleasures. Sin comes to you promising pleasure. And you remember at the very outset, my goal is not to please myself but to please the Lord.
There’s a fifth principle in this and that is meditate on the Word…meditate on the Word. There’s a wonderful verse, verse 31 of Psalm 37, you probably should write this down…Psalm 37:31, it’s a bit more obscure than some but it really is very very important, listen to what it says. “The law of his God is in his heart. His steps do not slip.” The law of his God is in his heart, his steps do not slip. When a heart is controlled by the Word, the steps don’t slip.
Another more familiar text dealing with this and a wonderful one at that is Psalm 119. And you remember that that Psalm begins in the very first part of those 176 verses with these words, down in verse 9 of Psalm 119, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” How can you lay aside sin? How can you win this battle? “By keeping it according to Thy Word.” By guarding it with Scripture. It is the constant input of the Word of God that begins to fill up the mind and control the thinking and that alone becomes the strength and resource in us that can resist the initial impulses of the flesh. How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping his heart completely committed and guarded by the Word of God. Then in verse 10, “With all my heart I have sought Thee, do not let me wander from Thy commandments, Thy Word I have treasured, or hid, or kept in my heart that I may not sin against Thee.” It is the Scripture that must be meditated on. Meditate on the Word of God. You are always studying the Word…studying the Word…learning the Word…learning the Word…meditating on the Word. As you get the Word so filling you up so that it dwells in you richly, Colossians 3:16, you will find that it controls you. And as you start in to some kind of attitude of sin or some kind of act of sin, the Word of God will act as a restraint. When you feel the impulse of the truth you know, meditate on that, not on the enticings of the flesh and its pleasures.
So watch for sin’s subtleties and don’t trust your own spirituality. Resist and oppose the first risings of the flesh and its desires to please itself and meditate on the Word, the engrafted Word which is able to save your souls. Number six, be immediately repentant over your lapses…be immediately repentant over your lapses. It says in Matthew 26:75 that Peter having obviously been aware of his sin at the crowing of the cock went out and wept bitterly. Something very admirable in that. We castigate, and rightly so, Peter for his defection but we must also honor and respect him for his immediate…his immediate remorse. Be immediately repentant over your lapses and go back to the place of confession. And repentance isn’t only saying, “I’m sorry, Lord, forgive me,” it is saying, “I’m sorry, Lord, forgive me and I don’t want to ever do that again.” That’s the stuff of real repentance. And if that third element isn’t there then you’re not fooling God about the genuineness or lack of genuineness.
When you confess your sins and when you say “I’m sorry I did that, please forgive me, I don’t ever want to do it again,” name it…name it specifically. Let your own heart and even your own ears hear the naming of that sin so that you develop in your heart a high degree of accountability with God for having named the very sin for which He is holding you accountable not to commit again. That’s how you develop accountability. That’s how you develop the fear of God. If you hold back from naming your sin it’s because you want to do that again and it’s bad enough to sin without having to be responsible for telling God you didn’t want to do it and defying what you told Him so you’d rather sin only once rather than twice, that’s why you don’t want to name your sin. Then you’re guilty not only of sinning again but of being hypocritical before God. True repentance will name the sin, specifically name the sin. Be immediately repentant over your lapses.
Number seven, and there are…just one more after this…continually pray for divine help…continually pray for divine help. Ephesians 6:18, after all the armor is put on and the battle against Satan and demons, after all of the warfare has been said and the battle is engaged against Satan and all of his forces he says, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication.” Jesus said to His disciples, “Watch and pray for you know not when you’re going to enter into the hour of temptation.” Devote yourselves to prayer, Colossians 4:2, being alert in it. Don’t fight the enemy on your own. When you engage the enemy, pray…plead with help. But even in a preliminary sense, I really think anticipatory prayer is the most effective. You need to start your day, “Lord, this is the way you taught us to pray, lead us not into…what?…temptation…and deliver us from evil, Lord, please today lead me away from temptation, please today, Lord, deliver me from evil.” You need to set the course of your prayers before the tempter arrives, before the flesh begins to rise and entice.

And then lastly, establish relationships with other believers. Establish relationships with other believers that hold you accountable. Establish relationships with other believers that hold you accountable. “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” says Paul in Galatians 6, “and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We are all in the same boat, folks, we all struggle the same way and we need each other. “If a man is caught in a paraptoma, a fall, a sin, a trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one look into yourself lest you too be tempted, bear one another’s burdens.” We’re all in this together. It might be you going down this time, it might be me going down next time but between the two of us we’re going to hold ourselves accountable for holy living.
By the way, that is in my judgment the greatest factor in a Christian marriage is the intense and intimate spiritual accountability with regard to sin that exists at that level. That is a very very important reason for Christian marriage. I believe that there ought to be in every single sense a high-level of spiritual accountability between a husband and a wife for every aspect of their life in that marriage. The most intimate knowledge of my spiritual life apart from God Himself is in the mind and heart of my wife. The most intimate knowledge of her spiritual life and her struggle as a Christian apart from God Himself is in my mind and heart. We know each other better than anybody in the world knows us. Therein lies the highest level of spiritual accountability…for me and for her. No one apart from God Himself holds me as accountable for what I am before you and before the Lord as she does, and vice versa. And that is what makes a Christian marriage really Christian and really distinctive. That’s the highest level of accountability.
But beyond that, there are other relationships in which you engage that can be very very strengthening for your own spiritual life. You want people around you who lift you up, not people around you who pull you down. You want people around you associated with you as friends and close co-workers who will see your failures just like you’ll see theirs, love you in the process and lift you up and demand of you the highest standards.
How are you going to come to the place where you lay aside the sin that so easily entangles you and especially those besetting sins which you tend to fall into over and over again? First of all, realize sin is powerful, it is near, even in you, and it is intertwined with everything in your being. And in order to deal with it you must understand its seriousness. You must promise God not to sin. You must watch carefully for your own spiritual weaknesses. Don’t trust your spirituality. You must resist the first risings of sin in the flesh. You must meditate on the Word. You must be repentant immediately for the lapses that come. You much continue in prayer and dependence on God’s power and establish intimate relationships of spiritual accountability.
And I would say that there’s no better place to start this kind of life pattern then right here at the Lord’s table. We’re here not only to unload the burden of sin we’ve accumulated for which we will be forgiven, but I hope we’re here to start afresh in a new course that’s going to bring us back here next time with a lighter load and a shorter list. And maybe the sum of it all is found here in Hebrews chapter 12 in those wonderful and magnificent words, verse 2, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”
Listen, He is one who in His striving against sin never fell…never fell. He was in all points tempted like as we are yet He was without sin…He never fell, He never succumbed. So if you’re going to look at somebody as a model, look at Him. He was striving with sin even to death and never fell. He’s our model, He’s our example. So let us remember His death ask His forgiveness and ask Him again to be our example as we lay aside our sin and fix our eyes on Him to follow the path of victory over the sin that easily entangles us. BLESSINGS.

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