Calvin Coolidge was famous for being a man of few words. He came home from church one day, and his wife inquired, “How was church, Mr. President ?”
“Well, what did the pastor talk about?”
“What did he say about it?”
“He’s against it.”
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t just talk about sin. One of its central themes is salvation from sin. So what is this thing we call sin? There are several kinds.
Kinds of Sin
The most obvious sins are the wrong things we do, such as cheating, stealing, and taking God’s name in vain. We call these sins of commission. The Ten Commandments are stated largely in terms of the wrong things we should avoid doing. That’s why the Bible defines sin as “the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV).
However, sins of omission can be equally deadly. According to Matthew, Jesus will say to the wicked someday, “I hungered, and you did not give Me a thing to eat. I was thirsty, and you did not give Me a thing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not take Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me” (Matthew 25:42, 43, author’s translation and emphasis). These people didn’t break any of God’s laws. They will be lost because of the good they failed to do.
A third way we can sin is with our thoughts. Jesus said that we commit murder when we hate someone, and we commit adultery when we think lustful thoughts (see Matthew 5:21, 22, 27, 28).
Some people try to deal with sin by ignoring it, but that can be fatal. I have a propane fireplace in my house. Some time ago I came downstairs several mornings in a row and smelled gas. When I checked the knob that turns on the gas, it was in the “off” position. Nevertheless, each morning when I came downstairs, the gas odor seemed a bit stronger.
Do you think I asked the gas company to change the fragrance of the gas so my room wouldn’t smell so bad? Of course not! My front room would still be in danger of exploding. The leak had to be repaired.
That’s how it is with sin. It’s deadly, and we have to get rid of it—not ignore it.
Sin is Slavery
Sin is a form of slavery. Jesus said that “ ‘everyone who sins is a slave to sin’ ” (John 8:34). And Solomon wrote, “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him” (Proverbs 5:22). We’re all sinaholics and addicts.
Fortunately, Jesus came to set the captives free. In Romans 6:16, Paul wrote, “You are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.” But God wants to save you from your sins. That’s why Paul went on to say, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
Steps in Overcoming Sin
The question is, How is a person set free from slavery to sin? There are several steps in the process.
Conviction. We can’t overcome a sin that we don’t know is sin. So the first thing God does is send the Spirit to convict us that what we’re doing is wrong (see John 16:8).
Repentance. I once had a bumper sticker that said, “If you’re heading the wrong way, God allows U-turns.” Repentance means being sorry for sin and turning from it. Salvation is about U-turns. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, we’ll want to turn our lives around.
Justification. The Bible warns that “the wages of sin is death” and points out that everyone has sinned (Romans 6:23; 3:23). There isn’t a human alive who qualifies for eternal life. But God wants us to spend eternity with Him. So He devised a plan to qualify us for eternal life. We can’t earn it by working hard to keep God’s laws, though. Instead, He gives us His own righteousness. He credits His Holy life to our account (see Romans 3:20–22; 4:1–5), so that even though our characters are still faulty, we stand perfect in His sight. The Bible calls this transaction “justification.”
Conversion. As God justifies us, He transforms us inside through a process called the “new birth” or “conversion.” Paul called it a “renewing” of the mind, while Ezekiel called it “a new heart” (Romans 12:2; Ezekiel 18:31). Conversion changes us so that sins we once loved, we now hate. Converted people think differently from the unconverted. Things that used to make no sense at all suddenly do.
Sanctification. Many people think that stopping sinning will gain God’s favor. It’s true that God wants us to stop sinning, but that is the last step in the process of salvation. To overcome a sin before we’ve become convicted of it, repented of it, and experienced justification and conversion would be like trying to put the roof on a house before the foundation has been laid!
We’ll need to invest effort to overcome our sins and addictions, to be sure. And once we’ve experienced conviction, repentance, justification, and conversion, we have God’s power to help us. The Bible calls this process of actually overcoming sins “sanctification.”
And if You Fall . . .
Some people think that the moment they become Christians, they should be able to overcome all their sins at once. That’s an unrealistic and discouraging misconception.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean we’ll never sin again. That’s why the Bible says, “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). When we repent but in our humanity fall back into a sin, Jesus will forgive us. We’re promised, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us” (1 John 1:9).
Then comes the final stage in the plan of salvation, glorification,
This is God’s plan to save us from our sins and addictions. If you’ve been struggling to overcome a sin or addiction, I urge you to try the steps outlined above.
You can be free!