How to Win a Losing Battle: 3 Steps to Overcoming Oppressive Sin


Okay, I did something really dumb. Twice. I put gas in the hydraulic tank.

Have you had your laugh? Good. Now let me explain. First, it was a long time ago. Second, it wasn’t the same hydraulic tank. One was on a piece of landscaping equipment and one was on a rescue truck. And in my defense, I couldn’t find the gas cap on the truck. So I’m excused.

I know it’s foolish to make the same mistake twice, so I resolved to break that habit. Here’s how I did it:

  1. I decided to never put gas in a hydraulic tank again.
  2. I decided to stop and think longer – I would be sure of what I was doing.
  3. I would put gas in only the tank that I knew for sure was correct.

Let me state this another way. In short, I decided to:

  1. Not do what was wrong
  2. Understand everything I needed to know
  3. Do what was right

Three simple steps, but it may save me lots of grief and humiliation in the future.

Maybe you have a habit that you need to break. I’m sure your problem is much more intellectual than mine, but these steps will work for you. Especially if that habit is a sin.

Have you ever felt like an absolute failure when it comes to removing sin out of your life? You promise yourself, “Next time I’ll do better.” But the next thing you know you’ve done it again. Is there any secret to getting out of this cycle?

Let me recommend that you use that same three-step plan that I just described. By the way, it’s biblical. We find it in Ephesians 4.[i]

The first step is to simply not do what is wrong. Put more eloquently, we need to remove our former way of living.

Step 1: Remove your former way of living

 …that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts . . . (Ephesians 4:22 NKJV)

It’s time to “put off” the way you were. In the past you lived under bondage to sin, but not any more. That’s who you were, not who you are. God originally designed for us to be without sin, like Jesus. However, we failed. Now He wants us to get back to our original condition the best we can by putting off this new corrupt way of living that we have adopted.

By the way, you don’t just want to put it off, you want to put it to death.

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

If it’s wrong, stop doing it! I don’t want to oversimplify it, but the first step is this – just stop it!

Unfortunately, we don’t often look past this step. We adamantly tell everyone what they are not supposed to do, but never tell them how to stop. No wonder people blame us for being legalistic.

Besides that, if we focus on what we are not supposed to do, that’s all we can think about.

Remember when Hostess went belly-up and the announcement would be made that Twinkies would no longer be available? Immediately everyone who had not thought of Twinkies in five years developed an intense craving for them. If you can’t have it, you want it. The desire consumes you.

So, we better move on to the next step.

Step 2: Renew how you think

. . .and be renewed in the spirit of your mind. . . (Ephesians 4:23)

Very few of us wake up in the morning and think, “I think I’ll sin today.” It just happens. Why? The answer is that it has become a habit.

The key to breaking this habit is to change how we think. Most of us do not want to sin, but we want something that the sin provides for us. Drug and alcohol addictions come not from the desire to be an addict, but from the craving for a pleasant feeling or escape from reality. Promiscuous young people are not searching for disease or pregnancy but for acceptance from a peer.

I would venture to say that most sin is a misguided attempt at meeting a bona-fide need. Changing of our thinking entails developing an understanding that the only sure way of meeting these needs is through means that are condoned by God.

For example, let’s consider the promiscuous young couple. Their needs for intimacy and acceptance are authentic. However, they will never be satisfied through ungodly means. They need to change their thinking to help them understand that God loves them unconditionally and the way He has designed to fulfill their needs is through marriage. When they fully grasp the truth of that situation, their desires will begin to change.

Step 3: Replace your actions

If you make it to step 2 in your struggle with oppressive sin, you have attempted to stop doing it and are trying to renew how you think about things. However, you will find that the temptation is still there.

The next step is absolutely crucial, and is the one we miss out on most often.

. . .and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24)

You have put off your old ways and changed your thinking, but if you do not replace your old ways with something new, you will return to them.

Have you ever tried to give up something like pop (soda for you southerners) or smoking? You may have found that you put on weight. The reason is that something has to take the place of what you were doing. If you just sat around all day trying “not” to smoke, you would eventually pick up a cigarette. So, you eat instead.

Something has to replace what you gave up. Remember that sin is trying to fulfill a need, but doing it in the wrong way. If you don’t meet that need through some other means, you will go back to your old ways.

So, “put on” the new man. Do something different!

The “new man” is the new nature that God gives you when you are saved. It is created in righteousness and holiness. While God cannot accept you the way you were, He can accept this new man.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:14)

In the next section, we’re going to scroll down a little further in Ephesians 4 and see several practical ways of applying these steps.

For now, let me sum up the three steps to overcoming oppressive sin:

  1. Remove the sin
  2. Renew your thinking
  3. Replace your actions

If we can do these, we will be successful in beating our sinful habits!

This is the twentieth article in the “Battle for your Mind” series. Click here to view the previous article.

Click here to view the next article, “Examples for Overcoming Oppressive Sin.”

[i] I am indebted to Dr. Robert Lehman for pointing out the truth of this passage.


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