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How Do You Know When You’ve Overcome a Sin?

Truth in Love 33

Examine the heart of the struggle with sin and what sanctification looks like in the life of a believer.

Apr 4, 2017

Heath Lambert: We’ll get questions here at Truth and Love about the topics that we’ve addressed, the topics from an ACBC conference, a book that someone has written, and one of those questions that have come into us in recent days has been, how do you know when you’ve overcome a sin? This is a crucial issue. People can wonder how I know if I’ve achieved victory. How do I know if I’m out of the woods? And so, to help us process this, a little bit is Amy Evensen, who’s the producer of Truth and Love. Amy, what are the questions that folks are asking about this topic?

Amy Evensen: Well, Heath, people often talk about struggling with sin. So what’s the difference between struggling with sin and being enslaved to sin?

Heath Lambert: Okay? So I think that the difference is whether or not you were engaged in a fight. So someone is enslaved to sin when they are totally given over to it when sin is their master. This is what Romans 6 talks about that we are enslaved to sin when we live our lives apart from Jesus Christ. Sin is our master, and we have to do what it says. And so we’re completely given over to it. We don’t have freedom, and it’s just the way we live our life—by sin. Someone is struggling against sin when they are actively trying to fight. We wouldn’t say they’re given over. In fact, we’d say that anyone who has come to trust in Jesus Christ is, by definition, not a slave of sin. In the Romans 6 sense of that way of speaking. And so someone who is a Christian and who is fighting sin is in a struggle against sin. They are trying to do the things that the Bible tells them to do in order to exercise obedience in the area of their temptation. They might have more or less success, and they might have periods of failure, but they are trying to implement the Biblical teaching in the grace of Jesus Christ, is they put off sin and put on righteousness.

Amy Evensen: So we talked about having victory over our sin. What does this mean? Does this mean you haven’t struggled with a sin for a week or for a month? Or maybe years? How can you know if you have overcome a particular sin?

Health Lambert: So, it’s a good question, and I think that we can know if we have overcome a particular sin in a couple of different ways. The first way is we would want to think in terms of, am I actively involved in it. If I’m actively involved in it, then I haven’t overcome it. So actively involved in it would mean in the very recent past, I have had this problem. So let’s talk about the example of pornography. So somebody who struggled yesterday, somebody who committed the sin yesterday, is still involved in a struggle, and they’re not free just because they haven’t looked at it today. We would say that someone who has not committed the sin in two years probably has the sin in the rearview mirror in a very significant measure. We wouldn’t say that they’re not open to future temptation, but we would say they’ve achieved a great deal of victory as they fight this sin. But it does raise the question of elapsed time. Well, if I did it yesterday, I’m not done with the sin. But if it was two years ago, maybe I am done. And so we’ve got this question of where in there do we draw the line. Here’s how I would say it—any sin that you have not openly and honestly confessed to someone who’s going to hold you accountable and is still a sin in the recent past is one that you have not overcome. So both of those are important. We need to have a track record of victory, whether that’s weeks or months. We need to have a track record of victory.

But we don’t want to just say that there’s an elapsed time issue here. We want to say that you’ve been open and honest. Ephesians 5 talks about exposing the darkness to the light. Hebrews says that we need to exhort one another every day as long as it’s called today. And if I’m going to exhort you, that means you’ve opened up your life for me to exhort you. I don’t know how to exhort you if you haven’t opened up your life to me. So if you have an opened up your life to someone, you can’t be exhorted, and you have not done what Ephesians 5 says, which is exposed the darkness to the light. And so until you have opened up to another person about your sin and then had a track record of victory over a season in your life, I would not want to say that you’ve overcome sin.

Amy Evensen: What about someone who says, I thought I had overcome this particular sin, but I sinned in it yesterday, and now I’m discouraged and wondering how I can go forward from here? What should I do?

Heath Lambert: Well, I think what we need to do is remember that, in a very real way, this is the way the Christian life works. So if you think about a passage like 2 Corinthians 3:18, it says, “We all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  It’s a text of Scripture that says we are growing in the grace of looking like Jesus Christ, and we grow in that grace a little bit at a time—from one degree of glory to another. No one’s arrived; it doesn’t happen immediately. It happens over time, in fits and in starts, two steps forward, one step back, three steps forward, two steps back. There are stumbles along the way but progress over the long haul. Some people have used the stock market as the analogy of a yo-yo on an escalator that there are ups and downs daily, but over time, this thing is moving up. And I think sanctification works that way sometimes too.

This is why I answered the previous question the way I did, that we might say that if the sin is two years in the past, we have a lot of confidence that we’ve achieved victory. But that doesn’t mean we’re not open to future temptations, and that is certainly true. And it is our experience as Christians that we can have a large measure of victory in an area and then faced an overwhelming temptation and stumble into sin. And this is where we need to remember that we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. That does not mean that we’re not saved. It doesn’t mean the progress that we experience beforehand was not real progress. It means that believers need Jesus just as much as unbelievers need Jesus. And we need Jesus every moment of every day. So in some sense. We should feel discouraged when we have stumbled into a sin; we’re not supposed to sin and then feel awesome. Sin works so that it makes us feel bad. But if we’re Christians, our discouragement will give way to a Christ-centered hope that though I am a sinner, Jesus has saved me. My sin demonstrates again for the millionth time how much I need Jesus, and I’m going to depend on him and His grace and have hope and encouragement even in the midst of my ongoing struggle with sin, which will be an ongoing struggle until Jesus comes and redeems me in fullness.