Based on the widespread popularity of the topic in books in Christian bookstores and the constant focus in sermons and Bible studies within the church world, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the most important subject among believers is sin. Sin management often seems to be the reason for public ministry and to be the most important goal many who follow Jesus have embraced for their lives.
Overcoming sinful actions in life consumes the thoughts and energy of many sincere Christians. They are completely dedicated to stopping the wrong things they do and replacing those actions with actions that glorify God. While their motives are certainly pure, their goal and focus is completely misguided.
We are not called upon in Scripture to direct our attention toward our sins and exert our energy on eliminating them. In fact, to take this approach not only won’t reduce sinful actions; it will increase wrong behavior in our lifestyles. The truth of the matter is that the Bible teaches we aren’t to focus on sins at all, but to focus our undivided attention on Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul dealt with the subject of our focus by warning the churches he established in grace not to make sins their focus, but instead to look to Christ. To the Colossian church, he wrote, “Set your mind on the things that are above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). He warned the Roman church: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
To try to overcome sin by focusing on it has the exact opposite effect that we want in our lives. If we are fixated on what we do wrong and trying to figure out how to conquer the bad behavior, we will always come to some sort of plan that involves our own willpower and determination. When that happens, it doesn’t matter how sincere we might be, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Taking an approach that contradicts what the Bible says about our sins won’t work despite the fact that we are sincere and even ask for God’s help. He will not help us with our method, but will instead let us fail until we come to the place where we are willing to learn and accept His answer concerning our sinful actions.
Any approach we take in overcoming our own sins through self-discipline is legalistic because it stirs up within us the false hope that there is something we can do to defeat it. The reality is that we don’t have to conquer our sins because Jesus Christ already has defeated sin. When we try to do what He has already accomplished we are then denying the sufficiency of His grace in the matter and are attempting to utilize a legalistic method to do it ourselves. Legalistic methods doom us to failure. Paul wrote that, “sinful passions are aroused by the law” (Romans 7:5). He warned the Corinthians who were trapped in sinful behavior that, “the strength of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).
Legalistic attempts to overcome sins by self imposed rules and self-determination are to sins what gasoline is to a flame. It won’t stop it but will make matters worse. The only way to enjoy victory over sin is to rest in the victory that is already ours because of Christ’s finished work. He defeated sin once and for all. Transformation comes to our lifestyle when we simply believe that reality and stop trying to do something that He has already done. We simply rest in His victory and direct our attention to Him. When we do that, the sins that have wielded power over us fall aside into impotency.