We want continue with the subject of our last study as to how we can overcome sin, our biggest problem in all of our life.
We saw, from our last study, two reasons why many Christians don't grow in their Christian life and don't grow to overcome sinful habits. One isthe lack of the fear of God, and the other is the lack of faith. You see faith is a personal thing. We saw that Jesus can keep people from falling. Now that is a fact; an intellectual fact that even the devil believes in. But, to personally believe that Jesus can keep you from falling when you are tempted, that quality of your heart that can bring you victory, can come only if you have taken the first step of believing what the Bible describes as the seriousness of sin. When you believe that, then you will long to be free from this wretched disease. So faith is a very important factor.
Now a third reason why people keep falling into sin is, because they have not understood that their own flesh, their own human personality and the being that they are, their human strength is totally impotent to do the will of God. We, in our own strength, can never ever overcome sin. Any amount of determination, any amount of self-discipline, anything you like, you can do, but cannot overcome sin because sin is so deeply rooted in our nature. It is like trying to train a pig to be clean. What chance is there of success? Maybe by whipping or feeding and offering it rewards, you can try and get a pig to be clean for a little while. But leave it alone for some time; it reverts back to its original nature. That is how it is with human beings too. This type of overcoming through self-effort is not victory at all. It is just personal self-discipline - a good thing for sure, but not what God offers. No, we need to recognize the weakness of our own flesh, our own weakness.
If you realize this, there will be two things that you will do. First of all, you will run away from temptation; you will not expose yourself to danger. Who are the people who expose themselves to temptation? - Those who don't feel their weakness. One who feels his weakness will run away. That is what the Bible says we should do: flee from youthful lusts; flee from immorality (2 Tim. 2:22). There we read that Paul told, even a godly man like, Timothy to flee from youthful lusts; to flee from the love of money, to flee from idolatry, to flee from immorality. We read all these exhortations in 1 Timothy 6, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Corinthians 10 and 2 Timothy 2. Flee, flee, flee, flee - run away. Why do we run away? Because we realize we are weak. We can overcome many sins if we just obey that one exhortation to run away.
The second thing that a person, who has recognized the weakness of his flesh, will do is that he will pray to God earnestly for help. You see, prayer is a sign of weakness. When do people usually pray, even worldly people? - When they are in real trouble, when nobody else can help them. One of the things that Jesus taught us to pray is - lead us not into temptation. Why do we pray that prayer? -Because we are convinced that our flesh is weak. One would think that someone like Timothy, who had advanced in the Christian life so much, was not in danger of youthful lusts, but even he needed to run away.
Now, if we realize our weakness we will not only want to run away from temptation, but we will also pray, 'Lord, please help me. Give me strength to overcome this weakness.' Just like we need to see the seriousness of sin, we also need to see the weakness of our flesh.
One of the wonderful truth in scripture, that we read is that "Jesus Christ was tempted in all points, as we are" (Heb. 4:15). He did not live on earth without being tempted. In Matthew 4 we are given a very clear description of how He was tempted, at least in three areas. But in Hebrews 4:15, we are told He was tempted in all areas, just like us, but He never sinned.
How is it He never sinned? Was it because He automatically could not sin? Well, we don't want to probe into the nature of Jesus. There is much about His inner nature that we cannot understand. Even there is much about our own inner nature we can't understand ourselves. Psychologists try so much and they still don't know everything about the human personality. It is impossible to try and gauge what went on within Jesus, and we don't even want to attempt it. But one thing we know: Jesus prayed. Why did He have to pray?
You know, the stronger we feel within ourselves, the less we pray; the more capable we think we are, the less we pray. It is the one who realizes his helpless dependence upon the Father for everything - for wisdom, for strength, for guidance - that is the one who prays. The one who feels, 'Yeah, well, I can handle all that myself, I don't need God's help, I can sort out, I can gauge the relative importance of things and take decision,' he doesn't pray. But Jesus prayed. He prayed all night before He chose His twelve apostles; He didn't want to make a mistake.
Now these things indicate that Jesus received strength from the Father through prayer. We don't receive it because we don't pray as much, or we don't pray as earnestly. We are told in Hebrews 5 that Jesus prayed with strong crying and tears. Imagine that. Can you picture that in your mind? - Of Jesus Christ, the perfect man who walked on this earth, praying with strong crying and tears? When was the last time you prayed with strong crying and tears? Why the difference? Don't you think you and I need to pray much more than Jesus needed to? He had lived in the presence of the Father from all eternity. He did not have a sinful nature like you and I have. And yet, He prayed. How much more we need to pray?
True humility is to recognize the weakness of our flesh . All of us are weak, but not all of us are equally conscious of our weakness. The one who is conscious of his weakness will run away from danger when he sees it, and he will cry out for help. So this is the third reason why many people fall; they don't run away from temptation. They foolishly expose themselves to temptation and they don't cry out for help.
Let me give you a fourth reason why many people fall into sin. Peter says that we must arm ourselves with a mind to suffer in the flesh, like Jesus suffered in the flesh, because if we suffer in the flesh, we cease from sin (1 Pet. 4:1, 2). Now, that is not an easy verse to understand. It is not talking about bodily suffering, because people who suffer bodily don't finish with sin. We know that. Otherwise the hospitals would be full of people who are finished with sin. It is obviously not referring to bodily suffering. What does it mean when it says, "As Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, because he who suffers in the flesh ceases from sin so that he can do the will of God." It is referring to an attitude of mind where we would rather suffer in self-denial than get the least pleasure out of even a single sinful thought.
When we are tempted, all of us, we have the opportunity, either to indulge in it and get some pleasure out of it or to resist it and reject it. The later causes a certain suffering. That is the suffering that is mentioned here. Peter says, before you are tempted, you must be armed for the conflict. In other words, you must be armed with this attitude of mind, which says, 'I would rather suffer than enjoy the pleasure of sin even for a moment.' We read about Jesus that He was obedient even unto death (Phil. 2:8). This means, Jesus' attitude was that He would rather die than sin. Now that is quite a radical attitude - I would rather die than disobey my Father in the smallest little thing. That is the meaning of 'He was obedient even unto death.' He calls us to follow in His footsteps; to be willing to suffer rather than displease God.
A fifth reason why many Christians do not progress spiritually, and fall, is because they are not seeking to press on to perfection. They are satisfied with the progress that they have made thus far. If you become satisfied with second standard, you will never get to the third standard. That is for certain - Because you feel you are better than all the others who are in the first standard and kindergarten. But if you are determined to press on and say, 'well, I have overcome something but I want to get something more, I want to press towards the mark,' you will make progress. Paul said, "One thing I do, I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus " (Phil. 3:13-14) - the goal of becoming like Jesus totally, in every part of our personality. What is the result of Paul having this attitude? It not only kept him from stagnating in the Christian life, but it also kept him from sin. Paul told Timothy to not only flee from temptation but also to pursue after righteousness, godliness, love and gentleness.
Any point in our Christian life, where we get satisfied with our progress, is a danger point. That is the time we are going to fall into sin. And that is where we need to ask ourselves: 'Am I progressing? Am I longing to become like Jesus in every area? Am I mourning every time I see something in my life that is un-Christ like? Do I cry out to God and say, 'Lord, I have faith." Begin today, my friend, to mourn every time you see something un-Christ like in your life. Cry out to God for help, and see if your life doesn't change from this very day.