As believers, we struggle against sin and temptation. There will never be a time in our lives when we will not be striving against it. However, fighting against sin is one thing; sin having control is quite another. Sin can quickly gain power in our lives if we are not diligent. This is why John Owen said, ‘Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” In his book, The Mortification of Sin, Owen does us an excellent service by providing us with five signs that sin has a stronghold on us. Take a minute to look through the following list. If you recognize any of these patterns in your life, be sure that you are in a dangerous condition of sin.
1. You have a besetting sin that is constant and unlikely to change.
I will not bother to give examples of besetting sins. If you have one, your mind went to it the minute you read the heading. Look over the past five years. As you think about your struggle with this sin, can you see any improvement at all? Sanctification may be slow work at times, but it does happen. If you cannot see any change in your relationship to that sin, and it looks as if it is unlikely to change in the near future, you need to see your condition as serious; especially if the pattern of sin is getting worse.
2. You have secret pleas of the heart to approve of your sin.
As you think about the desire for the sin in your life, have you ever thought, “I could do this whenever I wanted if I did not take this Christian thing so seriously.” Or perhaps you have asked yourself, “Is my interpretation of scripture too ridged? Certainly, something so natural cannot be so bad.” Maybe it has progressed to the point where you are thinking, “Maybe you need to change churches, other, more liberal, congregations see this as normal, and they let their people enjoy it.” If these thoughts are crossing your mind, realize that sin at work, and it is attempting to move you away from Christ. This could be the beginning of a drift toward apostasy. Most people who have left the faith have done so for this reason. They have listened to the secret cries of sin in their heart.
3. You indulge and delight in the sin even after you have attempted to kill it.
Perhaps you have grown sick of this sin and have even tried to put it to death. You go through periods in your life where you try to put it away, and maybe you see some success for short periods, but after a short time, you find yourself back in the mire. If this is the case, it is time to recognize how much strength this sin has in your life.
4. You find that your distress surrounding the sin focuses more on the fear of getting caught more than being right with God.
The sin in your life may cause you genuine anxiety that you assume is the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that you are more concerned about your reputation than you are about your relationship with God. This misdirected concern is what the Bible calls worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow has a different focus. This reality reveals how deep the deceitfulness of sin runs in your heart. If this is you, your sin has deadened you to the point where you care little for your relationship with Christ.
5. God sends warning shots of chastisement across your bow, and you still resist.
If this sin has been with you for some time, you have probably experienced difficulties in your life, and you know God is dealing with you. It is as if he is warning you to repent because if you do not, he will lay his heavy hand on you because he loves you. You may have even backed off for a time, cried out for God’s forgiveness, but as soon as the danger passed, you went right back. When you do this, sin is causing you to resist the Holy Spirit and you need to deal with it.
If any of these five signs apply to your current situation, no matter how involved you are in your church, or how Godly the people around you think you are, you are not in the will of God, and sin is controlling you. It is time to draw up under your Savior.
The one good thing about experiencing any of these five situations is you finally realize that your indwelling sin nature is more than you can handle on your own. It is stronger than you, and it always has been. You are just now beginning to realize it. It is not until you come to this point that you can properly bring it to Jesus and lay it at his feet. From there, you need to apply all the means of grace in our life, Bible reading, prayer, corporate worship, the Lord’s supper, and a close relationship with a body of believers who can help keep you accountable.
In the end, remember this. Jesus died for you, he has been faithful to you even as you wandered, and he will not leave you in your time of need. Call upon him in the day of trouble; He will deliver you, and you shall glorify him (Psalm 50:15).