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Can't Help Myself

"I'm a new Christian, but I'm having a hard time leaving behind certain sins."
Can't Help Myself

Q. I'm a new Christian, but I still have some sins in my life that I'm having a hard time getting away from. I keep trying, but I feel like I'm failing God every time I stumble. How do I overcome these temptations to sin?

—Todd Holzworth, via e-mail

A. Todd, rest assured that every Christian has some sins that they "have a hard time getting away from"—in fact, "some" sounds like an understatement. But you probably mean that there are a couple of sins in particular that especially concern you.

You probably feel like the apostle Paul, who wrote, "I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate." (Rom. 7:15-25, NLT). In his heart, Paul says, he loves God's law, but another kind of "law" drives his fleshly nature to choose to do the opposite. Paul cried, "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?"

You already know the answer to that question; what you want to know is what you can do about it.

The first line of defense, of course, is prayer: Ask God to help you resist this temptation. If you can't yet ask that sincerely, ask him to help you want to resist the temptation, or even that you will begin to want to want to resist. Go back as many steps as you need to till you're telling the truth. That's where God is waiting for you.

Second, consider whether you need some earthly help as well. Some chronic sins, like alcohol abuse or sexual compulsion, are overwhelming to the individual. Professional counseling or self-help groups can lend strength to turn good intentions into lasting achievement.

Your sin's power may be rooted in habit. Psychologist and author Robert Epstein has spent decades studying what techniques best change bad habits. He recommends the "Three M's": Modify your environment (arrange it so that good habits are more convenient and bad habits less so), Monitor your behavior (for example, put a check on the calendar each day you meet your goal), and Make commitments (covenant with supportive friends to be accountable).

Finally, know that your perception of your own sin is likely to be skewed. You might feel urgently that a particular sin be dealt with immediately, while God knows that another sin underlies it and must be rooted out first. Only he knows the depths within us; we see "in a mirror dimly," as Paul says (1 Cor. 13:12), and our self-knowledge is limited and confused.

Yet God loves us completely and, through Christ, he plans in his own time to present us to himself "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle." Let God bring you to complete healing step by step, in his own timing and his own way.

Frederica Mathewes-Green is the author of The Illumined Heart (Paraclete Press).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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