I have been a Christian for several years, but I struggle with sexual sin. I have tried to discipline myself, but I fail easily. I can't seem to rise above this sin in my life. Why does Scripture tells us to walk before God in holiness when it seems impossible to do so? Paul often tells the church to live a life of purity, but I can't find a way through my temptations. How do we rise above these problems?
Unfortunately, sin in the life of every Christian is a reality. Scripture reflects this reality clearly, especially in Paul's letter to the Romans:
Rom. 7:14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
Rom. 7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
Rom. 7:16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.
Rom. 7:17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
Rom. 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
Rom. 7:19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
Rom. 7:20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
Rom. 7:21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
Rom. 7:22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
Rom. 7:23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
Rom. 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Obviously, Paul himself understood what it was like to sin (repeatedly) and yet feel remorse and regret over it. Paul explains that our physical bodies (i.e., our flesh) cannot be salvaged. It is corrupt and will forever seek to rebel against God's law. This is the sin that is within each of us, and it is at war with our new spirit, which wants to obey God and follow Him.
Paul asks in v.24 how will we ever be set free from this sinful body, so that we might once and forever do away with our sinfulness and follow God perfectly? The answer comes in the next verse:
Rom. 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Christ Himself will do away with our bodies on the day of our resurrection, when we receive a new eternal body without sin.
Your struggle with sin is not unique and not new. Every Christian faces it, though not all admit it. God declares in His word that we should strive to walk before Him and be blameless, that is to be seen as Christ's righteousness in the eyes of the world. This we do by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the source of our righteousness, and having come to faith, we gain confidence that the Lord will complete this good work in us over time:
Phil. 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Meanwhile, God's call to holiness is an encouraging call that understands our weaknesses but demands that we strive against sin. If you think you have tried hard enough already to resist temptation, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that we haven't tried as hard as our Master did:
Heb. 12:3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Heb. 12:4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;
Heb. 12:5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“ MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
Heb. 12:6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
Heb. 12:7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
Heb. 12:8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Heb. 12:9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?
Heb. 12:10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.
Heb. 12:11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Heb. 12:12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,
Heb. 12:13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
Heb. 12:14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
The writer exhorts us to not lose heart or grow weary thinking we've tried hard enough already. The writer says that unless we have worked as hard in the face of sin and temptation as Jesus did in sweating drops of blood while He prayed in the garden on the Mount of Olives, then we can't say we've tried hard enough.
Jesus was faced with a real temptation to disobey the Father's desire to die on the cross, yet Jesus resisted that temptation to the point of sweating blood. Still, Jesus did not give into that temptation. Now that Jesus lives in us, we gain His power to resist temptation if only we yield to Him rather than working in our own limited strength. The writer goes on to tell us that when we fail in the face of our temptations, the Father will respond in love by disciplining us, but His discipline will eventually lead to peaceful fruit of righteousness.
So as you struggle with temptations for sexual acts or other sin, recognize that you are a child of God by faith and your sin will not separate you from God. Secondly, your Lord faced temptation too, yet He persevered, so He has the ability to ensure you withstand the trails (though you will not be perfect in your present body). Finally, you can expect consequences for your sin in the form of God's discipline, which will bring you into conformance with His will over time.
Finally, we are not supposed to engage in these battles alone. Instead, find a close, trusting relationship with another brother in the church who will stand with you in these temptations and trials. Establish a system of communication where you can reach out to this person when temptation strikes or have him arrange to check on you daily to encourage you and ensure accountability. With the help and encouragement of this person, you may find it much easier to live in the Spirit.
God gives us others in the body to strength us. Notice in Heb 12:12-12 the writer says we are to strengthen the feet and knees of the feeble and weak. This is a reference to others in the church coming along side those with struggles to ensure everyone stands approved in the day of Christ Jesus.