by Rev. Ernest O'Neill
There are just four important steps.
FIRST, BE CLEAR IN YOUR OWN MIND WHAT SIN IS
This will keep you free from false condemnation. God states clearly His own definition of sin in James 4:17: "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." You sin, then, when you consciously and deliberately reject what you know is God's will and refuse to do it. Sin is conscious disobedience to the will of God; the conviction of the Holy Spirit and a true sense of guilt is felt only after conscious, intentional disobedience to God's will.
What Sin Is Not
There is an unscriptural definition of sin around that has created much false guilt. It's the philosophical idea that sin is any deviation from absolute right -- any lack of conformity to the perfect image of God -- whether we are aware of it or not! This would mean that we sin all the time in act, word and thought. There will be a hundred ways in which we fall short of God's perfection every day without knowing it.
If this is sin, then according to I John 3:8, we will all be children of the devil forever. But this is not the Biblical definition of sin; this is just a humble, creaturely consciousness that there must be much of our Creator's nature and will which He has not yet been able to reveal to us. If you label this sense of your humanity sin, then you will always be experiencing vague guilt feelings that are tied to no act or word in particular. This is false condemnation and is caused by Satan's obscuring the teaching of the Bible. When the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, He points out clearly and precisely some act, word, or thought you knew at the time was contrary to God's will.
SECOND, DEAL WITH YOUR GUILT
If you tell a lie to cover up some missed assignment or commitment, the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, your conscience registers guilt, and Satan accuses you of rebellion against the Creator. If we argue with God about whether it was sin or not, we find ourselves trying to justify our own actions before Him. This is impossible as God has said in Romans 3:28 that "no man is justified by works of the law." This self-justification is itself sin and creates more guilt in our conscience. If we look to Satan and try to rationalize our actions, he simply points to our emotions which express the depression of our guilty conscience, and we become utterly demoralized. This guilt and sense of inadequacy drains a person of any dynamic desire to try again. That is why God has provided the answer for our guilt.
What Do You Do When You Have Sinned?
Admit it, be honest: call sin, sin. See sin for what it is -- a spear in Jesus' side: this is confession. Now pull the spear out of Jesus' side -- turn from the sin, resolve that it will have no place in your life again: this is repentance. Turn your eyes to the fact of Christ's death; see that He died the death that you should have died for your sin (Romans 5:8). Accept that we are "reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10). If you truly believe this and bend all your being towards keeping that spear out of Jesus' side, then your faith (belief plus obedience) will be "reckoned to you as righteousness" (Rom. 4:22), and God will accept you back again into fellowship with Himself.
Answer Satan in the same way. Do not be morbid and look at your emotions; simply point to the preciousness of the blood of Christ to God (I Peter 1:18-19) and remind Him that this is the only basis for God's accepting you at all. It is not your obedient life, for all our "righteousness is as filthy rags"; it is not your ability to live the victorious Christian life. It is simply your readiness to listen to the Holy Spirit that enables "the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse you from every sin" (I John 1:7). Then with your heart "sprinkled clean from an evil conscience" (Heb. 10:22), let Jesus take over your life again.
THIRD, DEAL WITH THE POWER OF SIN
You have received Jesus as your Savior: then you are a child of God (John 1:12); therefore, there will grow in you a desire to please your Father, to stop crucifying Jesus in your life by further sins, and to allow Him to be your Lord. Many have seen the promise in the Bible that Jesus would not only save them in their sin but from their sins (Romans 6:7, 12-14; Colossians 3:5-10; I John 2:3-6; 3:4-10, 24; 5:2-5,18). However, they may try to do it by their own willpower, by the method of gradual growth, by trying hard. This simply leads to despair and defeat. There is another way!
As we are freed from the guilt of sin by faith in the effect of the blood of Christ, so we are freed from the power of sin by faith in the effect of the cross of Christ. Just as Christ's own death for us came as a revelation that constituted a new experience, so Christ's death in us comes as a revelation that constitutes a new experience. As we exercise a daily faith in the ability of Christ's blood to take away the guilt of our sin, so we exercise a daily faith in Christ's cross to take away the power of sin. The power of sin can only be lessened by our own "trying hard"; it can be broken by faith in what happened to us on the cross.
The reason we tell a lie about a missed assignment is that we believe deep down in our innermost being that we have every right to behave in whatever way will be to our advantage. It is this inner attitude that relentlessly forces us to manipulate people and God's commandments. It is this inward sin, this unsurrendered "I", this feeling that I am God, this right I have to myself and my own way, that makes me reject God's will, disobey His commandments, harden my heart, and sear my conscience. All of this was crucified with Christ 1900 years ago (Romans 6:6): all of this is simply self -- the real you.
This is a fact -- this has happened to you positionally in Christ in the first century. Now will you allow the Holy Spirit to bring it about actually in the twentieth century? Christ's blood will pay for your sins as long as your heart is soft enough to repent and believe, but you can live above conscious disobedience to God's will by faith in your common funeral with Christ (Romans 6:1-4) and submission to His Holy Spirit (John 16:13).
Are you in despair about overcoming sin in your life? Have you come to the end of yourself? Then let the Holy Spirit reveal to you that when Christ died with all His rights, you died with all your rights. He died to His future, you died to your future; when He died to Himself as a private person, you died to yourself as a private person; when He died to doing anything more on earth for God, you died to yourself doing anything more on earth for God. Now, will you allow the Holy Spirit to make this real in your life? It is not enough to know it intellectually: the Holy Spirit alone can make it effectual in you now and every day in your life, as you set your mind on the past fact of your death with Christ and submit your will to the present fact of the Holy Spirit in your life.
FOURTH, GROW IN GRACE
The deepest part of you has been cleansed by faith (Acts 15:9). This means that your spirit is pure and free from that rebellious desire to have your own way. However, though your intentions are now wholly directed to God's glory, yet they have to express themselves through a soul that still shares the effects of the fall of man. Thus your mind is impaired and mars the expression of your perfect love for God by its mistakes and its ignorance. Your emotions are unbalanced and will inadequately express your settled contentment with God's will for you by unintentional deviations from Christ-like peace. Your body is weakened and will at times adversely affect the ability of your mind and emotions to express your spirit's true desire.
Moreover, we live in an anti-Christ, pro-self world infested with spirits of evil, so we are never free from temptation that expresses itself in thoughts and feelings of evil. These become evil thoughts and evil feelings the moment we decide from our spirits to think of them a second time or to feel them a second moment. All of these are sins only if they express the real attitude of our spirits; that is, if they come from without -- from the prince of this world --and we reject them as alien and unnatural to our spirits; we do not sin.
Nevertheless, God wants us to purify our souls (I Peter 1:22): growth in grace is simply allowing the purity of our spirit to spread throughout our mind, our emotions, and body so that they are integrated and fully fitted to express the will of the Holy Spirit in our spirits. The purity in our spirit comes by faith; maturity in our souls comes by growth in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This grace comes through the Spirit's revelation and the breaking experiences of life.
Finally, only the Holy Spirit can tell if a person has sinned. Only He knows if it was a conscious disobedience of God's will by the person's spirit. If a man does not defend his own sins and is open to the Holy Spirit's light, then God's promise is "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:7). But what if a person in an emergency does sin? Then as John says: "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (I John 2:1)