Four Steps to Kill Nagging Sins

3. Corner it.

Sin, like any other enemy, thrives among its allies (unhappiness, exhaustion and discouragement are some that come to mind). To wage effective war against sin, therefore, we must deprive it of the opportunities and occasions it makes use of. John Owen is helpful once again:

Consider what ways, what companies, what opportunities, what studies, what businesses, what conditions, have at any time given, or do usually give, advantages to your distempers, and set yourself heedfully against them all. Men will do this with respect unto their bodily infirmities and distempers. The seasons, the diet, the air that have proved offensive shall be avoided. Are the things of the soul of less importance? Know that he that dares to dally with occasions of sin will dare to sin. He that will venture upon temptations unto wickedness will venture upon wickedness.

This means we need to study the particular triggers of sin in our lives. It could be a geographical location (like a bar if you’re a recovering alcoholic), but I find it’s more commonly emotions and unhealthy habits that we need to avoid. Lust is greatly weakened when it cannot appeal to fatigue, emotional need, loneliness and shame. It’s more difficult to succumb to envy when you’re soaking your heart in your heavenly inheritance. Sinful anger often melts away when you are spending time with exceptionally kind, forgiving people.

In short, an effective fight against a nagging sin will often involve thoughtful consideration to your sleep, exercise, diet, emotional life and relationships.

4. Overwhelm it.

In the gospel, God has given us the resources that we need to deal with nagging sins. Let me just mention three: patience, pardon and power. The gospel means that God has “perfect patience” (1 Timothy 1:16) for us even amidst our struggles with nagging sins. To truly kill a nagging sin, we need to know that God has not given up on us. Even when we have lost patience with ourselves, he is still there, like the Prodigal’s loving father, calling us back to obedience and joy.

The gospel also means that God pardons our nagging sins. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Only when we see our nagging sins through the gospel—as right now, before it is subdued, already forgiven in God’s sight—will we make true progress against them. As William Romaine wisely wrote, “No sin can be crucified either in heart or life unless it first be pardoned in conscience. … If it be not mortified in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.”

Finally, the gospel means that God provides us with power, that we might overcome nagging sins (2 Timothy 1:7). As John Owen counsels us:

Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror. Yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.