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11. Twelve Steps to Conquering Habitual Sins (Genesis 20)

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Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn't she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die… (Genesis 20)

How do we conquer habitual sins?

Habitual sins are sins that we are especially prone to stumble in. Some people struggle with anger, some struggle with complaining, some struggle with lust or drunkenness. Habitual sins are sins that tend to linger in our life for years and sometimes a lifetime.

In this narrative, Abraham left the area where he probably lived for over twenty years by the great trees of Mamre and moved to the Negev region. Negev actually “means dry, parched—a synonym for desert.”1 He lived in a city called Gerar in the western Negev. It was a fertile plain between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea that had been settled by the Philistines.2

We don’t know why he moved, but many suggest that it probably had something to do with Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction. God rained down sulfur on these cities and destroyed them. We don’t know exactly how it happened, but Sodom and Gomorrah are now under the Dead Sea. God possibly destroyed it through some type of natural disaster, and as Abraham witnessed it, he decided to uproot his family and move.

When Abraham moved into Gerar, he lied about his wife by saying that she was his sister in order to protect himself. Consequently, Abimelech took her into his harem—endangering the promised seed. This mirrored the story of his move to Egypt in Genesis 12. There he also lied about his wife, and she was taken into Pharaoh’s harem. Lying was Abraham’s habitual sin. It was the sin that he typically succumbed to when pressured.

How do we overcome habitual sins? Here we will learn not from Abraham’s success, as in many of the other chapters, but from Abraham’s failure. We will consider twelve steps to conquering habitual sins.

Big Question: What steps to conquering habitual sins can we discern from Abraham’s failure in Gerar?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must First Identify Them

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1–2)

As mentioned, Abraham moves his family to Gerar, where the Philistines lived. When he gets there, he lies about his wife, as he previously did in Egypt.

As we consider how to conquer habitual sins, the first thing we must do is identify them: What negative tendency do we often succumb to when pressured? Is it lying? Is it depression? Is it anxiety? Is it gossiping? Very clearly, Abraham’s negative tendency—his habitual sin—was lying.

One of the ways, we start to conquer our habitual sins is by first identifying what they are. What is your habitual sin? What is the sin or sins that you are most prone to fall to?

Consider Hebrews 12:1,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Each of us has a race to finish; however, certain sins hinder us from finishing that race—completing the things God has for us. The author says, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” He did not say “sin that so easily entangles” but “the sin that so easily entangles.” He seems to be referring to a specific sin that we easily fall into. It is probably more than one sin. We all have them; these are our habitual sins, which tend to easily trip us up.

Sometimes these are hard to identify because they are so ingrained into our character. For one person, his grandpa had an anger problem, his mother had one, and he has one as well. Everybody knows him as having a temper, and he just accepts it as a natural part of his identity rather than something to be conquered. Some sins are socially acceptable, like telling little white lies, exaggerating, boasting, or illegal downloading. If we accept the world’s thoughts about these sins (Rom 12:2), again it may be hard to identify them.

What sin or sins easily entangle you? We must first identify them so we can conquer them.

Application Question: What are your habitual sins? When are you most prone to fall to them?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Humbly Recognize Our Vulnerability

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1–2)

Another thing we must do to conquer habitual sins is to recognize our vulnerability to them. When we look at this narrative, we cannot but be surprised at Abraham’s stumble. He had been walking with God for at least twenty-five years. In fact, in the last couple of chapters, he was noted for his great faith.

In Genesis 17, God told him he was going to have a son in his old age. At age ninety-nine, God commanded him to circumcise himself and his household. Though circumcision would have been extremely painful, he immediately obeyed God. In Genesis 18, God and two angels visited Abraham’s household. Abraham was very generous, as he prepared them a great feast. While there, God shared his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their great sins. After hearing this, Abraham interceded for Sodom. His nephew Lot and his two daughters were saved as a result of his prayers (cf. Gen 19:29). Abraham had been a model of great faith.

Here though, he falls back into a sin that he originally committed at the beginning of his faith journey in Genesis 12. No doubt, one of the things we can learn from Abraham’s fall is that we are always vulnerable—no matter how spiritually mature we become. In fact, it is when we think that we are no longer vulnerable that we are the most prone to stumble. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!”

If we think that we are no longer susceptible to a certain sin—that we have conquered it—then we are most vulnerable to it. Certainly, by God’s grace, we can start to maintain a certain level of victory. However, we should always be painfully aware of our weakness and propensity to stumble. Consider what Paul called believers in Philippians 3:3: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”

We must put no confidence in the flesh. Paul said that in his flesh dwelt no good thing (cf. Rom 7:18). Often, this is the very reason many Christians fall back into habitual sins. They start to think they are over it. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

It is when a person says, “I’m OK. I am no longer tempted in this area,” that it often comes back and bites them. In this area, members of Alcoholics Anonymous came to some right conclusions. Even though they might have maintained sobriety for ten years, they still say, “I am an alcoholic.” By saying this, they are not recognizing their current practice, but their current vulnerability.

Some people really struggle with this concept for Christians. Scripture says we are now the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21) and co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17); therefore, they say that we should never call ourselves sinners. However, the very verses that they quote about being the righteousness of God and co-heirs with Christ were written by Paul. He is the same man who called himself “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). He said, “In my flesh dwells no good thing” and “the things I would do, I don’t do, the things I wouldn’t do, I do” (Rom 7).

I am a little worried about Christians who emphasize one part of Scripture without the full picture. Paul said both. Yes, I have been crucified with Christ and my old man is dead (cf. Gal 2:20, Rom 6). But at the same time, I have a sin nature and there is a battle between the Spirit and my flesh, and sometimes I don’t do what I want (Gal 5:17).

Abraham had been faithful to God and shown great faith; however, he was still vulnerable and so are we. If you think you are standing, if you think you have conquered it, take heed lest you fall. In order to conquer habitual sins, we must, in humility, recognize our vulnerability to it.

Are you still recognizing your vulnerability? This should stand out to us, as Abraham succumbs to the same sin he committed over twenty years earlier.

Application Question: How do we reconcile the truth that our old nature is dead and we are now the righteousness of God, with the fact that we are still sinners? How can we keep a proper balance?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Stay Away from Temptation

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1–2)

Again, Abraham clearly is vulnerable to lying when in a potentially hostile situation. The question we cannot but ask is, “Why did he move to an area where he would be tempted to lie?” He previously lived in safety by the trees of Mamre, but he moves to an area with potentially hostile people, which tempted him to sin.

Surely, we can learn a great deal from this. If we are going to conquer habitual sins, we must stay away from possible temptations. Jesus said this in Matthew 5:29–30:

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Christ said if what you are looking at (eyes) causes you to sin, get rid of it. If what you are doing (hand) causes you to sin, get rid of it. We must have such an animosity to sin that we get rid of every door or potential door that might tempt us to sin.

We see a similar teaching from Solomon who warns his son of the adulterous woman in Proverbs 7:25–27. He says, “Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.” Solomon essentially said, “Stop temptation at its root—the heart motive. Don’t entertain the possibility of sin with this woman. Keep her out of your mind and stay away from paths that lead to her.” Solomon warned his son so that he would not be victimized by this woman like so many before him.

In the same way, one of the ways we protect ourselves from falling to habitual sins is by staying away from every form of temptation. If Abraham knew that lying to protect himself was his habitual sin, why is he moving to a dangerous area where Philistines live? If he failed previously in Egypt, why is he moving to Gerar—a similar situation?

First Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” If you have a tendency to occasionally overdrink, “Why do you still go to the bar?” If you have a tendency towards falling into lust, “Why are you watching shows with partial nudity?” If you have a tendency to cheat on tests when feeling unprepared, “Why are you waiting to the last minute to study?” If you have a tendency towards depression, “Why are you listening to music that makes you sad?” If you struggle with cursing, “Why do you listen to music and watch movies with lots of cursing?” If you struggle with gluttony, “Why are you at the buffet?”

If we are going to conquer habitual sins, we must close every door that might lead to them. Are you closing all potential doors and temptations to sin?

Application Question: In what ways has God taught you to avoid certain temptations in order to conquer habitual sins? Are there any doors you feel God is convicting you to close now?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Recognize Their Effects on Others

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1–2)

Another thing we must recognize, in order to conquer habitual sins, is their effects on others. Abraham’s lie about Sarah being his sister led to his wife being taken into King Abimelech’s harem. The king had the right to take any single women he desired, and that’s just what Abimelech did.

Now Sarah is almost ninety years old in this text, why would he desire to take her into his harem? Sara would live to 127, but even considering the long-life span of the patriarchs, her age was still equivalent to a fifty-three-year-old woman that lived to be seventy-five.3 Why does Abimelech take her?

Well, in Egypt, the text mentioned her great beauty (Gen 12:14) and maybe she was still relatively beautiful, even at this late age. Commentator Henry Morris said this, “She had in some measure been physically rejuvenated, in order to conceive, bear, and nurse Isaac, and possibly this manifested itself in renewed beauty as well.”4 It is possible God physically rejuvenated her for birth, and therefore, her beauty was renewed.

Most likely, Abimelech took her for political purposes. Ancient kings often married to gain allies or wealth. Solomon probably married Pharaoh’s daughter to strengthen his alliance with Egypt. Similarly, Abimelech probably took Sarah in order to secure an alliance with Abraham, who was a very wealthy man.

Either way, Abraham’s lie almost cost him his wife, just as it did while in Egypt. This is something we must be aware of. Our sins always affect others, even when they are done privately. As the church, we are the body of Christ, and one body part cannot hurt or be infected without affecting the other parts. Paul compared sin to leaven that leavens the whole lump (1 Cor 5:6). Sin has a tendency to spread towards others, and the consequences of sin also often affect others.

When Jonah sinned against God, it almost killed those traveling in the boat with him. When David sinned by taking Bathsheba, it led to her husband’s death, his child’s death, and the sword never departing from his home. Sin always affects others, even when committed in private. We must be aware of this.

In fact, Isaac, Abraham’s unborn son, later lies about his wife as well (Gen 26). Isaac’s lie was even worse because Rebekah was not his sister in any sense. Isaac’s son Jacob was a liar, as he deceived his father. Jacob’s sons lied to him for years saying that his son Joseph was dead. Sin always affects others.

This is important to understand because many times the psychology of one struggling with sin is, “My decisions don’t affect anybody else,” or “I don’t care about my life right now. Who cares if I sin?” The psychology of a person in a habitual sin is usually selfish—thinking only about himself. However, if one considered the consequences towards others, it would help him fight sin.

Adam and Eve probably wouldn’t have sinned if they considered that their private sin would negatively affect the entire world. Abraham, probably, wouldn’t have lied if he considered that lying could cost him his wife and, potentially, his unborn child.

It’s the same for us. We must recognize that our habitual sins hurt not only ourselves but others. Understanding this will aid us in our fight against sin.

Application Question: How can considering our sins’ potential effects on others help in our fight against sin? How can we foster this type of mindset?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Live by Faith

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1–2)

Another thing we must discern from the narrative is Abraham’s lack of trust in God. God told Abraham that his wife was going to bear him a child and that from his seed all nations would be blessed (Gen 17:15–16). God also told him that those who blessed him, God would bless and those who cursed him, God would curse (Gen 12:3). In Genesis 13, God cursed Pharaoh’s household to protect Abraham and Sarah. In Genesis 14, God conquered several armies to protect him. After that, in Genesis 15:1, God told Abraham that he was his shield—God promised to protect him.

However, Abraham decided to protect himself by lying about his wife. He didn’t trust God. Abraham’s sin was rooted in a lack of faith and so is ours. In our faithlessness, we might say, “God I am lonely, and I don’t trust that you will provide someone good for me.” Therefore, we run off to satisfy our loneliness—not wanting to wait on God. Or, “God you don’t care about me,” so we rebel against God and his goodness. Or, “God I have to fight for myself because you are not protecting me.” Therefore, we get angry and fight against those harming us, instead of believing God’s Word, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord” (Rom 12:19, KJV). All sin is rooted in a lack of faith and a trust in self.

Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.” In order to break habitual sins, we must choose to trust God, instead of ourselves.

Are you trusting God in your fight against sin—in your fight to be holy—or are you trusting in something other than God?

Application Question: In what ways are habitual sins rooted in a lack of faith and selfishness? How can we increase our faith, our trust in God?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Learn from God’s Discipline

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. (Genesis 20:1–2)

When God allowed Abraham’s wife to be taken by Abimelech, no doubt, this was a form of God’s discipline. When Abraham lied about his wife, he probably thought that if somebody wanted to marry her, he would negotiate with him, as her brother, giving them time to escape. However, this would only be true if taken by someone other than the king. The king does what he wants without permission. This was probably Abraham’s logic in Egypt as well. He must have reasoned, “That will never happen again.” Clearly, God disciplines Abraham in hopes that he would learn to trust him and always practice honesty.

Hebrews 12:7–8 says,

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

God disciplines everybody who is a son; if we are without discipline, then we are not sons of God. God disciplines his children not to punish them but to train them in righteousness. Hebrews 12:10–13 says,

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Abraham was also disciplined in Egypt, when he lied about his wife. God allowed Pharaoh to take her. No doubt, this left Abraham in a great deal of mourning and repentance until God delivered her. Apparently, Abraham never learned his lesson, so he repeated the sin and, therefore, the discipline.

The writer of Hebrews said that discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (v.11). Discipline should always make us more holy and make us have more peace. However, when a person is not properly trained by discipline or trials that God allows, it can actually maim them. They can become spiritual cripples. That’s why God says, “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees… so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (v. 12–13).

After trials and discipline, some people become angry at God and angry at people instead of having more peace. They leave the trial saying, “I will never trust again. I will never love again.” They leave with spiritual baggage that often hinders them for the rest of life. Others leave the most horrible situations loving God and people more and having more peace. The discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace in their lives.

When Abraham lost his wife, no doubt, this was a discipline of God. It was meant to train him to trust God and to always practice honesty.

Are you becoming more holy through the trials and the discipline God allows? Or are you becoming more bitter, more fearful, less trusting, and less godly?

Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced trials or discipline that produced a harvest of righteousness and also ones that crippled people? How can we learn from these trials instead of becoming disabled by them?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Recognize God’s Graciousness

But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn't she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.” (Genesis 20:3–7)

After Abimelech took Sarah as his wife, God appeared to him in a dream. In the dream, God told Abimelech that he and his people would die because he took Abraham’s wife. In addition, God closed the wombs of all the women in Abimelech’s house (Gen 20:18).

Abimelech, immediately, began to rationalize with God: “Will you kill an innocent nation? Did not Abraham tell me that she was his sister?” God agreed and said that it was because of his innocence that the Lord kept him from touching Sarah. God shared that Abraham was a prophet and commanded him to return Sarah. After doing this, Abraham would pray for them and God would heal his nation.

God’s grace runs throughout this narrative. Abraham sinned, but God kept him from the full consequences of it. Instead, Abimelech suffered. It almost seems unfair. However, Abraham was God’s child, and even in his failures, the Lord shepherded him. God protected and lavished mercy on him.

In fact, when Abimelech restored Sarah, he gave Abraham sheep, male and female slaves, and a thousand shekels of silver (v. 14–16). Abraham became wealthier after his failure. God was gracious, even in Abraham’s failure. However, God’s grace was ultimately meant to make him repent, as it is with us.

Oddly, God’s grace is often used as a motivation to sin. I remember counseling a person struggling with some rebellion in his life. He admitted that he wasn’t ready to repent, as he knew that God would forgive him. The logic doesn’t make sense.

This is all too common. Part of it is a wrong understanding of God. These people see God as a gracious God, which is true, but they have no understanding of God as a God of wrath and discipline.

Even more, it is a wrong understanding of God’s grace and mercy. It’s cheap grace. God’s grace should not motivate us to sin but motivate us to repent. Romans 2:4 says: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?”

God’s goodness should draw men to repentance—not lead them further into sin. Yes, God may be patient with us, while we rebel and sin against him. He may graciously keep back the full weight of sin’s consequences. But if he does, it is meant to draw us closer to him in repentance, not farther away.

In order to conquer habitual sin, we must recognize God’s grace. God’s grace towards Abraham was meant to draw him to repent, not encourage further rebellion. With that said, God’s grace is not unlimited. Remember what God said to the people before sending the flood in Genesis 6:3, “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.’” God essentially says, “My grace is up. You only have one hundred and twenty years left before destruction.” God’s grace and patience will not last forever. Today is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).

How are you responding to God’s grace? When you sin and then confess, God forgives you. He, at times, protects you from sins’ full consequences. He even uses your failures for your good in some way or another (cf. Rom 8:28). Does his grace motivate you to change—to fight against sin? Or are you showing contempt for God’s grace?

God’s grace draws us to repentance. In order to conquer habitual sins, we must recognize God’s amazing grace towards us.

Application Question: What is the “cheap grace” mentality? How have you seen or experienced it? How do we get rid it?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Know Our Calling and Identity

Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.” (Genesis 20:7)

In God’s reply to Abimelech, he calls Abraham a prophet, even though he lied. God does not speak of him on the basis of his sin but on the basis of what God called him to be. While Abraham was living in Ur—worshiping his fathers’ idols—God called him to speak for him. God ministered to Abraham in special ways and called him to be a blessing to the nations. Even though Abraham failed many times, it didn’t change who he was before God.

We see this often in Scripture. When Israel is being oppressed by the Midianites, God approaches a man named Gideon, who was hiding from the Midianites. He calls him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). This comment didn’t make sense. He was hiding. God then calls him to save Israel, and in response, Gideon came up with many excuses. He said, “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am least in my family” (Judges 6:15). Gideon had a different view of himself than God did, which hindered his spiritual progression.

And this is true of many of us—causing us to stay stuck in certain besetting sins. We think that our sins are too great, we’ve fallen too much, and that we’ll never be free. We have a view of ourselves that contradicts God’s call and our new identity. It does not agree with what God says about us and our sin. Much of the Christian life is learning our new calling and identity in Christ and accepting it.

It is important for us to understand this so we can begin to conquer sin. I have, no doubt, that when Abimelech approached Abraham about interceding, Abraham was a little surprised. Abraham had failed God and was walking in the flesh. He was not operating according to God’s promises and calling. We often do the same. Consider what Paul said in Romans 6:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—…In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1–6, 11)

These believers said, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Paul replied, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” He began to teach them who they were in Christ. They and their sin died with Christ—meaning it no longer had power over them. They were raised with Christ to live a new life. He commanded them in verse 11, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Count is a thinking word. He says, “You have to think about yourself differently. You are not the same anymore.”

This is important to recognize because Satan often uses wrong thinking to trick and trap people in sin. He says to them, “You will never be free. You will never be a man of God.” He lies, and sadly, many adopt these lies. However, God says, “This is not true. You are my prophet to the nations. On the cross, I broke the power of sin over your life. I raised you from spiritual death to spiritual life. You are new. Now walk in this newness.”

Personally, when I had a major battle with lust during college, understanding Romans 6 changed this losing battle into a winning battle. I was duped into believing Satan’s lies. I felt defeated and that there was nothing I could do to be free. However, when I began to understand Romans 6, I realized that God had already won the battle. When tempted to lust, I literally began to speak God’s words about me, “I am dead to sin and alive to Christ. That is not me anymore.” Then I would pray to be filled with the Spirit.

Similarly, before the conversion of Augustine, one of the early church fathers, he lived a very promiscuous lifestyle. After his conversion, he encountered one of his past flings. When he saw her, he turned around and ran. The lady said, “My Love! Where are you going? It is I!” Augustine replied, “I know, but it is not I anymore!”

When battling habitual sin in our lives, we must do the same. We must count ourselves dead to sin but alive to Christ. Like Abraham, though at times, we walk below our calling, we are still God’s prophets. We are new in Christ—the old has passed away (2 Cor 5:17). We are by God’s declaration the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). We must count ourselves dead to sin, even after failure. We must declare like Augustine, “It is not I anymore.”

Are you viewing yourself according to your new identity and God’s calling? Or are you accepting Satan’s lies? “You are a failure!” “You’ll never be righteous!” and “God can’t use you!”? Who are you believing? Your view affects whether you win this battle or lose it.

Application Question: How have you experienced defeatist thoughts in your battle against habitual sin? How can you begin to appropriate your new calling and identity in Christ?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Be Careful of Fear

Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ (Genesis 20:11)

While talking to Abimelech, Abraham shares the thought process that led him to lie: “‘I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’” The implication is that Gerar was a very ungodly place, and therefore, Abraham became afraid. He thought they would take his wife and so he lied about their relationship. Yes, they were really brother and sister, as they had the same father. The intent, though, was to deceive.

This is a common doorway to sin. In fact, fear is both a result of sin and a catalyst to sin. If you remember, after the fall, a new word entered Adam’s vocabulary, “afraid.” After he sinned, he started to experience fear. Genesis 3:9–10 says: “But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’” When Adam heard God in the garden, fear made him hide from God. Fear began because of sin, and it also provoked further sin.

In the same way, fear still draws us into sin. We are afraid of what people think of us. We are afraid of failure. We are afraid God doesn’t love us or that others don’t love us, and this fear commonly leads us to sin.

Abraham was afraid, and therefore, he lied. Adam was afraid, and he hid from God. Fear is a catalyst for sin. It often provokes it. No doubt, Peter wants us to understand this in 1 Peter 5:8, when he describes the devil as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Why do lions roar? They roar to frighten and paralyze their prey. After they are paralyzed, the lion can then devour them.

In the same way, Satan works through fear to paralyze and conquer us. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”

Often people are led into sin because of fear and then trapped by it. They say, “If I follow God, I may lose everything.” “If I end this relationship, nobody else may ever love me.” “If I don’t cheat on this test, I might fail and not get accepted into graduate school.” Fear leads us into sin and keeps us there. It begins to rule us like slaves.

What is the remedy?

Application Question: How can we get rid of fear that enslaves us to sin?

1. We get rid of fear by knowing God’s love more.

First John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

The more we know God’s love, the less we will fear. Perfect love drives out fear. When we are living in fear, it means that we are not acknowledging God’s love. Jesus said this to the disciples, when they were worrying about their futures: what they would eat, drink, and wear: “Look at the lilies of the field, how God clothes them. Look at the birds of the air, how God feeds them. If God cares for them, won’t he care for you?” (Matt 6, paraphrase). Christ essentially told the disciples that if they really knew how much God loved them, they wouldn’t worry.

Similarly, our fear about the future, people’s opinions of us, and rejection would be removed if we knew how much God loves and cares for us.

Application Question: How can we grow in knowing God’s love more?

We grow to know God’s love more by knowing God in a deeper way. As we draw near God, he draws near us (James 4:8), and in his drawing near us, we experience and understand more of his love. We do this by praying, being in his Word, fellowshipping with his people, and serving.

2. We get rid of fear by starting to love others more.

Part of perfect love driving out fear has to do with God’s love working through us to love others and not just knowing God’s love for us. It has been said that, “Love is giving when you don’t care what you get in return.” Isn’t that what often keeps us from loving? We don’t share with or serve others because of fear of being rejected or hurt. Fear keeps us from loving. But, if we truly loved people then it wouldn’t matter what we received in return. Worldly love is selfish, it cares more about itself than the person or object it supposedly loves. But God’s love is unselfish. He loves us whether we return it or not. First Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not self-seeking.”

Are you seeking to love others perfectly? If so, it will deliver you from fear—you won’t worry about being rejected or hurt.

3. We get rid of fear by allowing Christ’s peace to rule in our hearts.

Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

The word rule can be translated “decide.” It is an athletic word used of an umpire in a competition. The umpire decides if somebody is safe, if he won, or if he is disqualified. In the same way, instead of being ruled by fear, we must be ruled by Christ’s peace. Fear tells us to run away from God and away from others. It drives us towards sin in order to protect ourselves or others. Instead, we must be ruled by the peace of Christ, which leads us into righteousness. The peace that Christ gives us in our hearts must decide our direction.

Application Question: How can we discern where or how the peace of Christ is leading us?

We can ask ourselves these types of questions:

  • Will going this direction or making this decision bring me more peace with Christ or remove my peace?
  • Will going this direction or making this decision bring me more peace with Christ’s body, believers, or will it remove our peace?

Christ wants to guide us through his peace (cf. 2 Cor 2:13). We must be ruled by Christ and his peace instead of fear. Fear often leads us into sin, as it did with Abraham.

Application Question: What types of fear commonly try to rule your heart and lead you into sin? How have you experienced the peace of Christ? How can we “let” it rule in our hearts?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Confess Our Sins

Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. (Genesis 20:12)

In Abraham’s reply to Abimelech about his deception, he makes excuses. He said, “she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother” (v. 12). Was Abraham telling the truth? Yes—sort of. Was it still a lie? Yes, because Abraham’s intent was to deceive. Here, Abraham is trying to rationalize and soften his culpability. He is essentially saying, “I didn’t really deceive you.”

This response would only hinder Abraham from ever truly being set free. Sadly, we see that his son, Isaac, also lies about his wife in Genesis 26. This gives further evidence to the possibility that Abraham never got over this stronghold. It just got passed along to his children.

This is true for many Christians. The reason they can’t break a certain sin or stronghold is because they keep rationalizing the severity of it. They say, “Oh it’s not that bad,” “Everybody else is doing the same thing,” or “It’s just my personality.” Because they keep rationalizing it, they never see how bad it is, which keeps them from truly confessing and getting rid of it. And when they do confess it, they only confess it half-heartedly.

First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” “To confess” in the Greek means “to say the same thing as.” Who are we to say the same thing as? We are to say the same thing as God. We must see our sin as God sees it for him to forgive and cleanse us. We must say, “God, I dishonored you. I lied. I cheated. I stole. Lord, forgive me and help me turn away from it.”

Many Christians continue to rationalize their sin, instead of saying the same thing God says about it. They instead say what the world or other compromised Christians say: “Everybody illegally downloads. It’s not really sin.” “Everybody cheats on their tests.” “Cheating on taxes is not a big thing.” Therefore, they can’t get rid of certain sins or be forgiven for them. God forgives those who “say the same thing” about their sin that he does.

To God all sin is horrible and wretched. Sin put his Son on the cross; therefore, sin is not a little thing to him. It is big! We must say the same thing about our sin that God does—both to be forgiven and set free from it.

Application Question: Why do we commonly rationalize sin? Are there any sins that you’re rationalizing that God wants you to truly confess?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Not Blame Others

And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” (Genesis 20:13)

Another thing we must notice about Abraham’s excuse to Abimelech is that he blames God. Abraham says, “God made me wander from my father’s household” (v.13). This may not be as clear in the English, but, in the Hebrew, it stands out much more. Commentator Donald Barnhouse said this about the word “wander”:

“There is a terrible meaning in this verb wander which Abraham uses. The Hebrew word occurs exactly fifty times in Scripture and never in a good sense. It is used of animals going astray, of a drunken man reeling, or staggering, of sinful seduction, of a prophet’s lies causing the people to err, of the path of a lying heart. Six other words are translated wander, any one of which Abraham might have used, but he used the worst word available.” (Barnhouse)5

Essentially, Abraham said, “God put me in a rough spot, as we wandered from my father’s house, and I had to protect my family. That is the reason I lied.” This is all too common for those stuck in habitual sins. They tend to blame God or others, which only further entrenches them in sin. God is the only way out of sin. If one blames the deliverer, what hope is there?

But sadly, this happens all too often. Remember what Adam said to God, when asked if he ate from the tree. In Genesis 3:12, Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” By implication, Adam blamed God and then the woman to lessen his culpability.

Typically, Christians get mad at God and say, “Why did you allow this to happen?” or even, “Why did you let me do this?” after they commit some sin. Their accusations further mire them in the sin.

Instead of blaming God, we must declare that he is always good, righteous, wise, and our only hope for deliverance, even when we don’t understand our circumstances. That is the only proper response to sin or difficult circumstances.

Be careful of blaming God and others. Some people stay trapped in habitual sin because they focus on others instead of themselves. It is their mom’s fault, their teacher’s fault, the milk man’s fault. It is everybody’s fault but their own, and therefore, they stay captive to bitterness and sin. They are so focused on the spec in someone else’s eye that they miss the plank in their own.

Application Question: Why do people tend to blame God or others for their own failures and yet miss their own culpability? How does this cripple people and keep them from being set free?

To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Give Ourselves Fully to God’s Work

Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again, for the LORD had closed up every womb in Abimelech's household because of Abraham's wife Sarah. (Genesis 20:17–18)

Finally, we can learn one more thing from Abraham’s struggle with habitual sin in Genesis 20. When God confronted Abimelech about taking Abraham’s wife, he told him Abraham was a prophet, that he would pray for him and his household, and that they would be healed. God had closed the wombs so the women could not bear children.

When God restored Abraham from this sin, he also restored him to ministry. It is only by God’s grace that Abraham had a ministry to Abimelech. Many times when in sin, we lose our witness to the world around us. The world won’t listen to us because our sin is as bad or worse than theirs. When Abraham was caught lying by Pharaoh, he had nothing to say. Pharaoh, quickly, had him escorted out of the city. However, in this scenario, God graciously provided Abraham with an opportunity to minister to Abimelech and his home.

With all this said, a great deterrent from sin is giving ourselves fully to God’s work. If Abraham had gone to Gerar to be a prophet and witness to the nation, instead of just a sojourner, it probably would have kept him from lying. In Ephesians 5:15–17, Paul says:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

When Paul says, “Be very careful, then how you live…because the days are evil” he was warning them about falling into sin. By the phrase, “the days are evil,” he referred to the evil that is so prevalent in our day and that we have a tendency to fall into. For this reason, we must know God’s will and make the most of every opportunity to do it. We must stop wasting time and get busy doing God’s work to keep us from falling into sin. Serving God is a tremendous deterrent to sin.

I think we see something of this in the story of David’s adultery. Second Samuel 11:1–4 says,

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home.

The narrator tells us it was the spring time when kings usually went off to war; however, David chose to stay home. This is significant because the kings of Israel were called to conquer the promised land. David’s call was very similar to Joshua’s. He was called to subdue the promised land in fulfillment of God’s revelation to Abraham. However, David decides to not lead his people.

One night while remaining at home, he was restless and went out on his porch where he saw a naked woman bathing. He lusted after her and then committed adultery with her. If David had made the most of his opportunities to do God’s will by fighting the battles of Israel, it would have protected him from sin.

How often do we fall into sin or stay stuck in a habitual sin because we are not fully committed to God’s will? We are not going to small group or church, not serving others, not reading the Word or abiding in prayer, and therefore, we fall into sin or our struggle gets worse.

One of the ways we break strongholds is by knowing God’s will and doing it. If Abraham had gone to Gerar to speak for God and exalt him, it probably would have kept him from lying. Similarly, the more we redeem our time and use it to do God’s will, the less likely we are to fall into the evil of the day.

In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul says something similar: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Paul calls the church to stand firm. Standing firm is warfare terminology—standing against the attack of an oncoming enemy. How do we do this? We stand firm by always giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. We must battle and break habitual sins by always using our time to serve God and do his will.

In considering this, we must be careful of free time and wasted time. Those are usually times that Satan tries to draw us into sin. We must conquer habitual sins by giving ourselves fully to God’s work.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced faithfully serving and doing God’s work as a protection from sin? In what ways have you experienced not being faithful with God’s work as an open door to fall into habitual sins?

Conclusion

How can we conquer habitual sins in our life?

  1. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must First Identify Them
  2. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Humbly Recognize Our Vulnerability
  3. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Stay Away from Temptation
  4. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Recognize Their Effects on Others
  5. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Live by Faith
  6. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Learn from God’s Discipline
  7. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Recognize God’s Graciousness
  8. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Know Our Calling and Identity
  9. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Be Careful of Fear
  10. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Confess Our Sins
  11. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Not Blame Others
  12. To Conquer Habitual Sins, We Must Give Ourselves Fully to God’s Work

Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown

The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.


1 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 2417–2420). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

2 Swindoll, Charles R. (2014-07-16). Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith (Kindle Locations 2417–2420). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

3 Cole, Steven. “Lesson 42, Besetting Sin (Genesis 20:1–18)”. https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-42-besetting-sins-genesis-201-18 accessed 11/17/14.

4 Guzik, David (2012-12-08). Genesis (Kindle Locations 3331–3334). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

5 Guzik, David (2012-12-08). Genesis (Kindle Locations 3377–3383). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin)