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3 Stages in Our Fight against Sin (and How the Holy Spirit Wins It for Us)

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). He is the general editor of the Popular Handbook of World Religions, author of Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and co-author with Norman Geisler of The Atheist's Fatal Flaw.

There are three stages in a Christian’s fight against sin. They’ll be easy to remember since they all rhyme:

  1. Lust
  2. Disgust
  3. Trust

Let’s go through them so you can ask where you are in your fight.

#1 – Lust

This first stage in the fight against sin is when you don’t put up any fight at all. We’ll call it “lust.” Lust means to strongly crave something, and usually it’s something you’re not supposed to have. Often, it’s because you know you’re not supposed to have it becomes the kind of thing you’d love to have. It’s the proverbial, “I’m not supposed to stick a fork in the socket? Sounds fun!”

How did we find ourselves in this stage? Well, we had met God the Father, heard all his moral rules, and chose to rebel. We saw his rules as weights dropped on a soul that wants to float free. Who is he to tell me how to live my life?

Even though the apostle Paul had once stood out as an exemplary Hebrew, he had once taken God’s rules as cues to rebel. When Paul wrote autobiographically about his past feelings about God’s rules and his own sin, things got surprisingly dark:

“I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.” (Romans 7:7b-8a)

So, how do we move past the stage of wanting something because we’re not supposed to have it? We move past the stage of lust by meeting someone else. We had met God the Father and felt like rebelling; yet after meeting this new Person, rebelling loses its thrill.

#2 – Disgust

You meet God the Son. To experience Jesus is to move to another stage in the fight against sin.

Now when you sin, you’re not happy about it. Why? Because you saw what your sin cost Jesus on the cross. It used to be that you were just rebelling against rules from a strict Father. But now, when you sin, you’re hurting a friend. You’re betraying Jesus who has gone to all that trouble to save you from those sins.

When Paul described the stage of lust, it was in past tense: “Sin…produced in me every kind of coveting.” When Paul went on to describe his own disgust toward his sin, he switched to present tense: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).

In this stage, Paul is speaking as a Christian. And as a follower of Christ, what does he feel toward his sin? Disgust.

O the joy of being forgiven! And yet. It’s all too easy as Christians to get caught in the cycle of sinning, then feeling disgust. Sin, then disgust. Forgiven? Yes. Victorious over our sin? Not quite.

We don’t have to stay in the stage of lust. Why? Because we met God the Son and began to hate our sin. So, is there a path that leads us out of consistently doing what we hate? Who can lead us out of the stage of sin and then disgust, sin then disgust?

Here’s how: we meet someone else.

#3 – Trust

God the Son introduces us to God the Spirit. When a person places faith in Jesus, he sends His Holy Spirit to indwell that person (Acts 2:37-38).

Therefore, for the Christian, it’s no longer just me versus my sin anymore. And that’s a good thing, because the verses in Romans in which Paul describes his stage of disgust contain the words I or me 30 times. For example:

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)

When it’s just me versus my sin, guess who wins? But God the Spirit introduces us to an entirely new way to live: “The Spirit gives life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10).

So exactly how does God the Spirit get us unstuck?

How does he transform us to where we’re moving on and leaving sinful habits behind us? It has everything to do with what the Holy Spirit tells us. What kinds of messages does he speak to you?

  • Great news! God has adopted you into his family! (Romans 8:15)
  • Great news! You are God’s beloved child! (Romans 8:16)
  • Great news! You are an heir to the King! (Romans 8:17)

So, how exactly does the Spirit give us victory over our sins? He does this by introducing us to someone else. Remember when you once saw God the Father as a strict lawgiver who wanted to stifle your fun? This was the stage called lust. Then you met God the Son. You saw what Jesus did for you, received his forgiveness, and began hating your sin. This was the stage called disgust.

However, do we have to stay in this stage of, “Why do I always seem to do what I hate?” No, we don’t. Why? Because we met God the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit in us helps us overcome our sins by introducing us to someone else.

Who? God the Spirit introduces us to God the Father yet again.

“The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).

The more you listen to the Spirit, the more you understand that God the Father was never all about stuffing rules down your throat, shaming you into obedience, or gleefully counting your sins to increase your punishment. All along, God the Father was all about…loving you.

If you really get that—if you let the Spirit convince you that God the Father really does treasure you and want you in his family—then you enter a new stage in your battle against sin.

You trust your Father.

When God the Father tells you not to live a certain way, you trust him. When he tells you the way to live, you trust Him.

Do you want the Spirit to win your battles over sin? Then listen to him and trust your Father.

The more you listen to the Spirit, the more you understand that God the Father loves you.