God’s Encouragement for Today’s Christian – Program 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1997
In order to break sinful habits you must understand your position in Christ, be honest with God, and use the weapons God has provided to help you.

Breaking Sinful Habits

Do you need to experience God’s encouragement for what you are facing? Many Christians go about their daily lives feeling as if they are carrying the whole world on their shoulders. They seem to be surrounded by troubles that make them sad and confused. They also worry a lot. Life seems to overwhelm them at times. As a result, they have a hard time controlling their feelings and very seldom feel any joy. Is that what you’re feeling right now? Others have nagging doubts. How can you know for sure that God has forgiven you of your past sins? Or, maybe you’re asking, “How can I live victoriously and actually experience Christ’s joy and peace moment by moment?” On this edition of The John Ankerberg Show we will answer the question: “How can you know for sure that God has forgiven you of your sins?” We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome. What do you do if you’re a Christian and you have developed sinful habits that make you feel guilty and rob you of peace with God? The Bible says you can only break sinful habits if, first, you know something: namely, God’s promises and your position in Christ; second, if you will be honest with God and will confess your sins to Him; third, if you will use the weapons God provides to resist Satan.
In presenting this information, I will draw on some great illustrations that are found in books by Neil Anderson, Erwin Lutzer and Charles Stanley. I highly recommend the following books they have written. First, Neil Anderson’s books, The Common Made Holy, The Bondage Breaker, and Released from Bondage. These are all terrific books. Then, Erwin Lutzer’s books, Matters of Life and Death: Ten Questions No Serious Christian Can Avoid, and his Salt and Light Pocket Series of books, such as Coming to Grips With Your Sexual Past. Finally, I’d recommend you read Charles Stanley’s books, The Gift of Forgiveness, and his book on temptation.
So let’s examine the first point I gave you. What does God want you to know in order for you to break sinful habits? In brief, He wants you to know you’re forgiven, you are His child, and He has given you His Holy Spirit to empower your life. See if this illustration helps you understand.
Imagine that you are standing at one end of a long, narrow street, which is lined on both sides by houses, the houses as they are in Philadelphia or New York, close together, close to the street with no lawn and about two stories high. As you look down this street, at the other end stands Jesus Christ. Imagine that your Christian life is the process of walking down that long street of maturity, and the whole street belongs to Him. Jesus says there is absolutely nothing on that street in front of you which can keep you from reaching Him. When you put your faith in Christ and receive Him as your Savior, you’re to fix your eyes on Jesus and to start walking.
But the Bible also tells us this old world is under the influence of the prince of the power of the air, Satan. So imagine that the houses on both sides of the street are inhabited by beings who work for Satan and are committed to keeping you from reaching your goal of walking to Jesus. These beings have no power or authority to block your path on the street or even to slow your step. They can only hang out of the windows of the house along the street and call to you as you pass by. In doing so, they hope to turn your attention away from your goal of keeping your eyes on Jesus. Satan’s forces want to disrupt your progress.
One of the ways they will try to distract you is by calling out and saying, “Hey, look over here. I’ve got something you really want. It looks good; it tastes good; it feels good, and it’s a lot more fun than your boring walk down the street. Come on over, come on in, take a look, try this.” That’s temptation. These spirit beings of Satan suggest ways you can serve and please yourself instead of God.
Or, as you continue your walk toward Christ, they can use harmful comments given to you by your parents and friends while you were growing up, thoughts like, “You’re stupid. You’re ugly. You’ll never amount to anything for God. You’ve sinned too much.” Satan’s emissaries are masters at placing accusations in your mind, or using your own false ideas about yourself to hurt you. Satan’s forces are especially effective after you have given in to temptation and sinned. Sometimes we sin, as James says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have… you ask… so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jas. 4:1-3). When our own selfishness leads us to sin, Satan can use this against us and say, “See what you did? How can you call yourself a Christian when you behave like that?”
Through the years I have known some Christians who felt so guilty because of what they had done they committed suicide. It was the only way they figured they could escape their guilt and problems. In their lives Satan’s lies, the world, and sin defeated them. If they had truly accepted Christ, they went to Heaven. But they missed out on God’s provision for them while they lived.
Accusation is one of Satan’s biggest weapons in his attempt to distract us from our goal of walking toward Christ. In fact, Revelation 12:10 says Satan is, “the accuser of the brethren. He accuses them before God day and night.” Did you know Satan in Hebrew means “accuser”? The Bible gives examples of this. We read of Satan accusing Job before God in Job 1. In Zechariah 3:1-2 Satan is described as accusing Joshua before God, a man who is the high priest of Israel. Satan accuses Joshua before God while Joshua is said to be doing his priestly duties. What Satan says about us before God, he also says directly to us.
The Bible clearly teaches, “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:10-12).
If today you’re a Christian and you’re thinking, “I’m not important; I’m not qualified; I’m no good,” you’re listening to accusations that come from those around you, those you grew up with, from Satan, or all three. But when we become Christians we should replace these accusations with what God says about us. According to God’s Word, the moment we place our faith in Christ, we have entered into an eternal relationship with Him. God says in Christ we are important, we are qualified, we are good. Satan can do absolutely nothing to alter our position in Christ after God Himself has put us there. But our family, our friends, or Satan can whisper thoughts and ideas to us that can confuse us, make us feel guilty, that can lead us into depression.
If we don’t know God’s promises concerning how God thinks about us, Satan can deceive us into believing all kinds of lies. What kind of lies? The lies that we are really of no value to God or other people. Right here, Satan is brutal. He will say, “You’re a pitiful excuse for a child of God. You’ll never get away with your sin. You might as well give up because God has already given up on you.” Every Christian has heard these lies and grappled with them. If you give in to these accusations and you believe lies rather than God, you’ll be robbed of the joy, peace, and freedom that God intends for you.
I want you to listen to a letter a depressed Christian wrote to Neil Anderson that may describe how you feel. This person wrote: “My old feelings that life isn’t worth the trouble keep coming back. I’m scared, lonely, confused and very desperate. I know deep down that God can overcome this, but I can’t get past this block. I can’t even pray. When I try, things get in my way. When I’m feeling good and I begin putting into action what I know God wants me to do, I’m stopped dead in my tracks by those voices and a force so strong I can’t continue. I’m so close to giving in to those voices I almost can’t fight them anymore. I just want some peace.”
If that’s you, the good news is that God doesn’t want you to live in despair and defeat. The Bible says if you have trusted Christ as your Savior, your Heavenly Father already knows all about your sins and has eternally forgiven you. Satan has no right to accuse you; you shouldn’t accuse yourself. God says you stand before Him forgiven and justified.

Remember two weeks ago we talked about the parable of the Prodigal Son. [Luke 15:11-32] In the parable Jesus taught that God the Father was like the father in the story who continued to love his son even though his son was living in sin in a far off country. When the son returned, the father didn’t scold him and punish him. He ran to meet him, threw his arms around him and welcomed him home. He fully forgave him. The son didn’t deserve it, but the father still loved him. That is how our Heavenly Father treats us. He never stops loving us, even when we turn away from Him.
Then, in last week’s program we saw what the word justification means. The Bible says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [Rom. 5:1] What does it mean to be justified by faith before God? The apostle Paul clearly tells us. First, he says, if we try to clear our record before God by our own works, we will be in trouble. He says someday “every mouth will be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” [Rom. 3:19-20] That is, none of us will be judged good enough to get into Heaven as a result of the lives we have lived. Why? It’s because each of us has sinned; each of us has broken God’s law. We’re sinners, desperately in need of righteousness, of right-standing before God – and we don’t have it!
But Paul goes on and tells us the good news. He says, “Now a righteousness from God apart from law has been made known…. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” [Rom. 3:21-22] In other words, God Himself has provided the righteousness we need. This righteousness is a gift from Him.
Scripture tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Eph. 2:8-9] What did this gift cost God?
The apostle Peter tells us, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous [that’s Christ] for the unrighteous [that’s you], in order to bring you to God.” [1 Pet. 3:18] Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” [1 Pet. 2:24]
If you know and have admitted to God you are a sinner who will never make it into heaven as a result of anything you have done and have put all of your faith in Christ, God says you are forgiven.
The Bible says, “[All] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus.” [Rom. 3:24] Remember, the word justify really indicates a legal pronouncement. It’s the same legal pronouncement a judge in a courtroom would make if a defendant was found not guilty. Not guilty is to be declared justified, free from any penalty. The opposite of being declared justified by a judge is to be pronounced guilty, condemned to punishment. God, the Righteous Judge, promises to pronounce every sinner who comes to Him by faith in His Son justified. This is grace, or unmerited favor, that God wants you to have.
Have you ever admitted to God you’re a sinner and are in need of His Son to save you? Have you ever put your total trust, your very eternal destiny into Jesus’ hands? The moment you do so, God forgives your sin and pronounces you justified, free from the penalty of your sins for eternity.
But then what happens when you have trusted Christ and fall into sin? First, you need to remember what God promises He had done for you. He meant it. Because of Christ you stand eternally forgiven as far as your Heavenly Father is concerned. But at the same time, if you are living disobediently and sinfully, you will be out of fellowship with God. On the one hand you stand pardoned, justified, eternally secure before God. On the other you experience being out of fellowship with the Father.
Charles Stanley gave a wonderful illustration of this point in his book, The Gift of Forgiveness. Let me modify it a little for you. Let’s say I’m preaching at a church, and while I’m preaching I take my watch off and lay it on the pulpit. Later I walk off and leave it. From the back of the auditorium I see a friend of mine go to the pulpit, pick up my watch and put it in his pocket. I am surprised, but I immediately choose to forgive him; he is my friend. So there is no barrier in my relationship with this man as far as I am concerned. My relationship with him has not changed, even though I watched him steal my watch.
In fact, when I see him the next week, I don’t say, “Hey, you stole my watch.” I just greet him warmly and say, “How are you doing?” I am not carrying an unforgiving spirit; I’m not bitter or resentful. But when we meet, how do you suppose he feels? My friend feels guilty, embarrassed and ashamed. His conscience bothers him, and he is uncomfortable around me. The only way he can clear his conscience is to confess that he took my watch and to ask for my forgiveness. When he does, my reply will be, “You were already forgiven. I forgave you even when I saw you taking my watch.” In other words, my friend did not have to come to me to get forgiveness, he was already forgiven. His confession was only necessary for him to clear his conscience and to be restored to his previous fellowship with me.
Likewise, this is what happens when we come to God confessing our sins. Our confession does not persuade God to forgive us. He already did that the moment we placed our faith in Christ because of what Christ did at the cross. However, our confession of sin restores us to our previous level of fellowship and intimacy with the Father. God did not change. He did not turn away from us because of our sins.
Remember, God already knows all about the sins you are yet to commit, and Christ has already paid for them on the cross. God’s response will always be the same to you: Forgiven! That is why in order to break sinful habits, to experience peace with God and joy, you must first know God’s promises concerning your relationship with Him, what it means when God says He has placed you in Christ.
According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” In Christ you are God’s child (John 1:12); you are Christ’s friend (John 15:15); you have been justified (Rom. 5:1); you are a saint (Eph. 1:1); you have been adopted as God’s child (Eph. 1:5); you have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18); you have been redeemed, that is, bought with the very shed blood of Jesus Christ and forgiven of all your sins (Col. 1:14). You are secure, free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1-2); you have been established, anointed and sealed by God (2 Cor. 1:21); you are a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20); you can find grace and mercy in time of need (Heb. 4:16); you are born of God and the evil one cannot touch you (1 John 5:18). You are seen as seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Eph. 2:6). You are God’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10). You may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12). These are just a few of the things that describe the position in Jesus Christ that God gave you. He gave you this position, not because you deserve it, but because of His grace.
So now, let’s go back to that picture of you walking down the street. You hear the accusations of parents, friends or the world. You hear the taunts, jeers, and accusations of Satan and his workers hanging out of the windows along the street. Satan can put accusing thoughts into your mind, or remind you of what others say until you begin to think they are your own thoughts, and that they are really true. How do you conquer such thoughts? How do you defeat Satan’s accusations about your sins? We do it by learning and then believing God’s promises concerning us. We do it by “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
How do we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ? If you’re trying to live for God and all of a sudden you feel guilty, worthless, and stupid; if you think, “What kind of a Christian could I be if I do such things? God couldn’t love me!” Stop for a moment. Capture that thought. Compare it with God’s Word. Does that thought reflect what God says?
Remember, according to the Bible, in God’s courtroom, judicially you are no longer guilty once you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross for you. You are not under condemnation for your sins. You are not worthless. You are not stupid or inept. You are being falsely accused or believing something that is not true! God wants you to fight, to take that false thought captive and replace it with God’s truth. Then you are to keep on walking down the street toward Christ.
So first, you are to know something: namely, your position in Christ; and then second, you are to do something: you are to resist the devil and his lies. Many Christians usually follow the pattern of committing a sin, then confessing it to God; they sin again and confess that to God; then, they sin once more and give up. Is that you? What’s going on? Why can’t you progress? Here is why. Suppose the neighbor’s dog gets into your yard because you leave the gate open. The dog’s teeth bite into your leg. To get rid of the pain, would you beat on yourself or push off the dog?
Well, as Christians, we’ve all left the door open to sin at times and we cry out to God for forgiveness. Guess what? God forgives us. He says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9] God forgives us, but what if the pain and guilt continue? Should we blame ourselves, pound ourselves into the ground and get depressed? How many times have we forgotten that the dog is still there in the yard with us? He is still attacking us. We need to resist him. Rather than sin and confess, God’s Word says if you sin, confess your sin, be forgiven, but then start resisting Satan. James 4:7 says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Some of us operate as though the only players in our life are ourselves and God. That isn’t true. God is not the author of confusion and death, but of order and life. On the other hand, the Bible says the prince of this world, Satan, is the chief architect of rebellion, sin, ruined relationships and death. He is the father of lies according to John 8:44. God forgives His children, but then tells us to resist Satan’s lies, our parents’ lies, lies we ourselves have chosen to believe. We combat these lies by believing God’s truth about our position and status in Christ. Now we can’t say, “The devil made me do it.” No. It is our responsibility not to fall into sin, to let sin reign in our lives.
The Bible says, “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” [Rom. 6:12] Further, the Bible tells us, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, [but rather] offer the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness.” [Rom. 6:13]
When we sin and offer our body to be used as instruments of sin, Satan gains an advantage in our life, a stronghold. If you have given in to sin and allowed your body to be used in sinful practices, confess these practices to God and ask that all ground given to Satan be cancelled and reclaimed by God. Have you offered your mouth to sin by what you have said? Have you used your hands to hurt someone? Engaged in sex with someone you shouldn’t have? Have you allowed your mind to think on lustful thoughts, your heart to store up anger, pride, or jealousy? God says as a Christian, you’re not to do that. You’re to confess what you have done as sin. Confession is simply agreement with God that what He says is sin is sin. It’s important to be honest with God and keep short accounts with Him. When we become aware of a discrepancy between our identity as stated in God’s Word and our behavior in the world, we should confess our sinful behavior and deal with it.
If you are deceiving yourself by ignoring your sinful practices and allowing Satan to build up strongholds, sinful habits in life, you’re headed for a great fall. Maybe you are already there. But if you’re a Christian, cheer up. God knows about your sin and has already forgiven you. But you are out of fellowship with Him, and you’ll have no peace, no power over sinful habits, and you’ll feel true guilt from God the Holy Spirit. If that’s you, let God’s Word encourage you.
The Bible says if anybody does sin, “We have One who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ the righteous One.” [1 John 2:1] He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. When we sin, the Lord Jesus Himself pleads what He did at the cross as the defense to cover our sins. This God accepts. Our Father continues to love us and has already forgiven us. But He wants us to come to Him and confess our sins, receive his cleansing and be restored into fellowship with Him. If we don’t, our loving Heavenly Father promises to discipline His children in love.
We will talk more about God’s discipline in the weeks to come. If we keep our accounts short with God, we will escape His severe discipline. We will also see that God says you can’t live the Christian life in your own strength. God has given us His Spirit to provide the strength we need.
But to summarize what we have seen today, to break sinful habits, first, we are to believe what God says about our position in Christ that God has provided. Second, if we fall into sin, if we have established sinful habits, we are to honestly confess our sins as God’s children, knowing God has eternally forgiven us, but we are in need of His intimate care and cleansing. Then, third, we are to walk with the Lord, resisting all lies and accusations, including the devil’s.
Is that what you’re doing? If not, why not confess your sins to the Lord right now and start believing what He says is your wonderful position in Christ and resisting Satan through the power of the Holy Spirit?
Next week we will examine what God’s Word says about our feelings and depression. I hope that you’ll join me.

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