You Won’t Stop Sinning Until You Start Walking by the Spirit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” – Galatians 5:16

I have yet to meet a person who genuinely loves Jesus and does not also despise and seek to mortify his or her sin. No Christian does this sin-killing thing perfectly. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). But though temptations do evil deeds still abound in our not-yet-perfected hearts, we desire and aim daily to “put on the Lord Jesus, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

However, though we long to crush our sins, how many of us today are seriously struggling or even failing to do so? Probably a decent number of us. I received an email a few weeks ago from a Christian who for years has been attempting to cease from his habitual use of pornography. To his immense disappointment and frustration, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful. He might have a good week here and there, but he always finds himself returning to this filth he both craves and hates.

When I asked him what he was doing to kill his sin, he said, “I have accountability and filtering software on my computer, and I had a friend set up restrictions on my smart phone. But I keep finding ways to get around the blocks!” I inquired further, “Okay, so you have some preventative measures in place. This is good—even though they obviously aren’t bulletproof. What other steps are you taking?” He responded, “I mean, that’s basically it. I just try to avoid it. I set blocks up on my devices, try not to watch TV shows that will trigger the temptation, and hope for the best.”

This man is attempting to overcome his sin just as an unregenerate alcoholic would attempt sobriety or an unbelieving gambler would attempt to break his addiction: by mere prevention and avoidance. Don’t get me wrong—he should be doing these things. They are wise and necessary steps to take. However, sin is much too strong a force to be taken down by mere human wisdom and willpower. This man cannot white knuckle his way into freedom. Putting boundaries in place will not change his cravings. What he needs is for his holy appetites for the things of Christ to be strengthened so that they can then overpower his carnal appetites for the things of this world. His porn addiction will be broken when he wants God more than he wants porn. And only the Holy Spirit can effect this change in his desires.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16) and “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). Paul knew how indispensable the Spirit’s role is in sanctification. He alone can transform our longings and cravings. But is this supernatural work something he does without our involvement? Do we need only to sit back and let him do his thing? No! We are to actively participate in this process! We must, as Paul said, walk by the Spirit.

In Romans 8:5, we see that those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. If we are to align ourselves with the Spirit and experience his desire-changing, sin-defeating power, we must fix our minds on the things that concern him—namely, the one whom he was sent to glorify: Jesus (John 16:14). We walk by the Spirit by continually setting our minds upon the person, promises, and purposes of Christ revealed to us in the Scriptures.

When I asked the man who emailed me how much time he spends reading the Bible and meditating on its contents (in other words, utilizing the means God has given us to know him), he said, “I try to read a little every day. But sometimes I just don’t get around to it. I have a lot on my plate and just can’t seem to find the energy to do all that stuff.” Herein lies the problem. This man remains a prisoner to pornography because he doesn’t set his mind on the things of the Spirit! He might one day go as far as to get rid of his smartphone and cut off his home Internet service, but if he still fails to set his mind on Christ, he will continue to be dominated by his lustful impulses. If he isn’t able to access pornography because of the boundaries he’s put in place, he will search out other ways to gratify his desires. So long as his thoughts remain empty of Christ, his life will remain full of sin.

Freedom from sin’s power is found only when Christ becomes our mind’s obsession. If we will make it our highest duty to continually fixate on Jesus and all that God is for us in him, the flesh will not have dominion over us (Romans 6:14). God’s empowering grace will triumph in our lives as we walk in step with his Spirit.

  • Lyle Nelson

    I have always wanted to have love and faith and “obsession”, as you put it, Matt, in Jesus that were so strong that they alone would keep me from yielding to temptation without other deterrents. I’ve had accountability partners, and that never seemed to be very helpful. We would look at each other, one or both confess our sins, and sort of say “Now what do we do?” I’ve never had filtering software tools, even thoughI I’m so computer-illiterate that it’s absolutely certain I would never find a way to get around them. But that always seemed like “cheating” to me. Not sinning because I don’t want to sin seems very different than not sinning, because I’ve set up mechanisms that don’t allow me to sin, but don’t remove the desire to do so.

    Have I yielded to temptation? Absolutely! But over time, as I’ve put more emphasis on Bible-reading, prayer, and Christian fellowship in particular, I have found that that “obsession” with Jesus has grown to the point where the degree of temptation has decreased. Disappeared entirely? No. And it probably never will, in this lifetime, But decreased to the point where I can effectively control it

  • Hi Matt! It is so poignant that you would mention pornography in this article. I finally started battling my addiction to it in February of 2016 and have had two relapses. To remain pure, I have had to rely on God’s strength, because if I didn’t I would go right back in. Even with the relapses, God was able to use them to show me a pattern to them and their triggers (due to stress). It has made me rely on His strength even more, so that when I see a trigger coming, I can go into immediate prayer, and resist the urges. I just past my fourth month on the 18th. Another thing that helps is a group called “Celebrate Recovery”, where people can talk about their addictions and be of support to each other, celebrating their victories and reassuring them when they fall. Pray for me, that I will make it to my fifth month.

  • Lynn Cole

    Thank you dear Matt for another spot on, cut to the chase article.
    “So long as his thoughts remain empty of Christ, his life will remain full of sin. Freedom from sin’s power is found only when Christ becomes our mind’s obsession. If we will make it our highest duty to continually fixate on Jesus and all that God is for us in him..”
    In getting to know Him I have found that He is better! He gives life and satisfy’s the yearnings of our souls!! We were made by God and for God and He only has everything we will ever need. “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him!” Hebrews 11:6
    I have found it is my continual surrender to His will every single day, that He draws near and remains my shield and peace. I have fallen many times, and He has always been faithful to forgive and lift my feet to higher ground and a new realization of His Love and abundance to help me to live for him until He returns…Love, Lynn

  • Julian Barnes

    Great article. I think wanting Jesus and wanting to stop sinning are two different things. Sins like pornography are very harmful and embarrassing. It’s very easy to want to stop it without following Jesus being the incentive. I had a similar struggle where my resolutions to stop were ineffective. It was only when I completely surrendered my whole life to God did I see victory. I was so desperate I said I would do anything. He revealed other sins in my life that were minor to me but just as harmful. I was idolizing pop media and I constantly coveting others. God told me I had to give up secular music. Before my surrender I felt like that would be an impossible task. But God has given me the strength to follow him completely. Miraculously even. I don’t think God calls us to give up the same things. Like the rich young ruler who visited Jesus, sometimes it takes a huge sacrifice. My advice would be to be open to what God wants to change in your life. Not just what you want to change. In God’s mercy, he doesn’t always do partial conversion. This would make us oblivious to our other sins. Surrender to Him and listen to His voice.