HOW TO OVERCOME SIN
By Charles Finney
Edited and paraphrased by Keith Green
"They said therefore to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work
the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work
of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'" (John 6:28-29)
There are multitudes of anxious Christians who are inquiring what
they shall do to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devilThey
overlook the fact that "this is the victory that has overcome the
world - our faith" (1John 5:4) that it is with "the shield of faith"
that they are to "extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil
one." (Ephesians 6:16) They ask, "Why am I overcome by sin? Why
can't I get above its power? Why am I the slave of my appetites and
passions and the sport of the devil?" They look all around them for
the cause of all this spiritual wretchedness and deathSometimes
they think they have discovered the answer in the neglect of one duty,
and at another time in the neglect of another dutySometimes they
imagine they have yielded to one sin and sometimes in yielding to
anotherThey put forth efforts in this direction and patch up their
righteousness on one side, while they make a tear in the otherThus
they spend years running around in a circle, making dams of sand
across the current of their own corruptions.
Instead of at once purifying their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9),
they are engaged in trying to stop the overflow of its bitter waters.
"Why do I sin?" they inquire; and looking around for the cause, they
come to the same conclusion: "It is because I neglect such and such a
duty!" "But how shall I get rid of sin?" Usual answer: "By doing my
duty, that is by ceasing from sin." Now the real question should be:
Why do they neglect their duty? Why do they commit sin at all? Where
is the foundation of all this mischief? But all this only brings us
back to the real question again:
How are we to overcome this corrupt nature, this wickedness, and
our sinful habits? I answer, BY FAITH ALONENo works of the law
have the least tendency to overcome our sins, but rather they
strengthen the soul in self-righteousness and unbelief.
THE GREAT AND FUNDAMENTAL SIN WHICH IS AT THE FOUNDATION OF ALL
OTHER SIN IS UNBELIEFThe first thing to do is to give that up - to
believe the Word of GodThere is no breaking away from one sin
without this"Whatever is not of faith is sin." (Romans 14:23)
"Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6) Thus
we see that the backslider and convicted Christian, when agonizing to
overcome sin, will almost always try to use the works of the law to
obtain faithThey will fast and pray and read and struggle and
outwardly reform, and thus endeavor to obtain graceBut all this is
in vain and wrongDo you ask, "Shall we not fast and pray and read
and struggle? Shall we do nothing but sit down in cheap security and
inaction?" I answer: You must do all that God commands you to do; but
begin where He tells you to begin, and do it in the manner in which He
commands you to do itThat is - in the exercise of that faith that
works by love(Galatians 5:6) Purify your hearts by faithBelieve
in the Son of God! (1John 5:10)
WHAT IS "FAITH"?
The first element of saving faith is realizing the truth of the
BibleBut this alone is not saving faith, for Satan also realizes
the truth of the Bible, which makes him tremble(James 2:19) But a
second element in saving faith is the agreement of the heart (or will)
to the truth understood by the mindIt is a cordial trust or resting
of the mind in those truths, and yielding up the whole being to their
influenceNow it is easy to see that without the consent of the
will, there can be nothing but an outward obedience to GodA wife
without confidence in her husband can do nothing more than outwardly
perform her duty to himWorks of law may be performed without faith,
that is, we may serve from fear or hope or some selfish motive, but
without the confidence that works by love, obedience from the heart is
By what I've already said, I mean that to seek the grace of faith
by mere human works is an utter abominationIt is as abominable as
to attempt to purchase the Holy Spirit with money(Acts 8:20) It is
to set aside the testimony of God's Word concerning our utter
depravity (helplessness) and attempt to pawn off our unbelieving,
heartless works upon an infinitely Holy GodIt is an attempt to
purchase His favor, instead of accepting grace as His sovereign gift.
To give any other answer to one in unbelief, and to tell him to
perform any work with the expectation that by it he shall obtain faith
is to confirm him in self-righteousness, to prolong his rebellion, to
lead him to settle down in a self-righteous hope to produce in the
end, discouragement and blasphemy.
Because repentance, faith, love, and every other holy exercise
both IMPLY and PROCEED from faith - without confidence in the
character and requirements of God, it is impossible to repentFOR
WHAT IS REPENTANCE BUT HEARTILY TO JUSTIFY GOD AND CONDEMN OURSELVES.
So it is equally impossible to exercise a trusting love in God without
faithSubmission to God implies the exercise of confidence in God and
in His requirements.
Faith is the only exercise that receives Christ with all His
powerfully sanctifying influences into the heartThe Bible
everywhere represents the sanctified soul as being under the influence
of an indwelling ChristNow the exercise of faith is an opening of
the door by which Christ is received to reign in the heartIf this
is so, the proper direction plainly is to do that which receives
ChristIf this is done, all else will be doneIf this is neglected,
all else will be neglected, of course!
SOME HELPFUL REMARKS
You see why the Church is not sanctifiedThey overlook the
office and necessity of faith as that which alone can produce
acceptable obedience to GodThey are engaged in efforts to obtain
faith by works, instead of first exercising faith which will produce
within them a clean heartAnd in this way they seek in vain for
sanctificationHow common it is to see Christians bustling about with
outward efforts and works - fasting and praying, giving and doing and
struggling - and after all this, they do not have the fruits of the
Spirit: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
meekness, temperance, AGAINST WHICH THERE IS NO LAW." (Galatians 5:22-
You see why the Bible lays so much stress upon faithYou see
what the difficulty is for those who are constantly in a complaining
state in their walk with the LordThey seem to know they are wrong,
but do not understand what the foundation of their wrong consists of.
They sometimes think that a neglect of a certain duty is the grand
difficulty, and sometimes their mind fastens upon something else that
is the prime difficulty in their caseThey set themselves to break
off from one sin and another, they practice this self-denial and that
duty, and all without that faith that fills the heart with loveThus
they go round and round in a circle and do not see that unbelief is
their great, their damning sin, without the removal of which NO OTHER
SIN can be repented of or forgiven. All their efforts are entirely
legal, hypocritical, and vain until they exercise faith.
If persons without faith, in an unsanctified state, set
themselves to obey the commandments of God, their efforts must
necessarily be legal, self-righteous, and destructive. To them the
directions of the Gospel, as well as the commandments of the law, are
a horrible pit of miry clay, the more he struggles the deeper he
sinks. Every effort at obedience without faith is sin, and as it
confirms self-righteousness, is sinking him further and further from
God and rational hope. And the more violently he struggles, the more
desperate and alarming his case becomes. The clay surrounds him and
cleaves to him, suffocates and kills him. Just so the commands of God
to an unbelieving heart are a snare and a pit. Without faith, there
is ruin and damnation in them.
To the careless, unawakened sinner who knows nothing of his
lostness, it might be important and proper to direct his attention to
the law of God to bring conviction - not with the expectation of
promoting holiness in him, but of convicting him of sin. Thus we find
Christ requiring the rich young man who is wrapped up in self-
righteousness to keep the commandments, bringing out before his mind
his supreme love of the world and of things. (Luke 18:18-23)
You see how to the Jews and to all unbelievers, the commandments
of God are a stumbling block. All outward conformity to them is
useless and ruinous. Love without faith is impossible. And
consequently, the merciful directions and instructions contained in
the dos and the don'ts of the Bible are made the food of self-
righteousness and the snare of death. But to those whose souls are
full of faith and love, the commandments of God are just the
instruction which they need when, in their ignorance, they earnestly
inquire what they shall do to glorify God. "Do this and avoid that,"
and the like, are just the things upon which hearts of love will seize
as the needed directions of their Heavenly Father.
But someone may inquire, "Do not men learn to exercise faith by
what you call legal efforts and an obedience to the legal directions?"
No. They only learn by experience that all such directions are vain,
and that they are totally depraved and dependent, which they ought to
have believed before. They set themselves to pray and read and
struggle, expecting at every meeting they attend, with every prayer
they make, to obtain grace and faith. But they never do until they
are completely discouraged and despair of obtaining help in this way.
And the history of every self-righteous sinner's conversion and every
anxious Christian's sanctification would develop this truth: that
deliverance does not come until their self-righteous efforts are
proved by their own experience to be utterly vain, and abandoned as
useless - and the whole subject thrown upon the sovereign mercy of
God. This submitting a subject to the sovereign mercy of God is that
very act of faith which they should have put forth long before, but
which they would not exercise until every other means had been tried
But perhaps you will say, "If by this self-righteous struggle
they learn their depravity and dependence, and in this matter come to
prove by their own experience the truth of God, why not encourage them
to make these efforts as at least an indirect way of obtaining faith?"
Answer: Blasphemy and drunkenness and any of the most shocking sins
may be, and often have been, the means of working conviction which has
resulted in conversion. Why not encourage these things to possibly
bring about ultimate salvation for some?
The truth is, when a sinner's attention is awakened and he is
convicted and puts forth the inquiry, "What shall I do?" and when a
Christian, struggling with his remaining corruption, puts for this
same inquiry, why should they be thrown into the horrible pit of which
I have spoken? Why not tell them at once, in the language of the
text, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has
sent"? (John 6:29)
Let me say to you who would make the inquiry, "How can I overcome
sin?" don't wait to fast, read, pray, or anything else - don't expect
to break off from any sin in your unbelief! You may break off from
the outward commission - you may substitute praying for swearing, or
reading your Bible for reading magazines, outward employment and
honesty for theft and idleness, soberness for drunkenness, and
anything you please - but this, without faith, is after all, only
exchanging one form of sin for another - it is only varying the mode
of your rebellion towards God. For remember that in unbelief,
whatever your conduct is, you are still in rebellion against God.
Faith would instantly sanctify your heart, sanctify all your doings,
and render them in Christ Jesus, acceptable to God.
My dear friend, you inquire whether you shall obtain holiness by
reading the Bible, or by prayer, fasting, or by all these together.
Now let this sermon answer you and know that by neither nor by all of
these, in the absence of faith, are you to grow any better, or find
any relief. You speak of being in darkness and of being discouraged.
No wonder you are so, since you have plainly been seeking
sanctification by outward works. You have "stumbled over the
stumbling stone." (Romans 9:32) You are in that pit of miry clay.
Immediately exercise faith upon the Son of God! It is the first, the
only thing you can do to rest your feet upon the Rock - and it will
immediately put a new song into your mouth!
Contributed by The Manna System
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