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HOW TO OVERCOME SIN
AUTHOR: Finney, Charles
PUBLISHED ON: April 7, 2003
DOC SOURCE: CCN
PUBLISHED IN: Sermons

                      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 devil.  They 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 death.  Sometimes they
think they have discovered the answer in the neglect of one duty, and at
another time in the neglect of another duty.  Sometimes they imagine they have
yielded to one sin and sometimes in yielding to another. They put forth
efforts in this direction and patch up their righteousness on one side, while
they make a tear in the other.  Thus 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 ALONE.  No 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 UNBELIEF.  The first thing to do is to give that up – to believe the
Word of God. There 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 faith.  They will fast and pray and read and
struggle and outwardly reform, and thus endeavor to obtain grace.  But all
this is in vain and wrong.  Do 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 it.  That is – in the exercise of that faith that works by love. 
(Galatians 5:6)  Purify your hearts by faith.  Believe in the Son of God! 
(1John 5:10)

                      WHAT IS “FAITH”?

.      The first element of saving faith is realizing the truth of the Bible. 
But 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
mind.  It is a cordial trust or resting of the mind in those truths, and
yielding up the whole being to their influence.  Now it is easy to see that
without the consent of the will, there can be nothing but an outward obedience
to God.  A wife without confidence in her husband can do nothing more than
outwardly perform her duty to him.  Works 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
naturally impossible.
.      By what I’ve already said, I mean that to seek the grace of faith by
mere human works is an utter abomination. It  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
God.  It 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 repent.  FOR WHAT IS REPENTANCE BUT
HEARTILY TO JUSTIFY GOD AND CONDEMN OURSELVES. So it is equally impossible to
exercise a trusting love in God without faith. Submission 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 heart.  The Bible everywhere represents the
sanctified soul as being under the influence of an indwelling Christ.  Now the
exercise of faith is an opening of the door by which Christ is received to
reign in the heart.  If this is so, the proper direction plainly is to do that
which receives Christ. If this is done, all else will be done.  If this is
neglected, all else will be neglected, of course!

                    SOME HELPFUL REMARKS

.      You see why the Church is not sanctified.  They overlook the office and
necessity of faith as that which alone can produce acceptable obedience to
God.  They are engaged in efforts to obtain faith by works, instead of first
exercising faith which will produce within them a clean heart.  And in this
way they seek in vain for sanctification. How 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 5:22-23)
.      You see why the Bible lays so much stress upon faith.  You see what the
difficulty is for those who are constantly in a complaining state in their
walk with the Lord.  They 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 case.  They
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
love.  Thus 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 in vain!
.      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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