“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” –Matthew 17:21
There are many descriptions and names given to the internal conflict in the soul of the Christian that longs to be free from repetitive behavior that brings sorrow and shame to self and others. The Puritans referred to the internal conflict in terms of a love for a “Darling Sin.” The author of Hebrews referred to repetitive behavior as a “Besetting Sin.” “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). The world calls repetitive negative and immoral behavior an addiction.
A conflicted Christian might describe it as an “Alien Sin” for it seems like there is another person inside the body taking control of the emotions and thoughts to drive a certain action that is known to be a violation of God’s Moral Law. On one level, a Christian wants to be a good person, but then acts contrary to what they know is right and what they want to be in Jesus.
The apostle Paul understood this internal struggle and wrote about it in Romans 7. “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:15-18, NKJV).
What can a person do to have victory over sin?
The sensitive heart of a non-Christian can call upon the name of the Lord and be born again having this promise: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). No one can fundamentally change towards holiness without God the Holy Spirit indwelling their lives. Every person must be born again.
While the new birth brings salvation to the soul for time and eternity, while the new birth makes a person positionally a new creature in Christ Jesus, the new birth does not eradicate the Old Sin Nature. The work of mortifying or putting to death the works of the flesh continues. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: 7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. 8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Col. 3:5-8).
The practical question is how does a concerned Christian mortify, or put to death those passions and practices which bring forth the anger and wrath of God? More often than not the Christian succumbs to their passions only to cry after the emotional and violent expression of their particular area of weakness, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).
If Paul had ended with that lament of despair, then a Christian could say, “Paul understands me, but he offers no solution to my situation.” But, in matchless grace, sacred Scripture does not end in Romans 7:24. Paul goes on to shout a shout of victory! Paul will find victory over sin. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24). The victory will not always come immediately, or totally. Paul is self aware. “With the mind I myself serve the Law of God; but with the flesh [I myself] serve the Law of Sin.” No one ever sins against their will. There is no “alien” living in the soul of a Christian. Christians sin willfully, and then live to be grieved and ashamed, longing to be better.
So how does a person come to the place where they can give thanks to Jesus Christ our Lord because victory has come over our areas of weakness. Part of the answer is found in the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 17:21. There are certain forms of behavior that will not be conquered except by prayer and fasting.
In a cultural that thrives on self-help programs, this might be an appealing thought. A Christian can actually do something to help themselves be a better person. A Christian can fast. A Christian can pray. A Christian can engage in a religious discipline with a view to pleasing God and being a better person. In your effort to be a better person, Christian, do this. Fast and pray about whatever area of weakness you struggle with. Take time to be holy and to mortify the deeds of the flesh with an divinely ordained means of getting the victory.
“Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.”
William D. Longstaff, 1882