Breaking the Grip of Sin

1 Peter 4:1-6

February 21, 2015 | Brian Bill

Do you know what a “euphemism” is?  The word comes from the Greek, euphemismos, which means “good speech.”  It’s the idea of substituting a pleasant word for something not so pleasant.  For instance, getting fired is now called a “career change opportunity.”  Another example is when a car dealer advertises a “pre-owned vehicle” instead of a used car.

Unfortunately, our society has become quite adept at replacing the word “sin” with other softer expressions like “mistakes” or “struggles” or “accidents” or “errors in judgment.”  Instead of saying, “I sinned,” it’s easier to say, “I slipped.”  Several years ago,  a well-known professional baseball player referred to allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs this way: “I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension…”  Interestingly, he never admitted what he did exactly but instead hopes the word “mistakes” takes care of it.

Here are some common sin synonyms, or pretty ways to say an ugly word.

  • “Stretching the truth” (sin of lying)
  • “Living together” or “hooking up” (sin of fornication).  Hebrews 13:4: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
  • “Affair” (sin of adultery)
  • “Drinking a little too much” (sin of drunkenness)
  • “Sharing some news” (sin of gossip)

It’s easy to excoriate our society but let’s be honest.  Sin seldom shows up in sermons today or Christian books or even Christian music anymore.  By the way, I will say the word “sin” over 100 times in this message if you’d like to count.  Some of you are already looking for the exits.

More than 40 years ago, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book called, Whatever Became of Sin?  He pointed out that our society has rejected the concept of sin and no longer talks about it.  He made the argument that simply removing the word “sin” from our collective vocabularies would not make it disappear.  Like any good doctor, Menninger prescribed a solution to the problem of “vanishing” sin when he called on pastors to: “Preach!  Tell it like it is.  Say it from the pulpit.  Cry it from the housetops.” 

My sin was so foul and rancid and repugnant.

When we don’t call sin what it is, we short-circuit the need for forgiveness and thus the necessity for the blood of Jesus Christ as payment for our sins.  Jesus didn’t come just to help me manage my mistakes, or unpack my baggage or help me have my best life now.  He died in my place as my substitute because my sin was so foul and rancid and repugnant that it separated me from a holy God.

Former pastor and best-selling author Rob Bell believes the evangelical church is moments away from “embracing gay marriage” (which is another euphemism).  In an interview about his book called “The Zimzum of Love,” Bell said this to Oprah Winfrey: “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…”

Listen.  Simply restating the problem of sin by giving it a soft edge doesn’t make it go away.  Instead of putting a spin on sin, let’s look at one of these 2,000-year-old inspired and inerrant and authoritative letters we know as the Book of 1 Peter. 

Our topic today is “Breaking the Grip of Sin.”  As we begin I want you to think of that one besetting sin that holds you in its grip.  What is that one area of disobedience that you default to?  Instead of just calling it something you “struggle” with, own it right now and call it what God calls it – sin.  If we want to break sin’s vice-like grip we must start by not sugar coating it or excusing it.  Here’s the main idea for this weekend: Christ-followers don’t do what they used to do.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.  They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”

I see two main imperatives from this passage.  First, we must arm ourselves against sin.  Second, we must abstain from sin.

1. Arm yourself against sin.

The first part of verse 1 gives us our example: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh…”  The word “therefore” takes us back to 3:18 where we read that “Christ also suffered once for sins” and 3:22 reminds us that Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father with all authorities and powers in subjection to Him.  Because of what Christ did on the cross, we are now dead to sin positionally. 

The problem is that we still sin in practice.  The middle part of verse 1 is an exhortation: “…Arm yourselves also with the same mind…” Brothers and sisters, in Christ, we are at war with wickedness.  As we witness the unspeakable atrocities of ISIS and Boko Haram, we know that evil has been unleashed.  Let’s call them what they are – militant Islamist terrorists who are bent on ushering in the end of the world.

But you and I are also in a spiritual battle with the world, the flesh and the devil.  Unfortunately, many believers see themselves on a playground, not a battlefield.  The hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers” calls us not to the Crusades but to crusade against our own sins: “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.  Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see His banners go!”

Friends, sin is our enemy.  We would do well to etch the image of Genesis 4:7 upon the screens of our minds: “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

We are called to “arm” ourselves with the same mind that Christ has against sin.  This word “arm” refers to heavy, not light armor and was used for a soldier who was fully outfitted with a javelin and large shield.  And it’s in the aorist imperative tense, meaning that we must make a decisive choice in response to an immediate and urgent call to arm ourselves.

Would you notice that this war is won or lost in our minds?  We are to have a militant attitude toward sin because it is destructive, deceptive, decay-producing and death-dealing.  We must be both vigilant and diligent.  This takes us back to 1:13: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober…”  Peter picks up on this in 5:8 as well: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

Some of us are way too sleepy about our sins and dismissive about our disobedience.  According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Barna Group called, “Temptations and America’s Favorite Sins,” most Americans who admit to being tempted aren’t putting up a big fight.  The study found that 59% of Americans say that they don’t do anything to avoid temptation and half can’t explain why they given into temptation.

If you’re looking to dive deeper in this area, I highly recommend a Christian classic by John Owen called, “The Mortification of Sin.”  This book is all about putting sin to death in our lives.  He argues that we must hate sin and pursue it to its death: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin…be always at it while you live.  Cease not a day from this work.  Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Owen teaches us that we have three needs:

  • The need for wisdom to know our own hearts and savor Christ more.
  • The need for watchfulness so that we don’t yield one step to sin.
  • The need to be ever at war with sin.

Here’s a great verse to memorize in this regard from Romans 12:9: “Abhor what is evil.  Cling to what is good.”  The more I grow as a Christian the more I hate sin.  I hate what sin does in me and what it does in the world.  I’m a sinful pastor pastoring sinful people and I hate what sin does in you.  Psalm 19:13 could be turned into a prayer: “Lord, keep me back from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!”

In the last part of verse 1 we’re called back to the example of Christ: “…for He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”  The word “cease” means to “make an end of.”  Jesus is now done with sin because He’s defeated it.  In a similar way, we are to “cease from sin” because we have died to it.  Romans 6:11-12: “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.”  

First, let’s arm ourselves against sin.  Second, let’s abstain from sin.

2. Abstain from sin. 

Look at verse 2: “That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”  Here’s our choice in a nutshell – we can live for our lusts or we can live for the Lord.  The word “lusts” refer to strong desires.   The contrast is clear – we either live for the will of God or we live for the will of the world.  Christ-followers don’t do what they used to do.  

Let’s camp on the phrase, “rest of his time” for a moment.  This gets to the brevity of life, doesn’t it?  I love John Piper’s book called, Don’t Waste Your Life because it’s a reminder that we must make the most of our days to live for the Lord, not for the lusts of life.  Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  We’re not to just count our days but to make our days count.  1 Peter 4:7 says that the end of all things “is at hand.”

Have you noticed that when you were younger, time loitered?  But as we get older, time leaps with increasing swiftness.  A boy loves to say he’s 4 ½ but have you ever heard a man say he’s 54 ½?  One older believer once said, “So many young people are wasting time…catch fire now when you’re young and God will give you wonderful opportunities for Him the rest of your life!”  Because our days are fleeting, we must keep three perspectives in mind when abstaining from sin – the past, present and future.

  • Keep the past in the PAST.  Verse 3 establishes that we have spent plenty of time sinning: “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles…”  The phrase, “past lifetime” means those times are in the past, like a closed chapter.  Some of us are filled with a lot of regret for all the wasted years of our lives.  Others of us want to have a little more “fun” before we get serious in our faith.  I resonate with what Charles Stanley says: “The bottom line in the Christian life is obedience and most people don’t even like the word.” 

Peter next spells out six specific sins that we’re to abstain from.  These are sins that are supposed to be in the past.  That’s what “when we walked in…” means.  It has the idea of going from one place to another, from one sin to another sin.  Notice that all six of the sins that he lists are in the plural, which shows both the variety and the frequency of them.

  • Lewdness.  This refers to shameless sexual excess and an insatiable desire for pleasure.  I have not read or seen “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I know it celebrates fornication and other perverse acts.  Peter uses this word in 2 Peter 2:7 to describe the “filthy conduct” of the people of Sodom.
  • Lusts.  A lust is an inordinate desire or out of control passion.
  • Drunkenness.  This word is also translated as debauchery and speaks of excessive and extravagant indulgence in long drawn-out drinking bouts.  After completing our “Counter-Cultural Christianity” series in which we focused on abortion, homosexuality, racism and suicide, I asked an eighth grader what topics he thinks we should tackle next.  He thought for a moment and said, “Alcohol and drugs and how to say no because it’s everywhere.”  
  • Revelries.  Riotous conduct, often translated as “carousing.”  The background to this is when a group of drunken guys would dance in the streets in honor of the Greek drinking god Bacchus.  
  • Drinking parties.  This involved drinking matches to see who could drink the most. 
  • Abominable idolatries.  The word “abominable” means “forbidden” and was used of serving idols.

Sounds like Mardi Gras, or Carnival, doesn’t it?  Also known as Fat Tuesday, the original purpose was to prepare for Lent, a period of 46 days of fasting, confession and contemplation. There’s actually a huge flaw with Mardi Gras, because it has devolved into a time to live out one’s lusts before Lent begins.  The idea is to gorge on a bunch of gross stuff and then deny yourself for six and half weeks before Easter.  The flaw of Mardi Gras is that a feast before a fast doesn’t work.  Plunging into sin today won’t make it go away tomorrow.

Romans 13:13-14 calls Christians to not live for our lusts but instead: “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

One missionary to Africa wrote,  “The temptations of the world sit atop a slippery slope.  The slippery slope is something that we don’t talk about a lot.  We talk about freedom in Christ in everything…I can drink a glass of wine with dinner (freedom)…I can go to that club (freedom)…I can watch that movie/TV show (freedom)…I can wear this ‘outfit’ (freedom)…If we decide to sample temptation of any kind, I believe we are standing on the slippery slope.  Some will be fortunate and not lose their footing but some will slide and fall far away from God’s holiness.  If you never step foot on the slippery slope of sin, you’ll never slide off…so many things in this world are seen or described as ‘harmless’ and ‘pleasurable,’ but end up becoming sinful, addictive and destructive behaviors.  I believe the best course of action is to stop before you start!”

  • Stay pure in the PRESENT.  When we get saved and stop sinning in these ways, others are not going to be very happy.  Look at verse 4: “In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.”  When you draw a line for the Lord, it will make some people uncomfortable with you and even hateful towards you.  The word “strange” is the same word as “foreigner.”  In Acts 17:18 Paul was called a “babbler” or seed-picker.  
Christian, don’t cave.

One friend remembers when he first got saved.  When he was out with his buddies and would order a Diet Pepsi, they would get really upset with him.  They’d call him names and eventually stopped calling him at all.  The phrase, “speaking evil of you” is the idea of heaping abuse on you and it’s in the present tense, meaning it’s like a continual barrage. Fellow saint, stay strong.  Christian, don’t cave.  Arm yourself against sin.  And abstain from sin at all costs.

Christ-followers don’t do what they used to do.  You might want to say something like this when you’re tempted.  This comes from F.B. Meyer: “I cannot do that now; I have passed into a new world, where such things are not admissible.  I am seated in Christ Jesus, where all that is unclean and defiling is far down under my feet.”

I come back to John Owen: “Sin promises so much but delivers so little.  Sin always amplifies its benefits and minimizes its cost.  Sin always aims at the uttermost, always nudging toward utter death and destruction.  And yet we love our sin, and secretly harbor it, and grieve to turn aside from it.”

Remember that these Christians were being persecuted for their faith.  Maybe they were being tempted to go back to their old way of life because it would be easier.  Everywhere they turned they were getting clobbered.  This reminds me of Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran for over two years for sharing his faith.  And he refuses to recant no matter how much they pressure him.

We’ve spent enough of our past lifetime living out our lusts.  In the present, we won’t always be appreciated when we abstain from those things that others are doing.  In order to faithfully persevere, we must keep a future perspective in mind.

  • Focus on the FUTURE.  Look at verse 5: “They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  Everyone who doesn’t know Christ will have to give an account to the Almighty.  Judgment is coming.  Romans 14:12: “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”  

Verse 6: “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”  While this is a bit difficult to understand, this verse is referring to those who were saved while living but now they have died.  Our job is to go with the gospel to people who are still living so that when they die they will go to heaven and not hell.  All wrongs now will be made right at the judgment.  The bottom line is this: Christ is coming back soon to judge every human being who has ever lived.

Many have tried to explain away sin by using different names for it.  While one may be able to dispense with the name “sin,” they can’t get out from under the weight of its guilt.

Have you ever heard of the ermine?   It’s an animal in the weasel family known for its snow-white fur.  Its pelts were used to make robes for royalty in Europe and therefore hunters were eager to capture them.  Because the ermine has an instinctive drive to protect its white glossy coat from being soiled, hunters would smear its home with black tar.  Then they’d send their dogs after the ermine and it would run home.  But it wouldn’t enter the home because it didn’t want to soil its fur, even to save its life.  The ermine would rather face yelping dogs and be captured and killed then to compromise its virtue.  For the ermine, purity is more important than life itself.

How about for you?  How important is breaking the grip of sin to you?  Godliness doesn’t happen automatically by osmosis just because you attend church.  You must arm yourself against sin and then abstain from sin with a warlike mentality.  

Action Steps

And so it’s time to admit some things.

  1. See yourself as a sinner. Sin is not just what we do or what we don’t do.  It’s deeper than that.  It’s who we are.  We are sinners who have been stained and soiled by the sin that Adam and Eve committed.  Psalm 51:3: “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”
  2. See your sins as against God. Think of that one besetting sin that has been holding you in bondage.  Confess it and repent of it right now.  Psalm 51:4: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.”
  3. See your sin against others and seek forgiveness. It’s not enough to just say, “I’m sorry.”  It’s more biblical to say, “I sinned against you.  Would you please forgive me?”  That’s how we’ve raised our daughters when they get sideways with a sister.  Saying sorry is not enough.  James 5:16: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
  4. Seek salvation from your sins. The loss of a deeper meaning of sin in our society means that most people don’t see themselves in need of salvation.  If you don’t see yourself as a sinner, why would you need a Savior?  Some of you are ready to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ right now.  He will forgive your sins if you ask him to do so.  Colossians 1:14: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

He will demolish any strongholds because He is stronger than any sin that is gripping you today.  He broke your shame and sinfulness.  There is truth that sets you free.  Sin is now broken.  Let Jesus Christ save you right now.

Benediction: As we leave, let’s prayer the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray from Matthew 6

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

10 Your kingdom come.

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

As we forgive our debtors.

13 And do not lead us into temptation,

But deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?