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“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15

I’ve called this message “Guerilla Warfare” because indwelling sin—that is the impulse of sin that remains in the flesh of the Christian believer—fights “guerilla” warfare against the believer all the days of his or her life.

Five stages in the life of sin

  1. Sin begins with evil desire

This desire pulls at your soul.  It entices you.

  1. Evil desire conceives

Sin gains the consent of the will.  Something settles in the mind, “Yes, this is what I’m going to do.”  And when that happens…

  1. Sin is born

Sin has its own life.  No sin is an end in itself.

  1. Sin grows

If sin is not cut back, it will keep growing, until, in the end…

  1. Sin produces death

There’s a famous line in the story of Samson.  He was seduced by Delilah, who was trying to deceive him.  Then, when he was asleep, she shouted to Samson, “the Philistines are upon you” (Judges 16:12).  The problem for us is that our enemy, sin, is not only upon us, it is also within us.

The flesh is a landing place for sin

There is the enemies outside of us—the world and the devil.   But our focus today is on the treason inside of us—in our flesh.  Sinclair Ferguson describes this in a way that I have found helpful…

“The enemies we face attack us from outside our own hearts and move inward… to draw our affections towards themselves; away from our Lord.

But their power rests on a further factor, namely the ‘landing ground’ they are able to find within our own lives.” [1]

He goes on to point out that there was…

“Nothing in our Lord’s character… could be employed as a natural fulcrum by which Satan could lever his way into Jesus’ life.  Jesus could say ‘Satan has no hold on me.’  But for us, there is still in the Christian, a base or operations from which Satan is able to work…”

That picture of the flesh offering a “landing ground” for sin in the life of the believer is really helpful.

Imagine that we’re living on a small island in some remote part of the world with a population of a few hundred people.  The island belongs to our king.  It’s his by sovereign right, but enemies invade the island and take us captive.

Then one day, the king comes with his army to set us free.  The island is liberated and we have the blessing of living under the king’s rule.  But, in a secret corner of the island, there is a hidden landing and every night enemies land there.  Their aim is always the same—sabotage and subversion.

The problem for us is that the operations of these enemies are largely hidden and secret.  They work at night.  They take bricks out of buildings, one-by-one, and eventually we wonder how the building came to have so many holes in it, but we don’t notice at first.  They pollute the water and when people become sick we ask, “Why are so many sick?”

Occasionally they mount an open attack, but most of the time it’s hidden, so that the people on the island are hardly aware of their activity.  No writer in Christian history has such great insight into our enemies’ hidden work and the believer’s life as John Owen.  I’ve found it to be a shaft of light…

“We fight an enemy whose strength is secret and whose presence is hidden.  So often when we think sin has been destroyed, it is merely out of sight.  It has coverts and retreats into which we cannot pursue.” [2]

The flesh provides a landing place for sin.  As long as you are in the body, you will experience the struggle (one that every Christian knows) with temptation.  Sin is not your master, but it will always be your enemy.  When Christ comes into your life, He overthrows sin’s rule; He doesn’t eradicate sin’s presence.

Think about the difference between Teflon and Velcro—Teflon is a non-stick surface.  You fry your eggs and they slide off beautifully.  But stuff sticks to Velcro!  You have to pry it off.  Sin is like Velcro—it sticks to the flesh.  The flesh provides a landing place for sin in your life.

Sin is the enemy with which you will always have to contend.  Let’s look at how we’re to contend with this enemy…

Sin Entices
so name it and confess it

Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.James 1:14

Each one is tempted by his own evil desire… Nobody is exempt from this.

However much you’ve progressed in the Christian life, you don’t ever grow out of it.  If you think you are somehow beyond this, then sin has deceived you.  The scene of the battle may change, but the conflict never ends.

What are the evil desires that you are tempted by?  Don’t just focus on sexual temptations.  Are you tempted by pride?  Anxiety?  Bitterness?  Self- confidence?  Laziness?  Prayerlessness?

Jerry Bridges wrote a book called “Respectable Sins.” [3] The point of the book is that most of us are pretty good at identifying the obvious sins of the culture, but sometimes we’re not so good at identifying the subtle sins that hang out in our own lives—discontentment, impatience, ingratitude, envy, frustration, judging others and sins of the tongue.  There are many of them.

To what sins are you especially disposed at this time in your life?  You need to see where sin is working, so that you can be active in defending against its subversive activity in your life, instead of being passive.  Where is that battle for you today?

The biggest challenge in preaching is that before you bring the Word of God to others, you have to bring your own life under its searching light.  That’s why it’s such a stretching thing.  I cannot put a challenge to you that I have not put to myself first.

So, this week I’ve been asking the Lord to search me and show me where sin is sabotaging my own life.  It has been profoundly helpful.  I’ve identified a number of areas.  One area I’ve identified is self-pity—the disposition of mind to feel sorry for yourself.  I have felt this pulling at me, and I have to fight it.  So, I have my antenna up for that.

How sin entices

Satan baits the hook by presenting arguments to your mind as to why a particular attitude is something you should pursue.  You will recognize these from your own experience…

Satan says… “God will forgive you…”

Satan uses the grace of God to actually lead you into sin and to suggest that sin doesn’t matter.

Satan says… “This is no big deal…”

Satan masks sins ugliness, “It’s just a little pride.  Nobody is perfect.  We must not become over-scrupulous…”

Satan says… “You’re different.”

“You’re a special case.  You have unique pressures and circumstances.  You need to catch a break.  You’re wired in a different way.”

Satan says… “No harm will come from it…”

This one goes all the way back to the Garden, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).  Satan masks sins danger.

Satan says… “You can repent afterwards…”

Satan hides sin’s effect, “Sin is like a stain on the wall.”  No, sin is more like a mold.  It is corrosive.  It is destructive.  It is more than a stain.

So, when Satan says, “Well, you can do this and repent of it afterwards,” he is blinding you to the effect it will have on your own soul.

Satan says… “Just this once.”

Satan masks sin’s power.  This hides the fact that once you’ve broken into some sin, the pull of temptation that you will feel next time is much greater.

Satan says… “You know you can’t say ‘No!’”

Satan weakens us by telling us, “You know you’re going to eventually give in.”  What he is doing is lying to us by completely discounting the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Sin Grows
so cut it back

“Sin, when it is full-grown…” James 1:15

The root of sin is vigorous and if the growth of sin is not checked, it will take over your life like an overgrown garden.  I’ve chosen these words carefully.  We are to cut sin back.  We cannot cut it out altogether, for this reason: Sin is never eradicated in the life of a Christian in this world.  If God gives you success in one area—Satan moves the location of the battle.

You long to be completely free of sin, and one day you will be, but not in this life.  That is why Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…” (Philippians 3:12).

The roots of sin remain in the flesh throughout this life, “If anyone thinks he is without sin he deceives himself” (1 John 1:8).  It’s important to know this so that you do not become unduly discouraged.  In this life, the mark of success is not that sin is eradicated but that it is weakened.  John Owen says:

“[Our task] is to weaken this habit of sin so that its power to express itself – in violence, frequency, tumult, provocation and unrest is quelled.” [4]

Progress, in a particular battle with a particular sin, does not mean that you’re no longer tempted or even that you no longer fail.  Progress means that the power of sin, that has had mastery over you, is gradually and increasingly subdued.

When you are making progress, the assault of a particular sin is less intense than it was and its frequency is less.  You do not give way to it as you used to do.  It has been cut back.  It no longer has the position in your life that it once had.  Sin has been weakened, and grace has been increased.

All this is contained in what Paul says, when he says that we are to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).  We are to cut back the shoots of sin whenever or wherever they are seen.

Act early

Where sin is unchecked, it builds a position in a person’s life.  It takes root like weeds in a garden.  The longer it is left alone, the stronger its root will be.  Even today, some of us are struggling with intense habits.  Why?  Because some of us have not dealt with it for 10 years, 20 years, 40 years… and all that time Satan has been landing on the landing site of your flesh.

David prayed for protection against this happening, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (Psalm 19:13).  That’s a great prayer to learn and use in your life.

In another Psalm David cries out to God because he sees that sins have taken hold in his life, “My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.  They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me” (Psalm 40:12).  You may want to use this Psalm if that has happed to you.

Maybe you’ve seen a situation where a mature believer suddenly collapsed into a moral failure and you were completely taken by surprise.  You wondered, “How is that possible?”

Behind the event that suddenly became visible, sin was building a position in that person’s life.  The weeds had been growing in his thoughts and in his affections and in his imagination, and he had allowed them to grow.  It had been going on all along, and then suddenly it became visible.

You may be saying, “Well, it’s too late for me now.  My sins have overtaken me.”  The stronger the position of a sin in your life, the deeper its pattern will be rooted, and the more important it is for you to act—now.

It would’ve been better if you’d acted last week or last year or 10 or 20 years ago, but these opportunities are gone.  God gives you today.  His grace is sufficient for you today.  The power of His Spirit is available for you today.  Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.

Act often

Your struggle against the flesh is not a short battle; it is a long warfare.  The warfare is never over after one prayer, one commitment or one act of faith; it is only begun, and it is sustained by these things.

It will be won only by a sustained and relentless assault against every evidence of the sin that assails you.  Your antenna is up and you’re watching.  John Owen says…

“[Sin] will not die except by being gradually and constantly weakened: Spare it and it heals its wounds, and recovers its strength.”

You may recognize this in your own life.  You may be able to look back to a time when you really got serious about dealing with some sin that had built a position in your life.  You made some progress and then you slackened off, and the weeds in the garden ended up the same as when you started.  You acted early, but you did not act often…

Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.  He who has once smitten a snake, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel.  And so he who undertakes to deal with sin and pursues it not constantly to death.”

Sin Destroys
so treat it as an enemy

“Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:15.

If you smell smoke in your house, you don’t sit back and say, “I wonder where that’s coming from?”—and carry on reading the newspaper.  Why?  Because it smells like fire and fire is incredibly destructive.  You get up and track it down, because if you don’t your whole house may be destroyed.  Sin kills; it leads to death.  You can’t mess around with it.  Owen says…

“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” [5]

He’s talking about that sin which lurks within your soul.  Being at war with sin does not make you at peace with God (that would be salvation by works).  But being at peace with God makes you at war with sin (that’s the power of the Gospel!).  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that a mere belief makes you a Christian.  Sin that’s allowed to grow in a Christian brings its own death.  This happens in two ways…

Sin weakens the soul

“My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.”  Psalm 32:4-5

David was exhausted.  Why?  The life was being drained out of him by sin.  If you do not weaken sin, it saps your spiritual strength, it weakens you.  When I see a sin forming in my life, I must say, “If I’m to serve Christ, I dare not let this grow!  It’ll drain the life out of me…”

Sin darkens the soul

John Owen describes sin as…

“…a thick cloud that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s love and favor.” [6]

Could this be why you have lost a sense of the love of God?  Could this be why you have lost joy in worship?  Vigor in prayer?  Readiness in testimony?  Remember Jonah in the ship…?  He is the only one who knows God, but he’s not able to say anything—he’s silent.  He’s useless.  Sin is like a thick cloud that spreads itself over the face of the soul.


How would you describe the state of your spiritual life?  Is your love for Christ vigorous?  Or has it been weakened as sin has become vigorous in your life?

If you are discouraged by your own failures today, remember that Satan regularly overplays his hand.  Whatever rejoicing he had in the death of Jesus was premature.

Here’s the most wonderful thing that may be happening in you right now: God uses the sin that Satan provokes to our ruin, as the means by which we are awakened to our need of Christ!

It would be a great triumph of grace if today God were to use the sin that has weakened you and brought you into darkness, to make you see your need of Christ and to ask for the help and the power of His Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit is bringing you to the place of saying, “I feel my need to be washed in the blood of Jesus.  I feel the need of a strength that’s greater than my own, because I feel like giving up,” then God is already shining the light of hope into your heart.  He’s dealing with you in grace and mercy.

So, look to Christ.  The grace of God in Jesus Christ makes it possible for you to say today, “Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness the Lord will be my light” (Micah 7:8).

On Tuesday of this week, I received an email from a member of the congregation.  I read it with his permission…

Last Sunday’s sermon spoke to me in a special way…   

Last week while at (he names a particular garage) I was displeased about an issue regarding service and I spoke inappropriately to one of the managers.  I came home to get on my knees to ask God’s forgiveness—I was so convicted and knew I was way out of line.

On Sunday morning, as I greeted those coming into the church, I thought “What would I say and what would he think if he came to The Orchard?”

Then your sermon was directed to me.  You indicated that each of us has different battles… God spoke to me and I knew what I needed to do.  

I don’t like going back and being humble enough to make the things right, but how could I engage in ministry at the church under thesecircumstances?  It was as if big, bold letters were on my forehead “H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E.”

Colin, I went back and apologized and told him that I was wrong because I belong to Christ, and what I said was not appropriate for me, [a person] who wants to bear the name “Christian.”

The response? “I’m a Christian too, and you made my day.  You’ve given me courage.”  I relate this story as a demonstration of God’s grace.  He takes lemons and makes lemon-aid. 

What will God be saying to me next Sunday?

The following day, a second email came from the same man to say that he had received a phone call from the manager at the garage…

It was hard to believe what he said… [The manager told me that] that evening he told his wife and 13 year old son: “I didn’t think there was anybody like him.”

“I’ve repeated the story several times, never using your name, but each time bringing tears to my eyes.  I’ll never forget you and what you did.  Please stop in next time you have your car serviced!”

Colin, I could never have dreamed that obedience could result in such an outcome.  The end result—two guys praising God!

One man who took one sin seriously… What would happen if you were to do that?


[1] Sinclair Ferguson, “The Christian Life” p. 156, Banner of Truth, 1981

[2] John Owen, “Triumph over Temptation,” p. 49, David C. Cook, 2004

[3] Jerry Bridges, “Respectable Sins,” Navpress, 2007

[4] John Owen, “Triumph over Temptation,”  p. 196, Cook, 2004

[5] John Owen, “The Mortification of Sin,” p. 5, Banner of Truth, 2004

[6] John Owen (ed. Kelley Kapic) “Overcoming Sin & Temptation,” p. 65, Crossway, 2006


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