You’re still frequently angry and bitter. Curse words are still coming out of your mouth. You keep satisfying your sexual desires in ways you know you shouldn’t. Selfishness and greed pop up every day. You seem incapable of acting with courage, listening well to others, forgiving, or loving well those closest to you. Is it human weakness? Are you undisciplined? Is it your personality? Why can’t I stop sinning?

God’s standard is high. He desires for you and me to be like, look like, think like, act like, love like His Son Jesus. (See Romans 8:29) And not one of us has reached that standard.

We know that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) God offers you His extravagant forgiveness, and thank Him for that! But what about those things in your nature that don’t seem to be getting any better? Why can’t you stop sinning? Do you wear yourself out trying harder? Should you give up? Do you simply pray more? What’s going on here?

Sins or SIN?

When John the Baptist announced the arrival of Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) The word sin is singular. The Holy Spirit inspiring John is not speaking of specific acts, individual sins; He’s talking about our state of being.

Jesus came to deal with much more than the lie you told when you were seven, the test you cheated on in high school, the way you took credit for your coworker’s accomplishment, or the time you almost (or actually) took intimacy from someone other than your spouse. He came to deal with the messed-up DNA of your body, mind, and soul that leads you to do those things in the first place.

We all come to this point in our lives with a history leading us to sin. That history includes the traumas you experienced large and small, the opportunities you had or didn’t have, the decisions you made or didn’t make, and the habits you developed. It includes the things done to you, and the things you did to yourself.

But it didn’t start with you. That history also involves the thousands of years humanity has been living on this sinful planet. The very natural inclinations you are born with are sinful, in the sense of being inclined to live opposite to the way God designed you to live.

Yes, there are specific acts that are sins. But those are relatively small problems compared to our condition. And that’s why trying harder just doesn’t work.

Getting to the Roots

Sometimes (well, on relatively rare occasions) God does something miraculous where a person’s desire to engage in a particular sin goes away in a moment. Thank Him if that’s the case! But most of the time He’s about much more than simply dealing with one behavior; He wants to address the roots of the problem.

Part of why sin is so terrible is that it changes us. It changes the very physical and biochemical nature of your brain (and every other part of you). The default programs in your human computer are faulty, missing, corrupted, and downright destructive.

The testimony of Scripture, and of those who have followed Jesus, is that God is both patient and relentless. He doesn’t care nearly so much about the speed at which you are becoming like Jesus as He is about the reality that you are moving in that direction. And He also won’t stop calling you to that goal.

How to Stop Sinning

Want to stop sinning? It’s always the same answer; Give the Holy Spirit access, and then Stick Around.

There’s really no other choice. It’s the only way to change from the inside out, to receive that new heart that God so desires you to have. (See Hebrews 8:10)

What does that look like?

You give the Holy Spirit access by agreeing to look below the surface. You don’t forever rehearse your wounds, but if you’re stuck in some unhealthy behavior it’s likely there’s something you haven’t dealt with. Go there! Ask Jesus, “What’s going on here?” And when the Holy Spirit puts His finger on something, say Yes.

God uses other people to provide the fuel, the nourishment, we need to go through that process. Whether that’s counseling, pastoral care, small groups, therapy groups, etc., get connected with a few people who are walking this journey. It almost never happens without those kinds of connections.

And then just keep showing up. Stick around long enough for growth to happen. You don’t get upset at an oak tree after a couple years because it’s still a sapling. Pulling it up by the roots every few months to check on how much it’s growing would only kill it. It’s the same with your soul.

So ask God to show you how He sees you, giving Him access to every part of your heart.

And then keep showing up – with other healthy people, and in God’s presence. You will become different.

Your Turn: Have you become frustrated with your own “bad behavior” that never seems to change? Have you given the Holy Spirit access? How are you continuing to show up? Leave a comment below.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Have you asked yourself, Why Can’t I Stop Sinning? The answer is: Give the Holy Spirit access – to everything. And then just keep showing up. Tweet that.

Can’t Talk to Anyone?

When you’re struggling it helps to talk to someone. That’s the way God built you. But many people feel they have no one to talk to.

Get our free download When You Can’t Talk to Anyone (Even at Church). And you’ll get some follow-up suggested steps you can take next.