James puts a paradox together in one verse:
James 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.
We all stumble … he is a perfect man. Now James did not get distracted halfway through this verse, and forgot himself, and pick up his pen again and then contradict himself.
There seems to be a place of “maturity,” “perfection,” “completion”:
Philippians 3:15 Let those of us who are mature think this way.
James 1:4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
So it takes times to overcome sin, just as it takes time to grow physically, there is no magic bullet…
“To each of us there is something which seems simply impossible to get on top of. I know my special foe and all this week I have had to live looking off to Jesus.” (Amy Carmichael)
But there does seem to be a transition here, not to sinlessness, but still to a real victory:
1 John 2:13 I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
This is not said of those he speaks of in contrast as being children in these verses.
1 Peter 4:1-2 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
So “does not sin” in 1 John (3:9, 5:18) can be taken in two ways, first, conversion involves giving up deliberate sinning, believers won’t “do sin” again and again without repentance, and also, a process is started, that should result eventually in real victory over sin, this may be what “he who overcomes” means in Revelation 2 and 3, primarily.
But how is this process carried out? The previous verse in 1 Peter may tell us here, to “suffer in the body” results in being “done with sin,” that is, suffering is the key.
One time Amy Carmichael was having difficulty with a fellow missionary, and she asked the Lord about it, and the Lord said “See in it, a chance to die.”
“Let perseverance finish its work,” as James wrote, which implies patience under suffering.
“I think God wants to make me pure gold,” [Ponnammal] said, “so He is burning out the dross, teaching me the meaning of the fire, the burnt offering, the death of the self-part of me” (one of Amy Carmichael’s companions).
Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
“You must develop the mind to suffer,” said Samuel Lam of China to a visitor. “But how?” he was asked. “Pray!” he replied. “And don’t grumble. And don’t complain.”
Philippians 2:14-15 Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…
There are many aspects to overcoming sin, having the love of God (“love fulfills the law”, Rom. 13:10), being filled with the Holy Spirit (“The Spirit of holiness”, Rom. 1:4), knowing God (“everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him”, 2 Pt. 1:3).
Yet the crucial turning point in all of these seems to be in dying to self, for to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we first have to be emptied, emptied of self, and this it seems is the most difficult part, to know God, we must not be preoccupied with ourselves, or self-seeking, and to have God’s love requires the fire as well:
“I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it.” (C.S. Lewis, “Letters to Malcolm”).
“From an inward purifying, and steadfast abiding under it springs a lively operative desire for the good of others.” (John Woolman)
“It seems that until God has mowed you down, you never can have this longsuffering for others.” (Smith Wigglesworth)
1 Peter 1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.
“In every period of my ministerial life I have found many professed Christians in a miserable state of bondage, either to the world, the flesh, or the Devil. But surely this is no Christian state, for the apostle has distinctly said: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace.’ In all my Christian life I have been pained to find so many Christians living in the legal bondage described in the seventh chapter of Romans — a life of sinning, and resolving to reform and falling again. In my early Christian life I was very nearly misled by one of Jonathan Edwards’s resolutions, which was, in substance, that when he had fallen into any sin he would trace it back to its source, and then fight and pray against it with all his might until he subdued it. This, it will be perceived, is directing the attention to the overt act of sin, its source or occasions. Resolving and fighting against it fastens the attention on the sin and its source, and diverts it entirely from Christ.”
“Now it is important to say right here that all such efforts are worse than useless, and not infrequently result in delusion. ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ But do we produce love by resolution? Do we eradicate selfishness by resolution? No, indeed. We may suppress this or that expression or manifestation of selfishness by resolving not to do this or that, and praying and struggling against it, but the root that really constitutes sin is not touched. Our resolution has not secured love, which is the only real obedience to God. All our battling with desire by the force of resolution is of no avail; for in all this, however successful the effort to suppress sin may be, in the outward life or in the inward desire, it will only end in delusion, for by force of resolution we cannot love.”
“Every victory over sin is by faith in Christ; and whenever the mind is diverted from Christ, by resolving and fighting against sin, whether we are aware of it or not, we are acting in our own strength, rejecting the help of Christ, and are under a specious delusion. Nothing but the life and energy of the Spirit of Christ within us can save us from sin, and trust is the uniform and universal condition of the working of this saving energy within us. Oh! that it could be understood that the whole of spiritual life that is in any man is received direct from the Spirit of Christ by faith, as the branch receives its life from the vine. Away with this effort to make the life holy while the heart has not in it the love of God. Oh! that men would learn to look directly at Christ and so close in with Him by an act of loving trust as to involve a universal sympathy with His state of mind. This, and this alone, is sanctification.” (Charles Finney).
“The longer I live, and learn the experience of most Christian people, the more I long to help them and unfold glimpses of that life of peace, and power, and victory over sin, which our heavenly Father has made possible for us. The bitterest experience with most believers is the presence and power of sin. They long to walk through this grimy world with pure hearts and stainless garments, but when they would do good, evil is present with them. They consent to God’s law that it is good; they approve it; they even delight in it after the inward man; they endeavor to keep it; but, notwithstanding all, they seem as helpless to perform it as a man whose brain has been smitten with paralysis, to walk straight. Surely our God must have provided for all this. It would not have been like Him to fill us with hatred to sin, and longings for holiness, if there were no escape from the tyranny of the one, and no possibility of attaining the other. It would be a small matter to save us from sinning on the other side of the pearly gate; we want to be saved from sinning now, and in this dark world.”
As Soon as You Are Aware of Temptation, Look Instantly to Jesus
“Flee to Him quicker than a chick runs beneath the shelter of its mother’s wing when the kestrel is in the air. In the morning, ere you leave your room, put yourself definitely into His hands, persuaded He is able to keep that which you commit unto Him. Go from your room with the assurance that He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings shall you trust. And when the tempter comes, look instantly up and say, ‘Jesus, I am trusting Thee to keep me.’ This is what the Apostle Paul calls using the shield of faith. The upward glance of faith puts Jesus as a shield between the tempter and yourself. You may go through life, saying a hundred times a day, Jesus saves me, and He will never let those that trust in Him be ashamed. ‘He is able to guard you even from stumbling’ (Jude 24, rv). You may be pressed with temptations from without, and may feel the workings of evil within, and yet your will looking earnestly to Jesus, shall remain steadfast, immovable, and unyielding.”
“If, notwithstanding all these helps, you should be still betrayed into a sin, and overtaken by a fault, do not lose heart. If a sheep and a sow fall into a ditch, the sow wallows in it, the sheep bleats piteously until she is cleansed. Go at once to your compassionate Savior; tell Him in the simplest words the story of your fall and sorrow; ask Him to wash you at once and restore your soul, and, whilst you are asking, believe that it is done. Then go to any one against or with whom you have sinned, and confess your faults one to another. Thus the peace of God that passeth all understanding shall return to roost in your heart, and to guard it like a sentry-angel in shining armor.”
“And if you thus live, free from the power of sin, you will find that the Master will begin to use you as never before and to tell you His heart-secrets, and to open to you the royal magnificence of a life hidden with Himself in God.”
“May this be your happy lot.”
“This looking unto Jesus and thinking about Him is a better way to meet and overcome sin than any physical austerities or spiritual self-reproaches. It is by looking at Him, the Apostle says, ‘as in a glass,’ that we are ‘changed into the same image, as from glory to glory.’ ” (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
“Oh, what owe I to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus, who hath now let me see how good the wheat of Christ is that goeth through His mill and His oven, to be made bread for His own table! Grace tried is better than grace; and it is more than grace; it is glory in its infancy.” (Samuel Rutherford)