March 07, 2024

How Can Christians Fight against Sin?

Nathan W. Bingham & Burk Parsons
How Can Christians Fight against Sin?

The fight against sin can leave Christians weary at times. Today, Burk Parsons shows how Hebrews 12 encourages us to look to Jesus Christ for strength in the pursuit of holiness.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining us this week on the Ask Ligonier podcast is Dr. Burk Parsons. He’s the chief editorial officer at Ligonier Ministries and also serves as a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. Dr. Parsons, how can Christians fight against sin?

DR. BURK PARSONS: In our fight against sin, we know that there are many ways in which we as Christians are called to fight against sin. We’re called to run from sin. We’re called to flee sin. We’re called to mortify or kill sin in the flesh. The Bible tells us that we are to have community, and friends, and accountability, that we’re to have people around us that we can go to, that we can seek counsel from—older men and women that we can learn from their example and how they have fought against sin. There are numerous ways in which we as Christians fight against sin. And it’s a fight that we have to endure in the battle every hour of every day. And the fight against sin is a wearisome one. It tires us. It wears us out.

The author of Hebrews, in writing to these Hebrew Christians, helps them to identify one way to fight against sin, one way that they can deal with the indwelling sin that remains in their flesh. And in Hebrews 12, the author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2).

Now, this beautiful little passage here in Hebrews 12 helps us Christians not to give up, not to lose hope, because that’s what many of these Hebrew Christians were facing. And the author of Hebrews is wanting to encourage them not to give up, not to stop fighting. And he reminds them of the cloud of witnesses, including even the cloud of witnesses that he’s just listed in Hebrews 11. And this cloud is comprised of not multiple clouds but one singular cloud of witnesses.

And the picture here is, as it were, a large stadium filled with fans applauding and cheering us on as if they were our coaches saying: “You can do it. You can finish. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep fighting the good fight.” This cloud of witnesses surrounds us. It’s almost as if it’s they can look down upon us from heaven and cheer us on and say: “Don’t stop. Keep trusting. Keep mortifying sin in the flesh. Keep striving for holiness without which no one will see the Lord, always resting in the perfect righteousness and holiness of Jesus Christ.”

And I love the way the author of Hebrews, by the power of the Spirit, gives us this such precious counsel: “Considering that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight.” Now, when runners run, they don’t have weights clinging to their bodies. They get rid of everything that encumbers them. And this is the same picture that the author of Hebrews is painting for us—that we would lay aside every way, anything that would hinder us, anything that would encumber us, and the “sin which clings so closely.”

Now, that language in the original is really interesting language because it describes that which entangles itself, as if sin is like a weed that’s springing up from the ground and striving to wrap itself around our ankles to make us fall face down on the ground and give up. That’s sort of how it feels when we are fighting against our sin on a daily basis—that it’s constantly fighting against us, constantly trying to bring us down, constantly trying to deceitfully weave its web around our ankles to make us fall. And it clings so closely.

But the author here says: “Lay it aside, that sin which entangled itself around us. Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” That implies that God has set this race before us in His sovereignty. The race that you and I are running is the race that God has put us in, a race that He has set before us. And that race is going to look a little differently for each and every one of us. But the end of the race looks the same for every Christian: “Looking to Jesus,” he writes, “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Oftentimes when we fight against sin, too often we focus on the sin rather than on Christ. Too often when we are struggling with sin and struggling in the circumstances of our lives, we are focused too often on the circumstances rather than on the cross. We get fixated on just dealing with our sin when the antidote to fighting against sin is not gazing down upon that sin which is trying to entangle itself up around our ankles to make us fall, but rather looking up and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.

And the way in which He’s described here as the “founder and perfecter of our faith” is so beautiful. Because this word, “founder,” is a word we see elsewhere in the New Testament, just a couple of places. But elsewhere, it’s translated as “author” or even “pioneer.” And the reason for that is because the word is made up of two Greek words, arch and agō in the Greek.

Now, we’re familiar with the word arch as a prefix. We have archeology and archetype, first, and early, and so on. But agō is a word in Greek that we are not familiar with, and it means “I lead.” And so, if you put these two words together, arch-agō, it means for one to lead from the beginning, to lead from the front, to lead from the outset. So, the picture here is not of our Lord standing at the back and sending us into battle to fight against sin, but rather as our captain, as our commander, as the One who is already in front of us, the One who has run the race, who was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, the One who fulfilled the righteousness of God’s law perfectly and completely so that when He died on the cross, His death would be substitutionary and vicarious, that His death would do something—it would accomplish our redemption.

And so, as we fight against sin, my friends, we can’t fight it by gazing at the sin or even gazing at our own sinfulness. But rather, we must gaze, and fix our eyes, and keep them fixed on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.