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“Just Say No” to Sin?

Guest post by Kenneth Berding, author of Walking in the Spirit

Do you remember the “just say no to drugs” campaign waged a number of years ago? (The slogan “just say no” continues to be used in schools across the country). The assumption of the slogan was that kids could simply say “no” whenever faced with temptation. Is that true? Can we simply say “no” whenever we are tempted?

There is a significant difference between a believer and an unbeliever who tries to answer this question. An unbeliever is utterly stuck in sin. Granted, the unbeliever can clean up a behavior he views as wrong, but is that really house cleaning? Such “cleaning” is no more than moving piles from one room to another so the guests can’t see the mess.The unbeliever’s attempt to overcome sin reminds me of the children’s arcade game where you have to hit with a huge mallet whatever blue furry head pops up. The problem with trying to deal with temptation simply by hitting it down is that the moment an unbeliever hits one popping-up head, another pops up behind or in front of him. The unbeliever simply does not have the means by which to consistently overcome sin because he or she has not been indwelt by the Spirit.

But one who has come into a right relationship with God by receiving God’s gift of grace through faith and who has been indwelt by the Spirit of God has been given whatever is needed to overcome a given temptation. “Whatever is needed” is no less than the presence and power of God’s own Spirit! And this is what we have received if we truly know him (Rom 8:9-11).So how should we cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is trying to do to sanctify us? Galatians 5:16 offers a straightforward answer: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Walking by the Spirit and carrying out the desires of the flesh are mutually exclusive ideas; you are either walking by the Spirit or carrying out the desires of the flesh. You can’t do both at the same time. In short, you need to learn how to walk in the Spirit.

Simply saying “no” to sin is like trying to remove all of the air from a cup by covering it with a plastic lid and trying to suck out the air with a straw. You can’t get it all out, even if the lid is well sealed—which it isn’t if you are an unbeliever. But if your goal really is to remove all the air from a cup, fill it up with water and you can be certain that all the air will be out! (Side note: water is one of many biblical metaphors for the Spirit, John 7:38-39). If you really want to overcome sin, then learn the pattern of living life in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16; Rom 8:4), being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), setting your mind on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5-8). The result of such “walking” will be a realization of the power you need to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Rom 8:12-13).

There is more to be said about overcoming sin than what I’ve written here, but today I wanted to focus on this one key component. It is a vital message for a church culture that tends toward simplistic moralism and does not often stress what the Bible accentuates about overcoming sin by walking in step with the Spirit.

Learn more about Walking in the Spirit or read a sample chapter.

Kenneth Berding is (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and author of numerous books. Before coming to Talbot, Dr. Berding was a church planter in the Middle East and taught at Nyack College just north of New York City. He has a heart for God and ministry, and has written many worship songs and served as a worship pastor in local church ministry.

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August 23, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life,The Holy Spirit,Theology | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 6:00 am | (8) Comments »


  1. I agree with much of this article, but the line “In short, you need to learn how to walk in the Spirit.” troubles me. As a fallen, broken human, I can no more learn to walk in the Spirit than I can say no to sin.

    There may be some practical steps to take to position myself to possibly be more receptive to walking in the Spirit: meditating on Scripture, prayer, surrounding myself with gospel community. But these things don’t actively help me walk in the Spirit. The only means I have to walk in the Spirit is the same means I have to say no to sin: God’s grace toward me in giving me an ability I don’t possess.

    The only way anyone can resist sin or walk in the Spirit is by falling solely on the grace and mercy of God, and even the “ability” to do that is God’s grace toward us.

    Comment by Don Sartain — August 23, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

  2. There seems so much contradiction in the Scriptures on this topic of resting and working in regards to faith. The beauty is that the work of Jesus Christ is the only work that accomplishes salvation. This is without a doubt clearly brought to light through the Scriptures. An important thing to remember is that our God is not bound by what the human mind sees as a contradiction. God can do what we cannot and redemption is about God’s way not ours. What is impossible with us is not impossible with God. This idea of working seems to neglect the tone in the Scriptures that emphasize pursuit. God pursues us and when we are broken we are awakened to pursue Him. Law, duty, and obligation fade when thirst, passion and chase ensues. It becomes more of a romance than a religious obligation. Our work landed us, at best, in a broken state realizing our incompetence in reaching the pleasure we are all searching for. All the work that is produced as a result of this righteous appetite is the work of Jesus Christ alive in us and this is the only righteousness that is truly righteous. We are all pursuing something. Only the pursuit of God awakens us to an eternal hope and glory.

    Comment by Kevin — August 25, 2011 @ 12:02 am

  3. I thought this was an excellent article. As you said, “There is more to be said about overcoming sin than what I’ve written here”. I love the analogy of filling the glass with water. There should be more said to the reader by way of encouragement that they can indeed walk free from sin. It is not easy, or every Christian would be completely free from sin. 1 Cor 10:13 says that God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. It is impossible for God to lie. (Heb 6:18)
    I just believe that when we spend time in God’s Word and in His presence regularly and at least resist sin with all of our own might, that that’s when His awesome power will kick in and put us over the top. Jesus said “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Do you think that He would tell us to do something that we could not do? I don’t think a lot of people are not overcoming sin because they, we, give up resisting without really resisting very much at all. If we give up without even trying, then how can the Power of God move in and put us over? Don’t we need to put in some effort? Walk with and in Him and His blessing will overflow from our lives.

    Comment by Paul — November 13, 2012 @ 3:01 am

  4. This is an interesting topic, because anytime i read that Galantians 5:16, where the Bible talked about the fact i should walk in the spirit and gratifying the desire of the flesh will be no more, it sounds easy and straightforward. But the point really is that, I commit sins here and there and it sometimes hurts me, even when I am growing higher in the word of God and in prayer. Embracing the Power of the Holy Spirit is just the problem, that is the power that is suppose to keep us stregthened until we come to the point when sin is done away completely. Since the word contain life and spirit and can liberate me from sin, I need grace to obey the Word of God. Romans 13: 14 says that we should cloth ourselves with Jesus Christ who is the word and not think about gratifying the desires of the flesh. We have the resource, the grace of God to help us yield to the word of God and the Spirit through the word in us, works purity in our hearts.

    Comment by sellas — February 12, 2014 @ 7:56 am

  5. Anytime you try to not sin or try to walk on His Spirit, it is very easy to get back under a law to over come.


    Comment by Tommy — May 22, 2014 @ 9:34 am

  6. My daily struggle with pornography and the terrible burden of guilt that I endured everyday led me to believe the lie that the passages of Romans and Galatians were just impossible to live up to. No matter how much I prayed and what I tried I could not overcome my desire for it. After years of shame and guilt and prayers of “please forgive me, I promise I wont do it again”, there came a day where I hit rock bottom as my heart just ached knowing I was hurting my savior Jesus with my daily sin. How could I trample on his precious blood like that on a daily basis and take advantage of his mercy? I finally realized I had been fighting the war on my own even though I was praying to the Lord to help me (not because he didnt want to help, but because I took matters into my own hands and never allowed him to fight for me). To make a long story short, the Lord led me to know what it meant to live and walk by the Spirit through prayer and fasting. It became my ultimate desire to know who the Holy Spirit was and experience his awesome power in my life. Today, I am pornography and masturbation free by the act of the Holy Spirit putting the desire of the sin to death in my body. I also have been given a much more clear understanding of Scripture through the guidance of the Holy spirit. May this small testimony encourage those who live in bondage of sin so that you can experience the power, freedom and truth of the verses found in Romans and Galatians.

    Comment by Danny — May 23, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

  7. I’ll add to my comment above by saying that I don’t even have to “Say No” to that sin anymore. Since the Spirit literally put it to death, it no longer surfaces to tempt me!

    Comment by Danny — May 23, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

  8. Danny,

    Your testimony is a blessing. Truly we are called as Christians to “walk in the spirit” on a daily basis. We cannot do this in ourselves. But, we have help from heaven if we are willing to submit ourselves to the divine will of God. We are the examples on this earth. Indeed the light of the world. May we glorify God and show the world that there is power in the mighty name of the Almighty to live above sin in this present world. God bless you. – Loraine

    Comment by Loraine — July 24, 2014 @ 9:49 am

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