How (and How Not) to Fight Sin

This article is part of the How (and How Not) series.

How Not to Fight Sin

Fighting sin is spiritual warfare, and warfare requires a battle plan. If left to our own devices, we would have little success against our unseen enemy. Thankfully, God’s word supplies wisdom to assist us in eluding the evil one’s snares. We’ll begin by briefly considering how not to engage in the battle, followed by practical tactics to flee sin and follow God.

Don’t Fight Sin by Ignoring It

Pretending sin isn’t there won’t help you fight it, as with Ben. Ben was a jokester, but at times his jesting became inappropriate. He turned innocent comments into crude remarks and occasionally used off-color language to get a laugh. When conviction came, he rationalized it away. He’d think, “I didn’t really mean it. It’s not who I really am. It’s not that big of a deal. I’m free in Christ.”

An unwillingness to admit sin prevents you from repenting of it.

Don’t Fight Sin by Entertaining It

We also can’t fight by entertaining sin, as with Jess. Jess struggled with body image. She envied girls who seemed to lose weight effortlessly and looked beautiful in whatever they wore. Her insecurity tempted her to envy others, hate herself, and have an unhealthy relationship with food. She noticed that spending time on certain social media apps made things worse. Yet rather than deleting those apps, she allowed herself to linger, fantasizing about the life she’d have if she were thinner. She wanted to test her resolve and prove that she was strong enough to live a “normal” life.

The problem, however, is that entertaining temptation enables sin. Our flesh grows stronger and our resolve weaker with every lingering dose. You can’t manage sin; you must kill it.

How Do I Fight Sin and Temptation?

J. Garrett Kell

Confronting the spiritual weight and consequences of sin, pastor and author Garrett Kell explores helpful ways out of temptation—including Scripture, community, and confession—toward freedom in Christ.

Don’t Fight Sin by Indulging It

Sin wants us to think that if we will indulge in it, it will be satisfied and go away. The fact is, feeding our sin only strengthens it.

We see this principle play out in one of the most horrific stories in the Bible. Second Samuel 13 tells us the tragic story of Amnon, one of the sons of King David. Amnon had a lustful obsession with Tamar. He fantasized about being with her to the point that he tricked her into a compromising situation and raped her. His “love” for her quickly turned to hatred (2 Sam. 13:15). Indulging his sinful impulses only inflamed more sin; it didn’t extinguish his wrong desires. Do not be deceived: giving sin what it wants only empowers it to want more.

Don’t Fight Sin by Exchanging It

A shallow fight with sin will settle for substituting one sin for another. Jim’s impulsive spending was destroying his life. So he took great measures to halt his poor stewardship. He set a budget, got accountability, and even froze his credit cards. The problem, however, is that he began to indulge in excessive eating. Like an uncured disease with a new symptom, his impulsive lack of self-control merely manifested itself in another area.

Don’t just exchange one sin for another; aim to eliminate it and replace it with a greater affection for Christ.1

How to Fight Sin and Temptation

If those are the ways not to fight, how should we fight sin and temptation?

Call Out for God’s Help (Matt. 6:13)

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included a striking instruction: Pray for protection against temptation. Hear his words afresh, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13).2 Jesus not only taught his disciples to pray this way but also embodied it. When he faced his greatest temptation in the garden of Gethsemane, he twice exhorted them “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40, 46).

Our single greatest weapon against sin and temptation is prayer. Prayer is an admission of humble dependence on God. It lifts our eyes away from sin and places them on Jesus. Through prayer, we “resist the devil” and “draw near to God” (James 4:7–8). Through it, we confess our desire to sin and plead for help to resist it. When you are tempted, pray to God. He is the one who helps us and will keep us from falling (Ps. 121:3).

Consume God’s Grace

Fighting sin and temptation also involves consuming God’s grace. After all, “You are what you eat.” This adage proves true not only for our physical health but also for the health of our souls (Gal. 6:7–8). What happens if you fill your spare moments soaking in sports or shows or social media, or daydreaming about an alternative life? Your affections for God will become weak and half-hearted.

But if you consume truths about God and the gospel, you will cultivate heavenly affections. Strong affections for God fuels obedience to God. Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). God calls us to feast and be satisfied in him rather than settle for sin.3

Cultivate Holy Community

The fight against sin and temptation also requires cultivating holy community.

Jacqueline’s fear of man tempted her toward deceitfulness. Her conversations were marked by “little” lies, partial truths, and exaggerations. She masked her sin and intentionally left out information that led to creating a world where she was deeply isolated despite often being around people. No one really knew her, and it crippled her walk with God.

Are you opening your life to trusted Christian friends in an honest way? Are you developing intentionally intrusive relationships in which you are giving and receiving godly encouragement, confession, and rebuke?

We are too weak to make it to heaven by ourselves. Hear afresh this warning:

Take care, brothers [and sisters], lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb. 3:12–13)

God’s antidote for spiritual atrophy and apostasy is gospel community. This is why committing to a local church and growing in honest community is not optional for the believer.

Jacqueline’s life changed when she finally allowed a friend to know the “real her.” It took a while for her to learn to speak the truth, but God used that friend to help her take actual steps toward freedom from sin.

You can’t manage sin; you must kill it.

Create Intentional Defenses

To fight sin we must also create intentional defenses. How would you respond if you learned that a lion had escaped from the local zoo and was spotted in your neighborhood? You’d be on high alert. You’d shut gates and lock doors. Why? Because a lion will devour you.

God warns us a lion is on the loose: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

To avoid the prowling tempter, you must set up intentional protection against temptation. You must “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14) by setting up barbwire, as it were, at all access points. Make it as difficult as possible for you to access something that is sin or might lead you to sin.

For instance, my family has smartphones, computers, gaming systems, and a smart TV. To guard us against seductive content, I currently have six different layers of technological protection.4 Why? Because the world is designed to make holiness hard and sinning easy. So if we’re going to have internet in our home, I must ensure our guard is up.

How do sin and temptation make their way into your heart and life? Do certain shows or social media apps provoke discontentment or envy? What keeps you from eliminating them? Do you access sinful content on your phone or other devices? Are you taking steps to limit your freedom by having a friend install restrictions on your devices?

You may be hesitant to limit your freedoms, but remember Jesus’s sobering words:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matt. 5:29–30)

Jesus is saying that we must be willing to do whatever it takes to keep from giving in to sin and temptation.

Consider Sin’s Consequences

Sin always hides the price tag, which is why fighting it also requires us to consider sin’s consequences. Temptation is presented in a way that covers what it will cost if you give in to it. A helpful way to fight sin’s deception is to envision its end; consider where it will lead if you follow.5

Scripture warns us, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness . . . setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Consider the destructive nature of gossip and slander. When secrets are shared or rumors are spread, they have devastating effects. Skepticism is stoked. Trust is broken. Love is cooled. Families are fractured. Churches are split. Lives are altered. Decade-long friendships are ruptured because details shared in confidence were spread carelessly.

Remember that your sin never affects just you. It always affects others. Sin promises it will be worth it, but it never is. Consider sin’s consequences and resist its offerings.

Confess Sinful Compromise

Finally, fighting sin and temptation requires us to confess sinful compromise.

Admittedly, telling others about our sin is scary. None of us like to have our shameful deeds displayed before others. Just like Adam and Eve after they sinned in the garden of Eden, we cover our compromising lives and hide in the shadows of deceit (Gen. 3:7–8). Sin tells us that we’re safe behind the mask of lies, but we’re not. In the dark shadows, we change. We tell lies and eventually believe them. We resist the Spirit’s nudges and quench his convicting voice. Slowly, living with hidden lies becomes normal.

Confessing sin to God and another believer rips off the mask of hypocrisy so we can breathe the air of honesty. It enlivens our heart to feel again, and it removes the veil so we can see Christ afresh. Confession humbles us, which by nature uproots the pride that keeps immorality alive and attractive to our souls.

Who knows you? Really knows you? Who has permission to ask you penetrating questions and is also acting on that permission? Furthermore, are you being honest with that person? Are you answering questions evasively or trying to project an image of someone you’re not? Knowing the freedom of Christ comes by traveling the path of honesty. God will help you. Step into the light.


  1. Inspired by John Owen, Mortification of Sin (1656; repr., Carlisle PA: Banner of Truth, 2022), chap. 5; and Thomas Chalmers, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).
  2. “Deliver us from the evil one” is a reasonable translation that would be a plea to protect us from Satan.
  3. For a more in-depth discussion, see Kell, Pure in Heart, chap. 6.
  4. These include parental controls, Domain Name System (DNS) filtering, program filters, passwords, and reporting software.
  5. To see this applied to sexual temptation, consider Garrett Kell, “Envision the End of Your Sin,” The Gospel Coalition, August 7, 2017, https://www.thegospel

This article is adapted from How Do I Fight Sin and Temptation? by J. Garrett Kell.

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