Charles Finney: “How to Overcome Sin”
How exactly does one overcome sin? As one who has thought much about this, I always enjoy reading other perspectives.
Charles Finney (1792-1875)—the famous revivalist—wrote directly about this issue in an article called “How to Overcome Sin” (see link at the bottom of this page). His thoughts on this topic are spot on. Here are five points he makes:
1. There is much wrong teaching about overcoming sin.
“And what is particularly saddening, and even agonizing, is that many ministers and leading Christians give perfectly false instruction upon the subject of how to overcome sin.”
2. The life described in Romans 7 is not normal for a Christian.
“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.”
3. Our own resolve is not enough.
“In a word, much of the teaching, both of the pulpit and the press, really amounts to this: Sanctification is by works, and not by faith.” “In this way the outward act or habit may be overcome and avoided, while that which really constitutes the sin is left untouched.“
4. Sin must be rooted out of the heart.
“We may go further, and abstain from the gratification of desire generally in the outward life. But this is not to secure the love of God, which constitutes obedience.” “All our battling with sin in the outward life, by the force of resolution, only ends in making us whited sepulchers.”
5. It is only through faith that we can overcome sin.
“The doctrine of the Bible is that Christ saves His people from sin through faith.” Christians are said to “purify their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).
How then are we to overcome sin?
Finney’s explanation focuses on the fact that we are to actively trust in God for deliverance. It is active, trusting faith in Christ—not exclusively our own effort that accomplishes victory. “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
Self-improvement efforts are essential but if they are engaged in apart from surrendering to God and His working in us they will not be enough. Only He purifies the heart, filling it with His presence and love where once we were filled with sin. It is God who transforms us, not we ourselves.
Do you think you can overcome lust or any other pressing sin by relying on you own strength and resolve? If so, it is probably not working out so well for you and I hope you will consider what Finney wrote.
Note: “How to Overcome Sin” is chapter 10 of the book “Power From On High” by Charles Finney. The title page explains that this chapter comes from one of a series of articles written for “THE INDEPENDENT” in New York, from 1871-74.