How do I get control of sinful impulses?
At times we feel compelled to sin. We have impulses toward sin that are seemingly uncontrollable. We may feel an urge to overspend, to overeat, to indulge in pornography, or to gossip, and feel we have no power but to give in. Even the apostle Paul struggled with impulse control: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). So how are we to manage our sinful impulses?
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First, we must steep ourselves in the truth. We are no longer bound to the sinful nature (Romans 6:17-18). In Christ we have been made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are declared righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we know the truth, we can experience freedom (John 8:32). If we believe that we are who God declares us to be, we can more easily act accordingly. When we recognize a sinful impulse, we can declare it to be from the sinful nature and therefore no longer a part of us.
Not only do we need to know the truth about our identities in Christ, we need to take practical steps to live out that truth. This will largely occur through the process of sanctification. We cooperate with God's perfecting work in us (Philippians 1:6) by obeying His commands. This means that we focus our minds on things that are pleasing to Him (Philippians 4:8). We cast our anxieties on Him (Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7). Often, acting on an impulse is an attempt to manage anxiety. When we take our burdens to the Lord, we experience more peace and therefore have less need to manage our anxiety with sinful stopgaps.
We can also use our minds and ask for God's wisdom in determining what may be the cause of our sinful impulses. Controlling impulses may mean modifying our lifestyles to remove ourselves from tempting situations, discovering an unmet need that an impulse is attempting to fill, or relying on friends to help hold us accountable. In all of this, we should not forget that God has given us the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone in our battle against our sinful impulses. "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7).
Finally, we can remind ourselves of the reason we want to gain control over sinful impulses. Hebrews 12:11 says, "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." At first, controlling sinful impulses may not be pleasant. However, we know that our self-discipline will eventually produce good fruit. The end reward is worth the momentary pain of delayed gratification.
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