Posted, December 11, 1998

Used, December 13, 1998 (Research has been retained here, but will be edited out for preaching.)

Besetting Sins

Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

The Christian life is presented throughout Scripture as a war:

1) The war is not physical, but eaning that spiritual, mboth the war and the victory must take place in our spirit. (2 Cor. 10:4.)

2) Success in the war will result in an incorruptible crown. (1 Cor. 9:25.)

3) Victory in the war will not come from human effort. The harder we try to obtain victory in our own strength, the more defeat we face. (Zech. 4:6.) In fact, we find that God places his curse upon those who attempt to find the victory outside of himself. (Jer. 17:5.)

4) The enemy in this war was without in the Old Testament; he was a literal enemy who was intent on cutting off the head; he was subdued with a sword by cutting off his head. (Ps. 33, 44:1-8.) However, in the New Testament, the enemy is within, and can only be subdued with the spiritual sword, the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

A few weeks ago, I preached a message on

Psalms 139, vv. 23, 24, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Jer. 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.)

If you have ever prayed that prayer in the hope that the Lord would indeed search your heart, then the Lord has done that. And what he has shown was not a nice sight. The Spirit of God confronts us with our sins.

sin which doth so easily beset us...


A besetting sin can be understood in several ways. We will consider it as a particular sin that has an especially strong hold upon us.

Envy, bitterness, pride, lust, covetousness, anger, malice, gossip, worry, swearing, rebellion against proper authority; actually, all the works of the flesh.

The list of sins is endless, and can be unique for each person. My besetting sin will probably not be the same as yours, but there is one present in each of us that stands out and that is particularly strong.

If you are alive today and trying to do anything for the Lord, there is a particular sin that will come to mind. The enemy may use that particular sin to convince us that we are unworthy to serve the Lord.


The word, beset, means skillfully surrounds. This sin is like an army: it surrounds us, and continually attacks us from every side. Everywhere we look, there it is. No matter what we try to do, it is continually there, seeking to overcome us. If it cannot control us, at the very least, it corrupt everything we do.

The besetting sin will not stand out unless we really desire to serve God, and seriously seek his face. Those who are content with where they are and who they are as a Christian will have no problem with a besetting sin. Those who are content with being a dead fish floating downstream to heaven will not know what I am talking about here. Notice Hebrews 12 comes after chapter 11, and the roll call of faith. 11 lists past saints who were willing to pay the price to put feet to their faith. Those who are not willing to pay the price to follow in the pattern left by Christ (v. 2) will not have problems with Hebrews 12:1. Those who are not willing to run the race as described in chapter 11 will not have the terrible warfare spoken of in 11:1. Only those who are concerned about the glory of God and his name and who are wanting to do something about it will find a strong besetting sin. Only those who are serious about conquering sin in their lives will know what I am talking of.

If we are willing to examine ourselves to find where we fall short of what God wants us to be, he will show us from the word of God.


Psalms 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Jer. 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.)

This is a prayer of self-examination:

1) Honest self-examination does not hide in a crowd. It is not a general confession of sin. WE ALL SIN, AND I CONFESS IS SIN.

A criminal can easily lose himself in a crowd. Sins must be confronted individually. I HAVE SINNED, AND THIS IS MY SIN that I must continually battle. Many pins together present a smooth surface; one by itself will stick.


2) Honest self-examination discovers secret sins, and confesses those sins:

Psalms 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Notice that David did not blame his sin on the woman who intentionally took off her cloths in his view. He took full responsibility for what he did, and did not try to pass off the blame on anyone else.

The Prodigal son, in the far country, experienced grief, shame and remorse. (Luke 15:11ff.) His remorse over his sin caused lead to: 1) confession, 2) humility, 3) return. He offered no excuse for his sins.

His spirit was rent, torn and tattered. He was sincerely contrite and humbled. He was READY TO TAKE THE LOWEST PLACE in his father's house, the place of a hired servant or slave.

3) Self-examination reveals the inmost secrets of the heart, and bows in humility before God, and takes full responsibility. Self-examination must avoid the other extreme -- that is, making ourselves worse than we are. This will not please the Father. God is the God of truth; we cannot please him by being too hard (worse than we are) nor too soft (not as bad as we are) on ourselves; we must be toward ourselves according to the truth of God's word.

Psalms 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

But we cannot meditate on that sin that so easily controls us. We must not forget that we are Christians. As Christians we must not avoid extremes: On one hand, we may think lightly of sin, and regard confession as a matter of routine. On the other hand, we may spend our time in self-examination, content to go on day to day thinking about and confessing that sin with no victory over that sin.

Certainly, the power of sin is not yet completely broken in us, so we must be on continual guard. But we deny God's grace if we know only God's mercy to pardon sin, but we do not know his living grace that continually renews us. Simply acknowledging and confessing that besetting sin allows the burden of that sin to become heavier and heavier.

There are two dangers, quite opposite in character, which are liable to confront us as we engage in the practice of confession. On the one hand, there is the danger to regard confession as a mere matter of routine, and, in consequence, to think lightly of sin, on the other hand, we may be tempted to indulge in morbid self-examination. In both cases the great truth has been forgotten that confession is of no use unless we are ready to forsake the sins we own. If we are content to go on day after day, as many do, acknowledging the same sins without breaking loose from them, conscience will be dulled, and we shall become too familiar with sin to see its hatefulness in God's sight. If on the other hand we are forever bemoaning our besetting sins and allowing ourselves daily to sink lower under the burden of them, we are surely dishonouring God, who is bidding us rise up from our faces to put away the accursed thing from amongst us. If, however, we forsake the sin which we confess, and daily prove the power of God to deliver us, and believe His word, "Sin shall not have dominion over you," confession may be the path to untold blessing. (Christian doctrine of Prayer, Hastings, pp 77, 78.)
Meditating on our sins and continually confessing them without breaking loose from them dishonours God. And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? (Josh. 7:10.) The meditation must be on the daily power of God's grace over that sin that so easily besets us. Our strength and joy in the Lord comes from meditating on his power over sin, not from meditating on how far short we come from what we should be for the Lord.
It is of the first importance that in all the exercises of the secret chamber we should yield ourselves to the blessed influences of the Comforter, by whom alone we are enabled to pray with acceptance. An important caution in regard to this has been noted by Ralph Erskine. In his diary he writes, under the date, Jan. 23, 1733: "This morning . . . I was quickened in prayer, and strengthened to hope in the Lord. At the beginning of my prayer I discerned a lively frame in asserting a God in Christ to be the fountain of my life, the strength of my life, the joy of my life; and that I had no life that deserved that name, unless He Himself were my life. But here, checking myself with reflections upon my own sinfulness vileness, and corruption, I began to acknowledge my wickedness, but for the time the sweetness of frame failed me, and wore off. Whence, I think, I may gather this lesson, that no sweet influence of the Spirit ought to be checked upon presence of getting a frame better founded upon humiliation; otherwise the Lord may be provoked to withdraw." When Thomas Boston found himself in danger of giving way to vain-glory, he took a look at his black feet. We may well do the same, but never so as to lose our assurance of sonship, or our sense of the preciousness of Christ. As Rutherford reminds us "There is no law-music in heaven: there all their song is, 'Worthy is the Lamb'." And the blood of ransom has atoned for all sins. (Prayer, Hastings.)
Notice David's cry:

Psalms 130:1 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. 6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. 7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

David cried unto the Lord and confessed his sins. He was confident the Lord heard him, and forgave him of his sins, for with the Lord there is mercy and plenteous redemption. Then David expresses this confidence:

And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

David looked forward to the redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ. That redemption not only delivers from the punishment deserved by sin, but it includes breaking the power and dominion of sin from the lives of the redeemed.

Christ redeemed, purchased, us with his blood not only from the punishment deserved by sin, but from the power of sin from over us. He purchased us as one would purchase a slave in a slave market. However, "slavery" to our new Master is not forced. Even after the purchase is made (through faith in him), he gives "free will" to those he purchased, so they will serve him willingly. (Lk. 1:72-75.)


Eyes --- can we look without iniquity (lust, covetousness)?

Ears --- can we listen without iniquity entering?

Lips --- can we speak without iniquity (the tongue always bridled, without gossip, carnal conversation, angry words at home, no expressions that are unbecoming to saints)?

Thoughts --- can we think without iniquity (evil suggestions, workings of the mind)?

Imaginations --- can we avoid carnal, vile and sensual imaginations?

Memory --- can we not remember the sins of our past?

Feeling --- can we avoid the feeling of pride of heart, covetousness, sensuality, hypocrisy, worry, and self-righteousness?

Those who think they can avoid these things are clearly self-deceived. The promise is that the Lord will subdue these sins for those who freely confess their sins and cast themselves upon his mercy. The Lord redeems his people by his blood from the power of their unique besetting sin.

Micah 7:18 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. 19 He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.

Subdue, bring under bondage, keep under, force.

This verb and its derivative occur fifteen times in the OT. It is evidently related to Akkadian kabasu "to tread down," and Arabic kabasa "to knead, stamp, press" (cf. also Arabic kabasa "to seize with the hand"). In the OT it means "to make to serve, by force if necessary."
Despite recent interpretations of Gen 1:28 which have tried to make "subdue" mean a responsibility for building up, it is obvious from an overall study of the word's usage that this is not so. kabash assumes that the party being subdued is hostile to the subduer, necessitating some sort of coercion if the subduing is to take place. Thus the word connotes "rape" in Est 7:8, or the conquest of the Canaanites in Num 32:22, 29; Josh 18:1; I Chr 22:18. In II Chr 28:10; Neh 5:5; Jer 34:11, 16 it refers to forced servitude.
Therefore "subdue" in Gen 1:28 implies that creation will not do man's bidding gladly or easily and that man must now bring creation into submission by main strength. It is not to rule man. However, there is a twistedness in humanity which causes us to perform such a task with fierce and destructive delight. Try as we might, we cannot subdue this. But it can be subdued and this is the promise of Mic 7:10, "He will subdue our iniquities. (TWOT, 951, 952.)
The Christian life is presented throughout Scripture as a war. That besetting sin is continually trying to conquer us in our heart, in our thinking and in our emotions. Micah promises that the Lord Jesus will subdue our iniquities. That is, the Lord Jesus will subdue that besetting sin in the lives of the redeemed. Though our iniquities do not want to be subdued and they will fight to the bitter end (of our life) to keep from being subdued, the Lord will do (has done) that very thing by his blood of redemption. He "bought" us from the power of those iniquities.
He will subdue our iniquities] By force and violence (as the word signifieth), subjugabit, pessundabit, conculcabit. Sin is sturdy, and will rebel where it cannot reign. It hath a strong heart, and will not easily yield. But yield it shall, for God will subdue it. And this is a further favour (as every former is a pledge of a future). To pardon of sin God will add power against sin; to justification by Christ's merit, sanctification by his Spirit; he will let out the life-blood of sin, and lay it a dying at our feet; he will tread Satan with all his black train under our feet shortly, Rom. xvi. 20. He will not only turn us again, but turn his hand upon us, and purely purge away our dross, and take away all our tin, Isa. i. 25. In fine, he will so mortify the deeds of the body by his Spirit, that sin shall not have dominion over us, Rom. vi. 14, shall not play Rex in us; the traveller shall not become the man of the house, as Nathan's parable speaketh.
And thou wilt cast all their sins into the bottom of the sea] Wherehence they shall never be buoyed up again. Thus the prophet, by an insinuating apostrophe, turneth himself to God, and speaketh with much confidence. Such is the nature of true faith, sc. to grow upon God, and, as I may so say, to encroach; as :Moses did, :Exod. xxxiii. 12,13; xxxiv. 10; and as David did, 1 Chron. xvii. 23, &c. See how he improves God's promise, and works upon it, ver. 24, 25, he goes over it again, and yet still encroacheth; and the effect was good, chap. xviii. We hinder ourselves of much happiness by a sinful shamefacedness. Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, Heb. iv. 16; so shall we see our sins, as Israel did the Egyptians did, dead on the shore. (John Trapp [1601-1689], IV.306, 307.)
No matter how strong that besetting sin is in the lives of the redeemed, it must yield to the victory of Christ.

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. 36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

The enemy of our souls will encourage the redeemed to examine themselves. (2 Cor. 13:5.) The enemy of our souls will encourage the redeemed to face up to their sins and how short they are from the holiness required of them by the Heavenly Father.

The enemy of our souls will encourage the redeemed to meditate on and confess those sins to God and even claim forgiveness for those sins.

The problem is that the enemy will urge us to continue to meditate on and confess those sins over and over.

His goal is to keep us from claiming our victory in Christ over the sin that so easily besets us. He wants us to keep our minds on our sins; he wants us to keep confessing those sins and worrying about them. If he can do that, the enemy knows we will be under the heavy burden of guilt. He knows that we will not have the joy and peace and confidence that belongs to the redeemed through Christ.

Instead, we must cast ourselves upon the mercy of the Lord to subdue them for us. A primary purpose of our redemption is the redemption from the present power of sin.

1 Peter 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, 21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Thus it undermines the power of redemption when we meditate on our sins and failures, even if that remembrance is to confess those things to God. We confess our sins to the Lord in order to claim his conquest over our iniquities. We must not meditate on our sins and iniquities, but we must meditate on Christ's victory over the sin which doth so easily beset us.

Romans 16:20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.