Continuing on with my notes from How To Say No to a Stubborn Habit by Erwin Lutzer:
Chapter 12, Trapped Again
Sometimes people are delivered from certain sins almost instantaneously at salvation (by delivered here I mean they never struggle with wanting to do it again: we're all delivered from the penalty of sin and receive forgiveness at salvation, and, in Christ, as discussed earlier, we have the freedom and the power to be delivered from sin having a rule over us. But working that out into our lives can take longer with some things than others.) I heard the testimony of one man once who said immediately when he was saved he was delivered from alcohol, but setting aside cigarettes took a lot longer.
And, anyone who has struggled with overcoming a certain sin or resisting a certain temptation knows what it is to have some success but then to fall prey to it again, along with feelings of discouragement and defeat. Some after a while figure deliverance isn't possible and give up.
Deliverance is possible: we just have to confess our sin to the Lord again and pick back up. "For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief" (Proverbs 24:16).
Lutzer discusses in this chapter some of the issues involved in this cycle: sometimes there is a feeling of pride in having gained victory or resisted temptation; sometimes, after a numbers of victories a person feels they can "handle" getting close to the sin again or being in an environment of temptation.
Of course, we know that "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). "Past victory [is] no guarantee for future conquests." It can be an encouragement; but it is not a guarantee. "We must learn that our most dangerous moment is when we think we have finally mastered our situation...Not one of us should ever say, 'This is one sin I have under control. I'll never commit it again.'"
"Even good works done in God's name are never the basis for God's acceptance of us...the basis of His acceptance is God's mercy alone."
God loathes self-righteousness and He "uses our sin to remind us of our weakness. " We need to let our weaknesses "crowd us to the cross," reminding us of just how much we need God's grace. I Peter 5:5-6: "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time."
"Generally it's a slow leak and not a blowout that stops us." Some signs of impending trouble are a feeling of satisfaction or relief that that sin is under control (I Cor. 10:12: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."; making hidden provision for the sin (Romans 13:14: "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."); spiritual "coasting...crowding God and His Word to the circumference of our lives" rather than central place," letting other things get in the way; finally compromise -- tolerating a little of a sin or for a little while.
We need to keep "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" (Hebrews 12:2).
When we do fall we need not let guilt keep us from coming to God right away. "To think we must straighten up before we come back to Him betrays a misunderstanding of the cross. We are to come solely on the merit of the blood, not on the merit of an acceptable track record." We need to come back and to confess our sin to Him the very moment we're aware of it.
The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down (Psalm 145:14).
Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me (Micah 7:8).
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand (Psalm 37:23-24).
(Disclaimer: My purpose in jotting down these notes is not to post "the answer" so that people don't have to buy the book: on the contrary, I hope anyone struggling with persistent sin will buy the book. There is so much more there that is so rich. Rather, this is just an exercise for me to review what I have read and studied.)