First of all, if you don't believe in the concept of "sin" - perhaps ascribing to the the belief that we are all relatively good people or maybe that we should determine our own morals - you may want to stop reading right now. Go ahead and stop reading. Why are you still reading? Hey, you. You who doesn't believe in sin. You are still reading. Why are you still reading?
Ok, if you must proceed; I warned you.
If you HAVE Jesus living in your heart can you stop sinning indefinitely? No.
If you do NOT have Jesus living in your heart can you stop a particular sin? Yes.
NO ONE can stop sinning indefinitely.
ANY ONE, through self-discipline, accountability, and hard work can stop things like overeating, making fun of people that stutter, gossiping, tricking the elderly, and racking up debt.
Christians can make huge strides in their long-term battle against sin. Non-Christians, unfortunately, cannot.
In light of what I just said, there are many things to look at here.
Let’s take a typical Christian who is “kicking ass and taking names” against the lies of this world. He sees sin for what it is; it separates us from God. As he yields more to God, through prayer and other spiritual disciplines, he realizes just how desperate he is for God’s strength, forgiveness, and love. As this Christian experiences more of God’s grace his desire for sin takes a huge hit. At the same time, as sin will always be a problem on this earth, his faith is in God’s grace being sufficient and abounding. All of these truths work together for sin to have less and less reign on this fella’s life, as the Holy Spirit graciously works on his heart.
Let’s take a typical unbeliever who is “kicking ass and taking names” against “bad things” that he wants to stop doing. He is probably not motivated to “live better” in order to draw closer to God, but rather desires to “make himself better” in order to take pride in his progress. Now, I can say this next part because I am aware of my own struggle with pride; I have access to Jesus’ strength which allows me to fight it, yet I still struggle with pride. As this unbeliever finds more success in “making himself better,” he’s actually worse off than before because the chances of him realizing his need for a savior becomes slimmer and slimmer. Why would he need a savior when he can make himself better without one?
To make matters worse, this same person might encourage others to pursue a “better life” of self-improvement and life-enhancement – all of this deplete of a need for a savior. That’s why I don’t really struggle with the whole “he’s such a good person. You are saying that just because he/she hasn’t accepted the gospel, he’s a prisoner of sin and God’s wrath is on him??” train of thought.
I’m not trying to offend anyone here, just keeping it real.
*Quick note to unbelievers who may be reading: If I truly believe in the urgent need for people to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, you should be pissed at me if I did NOT keep it real; not pissed at me for getting the word out that what I believe is true – especially if I am sharing it in a loving way See the smiley face? I’m a loving person.
This unbeliever also sees “stopping bad things” as a matter of external actions, when the essence of sin actually stems from the heart. Thus, he may not get drunk, but he might be dependent on getting a buzz every night, which means he is mastered by alcohol. The bible says not to be mastered by anything.
He may not cheat on his wife. He may even bring her flowers and do everything on the “honey-do” list. All the while, the Mrs. is starving for emotional connection and not just good actions on a checklist, while the husband worships the favor he has with people and the appearance of having a perfect marriage.
The believer, on the other hand, realizes just how sick his heart is. He, unlike the unbeliever, has the ability to seek the Lord with great zeal, asking God to crucify more and more of himself. As he wants more of God, the believer realizes just how insufficient he is to acquire more of God. His only hope is to receive through faith, recognizing that God’s strength is made perfect in his weaknesses.
Editors note from Matt: Since I edited and posted this for Joey I reserve the right to make my comment here instead of below. Deal with it.
Christians can, and often are guilty of taking the mentioned above non-christian approach to avoiding sin. As in, do good things under their own power, take credit and glory for it, and become less reliant on God. This is motivated out of the sin of pride. This is opposite the gospel.
So oddly enough, Christians can stop some forms of simple moral sin in favor of preaching a false Gospel. Yikes.