Anger, worry, lust—how many believing dads throughout history have fallen prey to these deadly foes? We seek to lead our families through the minefield of this world, but in our own hearts we find ourselves embattled, and sometimes defeated. A normally easy-going dad explodes in a fit of anger after all the right buttons are pressed. Another dad, faithfully married to his wife for ten years, experiences a season of depression and begins to seek out pornography. When those dads turn around and try to lead their families, it should come as no surprise that they feel defeated. And defeated dads make poor leaders.
If you’re that dad as you read this, you probably don’t need a reminder of your defeat. Satan does quite well at “accusing the brothers” and loves to beat us down until we don’t want to get back up and fight.
But as long as you’re alive and breathing, the fight is still on. You must keep fighting because, no matter how we may feel, there is hope for your battle with sin, and that hope is Christ. So here’s the question: how can believing dads fight sin as they lead their families for God? Here is a simple battle plan based on Paul’s letter to the Colossian believers.
1. Look to Your Champion
“How could I have done that?” “That just wasn’t me.” “I’ll make sure that never happens again.” All of these thoughts betray a false assumption about our fight against sin. We tend to think that, if we try hard enough, we can do this. We can win. We are the champions.
But we’re not. We can never defeat sin in our own strength. That reality was beginning to dawn on the believers in the town of Colossae. So, when Paul wrote to them, he devoted a large portion of the beginning of his letter to the real Champion, Jesus Christ.
In a few ancient battles, we read about armies who chose great champions to represent them in battle. In many cases, the outcome of the entire battle depended on which champion won. Here’s some good news: if you’re a believer, your Champion is the one and only God of the entire universe. Look at how Paul describes your Champion:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:15–18).
The one who created and sustains all things has fought and defeated sin for you. Jesus is your Champion. In Him your flesh has been dealt a death blow (2:11). In Him the old you is gone (2:12). In Him you’ve been made brand new (2:12). In Him you’re 100% forgiven (2:13). In Him your sins are covered (2:13). In Him the powers of hell are defeated (2:15).
Paul talks a lot in Colossians about Jesus’ victory over the invisible powers of the universe. That might seem odd until you come face to face with your own struggle with sin. It may be invisible and internal, but at times it feels like the most powerful foe you will ever face. But Jesus is more powerful. If you’re a believer, the most powerful being in all the universe has defeated your sin. After his death and resurrection, there was no more contest. He won fair and square. The outcome is settled (see Romans 6:1–13). Jesus didn’t defeat your sin so you could flex on other dads or feel morally superior. He did this for one purpose: “that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18).
If you want to successfully fight sin, you must rally behind this Champion. His power is your only hope, and his purpose is your highest goal. Don’t try to fight this battle without Jesus (see Colossians 2:8–23). Every other potential means of success, whether it be regimented rule-following or a radical religious experience, will fall short of “stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (2:23). Only Jesus can defeat your sin. So look to your Champion.
2. Renew Your Mind
When Second Lieutenant Hirō Onodo received word that Japan had surrendered to the Allied forces in 1945, he didn’t believe it. Instead, he and a handful of other Japanese soldiers retreated into the mountains in the Philippines and held their position. Over the next few years, leaflets were dropped informing them of the outcome of the war, but they continued to live in hiding, refusing to believe the truth. After all of Onodo’s fellow soldiers had died and a full thirty years had passed, he finally came face to face with reality and hiked back down the mountain to rejoin civilization.
Sometimes, we respond to the news of Christ’s finished work much like Onodo responded to the news of Japan’s surrender. We may know all the facts—yes, Jesus has saved us and defeated our sin—but we continue to live as if we were still enslaved and needed to somehow save ourselves. Unshackled and freed, we still slavishly return to our former prison cell.
In Colossians 2:6, Paul gives a simple answer to this problem: “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” If Jesus is your Champion, and your sin has been defeated, then live like it. Connect the dots between your position in Christ and your daily practice.
This process begins by regularly reminding yourself of who Jesus is, what He has done, and how that affects you. After spending two whole chapters discussing what Jesus has done for you, Paul commands all believers, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above …” (Colossians 2:1–2a). In other words, take what you know about what Christ has done for you, and think about it—a lot. This kind of thinking is what another scripture refers to as “renewing your mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
Do you ever find yourself repeatedly thinking about the same things during the day—maybe some sports stats, or an upcoming vacation, or a movie you recently watched? These kinds of repeated thought patterns can easily dominate your waking moments. When you repeatedly think about something, that’s called meditation. What you meditate on changes you. That’s how God made us. In Colossians, Paul says that, in order to connect the dots from your position to your practice, you need to flood your waking moments with the truths of the gospel.
Believing dad, your thoughts are crucial to your fight against sin. What you think about is going to affect your mindset, your attitudes, your responses, and your actions.
If you don’t know where to start, take some time today to look over Colossians 1 and 2 to see what Jesus has done for you. Then internalize those truths. Mull them over. Memorize them. Let them affect you from the inside out. Renewing your mind in this way is how you connect the dots between your position in Christ and your daily practice.
I’ve always loved Peter Jackson’s depiction of the battle at the Black Gate from Tolkien’s Return of the King. As the men of Rohan and Gondor prepare to face their powerful enemy, Aragorn rides up and musters their courage:
“A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight!”
As Christian dads, we have a much greater cause than the men of Middle Earth. We fight for the true King of Kings who is worthy of all the glory in the universe. We fight for his name to be held in high esteem in our world, our churches, and our families. We fight because Jesus is worth it all.
According to Colossians 3, we are called to put off some things in this fight: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness … anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” (3:5, 8). Our fight against sin requires a radical rejection of sinful practices.
We are also called to put on some things: “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). The list goes on and includes forgiveness, thankfulness, and love for a spouse and children. As you renew your mind, take time to actively cultivate new actions and attitudes through the Holy Spirit’s power.
Don’t forget: this fight wasn’t meant to be fought alone. The Holy Spirit uses the collective church body to support each other in our fight against sin. Ask a brother to fight and pray with you. Go to your pastor for help fighting. Go ahead, text him right now.
When my family and I lived in South Carolina, we returned home from church one night to find a Palmetto Bug (think monster cockroach) just inside the door. Courageous dad that I am, I quickly dispatched the bug. I really needed to help get the kids in bed, so I left the carcass for just a few minutes. When I returned, I was dismayed to find a single leg. The remaining legs had scuttled off to live another day.
When you neglect to kill a cockroach, it’s going to be okay. When you neglect to kill indwelling sin, the stakes are much higher. The 17th century puritan John Owen famously warned, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”