Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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How to Break Patterns of Sin

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss asks an important question for the beginning of the New Year.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Do you know how to take the Word of God and apply it to your season of life, to your circumstances of life, to your marriage, to that particular child for whom no textbook was ever written? Do you know how to take God’s Word and use it to deal with that situation?

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, January 14.

Virtue—does that word sound boring? Biblical writers used it to describe something strong and dynamic. Nancy Leigh DeMoss will explain as she continues in the series Adding to Your Faith.

Nancy: I talked with a young woman some months ago who had come to talk to me about a recurring cycle of sin and failure in her life, and she was wanting some help in that area. She said, “I sin, I get caught, I confess, I change, I grow, and then I fall back into the same pattern, the same cycle.”

She was discouraged over this, as I would be and as I have been in those areas of my own life where I see those patterns. You think you’ve dealt with it, and then you see it happening again.

I said to her, and I want to say to you, “This is going to be a battle. You have years of patterns, wrong patterns, wrong thinking, wrong responses, handling issues the wrong way. You have years of sinful patterns that you’ve established in your life, and you’re not going to change those overnight in terms of long-term, deep change."

And I said to her, “That’s why you need to be diligent to be adding onto your faith these seven qualities we’re talking about in 2 Peter.”

There are no shortcuts. It will not be easy. I said that to her on the first go round there. I just wanted to tell her from the outset what the objective you want to get to to be a pure young woman. It’s a woman in her early 20’s.

I said, “It will not happen overnight. It will be hard. It will not be easy to break these sinful patterns. It’s possible, and that’s where the hope comes in.” I said to her, “But by God’s grace you can change. You really can face those patterns. And you can actually become”—here’s a woman who had failed morally, had given into temptation in repeated cycles.

And I said to her, “The good news of the gospel is that you can become a woman of virtue. You can become a woman of godly character. But it’s not going to happen by just reading one of my books or listening to Revive Our Hearts or going through some course or going to a counselor. All those things may be a helpful part of the process, but it’s a hard process that requires diligence and effort.”

That’s why Peter says to the believers to whom he’s writing,

Make every effort, be diligent, to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, then self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and brotherly affection and love (verses 5-6, paraphrase).

I want to look today at the first two of those seven qualities that we are to add to our faith. Supplement your faith, or add to your faith, virtue and then knowledge. Starting from the foundation of faith, add virtue, and then to virtue add knowledge.

Now that word virtue—it’s used in different ways in Scripture and in the Greek language and in other works in that language. It has three major shades of meaning, and I just want to touch on each of those.

The first meaning has to do with moral excellence or goodness. It’s being pleasing to God, and it’s the virtue that is a reflection of God’s virtue, of His excellence. In fact, we read in an earlier verse in this passage that God has called us by His own glory and excellence. Same word.

God’s virtue and excellence is what has called us, and He calls us now to become virtuous and excellent, to live a life that is a reflection of His character. It’s what’s talked about in Philippians 4:8 where it says,

The things that are true and pure and lovely and of good report—if there is any virtue, any excellence, if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things (paraphrased).

It’s those things that are morally excellent.

Then there’s a second aspect of this word. It’s moral energy. Not just moral excellence but moral energy, spiritual vigor. One translation of this word in other places actually has it related to manliness, valor, courage.

This is a strong word. It has to do with spiritual fortitude. If I could say it, spiritual backbones, spiritual guts. You know what I mean? It's the energy, the strength to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. It’s your faith in action. Faith is not a weak thing. This is faith being lived out. It’s being spiritually vigorous. It’s having energy in the exercise of your faith.

It’s the opposite of spiritual passivity. It’s not just “let go and let God.” We’re told in this passage to be diligent, to cultivate a faith that is energetic, that is active, and that is alive.

Pastor and Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur comments on this passage, and he says, “Christians are not born again merely to be cabbages waiting for eternity.” I like that phrase. They’re not supposed to be cabbages waiting for eternity. “There is to be an active, dynamic quality about the believer in his pursuit of righteousness and the character of God in his life.”

This is faith with muscles. “To your faith add virtue.” Work it out; live it out. So moral excellence, moral energy. Then there are some other writings in the Greek language. This word is used to refer to something fulfilling its proper or intended use, fulfilling the purpose for which it was designed.

This stand in front of me is excellent. It’s virtuous in that sense if it fulfills its designed purpose, which it is doing by holding my notes right now. This chair is being excellent by fulfilling the purpose for which it was designed, which is to hold me up. And you are excellent, or you have virtue in this sense, when you fulfill all that you were made for as a child of God.

What were you designed for? To be like Christ. As you become more and more like Christ, as you become morally excellent, as you have moral energy, as you are adding to your faith, then you are fulfilling your designed, created purpose.

We have been saved, according to 1 Peter 2:9, to show forth to the world the excellencies, the virtue, of God. It says,

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies [same word as virtue in this passage] of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

His moral excellence—that’s who He is. He has called us, and He now has that life living within us through His Holy Spirit. We are called to shine forth; to be a visual, living, walking, talking demonstration of the moral excellencies and character of God, a reflection of His beauty in our world. When we do that, we are being excellent. We are adding to our faith excellence or virtue.

So let me ask you some questions. As we go through this series, I’m going to ask you some questions about each of these qualities, ask you to search your own heart, to say, “Is this quality in my life?” We’ve also prepared a list of these questions, so you can review the questions and use them as a kind of check sheet to say, “Where am I with these qualities?”

  • As it relates to virtue or excellence, is your life characterized by moral excellence?
  • Do you choose to think, read, be entertained by, and look on things that are virtuous or excellent?
  • Are your speech, your actions, and your choices morally excellent?
  • Do you have a heart, an appetite for things that are excellent, good, and pure?
  • Do you have an energetic, vigorous faith?
  • Is your faith alive? Is it active? Is it growing?
  • Are you fulfilling your intended created purpose?
  • What does your life reflect to others about the character and nature of God?

Add to your faith virtue, or excellence.

Then let me just touch on the next one: knowledge. We’ve talked about that word knowledge earlier in this series. This is actually a variation on the word we studied before.

In this context, the word knowledge (“add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge”) has to do with the ability to practically apply the Word of God to real-life situations. It’s the ability to discern the difference between right and wrong. It’s wisdom; it’s understanding; it’s practical knowledge of God and His Word applied to our lives.

It talks about living out this energetic, excellent, active faith in real-life, everyday circumstances. And I’ll tell you, there’s one place you get that. It’s from the study of God’s Word, not just knowing God’s Word, but using it as the basis to make your life choices, using it as the basis to act wisely, to be godly in every circumstance and situation of life.

Those of us in this room, and others listening to Revive Our Hearts on the radio, we’re all in different seasons of life. We’re in different situations. Some of you are dealing with mega problems in your marriage. Some of you are dealing with issues at work, issues with certain habits that you’re struggling with or dealing with. We’re at different places of spiritual growth. Some of you are single; some are married. Some have children; some are empty nesters. You face different circumstances.

  • Do you know how to take the Word of God and apply it to your season of life, to your circumstances of life, to your marriage, to that particular child for whom no textbook was ever written?
  • Do you know how to take God’s Word and use it to deal with that situation?
  • Do you have the ability to use God’s Word to minister not only to your own needs but also to the needs of others?

The apostle Paul says in Romans 15:14 to those believers, "You . . . are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge [same word], and able to instruct one another.” They weren't professional counselors or therapists.

He said, “You’re able to help one another. You’re able to instruct one another because you’re filled with goodness (that’s virtue and excellence), and you’re filled with knowledge.” That’s the knowledge of God’s Word practically applied to real-life situations.

So let me ask you these questions:

  • Are you growing in your knowledge of God’s Word, in your knowledge of God’s ways?
  • What are you doing to get to know God and His ways better?
  • Are you spending consistent time seeking to know Him through the study of His Word, through prayer?
  • Are you able to take the Word of God and apply it to your own life circumstances?
  • Do you know how to walk in wisdom?
  • Do you know how to make decisions based on the authority and principles of God’s Word?
  • Do you know how to use God’s Word to minister to the needs of others?

Some of you are grandmothers. What an opportunity and challenge this is for you in this season of life to be ministering to your grandchildren, to younger women—mentoring!

Not too long ago I was with a 92-year-old friend who said, “I’m mentoring a young woman.” A woman who’s probably in her late 20s or just 30ish. I love it! Here’s a woman who has walked with God through many, many decades and seasons of life, now taking God’s Word and applying it to a younger woman.

Do you know how to do that? You say, “No, I don’t.” Well, get in God’s Word. Make it your determined purpose this year to get into God’s Word, to spend time in it. You say, “I don’t have time!” Then you need to cut some other things out of your schedule. Get to know God, to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control.

Self-control. Some of your translations may say temperance. Self-control, temperance—it’s a tough issue, but we’re going to talk about it. I think it’s interesting that we’re recording this session right before lunch, so I don’t want to spoil your lunch for you.

In fact, we’re going to take two days on this topic because I just want to expand on some of what the Lord is showing me about this area and have us learn together. Self control or temperance—let’s talk about what it is and why it’s important and then how we can make every effort to get this into our lives.

According to the dictionary, temperance has to do with moderation and self-restraint. And then temperance has a more narrow definition that has to do with restraint in the use of or abstinence from alcoholic liquors.

So you remember the temperance movement was a prohibition and anti-alcohol, against drinking movement. And that word temperance came to be applied specifically to the excessive drinking of alcohol, restraint in that area.

But the word temperance or self-control as it’s used here in 2 Peter has to do with having power over yourself, mastery over yourself, self-mastery. “Being able to hold oneself in,” one writer says. Larry Richards says, “Those without self-control are powerless.” If you don’t have power over yourself then you are powerless. “Overwhelmed by the passions that tug at and control them.”

So self-control, temperance, has to do with controlling your passions and your desires rather than being controlled by them. If you don’t make your passions your slave, then you will become the slave of your passions.

Self-control, temperance—it has to do with denying yourself, keeping your emotions, your impulses, your behavior under control.

In the Greek language there are some synonyms for this word for self-control, and they have to do with being “free from excessive influence of passion, lust, or emotion” (Vine's Dictionary).

Some of those words specifically apply to drunkenness; although, they can be more broadly applied to other areas of self-control. It’s interesting how often drunkenness, not able to control the way you drink, is referred to in contrast to the spiritual grace of self-control.

One of the words means “to be of sound mind, one who voluntarily places limitations on his own freedom” (Vine's Dictionary). That’s to be self-controlled.

Now there are some antonyms, opposite words, in the Greek language. Those have to do with being self-indulgent—lack of self-restraint. And one of the words, interestingly, sounds like the English word sot. Do you know what that word means? That’s a drunkard. It’s someone who’s sated, soused. You know they’re just drunk. That Greek word sounds like the English word sot, and it refers to a prodigal—one who spends too much.

"Oh no," some of you are saying, “as long as you were talking about drunkenness, I didn’t feel convicted, but now you’ve got to talk about spending. And you put it in the same phrase as prodigal or drunk?”

Isn’t it interesting how these things are connected because they’re a lack of self-restraint? They’re self-indulgent. And so this sot, this prodigal, is a person who spends freely on his own lusts and appetites. It’s a debauched, profligate manner of living.

The other words that are the opposite of self-control have to do with pleasure, just giving into pleasure, doing whatever you feel like doing. And isn’t that what we want to do especially as it relates to our bodies? “I don’t feel like getting up. I don’t feel like exercising. I feel like eating.”

Our bodies or our emotions crave to be pampered. They long to be indulged. When we give in to those passions, those lusts excessively; when we’re not controlling those appetites of our flesh, we end up, as I have said, enslaved to those passions and lusts.

Let me tell you, one evidence of the need for this whole area of self-control is a statistic I read recently that said, “An estimated 14 million Americans are currently attending 12-Step Programs”1 of various types. Now what are those people saying? They’re saying, “My life is out of control in this particular area. I can’t control how I drink or what I drink. I can’t control what I spend. I can’t control what I eat.”

So they say, “I need help.” Fourteen million Americans and probably many more times than that who have issues with self-control and just haven’t got to the place where they’ve yet said, “I need help.”

There’s an interesting passage in the book of Acts chapter 24 that uses this word self-control. And in the context it gives us some insight about its meaning and its importance. Let me give you the context.

The apostle Paul had been detained by the government in Caesarea. The governor of that province was a man named Felix, who was on his third marriage. The woman he was married to at the moment was named Drusilla. She was not yet 20 years old. She was a young Jewish woman. She had previously married to a man who was the king of Syria. But Felix had been smitten with this woman’s beauty and had lured her away from her first husband and married her. So it’s his third marriage, her second.

One day Paul, who was in prison for his faith, was summoned to appear before the governor, Governor Felix, who brought his wife, this 19-year-old girl, with him. Verse 24 says, “After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.”

Paul was talking about the gospel, about faith. Now listen to what Paul talked about in verse 25. “And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.” You say, “Paul, you’ve got to preach the gospel to this adulterer who’s married an adulteress. What are you going to preach about? Righteousness? Self-control and the coming judgment?”

Do you think you would have had the courage in that situation to pick those three topics? “As [Paul] reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed.” Some of your translations say he was afraid. He was shook up. “And he said, ‘Go away for the present.’” I don’t want to hear about this anymore right now. “When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (verse 25). Maybe another day we’ll talk about this, but I don’t want to talk about it right now.

Why? Because he was under conviction. When Paul talked about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix knew that Paul was talking about him. I mean, the shoe fit pretty well here. Here’s this man who’s adulterous. He’s married to a woman he’s taken away from her husband. Talk about lack of self-control, lack of righteousness.

He didn’t want to face his lack of self-control. He didn’t want to face his lack of righteousness, and he certainly didn’t want to be forced to face the judgment.

It’s interesting that lack of self-control is a major root issue in immorality, unchastity, moral impurity. Felix didn’t want to have to acknowledge that he had failed morally. He didn’t want to listen to a gospel that would require him to exercise virtue and self-control in spite of the fact Paul had made it clear that there is a judgment coming.

We may think we’re free when we’re not having to restrain our fleshly desires—free to eat, free to drink, free to sleep around, free to hook-up in this hook-up culture, free sexually. But according to the Scripture, the people who think that’s freedom are really slaves.

In fact, in 2 Peter chapter 2, the apostle Peter goes on to talk about some false teachers who will penetrate the church. These are not outside the church. They come into the church and it says,

They entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved (verses 18-19).

You think you’re free? If you’re overcome by food, sex, sleep, your lusts of your flesh, then you are not free. You are a slave. It’s interesting that self-control and the next quality, steadfastness, perseverance, that these two graces fall right in the middle of this progression in 2 Peter chapter 1—this list of eight virtues that begins with faith and culminates with love. What two are right in the middle? Self-control and perseverance.

Let me read you something that I wrote in my journal.

Faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance/steadfastness, these two qualities, this is where the process has been short-circuited in my life. For years I’ve worked to add virtue and knowledge to my faith, but have never sufficiently cultivated self-control and perseverance. This is why I have not gone on to experience the level of godliness, brotherly kindness, and love that I long to experience.

That’s how God has been speaking to me on this issue of self-control. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, “I discipline my body” (verse 27). I make it my slave. The word there is actually, “I pummel my body; I beat it black and blue.” Not in the sense of abuse, but in the sense of controlling it. Saying, “Body, you are not going to run my life. Emotions, you are not going to run my life. Lord Jesus, You are going to run my life. My body will be my slave. It is an instrument. It is not to be the master.”

And Paul says, “If I don’t do that, then I run the danger that after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified in this race” (verse 27, paraphrase). That’s a sobering passage to me as a teacher of the Word of God because I realize that if I don’t develop the discipline, the grace of self-control in my life, if I’m not controlling my body, my emotions, and the things that we’ll talk about in the next session that need to be under God’s control, then I’m going to be vulnerable.

I’m going to become a slave to my body, a slave to my passions, a slave to my lust, and there’s a good chance I’m setting myself up for the potential of being sidelined in this race. “Becoming a castaway” some of your translations say, becoming useless. That’s a sobering thought to me. I hope it’s a sobering thought to you.

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has issued an important warning at the start of a new year. In our current series, Adding to Your Faith, we’ll help you avoid some of the pitfalls Nancy’s been warning against. You know 2010 could be one of the greatest years of growth and godliness that you’ve ever seen. And when you listen to the entire series, Adding to Your Faith, it will put you on a process of growth.

We’ll send the series on CD when you donate any amount at, or call 1-800-569-5959. You’ll also receive a helpful booklet called “Making the Most of Your Time.” Use the moments God has given you in 2010 to their full potential. This booklet will help.

Well do you find self-control easy? I don’t think anybody does. Nancy will show you how to develop this important quality tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1 Spires and Spirals (Vol. 5, 1995). "To Verify." Leadership.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.