Mar 14, 2016


Helping Students See the Battlefield of Sin

Andy Cimbala offers a great strategy for helping students identify the battlefields in their life where they must fight sin.

Students are sinners, just like you and me. And sinners struggle with sin. Students know they’re facing a fight, but do they see the battlefield? The fight happens on the battlefield, that’s the context of when and where and how. Often our students feel like their sin is coming out of nowhere, so one great way to serve your students is helping them see the battlefield of their sin.

This strategy came to me as I ministered to guys struggling with lust. It’s an epidemic among young people, so please do bring these strategies to the table for the men in your fellowship that are struggling. But this tool isn’t exclusive to the fight against lust, this strategy can apply to any sin struggle or temptation.

The most important thing as you discuss the battlefield is to remind students of the gospel. Don’t skip this! Make it the first thing you talk about. The gospel is our great hope for forgiveness, it’s our motivation for change, it’s the fuel and foundation for our spiritual lives and our relationship with God. The solution to our sin is not more strategies, but the gospel of Christ crucified. And it doesn’t stop there! God has given us wisdom, so let’s use strategies to walk in a manner worthy of the new calling He’s given us (Ephesians 4:1).

Romans 13:14 is our key verse, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” There are two parts we’ll focus on: know the battlefield, then make a battleplan.

Know the Battlefield

To know your battlefield, you have to ask six questions. I suggest writing these areas down on a napkin or paper, and ask the student each question. As they share their answers, you write down the key points on the paper. It’s so helpful for the student to SEE for themselves what their battlefield looks like. You’ll return to the answers in the next section.

  • WHAT? What particular sin are you struggling with? Don’t just use a casual cultural term or water it down. Use a biblical word. “Lookin’ at junk on the internet” = sexual immorality. “Just talking too much” = selfishness & pride. “Obsessing over this guy” = lust & idolatry. “Frustration” = anger. Identify the sin for what it really is!
  • HOW? How do you get to your sin? Is there a method, an access point, a provision for it? If it’s internet porn, what device do you use? If it’s cutting, what items do you use? If it’s food, is it stuff in your fridge, pantry, or out to eat?
  • WHERE? Where do you usually get tempted? Can you notice any patterns? Is it almost always in your dorm room? Is it at a certain store? Is it at the gym? With your family at home? At the frat house?
  • WHEN? What time of day are you usually tempted? Is there a certain day of the week? Is it usually in the evening after your roommates are all in bed? Is it in the early hours of the morning? Is it on Sunday afternoons? What is it about that time of day that is more challenging, are you tired or discouraged or lonely?
  • WHO? Are there certain people that increase your temptation? Maybe a family member or an old friend from your past or a certain roommate? Is there a hot girl that you always hope is near you at the gym so you can check her out? Do you have a friend circle that celebrates sin and entices you to join?
  • WHY? What is motivating you to run to this sin? Are you feeling lonely, angry, hungry, tired, discouraged? Are you feeling like you’ve worked hard and now you deserve to enjoy a break? Do you feel like God has cheated you and this is your way of getting what you NEED? Why are you running after THIS particular sin? What is it offering you? What does this sin promise you? Pleasure? Power? Comfort?

Make a Battleplan

You’ve got a sheet full of answers from the student describing their battlefield. Now look at the big picture and help them to identify patterns. You could ask, “What patterns do you see?” As you identify those together, you can use that to create a battleplan. Flip the napkin or paper to the other side, and start to brainstorm practical steps. Ask, “How can we interrupt this battlefield so there’s no provision for the flesh?” Set up specific questions or accountability that targets those areas where they are most vulnerable. The best ideas are the ones that the students comes up with on their own. Ask, “So how can you fight that?” Here are some examples:

  • What: If their struggle is anger, maybe suggest a Scripture study on what God says about anger.
  • How: If they are usually accessing porn through their mobile phone, consider internet controls, like disabling Safari, or installing a filtered web browser like X3watch.
  • Where: If they’re tempted when alone in their dorm room, suggest doing their work in a computer lab, or with friends in a study lounge.
  • When: If early morning is a tempting time, suggest a new habit of spending time in the Word as the first thing of the morning. If after 10pm is danger time, suggest that they ask 2-3 friends to help keep them accountable by texting them at 9:30 and 10:30pm.
  • Who: If a friend group is a source of temptation, make an effort to invite them to other events and fun with friend groups in the Christian fellowship you help lead.
  • Why: This is the key one. Ask some more questions and get to the heart. What is this student believing? What promise is their sin making to them? And then show them (from Scripture!) how the gospel provides them with BETTER promises. Examples: If they are going to porn for pleasure, show them Psalm 16:11, God provides better pleasure.

Finally, remind your students of the gospel. When they fail, they will be discouraged, thinking “what was the point of all that battlefield stuff if I just sin all over again!” And you probably will be discouraged too. Your instinct will be to figure out a better strategy. STOP. First remind them of the gospel. They are sinners, yes, but Christ died for our sins!  They failed, but Christ has won the victory. Once they have renewed hope and joy in the gospel, THEN you can go over the strategy again.

Remember the gospel, then keep fighting.


about the author

Andy Cimbala

Andy Cimbala and his wife Melissa have a passion to make disciples of college students. They work with DiscipleMakers at Shippensburg University, leading Bible studies and mentoring leaders. Andy has written a book called The Relentless Fight.