Like doubt, sin is one of the strongest forces opposing successful prayer. Like doubt, if we are to overcome sin and rid ourselves of it, then we must learn what it is and how it works.
We are most aware of sin as an act of disobedience to God: doing something contrary to what God has commanded one to do. Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil even though God had told them not to. Contrary to God’s command, Achan took a robe, some silver and a bar of gold from the ruins of Jericho.
We are much less aware of sin as a power working within us to cause to do things contrary to God’s will and instruction.
But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is within me. (Romans 7:23)
In his effort to overcome sin, Paul found a power working within him, warring against his soul, causing him to do things contrary to God’s command. Sin within him was producing the fruit of acts contrary to God’s will.
Sin within him was also producing fruit contrary to results in prayer.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)
God has a power (his word) working within us to produce results in prayer. Sin is part of Satan’s power working within us to choke prayer results.
If we look more closely at what Paul wrote, we see that he is describing a double-minded, or double-hearted, condition.
I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! (Romans 7:18-24)
Double minded sin, like double minded doubt, works to cause us not to receive from God.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5-7)
Doubt is double-mindedness with respect to belief. Sin is double-mindedness with respect to desires (want). Paul wanted to do what was right, but he found another want within him: a want that he was unable to consistently suppress and that brought forth acts opposed to his want to do what was right.
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. (James 4:1,2)
Sin is rooted in a person’s desires: what I want.
what I want to experience (taste, see, hear, touch, feel)
what I want to have, possess
what I want to do
what I want to be (or what I want others to think I am)
These are contrary to submission to God and his will. They work to cause us to reject using the means God gives us that produce results in prayer. They work against God’s ways and against his power working within us to produce results in prayer.
Romans 14:23 sheds more light on sin.
But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
This is talking about doing things that one is unsure God approves of the person doing. A person who is submitted to God to do only those things that God approves would not do those things. Sin is being not submitted to God: being willing to be, do, say, think, believe, or desire something on the basis of one's desire rather than based on submission to God's approval. In essence sin is the evil desire to determine one's own way in life and not submit to God.
James 4:17 is another verse that sheds more light on sin. It is particularly helpful as it helps us see not being submitted to God as the key issue in sin.
To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Knowing the right thing to do - what God wants done - and then choosing not to do it is not submitted to God. Not doing something in a way that is not submitted to God is sin just the same as doing something in a way that is not submitted to God.
Sin is a corrupt tree in a person's heart bringing forth the corrupt fruit of acts of sin.
Just as God sows incorruptible seed into the hearts of people that conceives and brings forth love and faith; Satan sows corrupt seed into the hearts of people that conceives and brings forth sin. The good tree in a person's heart brings forth good fruit and the corrupt tree in a person's heart brings forth corrupt fruit.
How Does Sin Work?
Knowing how sin works is key in overcoming it. As noted above, sin is rooted in a person's desires.
Each person is tempted when he is enticed by his own desire. After is has conceived, desire brings forth sin. (James 1:14,15)
Sin is conceived in a person's heart when Satan plants the seed of the desire to live life one's own way and not be submitted to God. The planting of this seed is one way temptation works.
Jesus was tempted in every way the same as we are, yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
This is how Jesus was tempted. Satan was attempting to sow evil desires into Jesus' heart, but Jesus resisted him. This is the same way Adam and Eve were tempted, but they did not resist him and the desire was conceived.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
Eve desired the fruit of the tree to be made wise, but God had told them not to eat of the fruit of the tree. Accepting the desire contrary to God's command was taking a desire to be made wise one's own way rather than being submitted to God. Once that desire was conceived it grew to be a corrupt tree, a power working within us, bringing forth all manner of evil contrary to submission to God.