Besetting sins are ones that we continually struggle with and have a weakness toward. In the King James Version of the Bible, the word beset is found in Hebrews 12:1: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, besetting sin refers to “a main or constant problem or fault” (m-w.com, accessed 5-11-20). Basically, a besetting sin is one that we constantly struggle with and toward which we are naturally inclined.
Other translations refer to the sins that “beset” us as “sin that so easily entangles” (NIV) and “sin that just won’t let go” (CEV). The Greek word used in this verse means “easily ensnaring” (Logos Bible Word Study). Like a trap that easily captures a mouse, there are some sins that easily ensnare us.
Everyone has besetting sins they constantly struggle with, whether it is gossiping, lying, losing one’s temper, or lust. Christians do not automatically become perfect and sinless when we are saved (1 John 1:8); rather, we will continue to struggle against sin for the rest of our lives. We are constantly fighting against our sinful nature, as what the flesh wants conflicts with what the Spirit wants (Galatians 5:17).
The Bible gives examples of people who struggled with besetting sins. Both Abraham and Isaac fell into the same sin multiple times, when they lied about their wives to protect themselves (Genesis 12:10–13; 20:1–2; 26:7–9). In the book of Judges, Samson struggled with lust throughout his life, and it caused him many problems (Judges 14:1–3, 16–17; 16:4–5, 15–17). Similarly, David and Solomon both had a weakness in regard to women, and their lust proved troublesome (2 Samuel 11:2–27; 1 Kings 11:1–4). Besetting sins also affected those in the New Testament: the apostle Peter struggled with the fear of man, such as when he denied knowing Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69–75) and when he sided with the Judaizers in Antioch and was confronted by Paul (Galatians 2:11–14).
Besetting sins do not have to control us. In Christ, we have been set free from our sins and are no longer slaves to sin (John 8:36). We are dead to sin: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). As we lay aside “the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1), we should avoid tempting situations and relationships, making “no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14, NKJV). We should pray for wisdom and strength to change our habits. We should saturate ourselves in Scripture (Psalm 1:1–2; John 17:17). And when we sin, we should immediately seek God’s wonderful mercy and grace, having this promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).