This is the second week of Tim Challies' reading of John Owens' Overcoming Sin and Temptation.
“The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemningpower of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify theindwelling power of sin.” (Owens, p. 50, para. 1)
The believer may expect to be pruned (see John 15:2). If you have not experienced any of God's pruning yet, you might want to consider whether you are indeed a Christian. From my experience, God's pruning comes in the form of little trials that bring my sins into view so that I can see their full ugliness. This is where Owens' statement comes in – it is my job, when I become aware of a sin in my life to destroy it. We should do as Paul who tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that he keeps his body disciplined.
Many times believers become discouraged because this mortification is a daily task, and they think that somehow when they become Christians their struggle with sin should be over. The decisive battle has been fought (when Christ died on the cross, he won the ultimate victory), but the fight goes on – the devil will destroy as many as he can before Christ returns to set things right. Suffice it to say, as long as we live on this Earth between the two comings of Christ we will be tempted to sin, and we will sin. Just one note of encouragement, the Bible says that God will always give us a means of escaping from those temptations that we face – will we act upon those escapes or assume that to become a stronger Christian we must approach those sins and stoically resist them? “He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, does but half his work (Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1).” (Owens, p. 51, para. 1)
“When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.” (Owens, p. 51, para. 2)
Sin is actively trying to get us to do what is evil, keep us from doing good, and otherwise create disunity between us and God. The sins of commission and omission are equally sinful and separate us just as far from God. We know what we ought to do, but don't do it and what we know that we ought not to do, we do that instead (see Romans 7:19). Owens states that, “There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.” I don't know about you, but this is very frustrating and I have been known to rail against Adam and Eve for introducing sin into the world. However, knowing my desire to do that which is good and my ability to do something completely different, I believe that I would have done just as they did in the Garden.
“Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.” (Owens, p. 52, para. 3) Sin wants to shame the sinner into inaction. It wants to be seen and talked about and judged – well, not it, because it is the sinner who is nearly always confused with the sin itself and that's just the way sin likes it because if we are ashamed enough we give up and don't even try to not sin. Once we stumble publicly once, every private temptation is harder to resist and the flesh that lives inside us is desperately trying to grow our temptations into full-fledged sins. This is why we must struggle against sin in our lives, stomping on the little flames that lick around the edges of our consciousness because if we ignore them too long, they will grow into an unstoppable fire.
How are we to resist our sinful natures? It almost sounds as if we are faced with an unwinnable war. We have to realize that we in ourselves do face an unassailable opponent in our sinful natures. However, in Christ we have the victory. If we fail to utilize the Spirit then we fail to utilize our ultimate weapon. God has given us a great gift, but all too often we neglect it. If we neglect to fight against the sin in our lives, what happens? Aren't we redeemed? Don't we have our place secure in the Kingdom of God? Yes, but why live in the misery of a sin-sick life? Why obtain for ourselves the punishments that God meets out to sinners in this life? For the Christian, to remain in sin is to be sick and in pain.
All that being said, it is our duty to kill sin. (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18, 2 Cor. 3:16) We're supposed to work at it daily and ceaselessly. It doesn't matter what other Christians appear to do (though we should encourage them to do what they should!) If they aren't actively fighting sin in their lives that is to their harm and we should not use their actions as a reason to not fight sin in our own lives. Furthermore, we shouldn't look at other people's sins and consider that they are worse than ours – Every sin separates us equally from God no matter how great or little it is on our little man-made scales of good and evil!
Keep after it! God is working and I'm excited to see what happens next!