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September 18, 2014

We are sinful people. We are sinful, forgiven people, who long to live in a way that pleases God. And there are few better tools for battling and overcoming sin than a close reading and application of John Owen’s classic work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. I have been reading through the book and came this week to a chapter on the critical importance of the Holy Spirit. 

Owen’s purpose in this chapter is both simple and clear: He wants his reader to know that sin is put to death only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There may be other ways we suppress sinful behavior, but true mortification always depends upon the Holy Spirit.

Here is a brief outline of his argument:

  1. Other remedies are sought in vain
    1. Because they use means God has not appointed for the work
    2. Because they do not properly use the means God actually has appointed for the work
  2. Why mortification is the work of the Spirit
    1. God promises us that Spirit for this very purpose
    2. All mortification is from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ
  3. How the Spirit mortifies sin
    1. By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh
    2. By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin
    3. By bringing the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith
  4. If the Spirit alone mortifies sin, why are we are exhorted to put sin to death?
    1. Because all graces and good works which are in us are his
    2. Becase it is still an act of our obedience

Those who read the chapter with me will have seen that much of what Owen writes here is meant to oppose Roman Catholicism, the chief enemy of true faith in his day. But the main points of the chapter remain easily applicable. While I may not be Catholic, I still feel the temptation to allow my man-centered desires to interfere with God’s gracious work. Maybe this is what Owen means when he writes of “the natural popery in man.” I may not wear rough garments or take vows and orders as an attempt to destroy sin, but I may still look to myself and my homespun remedies rather than to God and his remedies. Just as Catholicism has invented ways of putting sin to death, I may also invent ways and means, and find them just as powerless to bring about true and lasting change.

I was struck by what Owen taught about attempting to put sin to death by means God has not appointed for that purpose, and then what he taught about misusing or ignoring the means God actually has appointed. Here is the challenge: I may ignore the means that has appointed for the purpose of putting sin to death. When I do this, I appear to put sin to death, but do not actually do it. He says, “They have sundry means to mortify the natural man, as to the natural life here we lead; none to mortify lust or corruption.” This is the mistake of men ignorant of the gospel, and too often it is the mistake I make. As Owen says, “Duties are excellent food for an unhealthy soul; they are no [remedy] for a sick soul. He that turns his meat into his medicine must expect no great operation.” There is a lot to think about in those words. Do I misuse the means of grace God has given, thinking that they can mortify my sin when really they are meant to feed me, but not to cure me? Am I trying to “sweat out a distemper with working?”

Let me leave you with this fascinating and thought-provoking quote: “He does not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.”

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the fourth chapter of the book. We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

September 18, 2014

Here are some Kindle deals: A Quest for More by Paul Tripp (free); Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Philip Ryken ($0.99); That’s Just Your Interpretation by Paul Copan ($2.99). Also, Amazon just rolled out a whole lot of new Kindle devices. You can get details and/or pre-order right here. The new Voyage looks especially nicely crafted for just plain reading.

The Ordinary Church - John MacArthur writes about ordinary life and ordinary church. “God works through ordinary means, ordinary people in ordinary churches, doing very ordinary things.”

Friendless Millennials in a Digital Age - This is a worthwhile reflection on Millennials.

You Can’t Catch Sin Like A Cold - Barnabas Piper writes about those who “live in cultural quarantine, shutting themselves off from what they see as sinful influences.”

Thoughts on a Call to Worship - I appreciate Bob Kauflins thoughts on calls to worship.

Do You Hate to Wait? - This article deals with prayers that are not answered immediately by a clear yes or no.

Dads: Plan for Family Time - There is wisdom in this article on planning and preparing for family time.

Don’t excuse yourself by accusing Satan. —Thomas Brooks 

Brooks

September 17, 2014

I would like to ask for your help, and all it will take is about 2 minutes of your time. Would you mind lending a hand?

I have been at this blogging thing for a long time, but that certainly does not mean that I've got it all figured out. Today I am asking for your help as I try to understand who my readers are and how I can best serve them. All it takes is filling out this [anonymous] form, and that shouldn't take you longer than 2 minutes.

(If you do not see a form or are reading via email, try refreshing the page; if that doesn't make it appear, simply click here.)

September 17, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: Love or Die (a great little book!) by Alexander Strauch ($3.99); Preparing Expository Sermons by Ramesh Richard ($1.99); The Cell’s Design by Fazale Rana ($2.99); Faith and Learning by David Dockery ($2.99); and three books by C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity ($4.27); The Great Divorce ($4.27); A Grief Observed ($2.99).

Gospel Affection - Joe Thorn offers 10 practical ways to show love to one another in the church. “Consider what follows a simple encouragement to press into a life of love in practical ways. A life God has called us to, saved us for, and modeled for us.”

The Death of Thomas Cramner - Do yourself a favor and read this brief account of the death of Thomas Cramner.

The Art of Being Ungrateful - You are probably already plenty good at being ungrateful, but if you want more help, Melissa’s offering it.

The New Abortion Absolutists - Trevin Wax asks, “Are abortion rights supporters fully embracing an absolutist agenda, one that legitimizes and praises a woman’s choice to abort, no matter the circumstances?” (Erik Raymond also writes about abortion and moral ambiguity.)

Rush Hour - This is for entertainment purposes only, I suppose. But it’s fun to see how this video was stitched together to create the illusion of traffic.

125 Free eBooks - Monergism lists 125 free classics in ebook formats.

Avalanches of evil begin with a single pebble of sin. —John Piper

Piper

September 16, 2014

I have found that for short stretches of time I can convince myself that I am being faithful to God if I define faithfulness in terms of only one behavior.” That is an insight from Nate Larkin, author of Samson and the Pirate Monks, and I think he is on to something. We all have a desire to be seen as good and faithful and righteous, yet we cannot deny that we are bad and unfaithful and unrighteous. We are neither who nor what we want to be.

Our lack of faithfulness leaves us in a predicament. Either we deal with it by crying out to One who can forgive and redeem us, or we define-down faithfulness to a standard that is manageable. We choose a behavior we are good at, or perhaps a behavior that addresses a major source of guilt in life, and we define faithfulness to God in that narrow way. As long as we do that thing, or as long as we succumb to its opposite, we are convinced that we remain in God’s graces, that he is pleased with us.

What is your one behavior? What is that one behavior, that if you maintain it, you are convinced of God’s love for you? And what is that one behavior that if you do not maintain it, you feel as if you’ve slipped out of God’s reach? You may know that self-righteous behavior because your entire life can be a mess, but you still feel good about yourself because that one pillar is still in place. Even while your life spirals out of control, you look at others who are missing that one pillar and somehow feel good about yourself.

And for a time this self-righteousness makes us feel better about ourselves. But as Larkin points out, “Self-righteousness, however, is a double-edged sword. If I have reduced holiness to a single behavior, then I am standing on one leg. One slip and I am nothing again, absolutely useless.” If righteousness is built on a single behavior, it is also destroyed on a single behavior. Self-righteousness is woefully perilous.

Here is the understanding Larkin came to:

God, in his grace, has used [sexual sin and addiction] to shatter my moralistic understanding of the Christian faith and force me to accept the gospel. I am not a faithful man. That’s why I need a Savior. I cannot live victoriously on my own. That’s why I need a Helper and brothers. I cannot keep my promises to God—the very act of making them is delusional—but God will keep his promises to me.

God does not measure by a single behavior, but by complete and utter conformity to his perfect law. This truth will either drive you to despair or drive you to Christ, the One who lived a completely righteous life and offers his righteousness to those who have none of their own.

September 16, 2014

What’s All this Gospel-Centered Talk About? - Dane Ortlund: “As far as I can tell the phrase is used in two basic ways. One way is to view all of life in light of the gospel. We’ll call this a gospel-centered worldview. The other is to view Christian progress as dependent on the gospel. We’ll call this gospel-centered growth.”

Social Media and the Panda Predicament - You will probably be able to identify with this panda predicament.

The Coffee Nap - I’m really bad at napping (and sleep in general), but this still sounds worth trying.

Little Boys With Their Porno - This article tees off from an Arcade Fire and looks at the disturbing trend of “little boys and their porno.”

Thanking Your Way Through Thorns - There is wisdom in this.

Apple Watch - Mike Wittmer shares a few important parts of a TIME article on the new Apple Watch.

While all men seek after happiness, scarcely one in a hundred looks for it from God. —John Calvin

Calvin

September 15, 2014

I find addiction, and the bondage of addiction, to be very difficult to understand. It seems like overcoming addiction should be so simple, and especially for the Christian: Instead of doing that thing, how about next time you just don’t do that thing? Instead of opening that bottle, keep it closed. Instead of buying those pills, buy some groceries. Instead of typing in that web site, type in a different web site. Instead of walking through the doors of the casino, choose not to even go near the casino. If only it was so simple.

To treat addiction so simply is to misunderstand its very nature. I said recently that Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue is easily one of the most fascinating books I have read recently, and in that book he tells us why addiction is far more than making bad choices instead of good choices. Addicts are not simply satisfying a need or following habits, though they are doing those things as well. Addicts are actually seeking the good life, and are convinced it can be found in and through the addiction. Dunnington says it this way:

We are neither taught nor inclined to think of addicted persons as being actively and passionately engaged in the pursuit of the good life. We tend to think of them as persons who have checked out of the game or who are positively bent on destruction. But this is not so. I maintain that addictive behavior can tell us more than almost any other kind of human behavior about what human beings most deeply desire. 

Addicts are expressing a universal desire, but are doing it in a more “sold out” way than most other people. If most people pursue the good life in a halfhearted way, addicts pursue it full-out.

Addiction, then, might be understood as the quest for … ecstatic intoxication. The addicted person, recognizing her own insignificance and her own insufficiency to realize perfect happiness, seeks to be taken up into a consuming experience, longs to be the object rather than the subject of experience, craves to suffer happiness rather than produce it.

“Ecstatic intoxication.” That is what addicts desire, whether the intoxication comes through a substance or an experience, through the rush of the drug or the rush of the sexual experience. In either case, addicts long for that consuming experience and convince themselves it can be found in drugs or alcohol or gambling or pornography or in whatever it is. In this way we see that addiction is actually a failure of worship.

Addictions are addicting just to the extent that they tempt us with the promise of such a perfect happiness, and they are enslaving just to the extent that they mimic and give intimations of this perfection. The depth and power of addiction become more intelligible as we come to see addiction as a counterfeit of the virtue of charity. As such, addiction is appropriately described as a failure of worship, a potent expression of idolatry in which we pursue in the immanent plane that which can only be achieved in relationship with the transcendent God. The cunning and allure of addiction is in fact brought out just to the extent that we see how stunningly addiction enables addicted persons to achieve [imitations] of the goods that right worship makes possible. Such a display demonstrates that addiction can most fittingly be characterized as an enactment of the striving of human persons to attain on their own the flourishing, integrity of self and ecstatic delight that is only to be received through right relationship with God.

Addiction is worship, a failed attempt to find in substances or experiences what can only be found in God. How can you see evidence of that worship? By the way the addiction becomes the means to elevate and interpret any experience.

The fact that anything can count as an excuse to use is a function of the power that addiction has to incorporate every aspect of an addicted person’s life into its own rhythms and rationales. It really is the case for the alcoholic that the good times are vacuous without alcohol, that the hard times are unbearable without alcohol, that loneliness doesn’t feel lonely with alcohol, that loving relationships are mediated by alcohol, that success can only be celebrated with alcohol, that only alcohol can insulate from rejection and so on. To be an alcoholic is to enter into such a relationship with alcohol that everything else in life makes sense only if it is accompanied by alcohol. … [A]ddiction transfigures the most ordinary activities into meaningful transactions.

Do you see it? The Bible calls us to incorporate worship of God into all of life’s rhythms and rationales. The hard times are unbearable without God, loneliness doesn’t feel [as] lonely when we are walking closely with God, loving relationships are mediated and enhanced by shared love for God, success is best celebrated with thanks to God, a relationship with God insulates us from rejection, and so on. To be a God-worshipper is to enter into such a relationship with God that everything else in life only makes sense if it is accompanied by him.

The addict is not merely following deeply-ingrained habits and physical desires, but seeking the escstasy of worship. The problem is not the desire to worship—we are created to be worshippers—but the idolatrous object of that worship. The addict looks elsewhere—anywhere—for what can be found only in God. The addict’s foremost failure is a failure of worship.

Image credit: Shutterstock.