The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. One of the ways such deceit manifests itself is through convincing us that we have battled a sin and put that sin to death when really we have done nothing of the sort. John Owen is a steady guide in the battle against sin, and in chapter 5 of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation he deals with misconceptions about what it means to put sin to death.
Here are 5 ways to lose the battle against sin.
Expect the Utter Death and Destruction of the Sin
Though we target the utter death and destruction of the sin, we cannot expect that we will ever so destroy a sin that there is no hope of it ever returning in this life. “It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished.” Even though we can have a great degree of victory over sin and genuine success in battling it, we cannot expect perfection in this life. Even while the sin may be suppressed, we need to continue to call out for God’s grace until the day we die and are finally immune to all sin.
Will Yourself to Stop the Sin
Putting sin to death is not simply masking over a sin or even just stopping that sin for a time. This does not put the sin to death any more than putting a band-aid over a sore makes the sore go away. Here is how Owen says it: “When a man on some outward respects forsakes the practice of any sin, men perhaps may look on him as a changed man. God knows that to his former iniquity he has added cursed hypocrisy, and is now on a safer path to hell than he was before. He has got another heart than he had, that is more cunning; not a new heart, that is more holy.”
Rely on a Respectable Disposition
Putting sin to death is not just displaying respectable patterns and behavior. Some people have the advantage of a quiet nature, a reserved personality, a respectable disposition, and in their quietness can seem to have put sins to death. Owen says it well: “Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortiﬁed men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortiﬁcation of the sin than the former.”
Divert the Sin
Putting sin to death is not only diverting a sin. All of our sins are first sins of the heart and have many ways of manifesting themselves in outward ways. It is easy enough to divert the outward manifestation of sin, but unless that sin is actually put to death, it will only manifest itself in a different way. “A man may be sensible of a lust, set himself against the eruptions of it, take care that it shall not break forth as it has done, but in the meantime suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself some other way. … He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to the contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortiﬁed the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still.”
Rely on “Occasional” Triumphs
Putting sin to death is not merely occasional triumphs over that sin (and in this case occasional does not mean “seldom” but “at particular occasions”). Owen gives two examples of ways that we can seem to put sin to death, only to later realize that we have not. The first case happens when a person commits a sin and feels great shame and remorse over it. In those times he promises he will never commit this sin again, and for a time his shame and guilt keep him from falling back into old patterns. However, he has not truly put that sin to death, but has only suppressed it for a time. When the shame and guilt have dissipated, the sin awakens from its slumber and comes roaring back. The second case happens in those times a person is convinced that his sin has brought about some divine punishment. Now he seeks peace with God and believes he can broker that peace by promising to never commit the sin again. But, again, he has not put that sin to death, so it only takes some time before the sin makes its presence known once again.
These are only 5 of the ways in which people deceive themselves into thinking they have put sin to death when, in reality, that sin remains alive and well. In other ways, these are 5 ways to lose the battle against sin. Next week we’ll see the positive side of putting sin to death.
Next Thursday we will continue with the sixth chapter of the book. There is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along if that is of interest to you.
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.