It is an experience every Christian knows. You become aware of a sin and come to fear and hate it. You focus all kinds of attention on that sin and on putting it to death. You ask friends to pray for you, and you cry out to God for deliverence. Well and good, right? Well, not necessarily. John Owen has something to say to you: You will not be delivered from this sin until you pursue a much deeper and wider obedience.
Here is how Owen describes it in chapter eight of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation:
A man ﬁnds any lust to bring him into the condition formerly described; it is powerful, strong, tumultuating, leads captive, vexes, disquiets, takes away peace; he is not able to bear it; wherefore he sets himself against it, prays against it, groans under it, sighs to be delivered, but in the meantime, perhaps, in other duties—in constant communion with God—in reading, prayer, and meditation—in other ways that are not of the same kind with the lust wherewith he is troubled—he is loose and negligent. Let not that man think that ever he shall arrive to the mortiﬁcation of the lust he is perplexed with. This is a condition that not seldom befalls men in their pilgrimage.
This is what Owen wants you to know: Even while you focus so much attention on that one sin that torments you, you may still be living a fast and loose life in other areas. You may battle hard against that one sin, even while allowing yourself to slip in other ways. You cry out to God to be delivered from lust or addiction, but all the while you neglect the simple disciplines of reading and praying, or you continue to have a fiery temper and to make excuses for it. If that is you, you should not expect that God will deliver you from that one sin. Your tendency will be to battle hardest against the sins you find most alarming. However, you ought to look to your entire life and to battle sins that God finds alarming. “These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why do you not set yourself against them also?”
As he loves to do, Owen draws a medical metaphor. “He that has a ‘running sore’ upon him, arising from an ill habit of body, contracted by intemperance and ill diet, let him apply himself with what diligence and skill he can to the cure of his sore, if he leave the general habit of his body under distempers, his labor and travail will be in vain.” In other words, if you live a life of drunken indulgence which causes your body to break out in some kind of sore, you can apply all the medical attention you want to the sore, but you haven’t cured the greater problem. And in the same way we like to go to battle against the most disturbing outward manifestations of our sin, rather than the far deeper root causes. It is far easier to put a bandaid over the sore than to stop the addictive behavior that causes it. It is far more likely that we will battle the sin that most disturbs us than the sin that most disturbs God.
Owen says it well: “Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God’s. God’s work consists in universal obedience. … If we will do anything, we must do all things.” So battle that sin you hate by battling all the sins God hates.
Next Thursday we will continue with the ninth chapter of the book. You can still get the book and 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.