We all long for peace. We all want to be at peace with God and men. The problem is that we usually want that peace to be on our terms. So we strive against men and battle against God until we feel that we have achieved what feels to us like peace.
John Owen knows this temptation and in his great book Overcoming Sin and Temptation he includes an entire chapter on the theme. He gives his reader this charge: “Do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it, but hearken to what God says to your soul.” For many pages and through many chapters he has been instructing the reader on battling against sin. He has given specific instructions on how to put sin to death. And he concludes with care: Expect to hear God speak peace to your soul, but be very careful you do not speak that peace to yourself until he does.
Here is the slow march of his argument:
- God reserves the privilege to speak peace to whom, and in what degree, he pleases
- It is the prerogative of Christ to speak peace to the conscience
- Men speak peace to themselves without the detestation of sin and the abhorrence of themselves for it
- Men speak false peace to themselves when they rely upon convictions and rational principles to carry them
- We speak peace to ourselves when we do it slightly
- If one speaks peace to himself upon any one account of sin, and at the same time has another evil of no less importance lying upon his spirit, without dealing with God, that man cries “Peace” when there is none
- When men of themselves speak peace to their consciences, it is seldom that God speaks humiliation to their souls
We are so eager for peace that we will make only slight attempts at overcoming sin, and then try to convince ourselves we have done what honors God. We will turn from a sin for a time but without actually hating it and without actually intending to put it to death forever, and then tell our souls to be at peace. We will turn from one sin but continue to love and coddle another serious sin, and through it all insist that we are now at peace with God.
It’s not that we cannot know peace. It’s not that God does not want us to be at peace. Far from it. It’s that we must only find peace on God’s terms. He is the offended party, he is the Sovereign, and so he must take the lead. It is the right of God, not man, to declare the terms of peace and to declare the existence of peace.
God delights to put our sin to death, when we labor in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we do that we can expect peace, and we can know true peace. When God speaks peace through his Word or through his people we need to listen and believe. But we cannot and must not speak it to ourselves too soon, lest we delude ourselves and soon return to those very sins.
As you battle sin, listen for God’s affirming voice and look for success. God is for you and loves to help you put your sin to death. It is his delight. He will speak peace to your soul.
For those reading Overcoming Sin and Temptation with me, we are nearing the end! Next Thursday we will continue with the final chapter of the book (or this section of the book, at least).
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.
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