To become a Christian is to accept the lifelong challenge of becoming who you are — of putting sin to death and growing in holiness. Today I want to channel a little John Owen and tell you three things you ought to expect when battling sin.
Expect that the Battle Will Be Long
Owen says that putting sin to death consists of “a habitual weakening of sin,” and I take this to mean that over time and through our habits we chip away at our sin bit-by-bit and day-by-day. Rather than expecting sin to be destroyed in a moment, we expect that it will take time and focused effort. In this way putting sin to death is relative to our maturity as Christians and to the amount of time we have dedicated to battling a particular sin. He says, “The first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness, frequency, rise up, conceive, tumultuate, provoke, entice, disquiet as naturally as it is apt to do.”
He has this amazing quote that is quite an indictment of humanity: “The reason why a natural man is not always perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because he has many to serve, every one crying to be satisfied; thence he is carried on with great variety, but still in general he lies toward the satisfaction of self.”
He also makes a very helpful comparison between putting sin to death and a man being executed on a cross:
As a man nailed to the cross he ﬁrst struggles and strives and cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, scarce to be heard; when a man ﬁrst sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisﬁed and relieved; but when by mortiﬁcation the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may have sometimes a dying pang, that makes an appearance of great vigor and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it be kept from considerable success.
Expect that the Battle Will Be Hard
Putting sin to death is a long and violent struggle against a deadly enemy that is absolutely devoted to our destruction. In this way we should not expect that putting sin to death will be easy, and we should not expect that sin will go quietly. “When sin is strong and vigorous, the soul is scarce able to make any head against it; it sighs, and groans, and mourns, and is troubled, as David speaks of himself, but seldom has sin in the pursuit.” This will be a lifelong battle and one that requires constant attention.
To fight against sin you need to know that…
- “… a man has such an enemy to deal with it, to take notice of it, to consider it as an enemy indeed, and one that is to be destroyed by all means possible.” Always remember that sin exists, and always know that you are called to battle it.
- “… to labor to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its success is the beginning of this warfare.” Always remember that God gives us instructions in dealing with it, and we are to know our sin so we can better attack our sin.
- “… to load it daily with all the things which shall after be mentioned, that are grevious, killing, and destructive to it is the height of this contest.” Always remember that you are to follow God’s instructions in dealing with it.
Expect to See Frequent Success
While the battle is long and fierce, “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” Therefore we should expect to see frequent successes shown in significant and measurable victories over our sin. “Frequent success against any lust is another part and evidence of mortification. By success I understand not a mere disappointment of sin, that it be not brought forth nor accomplished, but a victory over it and pursuit of it to a complete conquest. For instance, when the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing, forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin and brings it to the law of God and love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to the uttermost.” While we do battle against our sin, we know that God has given us both the desire and the power to see victory.
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.