Preface: I know, this is longer than my usual. But I think that I'd have a mass uprising on my hands if I extended it to a third. So make yourselves comfortable and, without further eloquence....
We began looking at the subject of repentance here on Tuesday. Then over at my place, on Wednesday, we took a little side-trip into the topic of apologies. Now we return to identify what I think is a vital, often missing element in how many Christians think of and deal with their sin(s).
First, though, let me just briefly (and probably unnecessarily) note that both of those posts, as well as this one, could easily be multiplied by a dozen or two. I almost have to force myself to write this, because I am so conscious of the many implications and related issues that beg for development here. Alas, those pleas must go denied.
Let's suppose that at least some Biblical reality has come to bear. Perhaps we fled for a time, jumping at shadows, knowing no real peace of mind (Proverbs 28:1a). Perhaps we tried blame-shifting (1 Kings 18:17), or lashing out (1 Samuel 20:30) or vain, nauseating shows of religion (Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:12-20). But now the Holy Spirit has arrested us. The Holy Spirit has brought days and nights of misery (Psalm 32:3-4). He has used the word, spoken His "Thou art the man" (2 Samuel 12:7), and His word struck home to our heart.
But what now? We begin to see the sin as God sees it. We admit to God that it is sin, agreeing with Him.
The element I have in mind is mortification. It is dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches. It is seeing it dead, dealing death to it, killing it, depriving it of all means of life and burying it.
Here I think of Luther and Paul.
It was Luther who said, in Thesis #1 (timely, eh? I'm here all week! Try the veal!), "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." And it was Paul who wrote,
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14)Get that: if (A) by the Spirit, (B) you (C) put to death the deeds of the body, (D) you will live. There's a whole theology of Christian living in that verse, but let's keep it simple. Paul is saying:
- That our objective must not be to wound sin, nor to weaken sin, nor to hamper nor cripple sin — but to kill it, to put it to death.
- It is we who are commanded to do it, and so we who must do it. To give it no thought, or to shrug it off on God, is to thumb our nose in God's face. Yet...
- We cannot do it unaided, but can only do it by the Holy Spirit's aid.
- To be a son of God is, definitionally, to be led by the Spirit. Being Spirit-led is not a subset among Christians. The two sets (sons-of-God and Spirit-led) are co-extensive.
- To be led by the Spirit is to put to death the deeds of the body.
- To put to death the deeds of the body is to live according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh.
Do you mortify;But so often we do everything but kill our sin. We grant it was sin, perhaps, yes; we feel bad about it, we do a bit of this and that about it, plucking at its edges... yet we keep sneaking it crumbs and morsels, a bit of water here and a bit of wine there. We seem bound and determined to keep it alive — maybe just a little, maybe on the sly; but alive nonetheless.
do you make it your daily work;
be always at it while you live;
cease not a day from this work;
be killing sin or it will be killing you (p. 47, Overcoming Sin and Temptation; Crossway Books: 2006, Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor [emphases added])
How so? Well, positively, we find some way to cushion our darling sin, to protect it, to provision it. We focus on others' contributions ("If my wife hadn't...."; "If my pastor would only...."), or others' behavior ("What _____ did is a lot worse"). Or we find some obscure author or big-name apostate who says our sin isn't really sin — and maybe we don't go that far, but we use that to attach an IV to keep our sin hydrated enough to stay alive.
Work at it hard enough, and we can see ourselves as noble heroes or tragic martyrs. I fear I've seen that in folks struggling with temptations to sexual sin, for instance — in theory, they grant the sinfulness of the sin... yet they expend an awful lot of effort to protecting its tragic dignity.
Or, negatively, we refuse to deal death to it. We refuse to tear down our connections to that sin, the monuments we've raised to it, the apparatuses for indulging in it. We hide the magazines, rather than burn them. We don't go into that place... though we drive by it. We maintain those corrupting friendships, relationships, subscriptions, memberships, associations. We are private and soft-spoken in our expressions of repentance. Our disownings are carefully-worded and pride-sparing.
What we need to do, of course, is see the sin the way God sees it. God doesn't understand it. God doesn't think it's technically wrong, but kinda wistfully cute in a way. No, God hates it (Hebrews 1:9), He loathes it, He abominates it.
How much does God hate my sin, your sin? With such a molten hatred that nothing but the death of His dear Son could make it possible for Him to look on us with other than a white-hot fury (cf. Matthew 26:36-46). See Him hanging yonder, on the Cross. Why? For that sin, because nothing but the Lord Christ's death and His blood could atone for that sin, and bring you and me to God as other than damned, doomed, hopeless criminals.
This is part of what it means to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14).
I'll close with words far better than mine; I recommend that you read them aloud:
The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet. ...Soul, take thy lust, thy only lust, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughter, from which thou has promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down — and all this now, before thou hast one embrace more from it.
"Be killing sin, or it will be killing you." Amen.
...Who is able to express the conflicts, the wrestlings, the convulsions of spirit the Christian feels, before he can bring his heart to this work? Or who can fully set forth the art, the rhetorical insinuations, with which such a lust will plead for itself? One while Satan will extenuate and mince the matter: It is but a little one, O spare it, and thy soul shall live for all that. Another while he flatters the soul with the secrecy of it: Thou mayest keep me and thy credit also; I will not be seen abroad in thy company to shame thee among thy neighbors; shut me up in the most retired room thou hast in thy heart, from the hearing of others, if thou wilt only let me now and then have the wanton embraces of thy thoughts and affections in secret. ...Now what resolution doth it require to break through such violence and importunity, and notwithstanding all this to do present execution? Here the valiant swordsmen of the world have showed themselves mere cowards who have come out of the field with victorious banners, and then lived, yea, died slaves to a base lust at home. As one could say of a great Roman captain who, as he rode in his triumphant chariot through Rome, had his eye never off a courtezan that walked along the street: Behold, how this goodly captain, that had conquered such potent armies, is himself conquered by one silly woman. (The Christian in Complete Armour, William Gurnall (Banner of Truth: 1995 [reprint of 17th century work]), p. 13)