Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ten Ways to Kill Sin

In a previous post, Kevin talked about the need to sometimes adjust the order of subsections in a chapter. We've done this in multiple chapters, often running through two, three, or four ideas before landing on a final flow of thought. One of the benefits of (1) having a good editor and (2) having a lengthy amount of time for editing, is the gradual increase of clarity in structure and flow of thought. And, of course, the better the structure enhances the content, the better readers will be served.

Chapter seven, which was the chapter under consideration in Kevin's previous post, has gone through multiple revisions. Here is a partial (and slightly edited) e-mail exchange between Kevin and I, followed by the latest (and probably final) ordering of subsections in the book, with a brief preview of each.

E-mail from Brian to Kevin: I was looking again at the division between “understanding” and “actions” in the application list in this chapter. I’m not totally against it, but the division strikes me as arbitrary. Yielding to God is an act, not just something we understand. So is aiming at the heart, looking at the cross, and depending on the Spirit. So, I thought maybe we should re-title the lists to “internal dynamics” and “external dynamics” – but I’m not sure that works either. After all, using the spiritual sword of Scripture is just as internal as external. My point: though breaking the list of ten things down into two lists of five makes it feel more manageable, I’m not sure its really necessary or serving the content well. It feels more like we’re making the division to serve structure, rather than structuring to serve content and genuine understanding . . . One more thing . . .In the original mss, I intentionally put looking to the cross and depending on the Spirit at the end, because these are the most important. I think the present ordering loses the feeling of making the gospel the climax of the chapter. We did cut two things from the list, making it ten instead of twelve. If we took out the divisions, what about this as a logical progression . . .

E-mail from Kevin to Brian: Absolutely. Agree on all accounts. These being somewhat artificial divisions, they can be effectively handled a number of ways. I like your 1-10 list. Maybe call the section Ten Ways to Kill Your Sin.

Ten Ways to Kill Sin

Killing sin, crucifying the flesh, is no easy affair. It involves the habitual rejection of sinful desires, motives, thoughts, and habits in our lives. If we are to kill sin we must oppose it consistently. We must habitually fight its impulses and make every effort to weaken its power over us. The following ten strategies are not exhaustive, but I believe they will be helpful.

1. Yield Yourself to God

As we saw in chapter five, Paul teaches us that one of the first steps in fighting against sin is surrendering to God.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Rom. 6:12-13).

He specifies in this passage that we are to hand over both our selves and our bodies to God. Just to be clear, he notes that we are to hand over our members—that is, every individual part of the body, without exception.

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2. Accept That the Battle Never Ends

Killing sin is a constant duty that will require life-long battle. Paul says “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.” It's not obvious in the English translation, but all the verbs here emphasize an active, ongoing effort. In other words, “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Owen captured the point well when he said: “You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you.” We must never let up the fight. Sin is always pounding away at us, “always acting, always conceiving, and always seducing and tempting.”

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3. Take God’s Side Against Your Sin

Third, you must learn to always take God’s side against your sin. This is implied in yielding ourselves to God; but we must be conscious and consistent in acting on the inclinations toward holiness and acting against the inclinations toward sin. “The duty of mortification consists in a constant taking part with grace, in its principles, actings, and fruits, against the principle, actings, and fruits of sin.”

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4. Make No Provision for the Flesh

Which flame is harder to extinguish, that of a match, or a forest fire? And does a forest fire ever begin at full power? Never. Fires start small, then get bigger.

Paul tells us, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). This verse is about lighting fewer matches, and being careful to snuff out the lit ones before the flames increase. In practice this means not exposing yourself to things—websites, magazines, or movies, for example—that are likely to bring strong temptation.

Making no provision for the flesh also involves rejecting the first inclinations of sin. In rejecting the urge to snap back in sarcasm at a hurtful word, or indulge the lustful thought or glance, we extinguish the match in those first few seconds. If we don’t, we may soon have a raging fire on our hands. Owen wisely warns, “Rise mightily against the first sign of sin. Do not allow it to gain the smallest ground.”

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5. Use Your Spiritual Sword

As Romans 8:13 says, we must put sin to death “by the Spirit.” But how do we do that? How does the Spirit help us put sin to death? Consider Ephesians 6:18 “Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Linking Romans 8 and Ephesians 6 together, we see that one way the Spirit helps us kill sin is with his sword, the Scriptures. As someone once said, “Either this Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.”

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6. Aim at the Heart

Remembering the focus of chapter four, we must aim at the heart. Sin is a heart matter, not just a problem of behavior. Stomping on the fruit of sin—the sinful behavior itself—won’t kill the tree. Jesus constantly focuses our attention on the heart. As Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

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7. Replace Sin with Grace

Repentance involves not just turning from, but turning to. As we saw in chapter six, holiness demands both “putting off” and “putting on.” We must not only put off sin, we must put on grace. The negative must be replaced with the positive.

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8. Stay in Community

Battles are best fought by armies, not individuals. One of our strategies in putting sin to death must be to stay close to other Christians. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Eccl. 4:9-10)

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9. Look to the Cross

Even more importantly, we must look to the cross. Without this all other strategies will ultimately fail. “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ” said Owen.

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Over and over again, when the Bible commands us to put sin to death, it does so in the context of Christ's victory over the very sins we battle. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we fight from a position of victory. Therefore,

Set your faith upon Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls . . . By faith fill your heart with a right consideration of the provision that God has made in the work of Christ for the mortification of your sins.

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10. Depend on the Spirit

Finally, as we look to the cross in our efforts to put sin to death, we must also remember that the power of the cross is only available to us through the Spirit of Christ. Remember Paul’s words in both Romans 8 and Galatians 5. “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” (Rom. 8:13). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). While our constant effort is necessary and required, we clearly cannot defeat sin in our own strength. “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, to the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”

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