By reading the title, you may think that I am once again going to address the issue of alcohol consumption. It certainly seems to be the battle that never dies. To date, by far the most read article on this site is the one I wrote over FOUR YEARS ago dealing with alcohol. The debate continued in the comments, and I even wrote two follow up posts (here and here).
The issue has again become a great hot potato since John MacArthur dared to out the “scared cow” of some in the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement in a recent article. My, oh my, how the blogopshere erupted. I don’t even have time to post links to all the responses, and counter responses. You’ll have to go fishing for yourself. But I can’t really say anything on that matter I haven’t already said. You can read those three earlier posts if you really want to know what I think about all that.
Here, the battle I’m talking about is the battle against the flesh (hmm, maybe there is some connection here…..nah). I’ve been reading a great little book by Brian Hedges called “Licensed to Kill.” I picked it up because I thought it was a James Bond book, but… just kidding, folks. He’s talking about killing sin, or “mortifying” sin. I picked it up because I have this great little deal with Cruciform Press in which, for a small subscription price, they send me an e-book copy of their latest book each month. This happened to be one of those.
And I’m glad a picked it up. At least, I think I’m glad. You know how it is when we read something that is true, that hits home, etc. We’re glad for the insight, but not so fond of the “pain” that comes from seeing ourselves. In fact, one of Brian’s points in the process of mortification is to get a clear view of our self through God’s eyes. A spiritual self-examination; an exploratory surgery of the soul.
John Owen wrote that “Indwelling sin always abides whilst we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.” He says not to assume that sin will cease waging war on us, but that “Sin doth not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still labouring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.” In fact, to assume that sin no longer acts, or that we can find some sort of perfection in this life, Owen calls “vain, foolish and ignorant.”
Hedges would agree. He says, “while perfection is our ultimate desire, we will not attain it this side of glory. We will contend against indwelling sin all our days in this life (Romans 7:14-25).”
The point is that we need to be aware of this. Too often we take sin too lightly. Not only do we dishonor Christ and His sacrifice by making too little of the seriousness of sin, but we are foolish and arrogant to pretend that we don’t have to continue to wage this war; as if sin is some little plaything. Again, Hedges writes, “Evil cannot be domesticated. Sin is poised to attack your faith at any moment.”
Often, because we think we have a handle on certain outward behaviors, we think the battle is over. “We should not assume that the lack of certain behaviors means that sin is mortified or the heart is pure,” because as Hedges reminds us, this is really a heart matter. It’s the core of our being that causes the behavior, not just the behavior itself.
And never doubt, sin has a goal. Our enemy wants to destroy us. As John Owen said, and Brian Hedges quotes, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” So should we walk around in fear, constantly cowering before our sin nature? No. No. No. That’s not the point.
In Christ we do have victory, and we will have victory. But even though that ultimate victory is secure in Christ for those who are truly in him, we can’t act as though our sin nature doesn’t continue to rebel, and we can’t fail to fight against it. Because as Hedges painfully points out: “If we keep on sinning with no repentance, what assurances do we have that wee are genuine Christians at all?”
Sin is a serious matter. We ought to take it seriously. We ought to seek God in His Word on a regular basis, asking Him to point out those areas of sin that need to be killed, mortified, obliterated. Obviously I would recommend Hedges book in helping with this issue, as well as Owens’ classic work (which has the amazing complete title of: Of The Mortification Of Sin In Believers; The Necessity, Nature, And Means Of It: With A Resolution Of Sundry Cases Of Conscience Thereunto Belonging. You know it’s good when you have to take a breath just to get through the title!)
Be on your guard. Stand firm in God’s Word. Rest in His power at work within us, to deal with ongoing indwelling sin. We should not live in fear, but in hope of the great victory we have in Christ. But we should also continue to very aware that until He returns, this battle isn’t going anywhere. It’s even more tenacious that a bunch of us reformed guys arguing about drinking beer. And you know how agitating that battle can be!