Categories
Ministry Theology

John Owen, Killing Sin, and the Need for Conversion

“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” says John Owen in his famous work, The Mortification of Sin in BelieversSin is ferocious and relentless and unless we are actively seeking to kill it, before too long we will be devoured.

Killing sin doesn’t mean we completely destroy it (that’s Jesus’ job, not ours). It doesn’t mean we stop one wicked thing and replace it with another. It doesn’t mean we just occasionally overcome a sin.

Killing sin does mean that, over time, sin will weaken and it won’t be as attractive to us. Killing sin means that we fight sin by fighting to believe and live as if Jesus is more satisfying and delightful. Killing sin means we frequently see obedience in our life.

Owen writes about all this in more in his important book on sin. But one thing that particularly struck me this week as I’m re-reading Owen is the question of who. Who can kill sin? So often in popular Christian commentary or books, sermons or conversations, non-Christians are called to wise up, shape up, and clean up their act. Owen’s response? Ridiculous (my word, not his). Here are his words:

You would laugh at a man that you should see setting up a great fabric, and never take any care for a foundation; especially if you should see him so foolish as that, having a thousand experiences that what he built one day fell down another, he would yet continue in the same course…When the Jews, upon their conviction of their sin, were cut to the heart and cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), what does Peter direct them to do? Does he bid them go and mortify their pride, wrath, malice, cruelty, and the like? No; he knew that was not their present work, but he calls them to conversion and faith in Christ in general (v. 38).

Owen acknowledges that God has provided many means to restrain sin, otherwise the world would be hell, as it were. But, ultimately, it is of no use, there is no power, and there is no eternal value if sin is not overcome by and through Christ. Owen writes, “Be sure to get an interest in Christ–if you intend to mortify any sin without it, it will never be done.” In other words, if you are not converted to Jesus–if you are not born again by the Spirit–you will never be able to kill sin in general or even particular sins. You may replace a sinful behavior with other less noticeable sins. You may modify your behavior so you don’t appear as sinful. But you will never kill sin. And Jesus will never be your all-consuming treasure.

Unfortunately, we Christians do much harm to non-Christians precisely because of this issue. We have made Christianity appear to be a religion of morality, as if this whole Jesus-thing about simply stopping a few bad habits here and there. It’s all too easy to say to someone, “Stop this sin or that sin because sin is your problem!” A particular sin may certainly be ruining someone’s life. That is true. But any particular sin is only a symptom of not being alive in Christ. The bigger problem is that apart from Christ, people are dead and at enmity with God.

Only conversion to Christ can change this. We don’t need a new strategy that will help us changes our behaviors. We need a new Master. We need a complete transformation. We need a new heart. Once this conversion happens a person goes from death to life. Then, and only then, let the sin-killing begin, because, as Owen concludes, “To kill sin is the work of living men; where men are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live.”

Categories
Life Theology

The Result of a Debased Mind: Practicing and Approving of Evil Deeds

Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

These unbelieving sinners that Paul has just spoken of in verses 28-31 know that what they are doing is wrong. Paul never speaks of the law in these verses, which is significant.  This communicates to us that all humans are under the same judgment, even if we haven’t received the Ten Commandments or a list of do’s and don’ts from God.  We all suppress God’s truth.  We all exchange his glory and truth for idolatry and lies.

God has built it into the hearts of human beings to obey a moral code.  That is why in nearly all cultures over all time murder and rape are wrong.  What other explanation can there be?  People “know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” (cf. Rom. 3:23).   This verse tells us that all people have some knowledge of God, as verses 19-21 tell us.  It shows that even if people do not have a Bible or a missionary, they are still held accountable to God.  Of course, Paul himself is talking about people without a Bible, since nearly all of the known Gentile world in his day did not have written Scripture and did not read the Old Testament.

Not only do people do such things as those listed in verses 28-31, but they also give approval to those who practice them.  This means that they congratulate evil and hate what is good — a gross inversion of God’s intention (see Rom. 12:9).  Our modern minds probably immediately go to a man bowing down to a golden idol and congratulating others who worship with him.  But consider the businessman on Wall Street who has committed fraud and is laundering money.  He defies the decree of God.  And his business partner has joined him, risking his job, credibility, integrity, family, and friends.  Instead of coming to his senses, this man congratulates his partner and tells him, “This is the only way you’ll get ahead, make money, and make something of yourself in this company.”  He not only does evil, but he is approves others doing it as well.  He is doubly guilty.

This can also happen with much “smaller” things.  And it can be passive, not active.  Take pornography, for example.  Instead of hating the sin and actively fighting against it, a man may rebuke his friend because he himself is fighting the same sin of pornography.  Instead of lovingly rebuking his friend who sinned while on the Internet yesterday, he says, “It’s okay.  I’m right there with you.  God forgives.”  Though that is true, it is not actively engaged in the battle against sin.  It’s passive and communicates a lackadaisical attitude toward the self-destructing ability of sin.  “Approving” sin may come in many shapes and colors.  And we must be careful to watch out for it at all times.

 

Categories
Life Theology

What Lizard Needs to Be Killed in Your Life?

C.S. Lewis writes about the necessity to kill sin, and the pain that can come with it, in The Great Divorce:

I saw coming toward us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains

‘Of so soon?’ said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

‘Yes. I’m off,’ said the Ghost. ‘Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no god, you see. I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) ‘that he’d have to be quiet if he came–which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.’

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit–an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

‘Oh–ah–look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the only way,’ said the angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here–well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’

‘There is no time. May I kill it?’

‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please–really–don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.’

‘The gradual process is of no use at all.’

‘Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be most silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.’

‘There is no other day. All days are present now.’

‘Get back! You’re hurting me now.’

‘I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.’

‘Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by to-night’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.’

‘This moment contains all moments.’

‘Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me in pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew? It would have all been over by now if you had.’

‘I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?’

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

‘Be careful,’ it said. ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent…’

‘Have I your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.

‘I know it will kill me.’

‘It won’t. But supposing it did?’

‘You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’

‘Then I may?’

‘Damn and blast you! Go on, can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.

I saw coming toward us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder.  Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ.  Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily.  What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.  As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience.  ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said.  It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him.  He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile.  Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

‘Of so soon?’ said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him.  His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

‘Yes.  I’m off,’ said the Ghost.  ‘Thanks for all your hospitality.  But it’s no god, you see.  I told this little chap’ (here he indicated the Lizard) ‘that he’d have to be quiet if he came–which he insisted on doing.  Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that.  But he won’t stop.  I shall just have to go home.’

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit–an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

‘Oh–ah–look out!  You’re burning me.  Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first.  I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the only way,’ said the angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard.  ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question.  I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it?  I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here–well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’

‘There is no time.  May I kill it?’

‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance.  Please–really–don’t bother.  Look!  It’s gone to sleep of its own accord.  I’m sure it’ll be all right now.  Thanks ever so much.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that.  I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now.  I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.’

‘The gradual process is of no use at all.’

‘Don’t you think so?  Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully.  I honestly will.  In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day.  It would be most silly to do it now.  I’d need to be in good health for the operation.  Some other day, perhaps.’

‘There is no other day.  All days are present now.’

‘Get back!  You’re hurting me now.’

‘I never said it wouldn’t hurt you.  I said it wouldn’t kill you.’

‘Oh, I know.  You think I’m a coward.  But it isn’t that.  Really it isn’t.  I say!  Let me run back by to-night’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor.  I’ll come again the first moment I can.’

‘This moment contains all moments.’

‘Why are you torturing me?  You are jeering at me.  How can I let you tear me in pieces?  If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew?  It would have all been over by now if you had.’

‘I cannot kill it against your will.  It is impossible.  Have I your permission?’

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite.  Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

‘Be careful,’ it said.  ‘He can do what he says.  He can kill me.  One fatal word from you and he will!  Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever.  It’s not natural.  How could you live?  You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now.  He doesn’t understand.  He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing.  It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us.  Yes, yes.  I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams.  But aren’t they better than nothing?  And I’ll be so good.  I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again.  I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent.  You might say, quite innocent…’

‘Have I your permission?’ said the Angel to the Ghost.

‘I know it will kill me.’

‘It won’t.  But supposing it did?’

‘You’re right.  It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.’

‘Then I may?’

‘Damn and blast you!   Go on, can’t you?  Get it over.  Do what you like,’ bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me.  God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth.  The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, then flung it, broken-backed, on the turf.