Sometimes we are tempted to brand our most depraved moral failings as “mistakes”, “slip-ups”, and “faults”, but we never want to call them sin or rebellion. We excuse our temper because of things we can’t control, like our ethnic heritage (my mom always told me I had a bad temper because of my red hair!). We give ourselves a pass for lust because “there’s no harm in just looking”. We justify stealing from our employers (by taking a pack of post-its), and from the government (by cheating on our taxes), because they have “more than enough” and “won’t miss it”. We are keenly aware of other people’s shortcomings and are ready to harshly judge at a moment’s notice, yet we demand grace and understanding be given to us by others for our most horrific offenses.
If we’re guilty of any of the above, in any measure (and we all are!) this is an indicator that we have no clue about the deadly nature of sin. We take an “oh well, I’m only human” approach, when we should persistently and violently be fighting the fallen tendencies that are not only poisoning us, but that were actually the cause of the death of the Son of God. This isn’t to imply that we can be good enough to earn our salvation, but that once we have been made alive in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10), we must give no quarter to the sinful deeds from which we have been delivered. “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.” Romans 8:12-13 ESV
John Owen, a Puritan Pastor, wrote these words in 1656 that are still very relevant today: “Now it being our duty to mortify, to be killing sin, whilst it is in us we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, doth but half his work.” He meant that as long as we find sin living in us (and we will until we stand before God!) we must be about the holy business of putting it to death! We can’t stop fighting until sin breathes its last breath in us.
How are we to begin this work? Paul said that we do it “by the Spirit”. That means that we must tune our ear to hear the voice of the Spirit of God in the Bible, as well as the sweet conviction that he speaks to our hearts. We must develop appetites for the nourishment of the Word, and communion with Jesus, and reject the “empty calories” of worldliness. This is not to be a strenuous, monastic, religious endeavor; but the produce of heavenly fellowship with our loving God. And there is a promise attached to it! “…if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live!” Christ has promised abundant life to all who answer his call to freedom (John 10:10).