When is Sin Habitually Prevalent?

One of the many challenges in the Christian walk is the due diligence necessary to recognize the prevalence of sin in our lives.  For some, this takes the form of unhealthy introspection, while for others it is a neglected duty altogether.  To this cause, there is much wisdom in the infamous quote of John Owen, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  As Owen’s pithy statement alludes to, there really is no gray area when it comes to the presence and activity of indwelling sin.  In other words, there’s no neutrality, there is simply making war and progress against it, or there is considerable and regular defeat.

The danger here is not simply that sin wins on a regular basis, rather it is the cumulative effect that the ongoing and active power of sin has in one’s life.  In this way, sin is much more than a deed one commits and then confesses, sin is a power, an operative force.  It’s primary goal is not to get you to sin today or tomorrow, but to collectively numb you towards its presence and then to spread like a cancer until it hardens the heart completely,  leading to a shipwreck of faith.

Writing in his first epistle, the Apostle John intimates as much when he says,

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

In this enlightening passage, John confirms there is no gray area in the Christian life.  For him, as a divinely inspired author, there is either the practice, i.e. regular pattern, of sinning or their is the practice of righteousness.  To engage in both is inconsistent, in fact it’s an impossibility and leads to a rather schizophrenic condition.  The challenge, for us then, is to determine whether one’s life is marked by a regular pattern of habitual sinning or whether one’s life is marked by bad habits that lead to temptation and sin.  Said another way, the Author of Hebrews exhorts us to lay aside every besetting sin, or the one that so easily entangles.  There is a snare that appeals to each of our flesh, a proclivity we might say, towards a particular sin.  Of this, we need to be alert and aware, not allowing it as an excuse to sin.  We need to know the ways and means, the pattern or principle, as it were, that these particular sins like to maneuver and operate in our lives.  However, this is not to say that a particular besettting sin is to be equivocated with a regular pattern of sin, which the apostle exhorts against above.  How then are we to know the difference?

In a discourse, sharing the same title as this post, John Owen addresses this very topic.  Writing in volume 9 of his works, Owen lends a hand towards untangling this particular knot when he says,

“Brethren, I take it for granted the vilest of those lusts which our Saviour and his apostles warn us against, to mortify and crucify, may be working in the hearts and minds of the best of us; and that a particular lust may be habitually prevalent, where, for particular reasons, it never brings forth outward effects: therefore, look to yourselves.  I say, then, when the mind and soul is frequently and greatly, as there are occasions, urged upon and pressed with a particular lust and corruption, this doth not prove that particular lust and corruption are habitually prevalent; for it may be a temptation.  This may all proceed from the conjunction of temptation with indwelling sin; which will make it fight and war, and use force, and lead captive.”

Owen has summarized the situation that we presented above.  There is a distinction to be made in our lives with regards to sin, whether we are under the influence of temptation of our flesh to sin, or whether there is within us the habitual prevalence to sin.  How then are we able to distinguish whether we are subject to a particular sin which so easily entangles, perhaps taking advantage of bad habits, and when a particular sin has become habitual and prevalent in our lives?

Turning to Owen again, he deduces three ways in which we may see that our sin is NOT from its habitual prevalence in our lives:

  1. If the soul be more grieved with it than defiled by it, it is a temptation, and not a lust habitually prevalent.
  2. It is so, when the soul can truly, and doth, look upon that particular corruption as the greatest and most mortal enemy.
  3. It is so, also, when a man maintains his warfare and his conflict with it constantly, especially in those two great duties of private prayer and meditation.

If these things be true of us, that we be grieved over the sin, a mortal enemy of the sin, and maintaining war against it through prayer and meditation, then, at least according to Owen, it is not a habitual sin, rather it is the effect of temptation with indwelling sin.

He then lists four ways which show that a habitual sin IS present:

  1. When a man doth choose, or willingly embrace, known occasions of his sin, that sin is habitually prevalent.
  2. Let a man fear it is so, when he finds arguments against it to lose their force.
  3. When a man, upon conviction, is turned out of his course, but not turned aside from his design.
  4. When the soul, if it will examine itself, will find it is gone from under the conduct of renewing grace, and is, at the best but under the evidence [influence?] of restraining grace.
  5. Lastly, when there is a predominant will in sinning, then lust is habitually prevalent.  Sin may entangle the mind and disorder the affections, and yet not be prevalent; but when it hath laid hold upon the will, it hath the mastery.

Owen’s words here are sobering.  Generally speaking, when we willingly choose and embrace sin, make arguments to support our sin, can be convicted, but not to change the direction of our sin, are completely reliant upon God’s restraining grace, and have our wills mastered by sin, then it may be said that we are under the habitual prevalence of sin.

If this be the case, we are in dangerous waters.  If this be the case, we have much to be in fear of.  If this be the case, we need to reassess, as per the exhortation of the Apostle above as to whether or not we abide in God as one of His children.  If sin be habitually prevalent in our lives, we lose all assurance and are indeed in danger of making a shipwreck of our profession.  Therefore, we ought to seek God in repentance and faith, turning from our sins with a desire to kill them; turning towards God asking for mercy for how we have grieved Him and neglected the grace of salvation through His Son Jesus.

Give glory to God. Repent and Return.

A Cheerful Giver…to Whom?

One of the more familiar passages of Scripture often used to defend, compel, or otherwise spur-on giving to the ‘church’ comes from 2 Corinthians 9.  Here we find the well-known, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor. 9:7  In the post linked below (from my other site), we walk through the context of this passage to examine the circumstances surrounding the Corinthian gift.  Then we explore common applications drawn from it, and see if they are what the Lord has in mind regarding stewardship and giving.

One of the difficulties with listening to sermons, rather than having the opportunity to interact with them, is that it?s easy to fall into the ditch of comfortability and assumption with reg?

 

Sabbath Rest – Part 4

In this our fourth and final post in the series on Sabbath Rest, which is part of a larger look at the Theology of Rest in Scripture, we will round out our discussion with an overview of three additional supporting passages for the development of the Sabbath Command along with what we’ve been referring to as the Sabbath Principle, all under the Old Covenant.  Briefly, the Sabbath Command is that which was codified in the 10 Commandments with the instruction to work six days, but rest on the seventh.  We’ve seen how this command was rooted and grounded in the creation sabbath from Genesis 2 and also in the Israelite redemption from Egypt.  Along side this, perhaps as an expansion, is the Sabbath Principle, which we’ve seen expands the concept of Sabbath rest from one day in seven to one year in seven, in order to allow the land to rest and provide food to both the poor and the beasts.  With that in mind, let’s turn now to our three passages, two from Leviticus and one from Numbers.

Leviticus 23

Our first support passage in this post for completing our understanding and introduction to the institution of the Sabbath command comes in Leviticus 23.  The Book of Leviticus is chronologically parallel to Exodus, meaning that it is an expanded commentary on the commandments handed down from God to Moses at Sinai.  At the conclusion of the book we read, “These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.”  Here in chapter 23 it is a new section where Israel is receiving instructions on their appointed feasts.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.” Lev. 23:1-2

After this introduction, the chapter opens with a brief mention of the Sabbath

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.

Here, we have essentially a restatement of the Fourth Commandment, with an additional note that the Sabbath was to be a solemn rest, a holy convocation.  This is our first, and only mention, so far, of a particular gathering requirement on the Sabbath.  We should note that this falls under the umbrella for holy convocations, which opened the chapter and has in mind the appointed feasts, which are also called to be holy convocations.  Furthermore, it was to be a Sabbath in all of their dwelling places, which we’ve already seen.   Here, however we need to ask what is meant by holy convocation and what is meant by dwelling places.

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, defines this holy convocation as a designation for weekly Sabbaths and the new moons, though its usually, “reserved for the seven special convocation sabbaths” which were arranged around five feasts two of which spanned from a Sabbath to a Sabbath (Passover and the Feast of Booths).  The TWOT goes on to say that these convocations included, “a formal summoning of people to worship by the blast of trumpets…physical presence was mandatory, however, only for the three festal pilgrimage feasts and only for males.”  These were the three feasts which we looked at last time in Exodus and which are also described in this chapter of Leviticus.

The dwellings mentioned in our passage the TWOT defines as, “the dwelling place of a city, tribe, or people” as well as, “even houses could be called dwellings.”  Basically what we have with this added note on the Sabbath is that it should be a gathering of some kind in the place where they dwelled, be it a house, city, tribe, or people.  It was not a mandatory pilgrimage for males, contrary to the three primary feasts.

The remainder of the chapter is devoted to descriptions of the various feasts, which we also discussed in the previous post, which are also called holy convocations.  Included in these descriptions of the feasts are instructions that no work should be performed, essentially extending the principle of the Sabbath from a weekly observance, to multiple times a year at the celebration of the God-ordained feasts.  This is likely where the plural reference to “sabbaths” finds its basis, in all of the God-ordained periods of rest which He sometimes refers to collectively.

(We should note also the addition of the Day of Atonement as a Sabbath; see also Leviticus 16).

Leviticus 24:8-9

Our next passage, again from Leviticus, takes a bit of a turn from the previous passages on the Sabbath and provides some instructions for what the priest, namely Aaron, is supposed to do.  After describing how the bread for the tabernacle is supposed to be made (24:5-7), we read that, Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord‘s food offerings, a perpetual due.”  This arrangement of the bread in the tabernacle by the High priest was part of the covenant, as was the Sabbath.  Furthermore, we see that Aaron and his sons (High Priests), were to eat the bread in the holy place as his holy portion.

Numbers 28:9

Our final support passage for the Sabbath is from the Book of Numbers, though remember our previous mention of Numbers 15 and the case study for violating the Sabbath.  In this passage, we read of additional instructions for the priests on the Sabbath, On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering:10 this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.”

On the Sabbath Day, according to the regulations that we’ve seen for 6 days of work and 1 day of rest, we’ve seen instructions for ‘priestly work’ in these last two passages, including making bread and offering sacrifices, a burnt offering, grain offering, and drink offering.  We also have found some additional information about convocations in dwellings, but have little prescription beyond that.

In our survey of rest thus far, we have now seen that the commandment of a Sabbath Rest, as well as the further development of the Sabbath Principle, are significant contributions to the overall theology of rest.  While the Sabbath is certainly mentioned throughout the Old Testament in other important passages such as Nehemiah 13, Isaiah 1:13ff; Isaiah 56:1-8; Isaiah 58:13-14; Ezekiel 20, et.al., the passages we’ve looked at in this series without question form the backbone and foundation for understanding how God had commanded the Sabbath to be observed as well as providing a Sabbath principle that extended above and beyond a 1 day in 7 observation.  Additionally, we have seen that this Sabbath principle effects not only the rest and refreshment of  the men, women, and children of Israel, but also the sojourner among them, as well as animals and the land.  In this sense, the concept of Sabbath is far reaching, we might even say universal as it relates to the community of Israel, touching every aspect of creation.  Similarly, we again find the Sabbath rooted in the creation Sabbath, as well as consequences prescribed for those who violate the Sabbath.

In our overall theme of rest, it would appear as though the Sabbath Command and Sabbath Principle reflect, at least in part, the rest established by God for Adam in the Garden.  Furthermore, we see the anticipation of rest for Israel in the Promised Land as both the Sabbath Command and Sabbath Principle are tied to entrance and establishment in Canaan.  Finally, these weekly, annual, and regular periods of rest would seem to anticipate a more permanent rest to come, a point which we will have to flesh out another time.

This overview of the Sabbath rest brings up some additional points worth considering, including the concept of Jubilee and another point of Broken Rest, but those topics for another day.

 

In this series:

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"