Tag Archives: Killing Sin

Desire, Temptation, and Sin

 

After more than 35 years as a believer in Christ, there is one thing that I know to be true of my own Christian walk:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

This passage generates questions though, or at least it should. How or Why does this war happen?  And What is to be done about it?

Paul gives an ultimate answer to the latter question, namely that Christ will deliver him from this body of death.  As to the former question, we know all too well that even after regeneration by the Holy Spirit and becoming a new creature in Christ that our remnant flesh exists to war against the spirit.  But given that general answer to the How or Why, there is a more detailed answer that Scripture speaks of as well.  One particular passage that is a bedrock for understanding why we sin is James  1:14-15

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Collating our observations we arrive at something like a timeline for sin:

  1. Conception
  2. Gestation (Implied)
  3. Birth
  4. Maturation
  5. Death

Most of the time we find ourselves fighting sin at the Maturation step.  Sin has already conceived, gestated, been born, and is now maturing in our lives which surely includes multiplying and creating sinful patterns.  Once it’s born, it spreads like cancer.  Those who can’t or won’t kill sin before it matures will be undone by it.

However, those of us who are unsatisfied with the presence of sin in our lives, who recognize its deception and the internal corruption that produces it, and then like the Apostle in Romans 7 cry out, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?can also simply become exhausted at fighting an uphill battle trying to chase down sin before it reaches maturation.

Therefore, it becomes imperative that we fight sin prior to its conception.

Desire

This means that the battle against sin must occur at the desire level, prior to its conception with temptation.  Let’s look at the passage again

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Temptation exists because of our desires.  Notice how the temptation appeals because of the lure and enticement by our desires.  This is precisely how our Lord faced temptation, yet without sin.  His desires were pure and holy.  Generally, the bent of our desires determines the temptation.  For instance, a man or woman who doesn’t have a taste-bud affinity for chocolate cake will not tempted when a piece is set before them.

Our desires can either be good, bad, or neutral.  A good desire, such as the welfare of others or a neutral desire such as that for sustaining food or drink, might be simple examples for each.  While good and neutral desires may be somewhat obvious, lets put a definition on bad or unholy desires: any affection or compulsion that is contrary either to what God has ordered by nature or commanded by His word.

Temptation

It now becomes necessary to place our finger on the manner of temptation.

John Owen defines temptation as, “any thing, state, way, or condition that, upon any account whatever, hath a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw the mind and heart of a man from its obedience, which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree of it whatever.” (Vol. 6, pg. 96)

When our unholy desires or affections, which are contrary to God, intersect with temptations, which seek to seduce and draw the mind and heart away from obedience, the effect is sin.  Desire and temptation are an unholy union whose only offspring is death.

Owen advises on the potential avenues by which temptation may come, “either singly from Satan, or the world, or other men in the world, or from ourselves, or jointly from all or some of them.” (Vol. 6, pg. 95)

With this in mind, what’s to be done about it?

The Defense

  1. Setting our affections on Christ.  This comes through habitual exercise of exposure to the Word of God and meditation upon that Word.  Not just reading for the sake of reading, that’s powerless and leads to a false assurance of battle readiness.  This ineffectual reading is what George Mueller referred to as “water through a pipe”.  Instead we want to read as water filling up a vessel or pot until it overflows.
  2. Praying without ceasing. A heart that is set upon Christ cannot help but pray.  Conversely, one of the chief evidences that the hearts desires are being drawn away to the world is a lack of prayer.
  3. Fellowship with the saints.  An oft-neglected gift that God has given us in the combat against sin is the communion of the saints.  The Apostle James will draw out this point more clearly later in his epistle by the imperative to confess our sins to one another so that we may be prayed for and restored (James 5:13-20)

Finally, should our desires begin to wain, what’s to be done in order to avoid the pending attack of temptation?  Watch and Pray.  I’ve written elsewhere on this very subject and Owen himself considers that this is the singular defense against the wiles of temptation.

Watch and consider how temptation attacks.  Be aware of its crouching behind every corner.  Be vigilant in the duties outlined above.  Finally, pray.  Pray daily that God would keep you from temptation and deliver you from evil.  Have you considered that in the so-called Lord’s Prayer, as short as it is, two of its 7 petitions are: 1. Lead me not into temptation 2. Deliver me from evil.  Clearly our Lord in answering His disciples request to be taught how to pray considered that these two great appeals were to be included regularly in our supplications unto God.

Desire, Temptation, and Sin.  An unholy trinity, but not an invincible foe.  And not an enemy in any way matched against the Holy Triune God.  Therefore all benefits have been given to us to kill, by the Spirit, the deeds of the flesh.

Killing Sin at the Desire Level

 

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Galatians 5:16-17

One of the primary strategies for killing sin (Romans 8:13), perhaps the only real legitimate, successful way, is to attack it on the level of desire.  This puts engaging sin squarely on the battlefield of the heart, rather than a battlefield of the hands (see Matthew 5:29-30).  It becomes then much more a matter of properly setting the affections on things above rather than simply exercising will power over deeds.  The latter can only happen properly when the former is given priority.

In the passage above, the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle is instructing us in the way that these sinful desires operate while also  providing for us the means by which to kill them, namely by walking in the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?  How does one maintain that walk?  Paul does not offer an explanation here, and perhaps for good reason so that we simply won’t create a to-do list.  However, by combing through Scriptures, we may arrive at a helpful strategy to keeping in-step with the Spirit.

First, by engaging the heart and mind in the Word of God.  The Psalmist, who knew a thing or too about fighting sin, informs us that a young man may keep his way pure by guarding it according to the word of God.  He follows this thought with, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11  Additionally, in Psalm 37:31 we read, “The law of God is in his (the righteous’) heart; his steps do not slip.”

Secondly, by meditating on the Word of God.  We must note that it is insufficient to simply read the Word of God.  Rather Scripture must be contemplated, ruminated upon, churned over in the belly of the mind until it has been properly digested sending the spiritual nutrients throughout the soul.  In the previously mentioned Psalm 119, we find no less than 6 mentions of the word “meditate”.  This may be summarized in Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”  The classic passage for the example and consistency of meditation by the godly is the familiar Psalm 1:2, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Third, by offering continual prayer.  The apostle gives us the simple directive for continual prayer in 1 Thess. 5:17 with three little words,pray without ceasing“.  How can one pray without ceasing?  This isn’t instructing us to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in prayer to the neglect of life and duty.  Rather the implication is to have a heart prepared constantly for prayer and a tendency to turn to God in prayer on every occasion.  It may be easy to go through the motions in Scripture reading, doubtful for meditation, but fundamentally impossible to go through the motions in having an attitude of continual prayer.  Again, this is not simply 5-10 minutes in prayer, in which the mind may be easily derailed or where a rote prayer is offered.  We are talking about a spiritual frame in which the mind awakes to prayer, be it thankfulness or praise, goes throughout the day in prayer, and falls asleep at night on the pillow of prayer.  It simply cannot be faked, cannot be counterfeited, and it belongs only to the truly regenerate.  In fact, it may be the best gauge for determining whether one is maintaining a consistent walk in the Spirit and might well be the first to disappear should that walk slow or come to a stop.

Fourth, through the fellowship with other believers.  One of the detriments to the “structure” of the contemporary church is that we have come to treat it as a weekly obligation.  Even those who still hold to Sunday and Wednesday evening services neglect the fundamental meaning of ekklesia and the pattern that the early church provided, namely the daily or habitual interaction of “one-anothering” that occurred much like that within an immediate family as opposed to 3rd-cousins at a dreaded family reunion.  Hebrews 10:24-25 is instructive here, 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Habitual, routine, stirring up, meeting together, encouraging one another.

There could be additions to this, but the objective is clear, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  It is not “may”, nor is it “could be possible”, but “will not” gratify.

Yet the Apostle presses further to define the motive of these desires by stating their opposition, indeed that they war against the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit that that has renewed the inner man through the power of regeneration.  The contrast is not between the Holy Spirit (as used in verse 16) strictly speaking, but between the new nature brought about by the Spirit and the old nature.  Sometimes called the new man and the old man, i.e. the spirit vs. the flesh.  The Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit.  Literally they are hostile adversaries.

Finally, notice the purpose of this hostility, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do“.  I’ve understood this before to mean that the flesh keeps the spirit (see earlier) from doing what it wants, but that is not the natural flow of the passage and only half of the meaning.  It is actually stating that the flesh keeps the spirit from doing what it wants and the spirit keeps the flesh from doing what it wants.  There is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia taking place within believers.  A tension so to speak, however not one of neutrality.  If left unattended, the spirit will give way to the flesh.  Paul does not leave an option open to stand still in the Spirit, but to walk in the Spirit, an ongoing, lifelong action.

Let’s close with a word from Charles Spurgeon on this passage,

“The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body: but although we are closely beset, and often in sore conflict, we have an Almighty helper, even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who is ever with us, and who assures us that we shall eventually come off more than conquerors through him.  With such assistance the newborn nature is more than a match for its foes.  Are you fighting with the adversary today?  Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you?  Be not discouraged nor dismayed.  Fight on!  For God himself is with you; Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of your wounds.  Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence?  Fight on, looking unto Jesus, and though long and stern be the conflict, sweet will be the victory, and glorious the promised reward.”

 

Sinful Indulgence

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24

In Thomas Watson’s penetrating book The Godly Man’s Picture, the Puritan arrives at a section along his journey of identifying the characteristics of a godly man which he entitles, “A Godly man does not indulge himself in any sin.”

He begins this section by means of question and answer propositions beginning with, “What is it to indulge sin?”  Watson provides two answers, the first of which reads, “To give the breast to it and feed it.  As a fond parent humours his child and lets him have what he wants, so to indulge sin is to humour sin.”

His second answer gives us insight into our affections for these sins, “to indulge sin is to commit it with delight: ‘they had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ 2 Thess. 2:12”

Those sins in which we indulge may be called pet sins.  They are the sins which are dearest to us, the ones toward which we run so often and so quickly.  They are the ones which have the deepest roots that are most difficult to hew out, in fact, we may be less likely to address them at all because of their intertwining nature.  In this respect they may also be the most dangerous of sins because of the ease with which they hinder us.   These are the sins from Watson’s analogy which we coddle and nurture.

Watson identifies for his audience four sorts of sins which a godly man will not allow himself to indulge.

  1. Secret Sins
  2. Gainful Sins
  3. A Beloved Sin
  4. Those sins which the world counts lesser

As to the first, secret sins, he writes, “Some are more modest than to commit gross sin.  That would be a stain on their reputation.  But they will sit brooding upon sin in a corner.  All will not sin on a balcony but perhaps they will sin behind the curtain.”  Watson then details three reasons why, “a godly man dare not sin secretly”.  First, a godly man knows that “God sees in secret.”  Secondly, because “a godly man knows that secret sins are in some sense worse than others.  They reveal more guile and atheism.  The curtain sinner makes himself believe that God does not see.”  Third, “a godly man knows that secret sins shall not escape God’s justice.”

Next, Watson turns his focus toward the second type of sin in which a godly man will resist indulgence, gainful sins.  These he describes as “the golden bait with which Satan fishes for souls.”  He points out that it was this type of sin that Satan tempted our Lord with, though Christ was quick to see the hidden hook and resist him.

The third sin, beloved sins, are central to his entire focus of sins in which we indulge and it is the one that rightly deserves the expansive treatment that Watson devotes towards it.  He writes, “There is usually one sin that is the favourite, the sin which the heart is most fond of.”  It is this type of sin, perhaps above the others described here, that is most nurtured in the bosom of man.  Therefore it becomes all the more critical that the godly man recognize his particular affinities and kill them.  “If we would have peace in our souls, we must maintain a war against our favourite sin and never leave off till it is subdued.”

Further unpacking this particular peccadillo, Watson asks, “How shall we know the beloved sin?” before expanding on six answers which are summarized below:

  1. The sin which a man does not love to have reproved is the darling sin.
  2. The sin on which the thoughts run most is the darling sin.
  3. The sin which has the most power over us and most easily leads us captive is the one beloved by the soul.
  4. The sin which men use arguments to defend is the beloved sin.
  5. The sin which most troubles us, and flies most in the face in an hour of sickness and distress, that is the Delilah sin.
  6. The sin which a man finds most difficulty in giving up is the endeared sin.

Summarizing this section on beloved sins, Watson concludes, “The besetting sin is a God-provoking sin.  The besetting sin is of all others most dangerous.  A godly man will lay the axe of repentance to this sin and hew it down.  He sets this sin, like Uriah, in the forefront of the battle, so that it may be slain.  He will sacrifice this Isaac, he will pluck out this right eye, so that he may see better to go to heaven.”

The fourth sin, according to the Puritan, is those sins which the world counts lesser are defined as sins of omission, vain oaths, and slander.  Which brings us to how Watson concludes this section, namely with nine consequences for indulgence in sin:

  1. One sin gives Satan as much advantage against you as more sins.
  2. One sin lived in proves that the heart is not sound.
  3. One sin will make way for more.
  4. One sin is as much a breach of God’s law as more sins.
  5. One sin lived in prevents Christ from entering.
  6. One sin lived in will spoil all your good duties.
  7. One sin lived in will be a cankerworm to eat out the peace of conscience.
  8. One sin allowed will damn as well as more sins.
  9. One sin harboured in the soul will unfit us for suffering.

“If, then, you would show yourselves godly, give a certificate of divorce to every sin.  Kill the Goliath sin: ‘Let not sin reign’ (Rom. 6:12).  In the original it is ‘Let not sin king it over you’.  Grace and sin may be together, but grace and the love of sin cannot.  Therefore parley with sin no longer, but with the spear of mortification, spill the heart blood of every sin.”

Unlike other sins, those in which we so easily indulge ourselves are like the invasive species of plants, which if left unattended will not maintain the status quo, but will grow and spread quickly and without warning.  Therefore it becomes all the more critical to stay on top of our eradication of this species of sins.

Let us concur with the author of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2