Monday, December 21, 2009

Why Are You Trying to Stop Sinning?

So, a question for all those who are working hard at changing themselves to be more like Jesus or grow in sanctification or whatever else you call it... You may believe in varying methods of accountability or starving the source of sin, avoiding temptations or memorizing Scripture, maybe you believe that prayer is a big part of becoming free of some besetting sin you're struggling with. Perhaps fasting will help or whatever. My question is, what's the point? If you overcome whatever sin or sins you're working on, what will that accomplish? I'm very serious here, I want to know why you're doing it. Is it to please God? To be closer to him? To be holier or more righteous? So your testimony will be stronger? Some other reason I haven't mentioned? I really am interested in please leave me a comment (anonymously is fine with me).


Dan Bowen said...

Interesting question!

I've read the full and proper version of John Owen's "Morification of Sin" (that probably was to blame for SGM current accountability groups) and he makes a comment that has probably led many Christians to depression and even suicide.

In answer to that question, what happens even if you triumph over certain sins, Owen simply says there are more. Mortification according to him is a "life-long" process that only death will end.

In that light, suicide is a pretty sensible option wouldn't you say?!

jul said...

Yes Dan, in certain circles people do believe that they will never be free from sin until they die...ironically the Bible actually says that we are free from sin now if we are in Jesus and the only enemy left to be conquered is death itself. And yes, it does make suicide seem like a good option which I know from experience along with you.

Glad I never read much Owen!

Henry said...

I believe that a serious answer should be given to Julie's question so I will take a shot. We try to stop sinning because it displeases and dishonors God and is harmful to ourselves and others. I have also read Owen's teatise on the mortification of sin in volume 6 of his works, which is an extended exposition of Romans 8:13, "For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die, but if by the Spirit you put to death [KJV mortify] the deeds of the body, you will live." I think I can summarize what Owen says with his statement that unless you are killing sin, it will be killing you. Should this lead us to despair? Not if you take God into account, as the rest of Romans 8, and the other writings of Owen do. It is the cross of Christ and the grace of God that empower us to live the Christian life, and our focus should be on them, not on our sins. Horatius Bonar said we should take ten looks at Christ for every look we take at our sins. If you do that, then treatises like Owen on mortification and Watson's statement on repentance from the previous blog can be helpful. If you are not doing that, then they can lead you into legal bondage which can be very destructive, and I cannot deny that such things happen. The danger in avoiding all consideration of mortification, repentance, watchfulness, and striving against sin is that you set up a situation in which carnal security can lead you into sin. I have a friend who left a Reformed church (not SGM--the problem is bigger than just them) suicidally depressed, then studied grace, recovered, and rejected Reformed theology. He went on later to ditch his wife for another woman. Am I saying that such a course is inevitable? No, many proponents of grace have lived exemplary lives, but I am saying that it is a danger to be guarded against.
Regarding the temptation to despair and ultimately suicide, Bunyan deals with that in Pilgrim's Progress in the passage regarding Doubting Castle, the latter part of which I inserted into the comments on the "Why I don't like the Puritans" blog post. Basically, the answer is the promises of God, which are treated well in Charles Spurgeon's devotional book "Faith's Checkbook". Among the verses Spurgeon expounds is Romans 16:20, "And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly." Pleading such a verse before God gives one the strength to face and overcome one's sins. "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ", 2 Cor 2:14.

SLW said...

Henry offers a thoughtful response, with much merit, I might add. I don't think this is a zero sum game, i.e. to struggle against sin is inevitably not resting in or depending on grace. The issue, it seems to me, is how. Hebrews 12, without question, states we are engaged in such a struggle, and that the struggle involves discipline from the Lord discernable in difficulty in life. It also presents the means of victory: the soul's gaze upon Jesus (thanks to Tozer for the expression).

Galatians 5, I think, fleshes out the how (or what that gaze may entail) better than any other portion of scripture. There the thought is that if our attentions are on the Spirit and we go where the Spirit leads (my take on living by the Spirit) the flesh and sin are not an issue. IOW, sin is not fought by actively fighting sin (particularly with the power of self), but by walking cooperatively in the Spirit of God. Sin is the opportunity cost of not walking in what grace has bountifully provided.

Henry said...

I wish to briefly clarify my previous post. I was not making a prediction of any particular sin on the part of Julie or her husband or other grace proponents, but merely warning of the danger that carnal security can bring to them or anyone else, backing it up with an example known to me, but which could have involved any other kind of sin. I am well aware that the oppression of legal bondage destroys the joy of the Lord which is our strength, (Neh 8:10), and that such can also lead people into serious sin. John Winthrop in his journal records an instance of a young mother in Massachusetts who struggled with assurance (one possible result of legal fears) and ended up killing her baby so that she was sure she would be damned. She was executed; Winthrop wished she had sought help before acting foolishly.
What I am pleading for is balance of the kind that Horatius Bonar advocated, as I mentioned in my previous post. I would agree with SLW that how we struggle against sin is of paramount importance. If we do it in our own strength, it will be ultimately futile; it must be done looking unto Jesus, relying on Him for grace and help. (The Puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote a nearly 700 page book called Looking unto Jesus which would undoubtedly give one a full treatment of the subject.) What I will do now is insert Spurgeon's exposition of Romans 16:20 from Faith's Checkbook as a closing comment:
“And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly”
Romans 16:20
This promise follows well upon that of yesterday. We are evidently to be conformed to our covenant Head, not only in His being bruised in His heel, but in His conquest of the evil one. Even under our feet is the old dragon
to be bruised. The Roman believers were grieved with strife in the church; but their God was “the God of peace,” and gave them rest of soul. The arch-enemy tripped up the feet of the unwary, and deceived the hearts of the simple; but he was to get the worst of it, and to be trodden down by those whom he had troubled. This victory would not come to the people of
God through their own skill or power; but God Himself would bruise
Satan. Though it would be under their feet, yet the bruising would be of the Lord alone.
Let us bravely tread upon the tempter! Not only inferior spirits, but the Prince of darkness himself must go down before us. In unquestioning
confidence in God, let us look for speedy victory. “SHORTLY.” Happy
word! Shortly we shall set our foot on the old serpent! What a joy to crush evil! What dishonor to Satan to have his head bruised by human feet! Let us by faith in Jesus tread the tempter down.

jul said...

Hi SLW, thanks for your thoughts, helpful as always.

Henry, thanks to you as well for your thoughtful responses. I haven't had a chance to respond sooner since we were away over the holidays. I appreciate your views on sin ect... but you might have guessed I don't agree anymore. Of course at one time I spent much energy on trying to identify and fight sin in my life. Then I realized Jesus identified it all and took it to the cross for me where it died never to rise again. The flesh I deal with is this mind which is being transformed by renewal, the old patterns of trying to please God by my obedience rather than purely trusting in Jesus and his work. The more I trust in him and believe the truth of who Jesus is and what he's done, the more transformed I am!

According to Hebrews 10 sin consciousness comes from living under an inadequate covenant with inadequate sacrifices. The sacrifes of Jesus is more than enough to clear my conscious and set me free from all guilt and shame.

Thanks for clarifying that you weren't accusing us of sinning in some way, though I didn't think you were and certainly took no offense to what you wrote. People sin under law and under grace, in my experience sin had power over me when I still believed that the law had jurisdiction over my life. The power of sin is the law, not grace. I don't know your friend but I would hazard a guess that he did not get completely free from the law, many think they are in grace but they are still under a mixture of law and grace. But even if he did, that does not discredit the truth and power of the gospel. Obviously we are all still capable of sinning, but when I sin I no longer experience any guilt or shame because of my faith. The key thing is, I no longer want to sin! And I'm sure that is one thing we have in common!

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

Hope you had a wonderful christmas!