This is the first part of a two-part series. See the second post here.
I admit it is an intrusive question, and one that tends to stop a conversation!
(The context is someone I am mentoring or advising or counselling, not everyday conversations! And it takes place some months after the serious conversations begin.)
If I ask it of someone I am talking with, I always allow time for a stunned silence. Then say, ‘I don’t want to know what they are, I just want to know that you are doing it.’ That allows some colour to return to the cheeks of the person I am talking with, and the conversation continues.
Why should we kill our current sins?
1. Because the following are part of the normal Christian life for all believers:
- ‘count yourselves dead to sin’;
- ‘do not let sin reign in your mortal body’;
- ‘do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness’;
- ‘do not satisfy the desires of the flesh’;
- ‘put to death what belongs to your earthly nature’;
- ‘flee from immorality’;
- ‘flee from idolatry’;
- ‘godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret’;
- ‘say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions’;
- ‘see to it that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart’;
- ‘throw off … the sin that so easily entangles’;
- ‘repent … repent;
- ‘wake up … repent’;
- ‘you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked … be earnest and repent’ (Romans 6:11,12,13, Galatians 5:16, Colossians 3:5, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 10:14, 2 Corinthians 7:10, Titus 2:12, Hebrews 3:12, 12:1, Revelation 2:5,16, 3:2,3, 17,19).
Do you have a life of continual repentance? Are you, as Luther says, ‘always a sinner, always justified, always repentant’?
2. Because if you are not doing the negative, you will not be able to do the positive. If you are not doing these things, then you will not be able to:
- ‘count yourself alive to God’;
- ‘offer yourself to God’;
- ‘offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness’;
- ‘offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’;
- ‘walk by the Spirit’;
- see ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ in your life;
- ‘clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience forbearance, forgiveness, and love’;
- ‘be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’; (Romans 6:11-13, 12;1, Galatians 5:16, 22-24, Colossians 3:12-14, Ephesians 4: 32).
It is not enough to stop doing what is wrong: you have to learn the habit of doing what is right. But you cannot start doing what is right, unless you kill off what is wrong!
3. Because Christ’s mighty death and resurrection provide the power for us to kill off what is wrong, and do what is right (Romans 6, Colossians 2 and 3).
4. Because, as habitual sins become more invisible to us, the more they control our unconscious and automatic actions.
5. Because, if our friends commit the same habitual sins, we are even less likely to see them for what they are.
6. Because, while sins we have done are easier to see, good things we have failed to do (sins of omission) are frequently invisible.
7. Because, the greatest hindrance to our usefulness to God is not our lack of gifts, not our lack of resources, not our lack of time, not our lack of energy, but our sins. And most of our sins are habitual sins.
8. Because, while we think we can stand still, we are drifting backwards unless we are going forward. We are shrinking if we are not growing. We are growing poorer if we are not growing richer. Like all relationships, our relationship with God is getting weaker if it is not growing stronger.
Similar questions are: ‘What sins are you currently confessing to God?’ ‘Of what sins are you currently repenting?’ If the answer is ‘None’, then that presumably means you are sinless: a remarkable achievement!
John Owen wrote:
[M]ortify (put to death) sin; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin, or it will be killing you. (The Mortification of Sin)
Do you mortify (put to death) sin; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin, or it will be killing you.
What’s Your Flightpath?
I think that many Christians follow a common aeroplane flight pattern in their Christian lives, and many ministers follow the same common flight pattern in their ministries.
Here it is:
- We use lots of energy to get going: learning, changing, repenting, growing.
- Then we feel confident enough to coast, using less energy to learn, change, repent, or grow.
- Then we finally come down to land in a peaceful place, either retirement or a grave.
But actually the Christian life and the life of ministry are designed by God to follow this less common flight pattern.
This journey is in one direction from start to finish: always learning, always changing, always repenting, and always growing. And always ‘being transformed from one degree of glory to another’, for as ‘our outer nature is wasting away, and our inner nature is being renewed day by day’ (2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:16). Of course, our progress will not be as smooth as that image. It will be a bumpy journey. But the general trajectory needs to get higher: not flatten out, or slump.
A Prayer for Sin-Killing
A prayer I pray each day is,
‘May this day be my best day of knowing, loving and serving you and living for your glory.’
There is no growth without repentance, no holiness without putting sin to death.
Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin … if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed … the truth will set you free (John 8:34,35,32). If you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).
Killing Sins Which are Currently Invisible to Us.
Why are our sins so invisible to us? It is because our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and because sin itself is deceitful (Hebrew 3:13). Our hearts and our sins conspire to deceive us and blind us to the reality of our sin.
Why are our sins so invisible to us? It is because mutual accountability, and willingness to welcome correction, rebukes and admonition from others is almost universally absent from contemporary Christianity! How long is it since you rebuked or corrected a fellow-believer, a friend, and they welcomed it and acted on it? How long is it since a fellow-believer or a friend rebuked you or corrected you, and you welcomed it and acted on it? Proverbs warns us, ‘Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid’!
God’s remedy for our hard hearts is people who exhort us every day:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-14).
Why are our sins so invisible to us? Because we are naturally complicit in the sins of our culture, our sub-culture, our heroes, our family, our friends. Because these sins surround us, because they are part of the air we breathe, they are invisible to us.
Because we are so strongly influenced by other people, because we think that how they live is acceptable to God, we imitate their sins. Because we want to belong, we dare not do otherwise.
If we are not reading our Bible and discovering our sins, and if our fellow-believers are not exhorting you, no wonder we are deceived.
If we do not know our habitual sins, if we are not repenting of them every day, if we are not pro-actively killing them every day, then they are shaping our lives and our destinies. In the words of that old saying:
Sow a thought, and you reap an act. Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
We will not be able to grow in godliness, in Christ-likeness, in holiness, in usefulness. We have to put off what is wrong in order to put on what is right.
Here is another quotation from John Owen:
One of the choicest and most eminent parts of practical, spiritual wisdom consists in finding out the subtleties, policies and depths of any indwelling sin. To consider and know wherein its greatest strength lies; what advantage it is wont to make of occasions, opportunities, temptation; what are its pleas, pretences, reasonings; what its stratagems, colours, excuses … to trace this serpent in all its turnings and windings …and so to be always in readiness; this is a good part of our warfare. (The Mortification of Sin)
If we need to kill our current sins, we also need to learn new and positive habits to replace them. I remember the first time I read Paul’s advice to habitual thieves. ‘Let the thief no longer steal, but rather labour with his hands to give to those in need’ (Ephesians 4:28). What brilliant advice! Rather than just sitting around not stealing, replace that negative action with something positive: work hard, so you can give to those in need!
Positive replacement channels energy for good, changes our focus, and energises our transformation.
- A good remedy for unforgiveness is to pray that God will bless people, and to try to bless them ourselves;
- A good remedy for prayerlessness is the practice of prayer. A good remedy for selfishness is generosity;
- A good remedy for over-activity is to take time to relax. Self-discipline needs to replace laxness. Love for God needs to replace love of self or dependence on others for their approval.
Our lives should be marked not by what we don’t do, but what we do and who we become. Read again the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26, and the list of qualities in Colossians 3:12-17. These are the positive outcomes of killing sin and living by the Spirit’s transforming power. We cannot live unless we put sin to death: but death must be followed by resurrection! ‘Reckon yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:11).
The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business, all their days, to mortify (put to death) the indwelling power of sin. (The Mortification of Sin)
And Paul writes:
I do not run like someone running aimlessly … I strike my body and make it my slave so that after I have peached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:26,27).
Here is my prayer about my invisible sins:
Alert me to sin’s deceitfulness and especially to the deep sins in my life that are currently invisible to me, and help me to repent of them and change the way I live.