Fighting sin can be a living hell. If a person is trying to renovate himself or become a better person without the gospel, the Word, the Spirit, and prayer, he is fighting Satan without any weapons. Thomas Watson called a person like this “the old Adam dressed in new clothes.” In reality, he is doomed at the outset of the battle; his life will either be a living hell of legalism, pride, or complete despair. John Owen put it this way.
“I…bewail the endless foolish labor of poor souls who, being convinced of sin and not able to stand against the power of thir convictions, do set themselves by innumerable perpelxing ways and duties to keep down sin: but being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain. They combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days. They spend their strength for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which profits not.”
He goes on.
“This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in. A soul under the power of conviction from the law, is pressed to fight against sin, but has no strength for the combat. They cannot but fight, and they can never conquer; they are like men thrust on the sword of the enemies, in purpose to be slain. The law drives them on, and sin beats them back. Sometimes they think indeed that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust so that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered, when it is not touched.”
Rather than on our own, we need to put to sinful deeds to death by the Spirit (Rom 8.13), depending on Jesus’ work for us (Col 3.1-5), using the Word as our sword (Eph 6.17), and prayer as a great defense against sin (cf. Ps 51), always remembering that God’s grace sustains, motivates, and strengthens us for and in the battle (cf. 2 Cor 12.19). Owen explains gospel-driven mortification like this.
“Mortification of any sin must be by a supply of grace. Of ourselves we cannot do it.”
“Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ.”
“In one word, this whole work [of mortification] which I have described as our duty, is affected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit.”
This is a trustworthy saying: 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 (Rom 8.13). Amen!
2 Replies to “A Living Hell”
good quotes. You mention that trying to “become a better person without the gospel, the Word, the Spirit, and prayer, [is like] fighting Satan without any weapons.” I’ll remember this line and use it often, but it could also be argued that gospel-less self improvement is not fighting Satan at all… it’s falling right into his trap. In fact, I’ll bet he’ll even help someone improve if doing so drives that person away from Christ!
We correctly use terms like ‘fighting sin’ and ‘mortification’ to describe the Christian walk, but this is so counter intuitive to our human natures. Who wants war when it seems so much easier to achieve peace by embracing who we are instead of fighting the sin inside of us? Of course whatever peace that is gained by following this shortcut will be short lived, like the dust cloud Owen describes, but even then Satan will be there offering a shiny new apple that is supposed to work even better than the last one.
I’ve been preparing a lesson on Belgic Confession Article 22 this week, and it correlates very well with this topic:
“For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation
is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.
Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God— for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior.”
Certainly most Christians fully agree with that statement in principle, but yet we so often make Christ into half a savior instead of letting the Spirit fully complete his work of mortification in us. I consciously say I fully trust Christ for salvation, while at the same time unconsciously clinging to money/status/greed or whatever other idol seems so shiny at the moment. Too often I’d rather take Satan’s peaceful delusion than undergo the seemingly painful process of dying away to sin.
Great quotes, in fact I just quoted the second paragraph myself over at my Owen quotes blog.
Going through MOS, I think I have fewer lines that have not been underlined.
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