Diehard Sins: A Brief Review

Diehard Sins: How to Fight Wisely against Destructive Daily Habits by [Witt, Rush] Here’s a newer and very good resource on fighting sin and growing in grace: Diehard Sins by Rush Witt.  I have to admit when I first got this book I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’ve read similar books on the topic – some good, some not so good.  This is one of the good ones!

There are three main parts: 1) Enter with Joy into Your Struggle against Daily Sin, 2) Understand the True Needs of Your Heart, and 3) Bring Christ and his Provisions to Your Fight.  The topics covered include a discussion of the nature of sin, what it means to struggle with sin, how to detect sin in your own life, and applying the gospel to the struggle with sin (among others).

I appreciate the book first because it is rooted in Scripture and very much grounded in the gospel.  Witt strikes a nice balance between resting in Christ and actively putting sin to death – you can only do the latter by doing the former.  A big picture summary of the book would probably be like this: How to fight sin by depending on Christ.  Since there is a proper law/gospel distinction, the book gives some helpful biblical lessons in fighting sin.

Another strength of the book is that Witt approaches the topic from a counseling perspective.  It’s not a counseling book specifically, but there are some counseling themes and, in my opinion, helpful wisdom on practical ways to put sin to death.  For example, one appendix is a brief outline to resisting temptation: Refuse, Replace, Pray, and Praise.

Finally, I appreciate how the author mentions that we fight sin best in the context of the body of Christ and the means of grace: the last chapter is called “Fighting Sin in the Community of Faith.”  This book isn’t a call to fight sin on our own, but to do it depending on grace while walking beside and with other believers.

If you want a good resource on fighting sin, I very much recommend this one: Diehard Sins.  There are a few reflection questions after each chapter, so it would make a good group study or book club resource.  I’m glad I own this book, and I’ve already used it in my own ministry!

Rush Witt, Diehard Sins, (P&R Publishing, 2018).

(Note: The author kindly sent me a copy to review, although I was not compelled in any way to write a positive review.  If I didn’t like the book, I would’ve said so!)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Perfectionism, Pride, and Grace (Winter)

 This is one of those books I keep coming back to even though I read it quite a few years ago: Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter.  It really is worth the read if you need a resource on the topic of trying to be perfect (having the perfect job, the perfect kitchen, perfect kids, a perfect body, perfect grades, etc.).  Here’s one section near the end of the book where Winter talks about perfectionism, pride, and grace:

You may be wondering why my focus is on Christianity alone. All the great religions of the world, except one, have developed rituals and duties that are designed to make us feel more secure in an uncertain, lonely and threatening world.  But, whether it is Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Confucianism (and even in some versions of Christianity), believers can never be sure that they have done enough to make themselves acceptable to “God.”

… This is why Christianity has such a profound answer to some of the issues at the heart of perfectionism. The philosopher and theologian Francis Schaeffer never tired of saying that Christianity is both the easiest and hardest religion. His reasoning was that it is the easiest because we do not have to do anything to contribute to our salvation; we need only come with empty hands and a repentant heart to receive the free gift of God’s forgiveness and love. it is the hardest because we are proud, and we do not want to be indebted to anyone, not even God. We want to do something to ensure our own salvation. But the core of Christianity is about receiving God’s free gift of grace.

Richard Winter, Perfecting Ourselves to Death, p. 130-131.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Predestination: The Axe that Cuts Down Pride (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 As a follower of Jesus, I am very much aware than any truly good deed that I do is a result of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit at work in me.  I can’t take credit for any good thing I’ve done; the credit goes to God.  Here’s a great commentary by Augustus Toplady on predestination and how it glorifies God and humbles man:

When God does, by the omnipotent exertion of his Spirit, effectually call any of mankind in time, to the actual knowledge of himself in Christ; when he likewise goes on to sanctify the sinners he has called, making them to excel in all good works, and to persevere, in the love and resemblance of God, to their lives end; the observing part of the unawakened world may be apt to conclude, that these converted persons might receive such measure of grace from God, because of some previous qualifications, good dispositions, or pious desires, and internal preparations, discovered in them by the all-seeing eye: which, if true, would indeed transfer the praise from the Creator, and consign it to the creature.

In other words, when God sovereignly calls and regenerates sinners and begins to sanctify them, some unbelievers might think that God was kind to them because they did something to deserve it.  However, Toplady argues, that would mean the creature gets the glory instead of the Creator.  He continues:

But the doctrine of predestination, absolute, free, unconditional predestination, here steps in, and gives God his own [glory]. It lays the axe to the root of human boasting, and cuts down (for which reason, the natural man hates it) every legal, every independent, every self-righteous imagination, that would exalt itself against the grace of God and the glory of Christ. It tells us that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in his Son; according as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, in order to our being afterwards made holy and blameless before him in love (Eph. 1). Of course, whatever truly and spiritually good thing is found in any person, it is the special gift and work of God: given and wrought, in consequence of eternal, unmerited election to grace and glory.

I agree; not only does the biblical doctrine of predestination humble man, it also leads us to give God all the glory!

 Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 289–290.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Inclines Their Wills (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.5: Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings In 1 Kings 12 Solomon’s son Rehoboam had just become Israel’s new king.  Israel begged him to lighten the yoke of hard service.  To make a longer story short, Rehoboam flatly refused and told them that he’d instead add to the hard service (1 Ki 12:11, 14).  Scripture gives us this insight in the middle of the story: So the king did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His word, which the Lord spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Ki 12:15 NASB).

While reflecting on this passage and others like it, Augustine (d. 430) wrote some helpful comments concerning God’s sovereign will, man’s actions, and divine grace:

Who can help trembling at those judgments of God by which He does in the hearts of even wicked men whatsoever He wills, at the same time rendering to them according to their deeds? Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, rejected the salutary counsel of the old men, not to deal harshly with the people, and preferred listening to the words of the young men of his own age, by returning a rough answer to those to whom he should have spoken gently. Now whence arose such conduct, except from his own will? Upon this, however, the ten tribes of Israel revolted from him, and chose for themselves another king, even Jeroboam, that the will of God in His anger might be accomplished which He had predicted would come to pass. For what says the Scripture? “The king hearkened not unto the people; for the turning was from the Lord, that He might perform His saying, which the Lord spake to Ahijah the Shilonite concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” All this, indeed, was done by the will of man, although the turning was from the Lord.

Read the books of the Chronicles, and you will find the following passage in the second book: “Moreover, the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians, that were neighbours to the Ethiopians; and they came up to the land of Judah, and ravaged it, and carried away all the substance which was found in the king’s house.” Here it is shown that God stirs up enemies to devastate the countries which He adjudges deserving of such chastisement. Still, did these Philistines and Arabians invade the land of Judah to waste it with no will of their own? Or were their movements so directed by their own will that the Scripture lies which tells us that “the Lord stirred up their spirit” to do all this? Both statements to be sure are true, because they both came by their own will, and yet the Lord stirred up their spirit; and this may also with equal truth be stated the other way: The Lord both stirred up their spirit, and yet they came of their own will. For the Almighty sets in motion even in the innermost hearts of men the movement of their will, so that He does through their agency whatsoever He wishes to perform through them, even He who knows not how to will anything in unrighteousness. 

After listing other similar passages in Scripture, Augustine comments again:

From these statements of the inspired word, and from similar passages which it would take too long to quote in full, it is, I think, sufficiently clear that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills whithersoever He wills, whether to good deeds according to His mercy, or to evil after their own deserts; His own judgment being sometimes manifest, sometimes secret, but always righteous. This ought to be the fixed and immoveable conviction of your heart, that there is no unrighteousness with God. Therefore, whenever you read in the Scriptures of Truth, that men are led aside, or that their hearts are blunted and hardened by God, never doubt that some ill deserts of their own have first occurred, so that they justly suffer these things. Thus you will not run counter to that proverb of Solomon: “The foolishness of a man perverteth his ways, yet he blameth God in his heart.” Grace, however, is not bestowed according to men’s deserts; otherwise grace would be no longer grace.9 For grace is so designated because it is given gratuitously.

 Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 462-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Faltering Christian Making it Home (Goodwin)

The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 5 God’s promise to perfect his children even extends to Christians who are backsliding or languishing in the faith.  Even in them God will restore and revive the principles of spiritual life.  This is proved by comparing Hebrews 13:20-21 with 1 Peter 5:10.  Thomas Goodwin (d. 1680) argued this truth of perseverance/preservation well in chapter 13 of his book called A Discourse of Election.  Here’s part of it that I found especially comforting:

And as for my text (Heb. 13:20-21), if you observe the ground of the promise of preservation there, it is not founded upon men’s having continued in an exact walking, in every good work all along from their calling, without any falterings or interruption…to be sure there is no mention of that, but it is founded upon this, that the God of all grace having effectually called them, he will see to it to perfect that work in them in the end, and to the end, and so to bring them back from their wanderings, and strayings aside if they fall out, and to take care not to allow them so far to stray as not to be rescued.

Goodwin was of course talking about the perseverance of the saints here.  He then gave the illustration of a sailor making his final destination even though he had been blown off course from time to time:

So as prove the case, what it may fall out to be in some of these called — and there is not a greater variation and deviation from the north point in the compass, in the several latitudes those that sail run through, than there falls out in variety of cases to these, that yet are a-carrying on to heaven, and will certainly be brought thither — over and besides their driving up and down through several winds of temptations, that like gusts come upon them; whilst vet, take the general steerage of their course, and it is to their desired haven.

Next Goodwin mentioned how the sovereign grace of God is behind the perseverance of the saints:

And the ground of that foundation (perseverance/preservation), namely, that they have been called, lies yet deeper, even in the heart of God that calleth (as Rom. 9, the apostle states it), even in this, ‘The God of all grace, who hath called;’ and the strength of it lies in this: that the same grace that God put forth in calling them – when they were utterly void of all good works at first, and destitute of the principles thereof, ‘dead in sins and trespasses,’ – hath engaged itself to perfect it (and will do it, as the promise is, 1 Thes. 5:24, ‘Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it’) he retaining the same grace in his heart towards them….

Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 389–390.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Sanctity of the Moral Law (or: Constrained to Come to Calvary) (Murray)

Murray vol 1 In 1935, at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, John Murray gave an address called, “The Sanctity of the Moral Law.”  (“Sanctity” in this context means holiness or sacredness.)  In this address Murray  talked about the moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  Murray’s lecture is a very helpful discussion of the moral law and its importance for Christians.  I appreciate how he ended this address:

“As we recognize the awful sanctity that surrounds the law, we shall certainly be crushed with a sense of our own hell-deserving guilt and hopeless inability.  We shall certainly be constrained to cry out, ‘Woe is me for I am undone.’  ‘Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I have not the understanding of a man’ (Is. 6:5; Prov. 30:2).  But in that condition there falls upon our ears and into our hearts the sweet news of the gospel, the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer and Lord.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:13).  We shall be constrained to come to Calvary.

But when we come to Calvary for the expiation of our guilt and the remission of our sin, it is not to diminish our esteem of that law nor relax our sense of its awful sanctity and binding authority.  Oh no!  …When we are possessed by the sense of the authority and sanctity of the moral law, we must come to Calvary if any true and living hope is to be engendered within us.  But when we rise from our prostration before the Cross, it is not to find the moral law abrogated, but to find it by the grace of God wrought into the very fiber of the new life in Christ Jesus.

If the Cross of Christ does not fulfill in us the passion of righteousness, we have misinterpreted the whole scheme of divine redemption.  ‘For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3).  Is it that the moral law might cease to bind and regulate?  Oh no! But ‘that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’

John Murray, Collected Writings vol. 1, p. 203-204.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Inquiring after the Weeds (Owen)

The Works of John Owen (24 vols.) I appreciate this section in John Owen’s “Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers”:

There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men, and they are, first, a due consideration of God, and then of themselves; of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition. Now, of all things in our condition, there is nothing so suited unto this end and purpose as that which lies before us; namely, the vile remainders of enmity against God which are yet in our hearts and natures.

And it is no small evidence of a gracious soul when it is willing to search itself in this matter, and to be helped therein from a word of truth; when it is willing that the word should dive into the secret parts of the heart, and rip open whatever of evil and corruption lies therein. The prophet says of Ephraim, Hos. 10:11, “He loved to tread out the corn” he loved to work when he might eat, to have always the corn before him: but God, says he, would “cause him to plough;” a labor no less needful, though at present not so delightful. Most men love to hear of the doctrine of grace, of the pardon of sin, of free love, and suppose they find food therein; however, it is evident that they grow and thrive in the life and notion of them. But to be breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, to be inquiring after the weeds and briers that grow in them, they delight not so much, though this be no less necessary than the other.

This path is not so beaten as that of grace, nor so trod in, though it be the only way to come to a true knowledge of grace itself. It may be some, who are wise and grown in other truths, may yet be so little skilled in searching their own hearts, that they may be slow in the perception and understanding of these things. But this sloth and neglect is to be shaken off, if we have any regard unto our own souls

 Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 6, pp. 200–201). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015