Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How to Defeat Sin in Your Life

Jeff tells me that his Dad (John Bruce, pastor of Creekside Community Church in San Leandro, CA and all around wise fellow) insists on preaching through Romans 6 at least once a year. At some point in his life he was reading that chapter of the Bible and realized that he didn't need to sin anymore because in Christ, he was dead to it. John was free to live a godly life because of Christ's work on the cross.

The whole chapter is probably worth quoting, but consider what may be its central statement: "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." (Rom. 6:6) The thrust of the passage is that if you are in Christ, you are free from the power of sin. The cross makes us righteous before God, but it also frees us from slavery to sin. "Rock of Ages" puts it well:
    Let the water and the blood
    From his riven side which flowed
    Be of sin the double cure:
    Save me from its guilt and power.
So why do I know so many Christians who struggle with the same sins so much? Well, partly because even in our freedom, we'll never completely overcome sin in this life. The kingdom is here, but it's not yet. Sin will be a struggle until Christ returns.

But it is also because we don't actually fight against sin seriously, especially in our minds. Paul explains the implication of our being dead to sin in v. 11: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." Consider yourselves. It starts in your mind. Christians need to change our way of thinking. When the temptation to sin arises, mentally cut it off. You are dead to sin, so consider yourself dead to sin.

This is a large part of John Owen's advice in The Mortification of Sin in Believers: "Do you mortify; 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. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work." Owen goes on to prescribe some more specific methods of accomplishing this, but the thought is simple: when we stop fighting sin, the battle is lost.

This post partly came to mind to write because of our focus on the cross this month, but it is also because American church culture lacks emphasis on the need to discipline our minds, not just for study, but for fighting sin. Perhaps we don't do so because we always want to lower the bar to get more people in the church, so we ask little of them. Perhaps it is the insane paranoia that the Reformed community exhibits about ever "working" in the Christian life. Perhaps the academic-minded thumb their noses at something so introductory and simple as trying to not sin. Or perhaps we are just lazy.

Whatever the reason we haven't done so before, we must take our fight with sin more seriously each day than we do, and that has to start in our minds. Real sanctification is possible because Christ has defeated sin and death at the cross. And for all the Christian literature out there about how to grow in relationship with God, we really can boil down a lot of it to this: consider yourselves dead to sin.

1 comment:

Maximus said...

I once saw a powerful illustration of this idea coming from Romans 7:24 about being set free from "this body of death." The man handcuffed himself to a mannequin and told us to pretend it was a dead body. Then began to try and do normal everyday things like walk through a doorway, clean windows, take a shower, etc. Then he began asking what would this body look like in a week? A month? What would having this dead body do to me if I was around it 24/7 as it rotted and decomposed. Answer: It would kill me too! I always thought that this was a powerful object lesson on the spiritual reality of being set free from sin. I can't wait to borrow it to help others understand the severity of what Paul is communicating here. Thanks for the post Andrew.