Sinclair Ferguson: How to Mortify Sin

The aftermath of a conversation can change the way we later think of its significance.

My friend — a younger minister — sat down with me at the end of a conference in his church and said: “Before we retire tonight, just take me through the steps that are involved in helping someone mortify sin.” We sat talking about this for a little longer and then went to bed, hopefully he was feeling as blessed as I did by our conversation. I still wonder whether he was asking his question as a pastor or simply for himself — or both.

How would you best answer his question? The first thing to do is: Turn to the Scriptures. Yes, turn to John Owen (never a bad idea!), or to some other counselor dead or alive. But remember that we have not been left only to good human resources in this area. We need to be taught from “the mouth of God” so that the principles we are learning to apply carry with them both the authority of God and the promise of God to make them work.

Several passages come to mind for study: Romans 8:13; Romans 13:8–14 (Augustine’s text); 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1; Ephesians 4:17–5:21; Colossians 3:1–17; 1 Peter 4:1–11; 1 John 2:28–3:11. Significantly, only two of these passages contain the verb “mortify” (“put to death”). Equally significantly, the context of each of these passages is broader than the single exhortation to put sin to death. As we shall see, this is an observation that turns out to be of considerable importance.

Of these passages, Colossians 3:1–17 is probably the best place for us to begin.

Continue reading

Advertisements

R. C. Sproul: How Sinful Is Man?

Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If other sins occur, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sins continue to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. But have things reached that point? Human character is clearly tainted by sin, but the debate is about the extent of that taint. The Roman Catholic Church holds the position that man’s character is not completely tainted, but that he retains a little island of righteousness. However, the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century affirmed that the sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about just what the Reformers meant by that affirmation. The term that is often used for the human predicament in classical Reformed theology is total depravity. People have a tendency to wince whenever we use that term because there’s very widespread confusion between the concept of total depravity and the concept of utter depravity. Utter depravity would mean that man is as bad, as corrupt, as he possibly could be. I don’t think that there’s a human being in this world who is utterly corrupt, but that’s only by the grace of God and by the restraining power of His common grace. As many sins as we have committed individually, we could have done worse. We could have sinned more often. We could have committed sins that were more heinous. Or we could have committed a greater number of sins. Total depravity, then, does not mean that men are as bad as they conceivably could be.

When the Protestant Reformers talked about total depravity, they meant that sin—its power, its influence, its inclination—affects the whole person. Our bodies are fallen, our hearts are fallen, and our minds are fallen—there’s no part of us that escapes the ravages of our sinful human nature. Sin affects our behavior, our thought life, and even our conversation. The whole person is fallen. That is the true extent of our sinfulness when judged by the standard and the norm of God’s perfection and holiness.

How Sinful is Man?, Copyright 2016 by R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

A. W. Pink: Sin’s Presence

There are two sides to a Christian’s life: a light side—and a dark one; an elevating side—and a depressing one. His experience is neither all joy—nor all grief; but a commingling of both. It was so with the apostle Paul: “As sorrowful—yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). When a person is regenerated, he is not there and then taken to heaven—but he is given both a pledge and a foretaste of it. Nor is sin then eradicated from his being, though its dominion over him is broken. It is indwelling corruption which casts its dark shadow over his joy!

The varied experiences of the believer are occasioned by Christ’s presence—and sin’s presence. If, on the one hand, it be blessedly true that Christ is with him all the days, even unto the end; on the other hand, it is solemnly true that sin indwells him all his days, even unto the end of his earthly history! Said Paul, “evil is present with me”; and that, not only occasionally—but sin “dwells in me” (Romans 7:20-21). Thus, as God’s people feed upon the Lamb, it is “with bitter herbs they shall eat it” (Exo 12:8).

The Christian’s consciousness of indwelling sin, his mourning over its defiling influence, his sincere efforts to strive against its solicitations, his penitent confessions to God of his failure to master this inveterate foe—are among the unmistakable evidences that he is a regenerate person. For certain it is, that none who is dead in trespasses and sins realizes there is a sea of iniquity within his heart, defiling his very thoughts and imagination; still less does he make conscience of the same and lament it.

Let the believer recall his own case: in the days of his unregeneracy, he was not cast down by what now distresses! We are bidden to “remember” what we were “in time past,” and then contrast the “But now” (Eph 2:11-13), that we may be shamed over the former—and rejoice and give thanks for the latter.

It is cause for fervent praise if your eyes have been opened to see “the sinfulness of sin,” and your heart to feel its obnoxiousness. Since it was not always thus, a great change has taken place—you have been made the subject of a miracle of grace. But the continuance of indwelling sin presents a sore and perplexing problem to the Christian. That nothing is too hard for the Lord—he is full assured. Why then is evil allowed to remain present with him? Why is he not rid of this hideous thing—which he so much loathes and hates? Why should this horrible depravity be allowed to disturb his peace and mar his joy? Why does not the God of all grace rid him of this harassing tyrant?

It must ever be remembered that His thoughts and ways are often the very opposite of ours. Yet we must also remember they are infinitely wiser and better than ours. God then must have some valid reason why He leaves sin in His people; and since He loves them with a boundless and unchangeable love—it must be left in them for their benefit. Faith may be fully assured that evil continues to be present with the saint both for the glory of God and for his own good. Thus, there is a bright side to even this dark cloud.

We are apt to think it is a most deplorable thing that sin still indwells us and to imagine it would be far better if we were rid of it. But that is our ignorance. Yes, it is something worse: it is a spirit of opposition to God, a rebelling against His dealings with us, an impugning of His wisdom, a casting reflection upon His goodness. Since He has given such abundant proofs that He has our best interests at heart, it must be mostreprehensible for any to call into question His ways with them.

Rather, may we be fully persuaded that our loving Father would have completely removed “the flesh” from the soul of His children at the moment of their regeneration—had that been for their highest welfare. Since He has not done so, we must confidently conclude that God has a benevolent purpose in allowing sin to indwell them, to the end of their pilgrim journey. But does His Word furnish any hints of His gracious designs therein? Yes—but we must now limit ourselves unto one of them.

God leaves sin in His people—to promote their humility. There is nothing which He abominates, so much as pride. In Proverbs 6:16-17, the Holy Spirit has listed seven things which the Lord hates, and they are headed with “A proud look”! God feeds the hungry—but the rich He sends empty away. He “gives grace unto the humble,” but “resists the proud” (James 4:6). It is the egotistical and self-satisfied Laodiceans who are so loathsome in His sight—that He spues them out of His mouth (Rev 3:16-17).

Now Christian reader, is it really and truly the desire of your heart that God will “hide pride” from you (Job 33:17)? If by grace it is so, then are you willing for Him to use His own means and method in accomplishing your desire, even though it is an unpleasant process, yes, galling to your complacency? If you are willing for your natural religiousness to be blasted and to be stripped of your peacock feathers, then it will be by evil remaining in you and bestirring itself to your grief!

Second Timothy 3:2 shows (from its order) that pride springs from inordinate self-love. They who are undue lover of themselves—soon grow proud of themselves; which is odious to God, for it robs Him of His glory. Since God will be glorious unto His saints, as well as glorified by them—He subdues their pride by leaving that in them which humbles their hearts—but makes them admire Him the more for His longsuffering.

Divine light exposes filth within, of which they had no previous realization, causing them to cry with the leper, “Unclean, unclean!” (Lev 13:45). They have such painful discoveries of indwelling sin as often makes them lament, “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). But how thankful we should be if God makes us “abhor” ourselves (Job 42:6), and thereby make way for prizing Christ all the more!

In this life, holiness, my reader, consists largely of pantings after it—and grievings because we feel ourselves to be so unholy. What would happen to a man still left in this world—if he were full of sin one day and then made absolutely sinless the next? Let our present experience supply the answer. Do we not find it very difficult to keep our proper humble place, both before God and our brethren, when the evil within us issubdued but a little? Is not that evidence we require something to deliver us from self-righteousness? Even the beloved Paul needed “a thorn in the flesh” lest he “be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations” given him (2 Corinthians 12:7).

The man after God’s own heart prayed, “O Lord, open you my lips; and my mouth shall show forth your praise” (Psalm 51:15): as though he said, “If You, Lord, will help me to speak aright, I shall not proclaim my own worth nor boast of what I have done—but will give You all the glory.” As God left some of the Canaanites in the land—to prove Israel (Judges 2:21-22), so He leaves sin in us—to humble us.

We shall be sinless in heaven, and the sight of the “Lamb, who was slain” (Rev 5:12) will forever prevent the re-entry of pride into our souls.

Our consciousness of sin’s presence has, first, an emptying influence: it makes way for a pardoning and cleansing Christ, by convicting the soul of its deep need.

Second, it has a continual abasing influence, bringing us to realize more and more our utter insufficiency and complete dependence upon God.

Third, it has an evangelical influence, for it serves to make us more conscious of the perfect suitability of the great Physician for such lepers as we feel ourselves to be.

Fourth, it has a God-honoring influence, for it brings the renewed soul to marvel increasingly at His “longsuffering to us” (2 Peter 3:9).

Fifth, it should promote a spirit of forbearance to our fellows: we ought not to expect less failure in them—than we find in ourselves.

Check out gracegems.org for more!

John MacArthur: Principles for Living to God’s Glory: Enslavement

by John MacArthur

Life is full of gray areas—the daily matters, issues, and choices that aren’t inherently good or bad, and to which Scripture doesn’t specifically speak. How believers navigate those areas has a major influence on their spiritual growth, their testimony, and their usefulness to the Lord.

To help you develop biblical criteria for the gray-area decisions you face, we’ve been looking at some key instructions and exhortations from the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians, Paul told his readers, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Again, the apostle underscored the fact that he wanted to do only those things that are spiritually profitable. Part of that entails avoiding those activities that might result in personal enslavement. Paul knew that his only Master was Jesus Christ, and he would not allow himself to be mastered by anyone or anything else.

The immediate context in this portion of 1 Corinthians 6 is sexual sin, which is uniquely enslaving. However, the principle extends beyond sensuality to any habit or behavior that might become life dominating or Spirit quenching. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commanded, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit.” Though the context there is different, the idea is similar to what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12: Don’t allow yourself to become addicted or enslaved to that which is sinful or potentially destructive.

When faced with a gray-area decision, one of the questions we must train ourselves to ask is, Will this activity bring me into bondage? Will it develop such an appetite in me that it forms a pattern of behavior I cannot control?

It’s ironic that man—the pinnacle of God’s creation—can so easily be enslaved by such simple things as computers, televisions, sports, games, hobbies, and even food and drink. And yet, we don’t seem to care—or even notice—that these insignificant things can so often and so easily gain complete mastery over our lives.

Smoking is a good example. From an objective perspective, what sense does it make to shove dry leaves into your mouth and light them on fire? What possible benefit could you derive from that? And yet countless people are enslaved to their smoking habits—it’s an addiction that effectively runs their lives.

And while you and I might disassociate ourselves from the stigma of certain well-known addictions, the truth is we are equally susceptible to becoming just as thoroughly addicted toanything in our lives. Some people are addicted to entertainment, whether it is movies, music, or sports. Others are addicted to clothes and shopping—they’re habitual consumers. Still others are addicted to a specific hobby or recreation, with all their time and resources going to fulfill and expand their ability to enjoy that activity.

Paul wasn’t merely warning his readers about immoral addictions. He wanted them to be on guard against anything that could take control or focus away from the Lord. And specifically, he is warning us against the kinds of activities that can become controlling desires that dictate and direct the rest of our lives.

And Paul was well aware that we are creatures designed for habits. Before we were saved, we were habitual sinners. And after salvation, we have to work hard to break those old, sinful habits and cultivate new, righteous ones in their place. In fact, in Ephesians 2:10, Paul says we’ve been saved for the purpose of good works. Through God’s transforming work, we’ve been set aside for the purpose of righteousness. And as long as He allows, we need to put our maximum effort into building habits that fulfill and accomplish His righteous ends.

That also means we must guard against the kinds of activities that, even if they themselves are not sinful, could lead to a sinful preoccupation with them.

Personally, that means that while I might be free in Christ to do something, I’ll nonetheless avoid it to confirm I am still in control of my desires (1 Corinthians 9:27). It’s not that the activity is wrong—it’s that I want to make sure I’m still able to turn it down. It might even be something as simple as a steak or a hot fudge sundae. Regardless of what it is, I don’t ever want to allow myself to get into a pattern of not being able to say no to it. Not being in control of your body and mind—even in the most seemingly insignificant areas—always spills over into your spiritual life.

When it comes to life’s gray areas, it’s important to evaluate the long-term effects of the decisions you make, and how even the smallest, most unimportant things can exert control over you. If what you are considering can be sinfully habit forming, why pursue it? Don’t allow yourself to fall into bondage to anyone or anything. You are a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

This Article: Principles for Living to God’s Glory: Enslavement, originally appeared at Grace to You, Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.