– Written by Pastor Erik Reed
“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” – John Owen
The Christian life is one continuous battle. The battle is not waged to keep our salvation. Salvation was won and sealed by the finished work of Jesus Christ, through his death on the cross and his resurrection. All those who, by faith, believe upon Christ and repent of their sin, are saved. So what is the battle that I am referring to? Sanctification. This is the battle of mortifying the flesh, or killing sin, that must mark the life of a true believer. This battle is waged, not so that we win salvation, but so we grow to reflect the image of Christ, one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
Unfortunately, this battle, for many believers, is a neglected battle. Many spend a great deal of time learning theology and growing in knowledge, which is good, but they fail to weed out sinful behaviors and practices in their lives. They know and celebrate the tenets of the gospel. They celebrate the work of Christ on the cross, they affirm the work of the Holy Spirit, they joyously proclaim the forgiveness of sin through Jesus, but many stop at these points. John Owen, the 17th century Puritan pastor and theologian, said it powerfully when he wrote:
“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 briars that grow in them, they delight not so much, though this be no less necessary than the other.”
What Owen points out is that many celebrate the gospel and its many facets, but few actually do the hard work of killing sin in their lives. He argues that this aspect of the Christian life (killing sin) is just as necessary and important as believing the right things. In other words, doing the right things is just as important as believing the right things. Growing in holiness is as equally valuable as growing in knowledge. It is not okay to believe correctly, but act incorrectly. Obedience to God, and to the ways of God, is what sanctification is all about. To become a reflection of Christ, is to become like one who was perfectly obedient. This obedience we strive for does not earn our salvation or approval before God, but our desire to be obedient to God demonstrates that we belong to Him.
So how do we work to kill sin in our lives? First, we need to understand that unbelief is at the root of all sin. Second, we have to identify it. Then third, we have to combat it.
First, all sin stems from unbelief. The reason we commit any sin is unbelief. This does not mean you are an unbeliever, but it means that at the moment of sin, we believe a lie, doubt God’s promises, and act on unbelief. For example, if you struggle with lust, and you act out on that struggle by staring lustfully at someone or engaging in pornography, you are acting on unbelief. As a single person, you are doubting that trusting God is sufficient for your physical desires and that supreme happiness would be expressed in satisfying the appetite of your lust. As a married person, you are showing unbelief that your spouse truly is more capable of giving you ultimate joy and happiness, rather than staring lustfully at someone else or engaging in pornography. You are saying to God, “I know I am not supposed to look lustfully at another person, but it satisfies a physical craving that I do not trust that my spouse alone is sufficient to meet.” What you are saying to God is: I do not believe you.
Once we come to realize that every sin has unbelief at its root, it should humble and sadden us to want to rid ourselves of it.
– Pastor Erik Reed
Questions for Reflection & Discussion:
~~Why is it so easy as a believer to focus more on celebrating the redemption we have in Jesus rather than working to kill the existing sin in our lives?
~~How does understanding all sin as a result of unbelief cause you to react? What does it teach you about yourself?