Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Sin and the Believer
Tim Challies started "Reading the Classics Together" this Fall on his blog. He and his readers pick a book, read a chapter each week, and discuss it every Thursday. I decided to join in a few weeks ago when he decided to read John Owens' Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers. Owens is a dense writer and profound theologian. Every line of this 1656 book is it's own one-liner.
We are only four chapters into the book, but already Owen has laid very thorough groundwork for dealing with sin in the life of the Christian. Sanctification, the process of growing more and more Christ-like, is a hard body of disciplines to grow in. Becoming a student of God's Word, spending time in prayer, and ministering to the needs of others do not come naturally, and neither does mortifying sin. Owen uses Romans 8:13 as the basis for this work: For 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. In addition to pointing out that mortification is commanded by the Scripture, Owen notes that it is the duty of all believers to daily put to death the deeds of the flesh, that it is not able to be done apart from the Spirit of God and that comfort and peace in life are often dependent on our mortifying our sins. In the chapter for this week, Owen describes what mortification is not.
Owen is realistic and does not believe it humanly possible to eliminate sin from your life. Only at death will you be free from the corrupting influence of "the old man." He understands, as the Apostle Paul did, that sin dogs us daily. This is a refreshing change in light of more modern authors who seem to think they can trust their impulses. As noted above, Owen also understands that mortification apart from the work of the Holy Spirit is impossible. Of myself, I cannot be rid of the sin in my life, or hope to put to death the desires that give birth to those sins.
Understanding our sinfulness is essential to a healthy Christian life and, indeed, the Gospel itself. If not because of my sin, why did Christ die? If I had some good in me, I might stand a chance at fulfilling the law, yet, as Paul notes, there is no good in me. Christ died for my sins so that I might love him and become more like him, through the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. We are entering into the Advent season where we celebrate the Incarnation: the coming of God who became flesh. Christ was tempted in every way that we are, and yet he never sinned. Christ is man, and thus by his perfect life, he fulfilled the Law, the very thing that condemns me to Hell. He is the only man who stands as righteous before the Father of his own merit. Christ is God, meaning that his death could cover the infinite offense against God that sin wrought. He is God, so that not even death and the grave could have any power over him.
We are a desperate, wicked people, deserving only of hell. Our best works are a vile stench to God, being tainted with sin. Only by casting ourselves on the mercy of God is there hope for deliverance from sin and death and any hope of life, peace and love.