Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Perhaps the Most Important Entry I'll Ever Write

John OwenJohn Owen (Image via Wikipedia)
We have been looking at the sad fact that people who have spent years immersed in Christendom can completely fall away, often deceiving themselves that they're still "just fine," or even closer to God than they were before.

It's heartbreaking to see, and it's also heartbreaking to be in that position yourself. To want to be freed from the death-grip of sin, and to find yourself enslaved despite your prayers and pleadings and promises...there is little in life more painful than that. The soul rallies for a while, makes its vows, and exults in hope, only to plunge back into the mire like a wallowing hog. Failure makes a mockery of hope, and it accuses God Himself of failing to help. It's really no wonder that people give up on the God of the Bible and invent a different god in their minds.

Why does this happen?

One of the most valuable insights I've heard comes from the powerful writings of John Owen (1616-1683). His book, "On the Mortification of Sin in Believers" has aspects I'm not sure I endorse, but I give a hearty "Amen" to what he says on this particular subject. He writes, of course, in the old 17th-Century style of English, so I'll take the liberty of paraphrasing what he says. Please see the original work if you'd like to read it as it was written. You can read it online free of charge here. (I will put my paraphrase in italics so it will be obvious where it begins and ends.)

Without sincerely and diligently striving for universal obedience, no single perplexing lust can be overcome.

Suppose a man finds any lust to be powerful, strong, and upsetting. It leads him captive, exasperates him, disquiets him, and takes away his peace. He is not able to bear it, so he makes up his mind to fight it. He prays against it, groans under it, sighs to be delivered: but in the meantime, perhaps, in other duties, — in constant communion with God, — in reading, prayer, and meditation, — in other ways that are different from the lust that upsets him, — he is loose and negligent. Such a man cannot expect to have any victory over that one troubling sin.

This is not an unusual circumstance. The Israelites, under a sense of their sin, drew near to God with much diligence and earnestness, with fasting and prayer (See Isa. 58). In verse 2 it says “They seek me daily, and delight to know my ways; they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.” But God rejects all. Their fast is a remedy that will not heal them, and the reason is given in verses 5–7. It is because they were only focused on this one area of obedience. They attended diligently to that, but in others were negligent and careless.

Suppose someone has a “running sore” (which is one Scriptural metaphor for sin) upon him. It's a kind of sore that is caused by poor hygiene, or by other unhealthy activities. Now suppose that he tries every kind of ointment he can think of for that sore, but he doesn't improve his hygiene or the overall care of his body. His ointments will be applied in vain. It's the same for anyone who tries to stop a "bloody ooze" of sin and filth in his soul, and is not equally careful of his overall spiritual health.

One reason for this is that such attempts to conquer a single area of sin are based on a faulty principle, and on an insecure foundation, so failure is inevitable. What true and acceptable principles are needed?

Sin must be hated for its very sinfulness, not only for the discomfort that it causes us. Hatred of sin must be based on the love of Christ in the cross.

Now, clearly the kind of futile efforts described above are based on self-love, not on love for Christ. If you decide to fight sin in this way, why are you fighting it? Because it troubles you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your heart with sorrow, and trouble, and fear; you have no rest because of it. Yes; but, friend, haven't you been neglectful and careless regarding other sins that don't bother you in the same way? These are no less sins and evils than the ones that make you groan. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why don't you fight them also?

If you hated sin as sin, and hated every evil way, you would care about everything that grieves and troubles the Spirit of God, just as much as you care about the sin that particularly grieves and troubles your own soul. Clearly you are fighting against sin merely because of the discomfort it causes you. If your conscience would settle down and be quiet about it, you wouldn't bother fighting that sin anymore. If it didn't trouble you, you wouldn't trouble it.

Now, can you really believe that God will support such hypocritical endeavors, — that his Spirit will approve of the treachery and falsehood of your spirit? Do you think he'll let you off the hook about the sins that bother you, if you'll only use that liberty to freely pursue other sins which don't bother you -- sins that grieve Him just as much as the other ones do? No! God says, “If this man were to get free from this sin that bothers him, I would never hear from him again; let him wrestle with this, or he will be lost.”
(Paraphrased, emphasis added.)

I hope you read that and really thought about it. If this is the condition of your own soul, please pray hard about it. Ask God to open your eyes to the evilness of sin as He sees it...all sins, not just the ones that particularly trouble your conscience. Ask Him to forgive your lack of love for Him, your love for the sins that don't bother you, and the self-centeredness of your religion. Pray that all of your sins would bother you, and that God would grant you repentance (in other words, that He would give you a new heart that values Christ more than it values anything else, including sin). Pray for a love for Christ that longs to be close to Him and hates the thought of offending Him. Pray to be cleansed not just from particular evils, but from the sinful direction of your soul that does not love Christ above all else.

For some of you this will be your first true prayer for salvation, regardless of what other prayers you may have prayed. Salvation is not mere mental assent to doctrines that every demon knows to be true. Salvation cannot be less than the reorienting of the soul to center on Christ. It may be other things along with that, but it cannot be less than that.

God loves prayers like that. He delights to answer them. He wants nothing more than to see His Son loved, cherished, and adored as He deserves to be. And to the soul who approaches him in this way, He will give forgiveness. He will give Himself. And in Him you will find far more than you have been searching for.

Love. Joy. Peace. Cleansing. Freedom. A home in Heaven awaiting all those who trust that the Son is their very Life.

I pray that you trust Him this way.


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1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Praising the LORD for salvation, cleansing, and victory in Jesus through grace and the strength He gives us to overcome!

Daniel and I were just last night on the way home from prayer meeting discussing this very issue.

For all, saved or lost, each step of disobedience to God / His Word is easier to take and takes us further and further away from Him ... from even desiring reconciliation. The Christian -- the true child of God by faith-filled repentance -- will receive correction. Ever had one of those divine spankings? I have! And I THANK GOD for His loving correction.

But JOY! Each step of obedience taken by a child of God is blessed of Father, making it easier to take that next step of faith. We trust, obey, are blessed of God, and have strength to trust, obey.... *_*

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