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(Part 1 of a series)
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was an English Puritan church leader and theologian who has some very powerful counsel for us today, more than 300 years after his death. I recently began reading his “Directions for Hating Sin,” and decided that this needed to become a blog series.
- Because the fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov 8:13), and those who love the Lord are to hate it as well (Ps. 97:10). (See how fearing the Lord and loving Him go hand-in-glove? They are anything but opposites! But that’s another topic.)
- Because we live in a culture that hates righteousness and celebrates evil to the hilt. And, unlike Baxter, we have countless high-tech ways in which evil can come into our homes in the guise of entertainment. If we’re not careful and deliberate about hating sin, we’ll end up loving it. (As I once read, in the upstream battle of the Christian life, you don’t have to turn your boat around and row away from God in order to distance yourself from Him. You only have to quit rowing, or even settle for half-hearted rowing, and the current will do the distancing for you.)
Of course Baxter wrote in 17th-Century English, but if you dislike his style, please just read on anyway. I’ll have plenty to say in my 21st -Century way afterwards. But please DO make the effort to read his words even if they don’t appeal to you right away. They’re worth it. (Wherever you see words emphasized, that was added by me.)
Directions for Hating Sin
Direct. I. Labour to know God, and to be affected with his attributes, and always to live as in his sight. No man can know sin perfectly, because no man can know God perfectly. You can no further know what sin is than you know what God is, whom you sin against; for the formal malignity of sin is relative, as it is against the will and attributes of God. The godly have some knowledge of the malignity of sin, because they have some knowledge of God that is wronged by it. The wicked have no practical, prevalent knowledge of the malignity of sin, because they have no such knowledge of God. They that fear God will fear sinning; they that in their hearts are bold irreverently with God, will, in heart and life, be bold with sin: the atheist, who thinks there is no God thinks there is no sin against him. Nothing in world will tell us so plainly and powerfully of the evil of sin, as the knowledge of the greatness, wisdom goodness, holiness, authority, justice, truth, &c. of God. The sense of his presence, therefore, will revive our sense of sin’s malignity.
So, in order to hate sin, we must first and foremost be striving to know (and love) God. This is such an important point! It is said that nature abhors a vacuum, and it’s true of our souls as well. We will not give up something we love unless we have something better to put in its place. Those of us who focus on fighting our own sins too much, at the cost of neglecting the love of God, will fail every time. Yes, we must struggle against sin at times, but as long as it remains our highest love, we’re doomed.
Those who are unsaved, who do not have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling inside of them, are incapable of loving the one true God. They can easily love a god of their own choosing, but not the Holy One they need to know for eternal life.
Salvation is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit which, among other things, awakens our souls to desire God, to hunger and thirst for Him, to value Him as never before. If you have never known this kind of work of the Spirit, if your “salvation experience” has been merely an external act, or a mental decision, with no Spiritual life given, then all this talk of “hating sin” will hit you in one of two very different ways that I can think of:
- You’ll think it sounds ridiculous. You love sin, and you love loving sin. Salvation, as far as you’re concerned, is just a “Get out of jail free” card. Why would you want to give up the good stuff to settle for Christ? You are lost, you are an enemy of Christ, you are on the broad path that leads to destruction if this is your view. You cannot love sin and be devoted to it and value it above Christ, and still be anything but His enemy (Col. 1:21 a). To value sin above Christ is to insult Him in the worst possible way. Repent and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, worthy of your devotion, and ask Him to enable you to do so. Your eternal soul depends on it. (Note: The true Christian will also struggle with a residual love for certain sins, but will hate that fact, and will know deep in his heart that Christ is far more worthy of his love than sin is. He will repent and keep growing in love for the Lord. Such a person is not lost, and he’s not the person I’m referring to here in point 1.)
- You’ll feel a hunger, a yearning to understand. You’ll sense the emptiness in yourself and in what has passed for religion so far in your life. You may love sin, but you are beginning to see the foolishness of your ways. You’re beginning to want to hate it. Or, you may hate sin already, but may feel trapped in it. If so, then the Holy Spirit is clearly working on your heart. Praise God, and keep seeking Him in His Word, by His Spirit!
I love Baxter’s words, “You can no further know what sin is than you know what God is, whom you sin against; for the formal malignity of sin is relative, as it is against the will and attributes of God.” He is saying that, just as you can’t know what darkness is if you’ve never seen light, so you can’t know what sin is if you’ve never seen God’s holiness. God has put a certain amount of knowledge of Himself in every heart, which is why we have a conscience and why we’re without excuse when we sin (Romans 1:18 and following). But the more we know of God, the more we’ll see just how evil and ugly sin really is.
Are you pursuing the knowledge and love of God? Do you read the Bible as a man-centered book, or as a God-centered one? Do you merely look to the text for instruction and guidance for your behavior? Of course you must do that, but is that all it’s for? Or is the text there to show us who God is?
As I’ve said before, and as Del Tackett so clearly points out in The Truth Project, God didn’t flip a coin to decide whether stealing, murder, or adultery should be considered right or wrong. Things are right or wrong based on their conformity with God’s own nature, with His character. Lying, stealing, etc are wrong because they are opposed to the very character of God. That’s why Jesus could say, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). If you love Me, you’ll want to be like Me. You’ll take your cues from Me. You’ll want to do what I do.
Do you want to hate sin more? Do I? If so, we must focus first and foremost on knowing and loving God. If we miss that, then all the following points in future entries will lead us into legalism and bondage. But knowing Christ, who is the Truth, will set us free (John 14:6, John 8:32)!
Dear Lord, please touch every heart that reads this. Please soften the hardened hearts which scoff at the thought of hating sin. Please woo the softening hearts which are beginning to hear Your call. Please establish the saved-but-weak hearts which still cling to some unworthy things. Grant us a wholehearted love for you which will reveal sin’s true ugliness. We will thank You and praise You for it eternally!