The Danger of Praying for Holiness

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
(Hebrews 12:6)

Have you ever felt that your prayers were going unanswered?  We come to the Lord, as he has taught us, praying that we might grow in holiness, that we might be more loving, that we might trust in Him, and yet everything in and around us seems to be working against this prayer.  Is God not listening?  Is God not answering?

Recently I’ve come across this hymn by John Newton (most noted for Amazing Grace):

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

This is the anguish of unanswered prayer, or so it would seem.  We read in the next stanza how we often look at prayer.  We come to God with right intentions, we want to overcome our sin, to find rest and peace – and we want God’s power to conquer and kill sin within us.  Give me holiness, give it now!

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

What we find, what Newton teaches in the hymn, is that God often uses means and methods that we would never consider to answer our prayers and to bring us to holiness in Him.  When we would be free from sin, when we begin the journey to mortify sin in our lives, that’s when it seems that sin rears its ugly head even more.  Sin and its power in us assaults us, lays us low, until we cry out to God, “Will you pursue me to death?!”

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

Often this is the way that God answers our prayers for grace and faith, using our inward trials to break our dependence on the joys of this world, and to teach us to find our all in Him.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

When you engage in the war on sin, don’t give up when you find how deeply entrenched the enemy has become.  As you drive the enemy (whom Christ has defeated) from his stronghold – he will kick and scream.  He will accuse and curse.

But even this is from the hand of God.  Don’t kick against the goads, don’t chaff under the Father’s discipline.  As Hebrews 12 teaches, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood… For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

These inward trials, this putting to death of the old life, weaning from the world, from self, from pride is painful – but it is necessary.  If you want to be more like Christ, you will, by necessity, become less like your old self.  The old orientation, the old desire – those things that came natural and easy – they are being replaced with the transforming power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.


Here is a link to listen:

Killing My Old Man

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
(Romans 6:11)

The past couple of weeks I have written on the theme of “Killing Sin.”  I have more to write on that, but I thought I would first take a step back and give a little thought to the language here.

Is it acceptable to use terms like “killing sin,” or “putting sin to death?”  One might object to that kind of harsh, brutal language.  I mean, it doesn’t sound very Christian, does it?  Wouldn’t it be more appropriate, more polite to say things like, “pursuing the potential of good within,” “accentuating the positive,” or even, “Let go of yesterday. Let today be a new beginning and be the best that you can, and you’ll get to where God wants you to be.”  That certainly sounds a whole lot nicer than, “killing my old man” (thank you Petra).

The thing is, such polite platitudes fail to recognize the pervasive power of sin and how far that sin has permeated into our lives (phew, that’s a lot of “p’s”).  Sin is not just something we do, it is a power over us, enslaving us, which, if left untouched, will destroy us, rob us of the joy of salvation, and even call into question our very assurance.  Think about it, when we choose sin over righteousness, when we choose not to engage in warfare against sin’s hold on our hearts, then that sin is more attractive, more desirable, more of our hearts desire, than Jesus, the lover of our souls.

We must be in the business of mortifying, killing, sin.  This is what Paul is saying in Romans 6:

Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life… For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The mandate, the instruction, to mortify sin does not come as a way for you to finally “get right with God,” or “live into your full potential.”  No, the call to die to sin is based in the reality of your established identity in Christ.  If you have been baptized into Christ, that is, if by faith you have come to Christ for salvation and His word has washed you clean, then you are, in fact, dead to sin and alive to God.  The power of sin is broken, your life is hidden in the risen, righteous life of Christ.  You have been crucified, buried, and raised with Christ – this is your identity.

In Christ, sin no longer defines you, no longer rules over you, no longer determines your position.  Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above (Col 3:1).  Put off the old self, take on the new (Rom 13:12; Eph 4:22; Col 2:11, 3:9).

To walk with Christ and continue in sin is cognitive dissonance, an identity crisis to the nth degree.  You cannot feed a passion for Christ and also nurse a grudge.  You cannot proclaim the truth and spread a lie.  You cannot build one another up while also passing along rumors and gossip.  You cannot enjoy the fellowship of Christ and despise those who sit across the aisle from you.

At the Pastor’s Conference I attended last week, Sinclair Ferguson said, “Much of pastoral ministry is simply reminded people who they are in Christ, again and again.”  Remember your life is hidden in Christ Jesus, the one who died for our sins and who was raised for our justification.  He is risen, mighty over sin and death; and through faith, so are you.

Now, get busy killing sin!