Unclean! Unclean!

My daily reading plan has me in the middle of the book of Leviticus right now, which is always a challenge.  I am constantly amazed at the amount of sacrifice, the blood required to atone for the sins of the people, the sacrifices given in praise, prayer, and petition to God. The ceremonial regulations are abundant and exhaustive.  When our culture seems so casual in its approach to the Holy God, the book of Leviticus seems very foreign and difficult to accept.

Today’s reading was Leviticus chapter 13, the laws regarding leprosy and a variety of skin diseases. “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean” (Lev 13:2-4).

If you read through the rest of the chapter, you’ll find calls for quarantining those who were symptomatic, to determine if it was leprosy or some other condition.  There are regulations about leprosy on the skin, beard, and in the clothes. If the priest determined it was leprosy, you were declared unclean, and thereby unable to come into the presence of the Temple for sacrifice and worship.

I can’t tell you how hard it was a a pimply teenager to read these passages and wonder if God would even hear my prayers in my current condition, or if I was too unclean to come before Him.

These regulations were in place for the sake of the community. In Biblical times, there was no cure for leprosy, but they knew it spread easily and quickly through a community.  If you were showing symptoms, you were required to let others know, and keep distance from the rest of the community.

I think we all know a little about this now. With the state imposed quarantines and calls for social-distancing over the Coronavirus, we see the cases come to our community and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” There is a palpable fear of the spread of this virus, of the infection spreading like wild-fire.  The worst part of this, unlike leprosy, Covid 19 may spread from those who are asymptomatic.  You could be carrying the virus and show now signs, but still pass it along to others.

So we stay home, out of love and concern for those around us.  We are, to some extent, embodying the practices of Leviticus 13.

But only to a certain extent.

It is equally important to remember that these practices were not just regulations for the community, they were regulations for the worshipping community. Leviticus was written primarily as instruction about how a sinful people were to approach a Holy God. If one were to come into the presence of God, still stained and burdened by sin, God, who is holy and just, would pour down unmitigated judgment upon the sinner. This is why there is so much blood sacrifice in Leviticus – the people were making atonement for their sins so that they could stand justified before a holy God.

Psalm 15, another reading of the day, asks and answers the question, “O Lord, who shall dwell on your holy hill?”  The answer given is this, “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks the truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against he innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.” This is the one who may come before the Lord.

Leprosy, a disease of the skin, was symbolic of the disease of the heart – sin. Easily spread, entirely destructive.  Left untreated, it will bring about our destruction, and leave us separated from God.

What a wonder then to know that in Jesus Christ we have been washed and made clean (Hebrews 9:14; 10:13).  We, who were once stained with the sins of this world, are now declared clean, sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:11). The punishment for your sins has been placed upon Christ, and has been paid for in full. The veil which separated us from God has been torn open, and we have access to the Father through Jesus Christ our mediator.

What a blessing it is to know that, while we must be separated from one another for this time, nothing can separate us from the love of God the Father through Jesus Chris the Son (Rom 8:38-39).

SDG

Preaching for Holiness

In my previous post, I shared the convicting and informative teaching I received from reading Joel Beeke’s, Reformed Preaching, in the chapter on Major Elements in Reformed Experiential Preaching.   There, he dealt with the holiness of the preacher. For today’s post, I want to share with you 10 points of holiness or spirituality that Beeke suggests the preacher ought to be working toward in the lives of the congregation, those listening to the sermons.

Have you ever thought about why preaching the Word of God is at the very center of Reformed Worship?  Our coming together on Sunday isn’t merely to get recharged and energized for the week, nor is it all about fellowship with other saints in Christ.  These are blessings, to be sure. Rather, our time of worship together is primarily about glorifying God in praise and in the hearing and obeying of His Word. The sermon is central to worship because it is in the faithful and regular hearing of the Word, read and proclaimed, that we mature into the likeness of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here are, then, the 10 things that the reformed preacher ought to be working toward in His congregation.


The Holiness of the People

What kind of spirituality does Reformed preaching aim to produce by the power of the Spirit? It is spiritually rooted in faith in Christ as the only Mediator and fruitful in reverential love for the sovereign God. To draw out what this looks like in more detail, I will follow the outline that Hughes Oliphant Old offers in his sketch of reformed spirituality. These are the sorts of things that Reformed preaching cultivates in the life of the people.

  1. The Spirituality of the Word.  When you preach the Word, call people to immerse themselves in it. Exhort them to become Psalm 1 Christians, who meditate on the Bible day and night, and walk in its ways with delight.
  2. The Spirituality of Praying the Psalms. Reformed spirituality is a spirituality of the Psalter… praying the psalms, singing and meditating on them, not only at Church but at family prayers every day of the week.” Preachers should constantly hold up to the church a lifestyle of continual prayer and praise.
  3. The Spirituality of the Lord’s Day. The sanctification of the Lord’s Day is not a Sabbatarian legalism; rather, it secures a day of peace, rest, refreshment, prayer and love for God’s people. Teach people to “call the sabbath a delight” so that they can “delight [themselves] in the Lord” (Isa. 58:13-14).
  4. The Spirituality of Works of Mercy. Apply the sweet and amazing love of God to our duty to love our fellow human beings at the point of physical suffering and spiritual ministry. Build bridges between heavenly doctrine and earthly mercy.
  5. The Spirituality of the Lord’s Supper. The rich piety of the Table is nurtured first of all through meditation leading up to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is not automatic conferral of grace, but an exercise of faith. Let your preaching before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper call believers to a rich feast in Jesus Christ. Help them to look through the bread and wine as through a window into heaven to see the love, forgiveness, and empowering grace of God for them.
  6. The Spirituality of Stewardship.  In the Reformation, the idea of stewardship transformed believers’ views of money and work. Businessmen, housewives, farmers, bankers, those caring for the elderly, and craftsmen came to see themselves as entrusted with a sacred vocation or calling to serve the Lord. Teach the congregation to rule their money, time, and talents for the Lord, and not to let their resources rule them.
  7. The Spirituality of Meditating on God’s Ways. This refers not just to meditating on Scripture, but to meditating on God’s works in our lives through the lens of Scripture. If you guide your flock to think often about God’s gracious ways with them, they will find much comfort in trials.
  8. The Spirituality of Evangelism and Missions.  The spirituality of God’s eternal purposes has often let to an evangelistic, missionary spirituality. The covenant blesses us to be a blessing to the world.
  9. The Spirituality of Godly Fellowship. Reformed spirituality encourages fellowship among the godly for mutual encouragement. It is relational, not individualistic. Teach the people the privileges of being active members of the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Warn them against isolating themselves or trying to go it alone. Encourage spiritual friendships and mutual accountability.
  10. The Spirituality of Heavenly-Minded Obedience. Reformed spirituality produces zeal for obeying God’s laws and standing against worldliness.  Preachers must show people that his is not legalism because it is rooted in love for God. To obey God’s laws is to follow Jesus in the pathway of rejoicing in and walking according to divine love. Preach obedience to the law by the grace of Christ. The law is not means for sinners to find justification before God, but it is also no enemy of grace.
* Beeke, Joel R. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People. (Crossway Publishers; Wheaton, Ill, 2018) pgs 67-69.

The Aproachable John Calvin

As a good Presbyterian, my first exposure to classic Systematic Theology was reading John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. At first, I wondered if I really wanted to study theology. The two-volume systematic was a different kind of reading. It wasn’t overly complicated, but it was exhaustive. Written in the 16th century, it was foreign to me culturally and methodically.  I still have the highlights and notes in the margins from my first reading, but those treasures then were rare.  After the first reading, I hoped that the readings would get better, and I purposely kept Calvin at arm’s length.

Then I came across something called The Golden Book of the True Christian Life.*  It is a sampling from Calvin’s Institutes that focuses in specifically on the meaning of the Christian life. This booklet completely changed my view of Calvin, and sent me back to the Institutes. It wasn’t that I needed to find better writing, but that I needed a better understanding of what was written.

I wanted to share with you excerpts from the opening chapter of the Golden Book, that you too may find the always approachable nature of John Calvin’s teaching on the meaning of the Christian life.


Scripture is the Rule of Life

The goal of the new life is that God’s children exhibit melody and harmony in their conduct. What melody? The song of God’s justice. What harmony? The harmony between God’s righteousness and our obedience. Only if we walk in the beauty of God’s law do we become sure of our adoption as children of the Father. The law of God contains in itself the dynamic of the new life by which his image is fully restored in us; but by nature we are sluggish, and, therefore, we need to be stimulated, aided in our efforts by a guiding principle.

Holiness is the key Principle

The plan of Scripture for a Christian walk is twofold: first, that we be instructed in the law to love righteousness, because by nature we are not inclined to do so; second, that we be shown a simple rule that we may not waver in our race. Of the many excellent recommendations, is there any better than the key principle: Be thou Holy, for I am holy? Holiness is not a merit by which we can attain communion with God, but a gift of Christ, which enables us to cling to him and to follow him.

Holiness means full obedience to Christ

Scripture does not only show the principle of holiness, but also that Christ is the way to it. Because the Father has reconciled us to himself in Christ, therefore he commands us to be conformed to Christ as to our pattern.  The Lord has adopted us to be his children on this condition that we reveal an imitation of Christ who is the mediator of our adoption. Therefore:

  • Since God has revealed himself as a Father, we would be guilty of the basest ingratitude if we did not behave as his children.
  • Since Christ has purified us through the baptism in his blood, we should not become defiled by fresh pollution.
  • Since Christ has united us to his body as his members, we should be anxious not to disgrace him by any blemish.
  • Since Christ, our head, has ascended into heaven, we should leave our carnal desires behind and lift our hearts upward to him.
  • Since the Holy Spirit has dedicated us as temples of God, we should exert ourselves not to profane his sanctuary, but to display his glory.
  • Since both our soul and body are destined to inherit an incorruptible and never-fading crown, we should keep them pure and undefiled till the day of our Lord.

External Christianity is not enough

Let us ask those who possess nothing but church membership, and yet want to be called Christians, how they can glory in the sacred name of Christ? External knowledge of Christ is found to be only false and dangerous make-believe, however eloquently and freely lip servants may talk about the gospel. The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. Let nominal Christians cease from insulting God by boasting themselves to be what they are not, and let them show themselves disciples not unworthy of Christ, their Master. Our religion will be unprofitable if it does not change our heart, pervade our manners, and transform us into new creatures.

Spiritual Progress is necessary

We should not insist on absolute perfection of the gospel in our fellow Christians, however much we may strive for it ourselves. There would be no church if we set a standard of absolute perfection, for the best of us are still far from the ideal, and we would have to reject many who have made only small progress. Perfection must be the final mark at which we aim, and the goal for which we strive. But let everyone proceed according to his given ability and continue the journey he has begun. Let us not cease to do the utmost, that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the smallness of our accomplishment.  Though we fall short, our labor is not lost if this day surpasses the preceding one. The one condition for spiritual progress is that we remain sincere and humble. Let us keep our end in view, let us press forward to our goal. Let us steadily exert ourselves to reach a higher degree of holiness till we shall finally arrive at a perfection of goodness which we seek and pursue as long as we live, but which we shall attain then only, when, freed from all earthly infirmity, we shall be admitted by God into his full communion.


* Calvin, Jean. Golden Book of the True Christian Life; a modern translation from the French and the Latin by Henry J. Van Andel. (Baker Book House; Grand Rapids, MI, 1952).

The Storm Rages On

Listening to the weather forecast on the first day of spring was infuriating.  I found myself shaking my fist at the TV and calling down curses upon the “computer models.”

This is spring, but its spring in the High Plains, which usually means another three weeks of winter! How I long for the sun to shine through these bleak overcast skies; for the world to turn green rather than this shoe-bottom brown.

But, alas, I must wait.  Though the sun is trying to shine through my window now, off in the distance the clouds are forming and the storms rage on.  More snow, more cold, more winter – that’s all the weather man said.

I saw this meme and knew it to be true:

Winter Meme

Old man winter just won’t die. He keeps rearing his ugly head. Doesn’t he know when he has overstayed his welcome?

Just as I long for the sun to shine and new growth to come to the world outside, how desperately do I long for this in my own heart.  I long to walk in the radiance of the glory of God, to see new growth in the life on the vine. I want to live a life that delights my creator, to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to grow in my love for my neighbor.

And yet, the old man in me simply won’t die.  Sin keeps rearing its ugly head.  The temptations I thought I had overcome keep creeping back in, the vices the gripped me, continue to squeeze all life from me. My old self, with all it’s worldly passions and tastes still rages on.  Like a winter storm that comes in the midst of spring, the old life in me  comes to bite, devour, and delay any growth in righteousness.

I grow tired of the battle, of fighting the same fights day after day.

Doesn’t the old life know its defeated? Christ has conquered sin and death, and in Christ, I live a new life.  The war is over, but the battle rages on. Why then do I struggle with sin?

Galatians 5:17, while speaking truth to my heart, may not give me a lot of encouragement.  Paul writes, “For the desires of the flesh are against he Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to teacher other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  In Romans 7, he famously writes, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

There is a war that is raging between the old life in the flesh and the new life in the Spirit.  If we enter this battle simply laying down our arms, we will be overcome and lose all the joy of our salvation.  If we are engaging in this war, fighting against the last outposts of worldliness and the strongholds of sin in our hearts and minds with the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God), the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of faith, and all of the armor of God, then we will overcome, as Christ has overcome the world.

There is promised victory, new life, in Christ. Yet this victory, while glorious, is never complete in this life. The Westminster Confession describes it this way:

This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

How do we ready ourselves for this battle?  While I could focus on the armor of God, or the means of grace, or the pursuit of spiritual disciplines, I think the best place to start is with looking to Christ.  If you want to enjoy the delights of spring, then when the sun is shining – go stand in it for a while. If you want to engage in the battle against sin in your life, then “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7).  Fix your eyes upon Christ. Read in His word of His grace, His love, His power, His goodness.  Allow Christ to become bigger than any obstacle you face today (1 John 5:4-5), to become more satisfying than that which temps you (John 6:35), more rewarding than anything this world offers (Psalm 16:5-6).

I’ll conclude with yet another quote from Robert Murray McCheyne:

Learn much of your own heart; and when you have learned all you can, remember you have seen but a few yards into a pit that is unfathomable.
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!
Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in His beams. Feel His all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in His almighty arms.
Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.
Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.

McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Print.

The Improvement of Trouble

I was reading again from the Memoirs of Robert Murray McCheyne today when I came across this letter he wrote to a member of his congregation.  The letter is entitled, To A Parishioner On A Sick-Bed: How cares and troubles sanctify.  I know there are many in my own congregation who are facing illness and physical struggles, may this letter strengthen and comfort you in the goodness of God.

All God’s doings are wonderful. It is, indeed, amazing how He makes use of affliction to make us feel his love more. Your house is, I trust, in some measure like that house in Bethany of which it is said, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” They had different degrees of grace. One had more faith, and another more love, still Jesus loved them all. Martha was more inclined to be worldly than Mary, yet Jesus loved them both. It is a happy house when Jesus loves all that dwell in it. Surely it is next door to heaven.

The message of Martha and Mary to Christ (John 11:3) teaches you to carry all your temporal as well as your spiritual troubles to his feet. Leave them there. Carry one another’s case to Jesus. Is it not a wonderful grace in God to have given you peace in Christ, before laying you down on your long sick-bed? It would have been a wearisome lie if you had been an enemy to God, and then it would have been over hell. Do you feel Rom. 5:3 to be true in your experience? You cannot love trouble for its own sake; bitter must always be bitter, and pain must always be pain. God knows you cannot love trouble. Yet for the blessings that it brings, He can make you pray for it. Does trouble work patience in you? Does it lead you to cling closer to the Lord Jesus—to hide deeper in the rock? Does it make you “be still and know that He is God?” Does it make you lie passive in his hand, and know no will but his? Thus does patience work experience—an experimental acquaintance with Jesus. Does it bring you a fuller taste of his sweetness, so that you know whom you have believed? And does this experience give you a further hope of glory—an other anchor cast within the veil? And does this hope give you a heart that cannot be ashamed, because convinced that God has loved you, and will love you to the end? Ah! then you have got the improvement of trouble, if it has led you thus. Pray for me still, that I may get the good of all God’s dealings with me. Lean all on Jesus. Pray for a time of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, that many more may be saved. I hope the Lord’s work is not done in this place yet.—Ever your affectionate pastor, etc

Excerpt from: Bonar, Andrew, Memoir and Remains of the Reverend Robert Murray McCheyne – (Logos electronic edition).

Pass the Chocolate

“Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
(Isa 58:6 ESV)

This being Ash Wednesday, the beginning the Lenten season, everybody’s talking about what they’re going to give up as an act of discipline.  Some have turned off social media, some will try to quit smoking, others have promised, somewhat humorously, to stop shoveling snow.

If taken seriously, the practice of forsaking those vices that tempt and try your soul is a commendable thing, especially if it leads to a permanent victory over a besetting sin.  However, to merely give something up that is not inherently bad, depriving yourself of a God-given pleasure, to somehow feel “closer to God” for 40 days, only to take it back up again in the end seems… how do I say this… NUTS!

I don’t think this is a Biblical teaching.  It may be rooted in tradition, but at the heart of it, the notion of a Lenten Fast to demonstrate devotion and discipline smacks of works righteousness, declaring, “Hey God, I gave up caffeine for 40 days, just for you.  Aren’t you proud of me? I may have been a terrible grouch, but didn’t I prove to you my spiritual fortitude?”  Now where’s that jewel in my crown?  Have you ever stopped to ask how many people are actually drawn to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because you gave up wearing polyester pant suits for 7 weeks?  Did anyone even notice?

Now, if I haven’t totally offended you and you’re still reading, here’s my suggestion: Rather than give up some trivial pleasure this Lent, fast from something that doesn’t belong in the Christian life anyway, something that you, the Church, and your community would be better off without for good.  Here are a few suggestions:

Complaining – Nothing has ever really been gained by a grumbling and complaining spirit.  Yes, yes, the squeaky wheel  gets the oil, but it also eventually gets replaced.  Look through the history of Scripture, never once did God commend the complaining spirit.  Complaining about your lot in life, at its heart, is really telling God that you know better how your life should be going, that you have a better plan.  Complaining, if we take the Israelites in the wilderness as our example, is always looking back at what’s happened in the past, always looking down at what’s happening right now, but never looking forward to what God has promised, to what God is doing.  I will not say that God cannot use a complaining spirit, but when He does, it usually isn’t a good thing.  Stop complaining.  Remember, God is using the very things you are complaining about to work transformation in your life – it has a holy purpose.  Give up complaining for 40 days, you, and everyone else around you, will be better for it.

Comparing – Connected to the idea of complaining is that of comparing.  We like to compare ourselves to others all the time.  We compare ourselves to those who are less fortunate and say, “Well, at least I’m not that bad.” We compare ourselves to those who seem to have everything and say, “When is it going to be my turn?”  Constantly comparing yourself to others to demonstrate your righteousness will get you nowhere with God.  Constantly comparing yourself to others to make excuses for yourself doesn’t have any standing before God either.  Stop comparing yourself to others, and comfort yourself in the knowledge that God has put you where you are, given you the gifts that you have, and is working his grace within you now, that you might grow in the likeness of Christ.  If you must compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself with Him – then cry out to him for mercy and grace.

Bitterness – Nothing hinders the Gospel, nothing quenches the Spirit, nothing obscures the witness quite like a bitter and unforgiving Spirit.  “God is love,” we say.  “I’ve been forgiven,” we celebrate.  “But it will be a cold day in you-know-where before I forgive him…”  I love the phrase “nursing a grudge” because that’s exactly what it is; you are keeping that grudge, that bitterness, that hostility alive, feeding it and nurturing it so that it is always there.  Rather than fostering love, forgiveness, and peace, a bitter and hostile spirit leads to division, animosity, and tearing one another down.  If you have been forgiven, you will forgive.  If you are unwilling to forgive, have you really been forgiven?  This Lent, try fasting from bitterness, and feasting on forgiveness.

Despair – Now by this I don’t mean grief.  There are certainly occasions where grief is appropriate, especially when grieving over the death of a loved one.  By despair I mean that hopeless, pessimistic burden that comes when we forget the Gospel message.  When we look at our sin, our guilt, our shame, and we say, Well, I’ve certainly done it this time.  God surely can’t, won’t, forgive me now.  This despair comes when we turn our eyes from God, from His love for us in Christ, from the earth-shattering power of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, from the wonder-working power of His Spirit in us.  This despair comes when we stop listening to His promises, stop dwelling in His Word, stop fellowshipping with His Church.  We despair when we forget who He is, who He has called us to be, and who we truly are in Christ.  Give up this unhealthy, unfaithful, un-gospel despair, and rejoice in the fact that He has called you His child – and so you are!

So there you have it, just a few suggestions; feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below.  May this Lenten Season be a time when you can cast off every weight and sin which clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race set before you, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

Be Killing Sin

“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.”
(Romans 8:13)

“Be Killing Sin or Sin Will Be Killing You…” John Owen

There is, waging in us, and all around us, a battle for the righteousness of God.  When you are made alive in Christ by faith, the Holy Spirit works to produce in you holiness.  The indwelling, abiding presence of God casts out sin, purifies your heart, renews your mind, ultimately to conform you to the image of Christ.

Through Christ, we know that sin has been defeated and death has been conquered.  His cross stands to remind us that the guilt and shame has been atoned for by His sacrifice; His empty tomb confirms our hope and faith that by faith if we have shared in a death like His, we will also share in a life like His – eternal, holy, and glorifying God.

This is the power of God at work for you, in you, and to His glory.

At the same time, there is a call to daily take up your cross (Matt 16:24), to die to yourself and live for Christ (Gal 2:19), to cast off the old manner of living and put on the new life (Col 3:9-10), to lay aside the sin that clings so closely and run with endurance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1).   How do we join in this battle, how do we begin to mortify sin?  Here are a few thoughts.

Seek Daily God’s Grace
It is crucial to remember that you do not naturally possess the weapons required to overcome sin in your life. To try to fight sin on your own is to fall back on the same moralism and self-righteousness from which Christ has delivered us.  Only Christ has conquered sin, and only by trusting in Him and abiding in the power of His Spirit will we ever share in that victory.  The only tools we have to fight sin is the armor Christ gives us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, which is word of God – and prayer (Gal 6:14-18).

Pray, then, that God will show you your sin, and teach you to hate your sin more and more.  Hold that sin, whatever it might be that tempts you and leads you astray, hold that sin beside the cross, the symbol of His suffering and death, and realize that it is precisely that sin that put Him there.  Pray that, by God’s grace, you may come more and more to despise your sin and to love your Christ.

Recognize the Pervasiveness of Sin
The hard core fact is sin is everywhere.  It is easy, sitting there with a log in your eye, to point out the specks in the eyes of those around you.  The temptation, when you begin to fight against sin, is to treat your growth in sanctification as a checklist of personal accomplishment, Kicked that Sin, What’s Next!?!

Paul opens his letter to the Romans with an indictment against the sins of the Gentiles – and the list is exhaustive.  It includes everything from sexual immorality to disobedience to your parents.  You get to the end of the list, and you might think to yourself, “I’m glad he’s not talking about me.”

Then Romans 2 begins, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same thing.”  The war against sin should always be fought in humility and grace – or as we read in 1 Cor 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Forgive Others
The only reason we even join the fight against sin is because we have first been forgiven.  The forgiveness that we have in Christ is the key that liberates us from bondage to sin, the fatal blow to our old enemy.  That forgiveness is our starting point, our rallying cry. Because we have forgiveness in Christ, we are to forgive others (Eph 4:32).  In fact, Jesus taught us in the sermon on the mount, that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:15).  If you want to rob yourself of the triumphant power over sin, hold on to your bitterness toward those who have hurt you.

Foster an Affection for Christ
It is never enough to simply put sin to death, to leave the old way behind.  Unless the old affinity to sin is replaced with a new affection for Christ, you will only resurrect those old sins, or find new ones to chase after.  I’m reminded of this every Lenten Season: Don’t just give up, put on the new life. 

Leave behind the sins that offer pleasure but leave you empty: cling to Christ who brings eternal delight.  Leave behind the sins that bring momentary happiness; cling to Christ who is the source of everlasting joy.  Leave behind the sugar coated nothings of sin, feast at the table of Christ’s Kingdom where your cup overflows.

SDG