Sin’s guilt is real, its danger great, and its evil consequences sure. Keeping these realities in mind when we are tempted will help us resist sin’s allure. This is Owen’s next direction for overcoming sin:
“Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the GUILT, DANGER, and EVIL of your sin.”
The Guilt of Sin
It is in the very nature of sin to convince us it is not a big deal. It will always seem less serious or more forgivable than it truly is. This is the deceitfulness of sin. It diverts us from recognizing its guilt and robs us of good judgment. “They will eat, but not have enough; They will play the harlot, but not increase, Because they have stopped giving heed to the LORD. 11 Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding. (Hosea 4:10,11)
I am reminded of the ‘futility of mind’ that Paul says characterizes unbelievers. He says, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” He calls the Ephesian church to put off the ‘old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph. 4:17-24).
Sin will always darken the mind causing it us to minimize or rationalize away our guilt, but measuring it ‘in the glass of the law’ will give us a ‘clear view of its ugliness and guilt’.
To reinforce the guilt of a believer continuing in sin, Owen points to 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?” Living in sin is preposterous in view of the grace of God that has been extended to us to rescue us from its condemnation.
He points to Christ’s words in Revelation 3:15: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot….I will spit you out of my mouth.” To live contrary to the faith we profess is an abomination to God. Owen brings out these consideration to keep us from excusing our sin and side-stepping the guilt of it which only enables it to gain strength in our hearts.
The Danger of Sin
Sin left to its devices will harden our hearts! “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb.3:13) A hard heart no longer fears God or trembles at His Word, making a person ‘sermon-proof and sickness-proof’, unmoved by the things that should bring him to repentance. Such a hardness becomes a hot-house for sin resulting in ‘searing of the conscience, blinding of the mind, stupifying of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul’. Sin is a dangerous commodity to trifle with.
Sin will bring God’s discipline. We may object that we are forgiven, but even sin that doesn’t damn us may have severe consequences. God still disciplines His children.
Sin will rob us of a peace-filled fellowship with God. Conscious sin not repented of will rob us of peace in our day to day walk with God. Consider David’s testimony: “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.” Ps.32:3,4 God may even ‘hide His face’ from the one who continues in unrepentant sin: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me”. (Hosea 5:15)
Sin as an uncontested lifestyle should rightly cause a person to question his eternal destiny. Though for the Christian there is no longer condemnation for sin, this comfort is for those who continue to walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh. (See: Romans 8) “…to judge that an evil way will end in destruction is his duty; not to do it is atheism”.
Though sin be present in the life of a believer, we should never grow content with its presence. Our very resistance to it and abhorrence of it is evidence that we are not destined for damnation. But when sin is present and uncontested, we should heed the warnings of Hebrews–“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” and “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Heb.3:12; 10:38) It is to our peril to ignore the danger of sin.
“There is such a connection between a continuance in sin and eternal destruction that though God does resolve to deliver some from a continuance in sin that they may not be destroyed, yet he will deliver none from destruction that continue in sin; so that while anyone lies under an abiding power of sin, the threats of destruction and everlasting separation from God are to be held out to him.”
The Present Evils of Sin
Consider these present effects of sin as added ammunition in your fight against sin:
- Sin grieves the Holy Spirit who makes His home in the believer and is his guarantee of future redemption (Eph.4:25-29). “He is grieved by our harboring his enemies, and those whom he is to destroy, in our hearts with him.”
“Among those who walk with God, there is no greater motive and incentive unto universal holiness, and the preserving of their hears and spirits in all purity and leanness, than this, that the blessed Spirit, who has undertaken to dwell in them, is continually considering what hey give entertainment in their hearts unto, and rejoices when his temple is kept undefiled.”
- Sin also grieves our Lord Jesus Christ. “…every harboring of sin that he came to destroy wounds and grieves him.”
- Sin makes us ineffective servants of Christ in our own generation. Sin taints whatever ministry we are involved in. “…many men harbor spirit-devouring lusts in their bosoms, that lie as worms at the root of their obedience, and corrode and weaken it day by day.”
And so Owen’s instruction as a first step in overcoming stubborn sin is to meditate on the guilt, danger and evils of it until our souls are so deeply impressed with these considerations that they tremble!
How seriously do I take sin? I appreciate Owen’s wide use of Scripture, old and new, in laying out a proper attitude toward sin. It is easy to grab Romans 8:1 and wave it like a consent form for sin. “There is no condemnation”. “Don’t judge me; I’m forgiven.” In so doing we miss the heart of God and the very point of the Gospel. I found myself wanting to argue with Owen as I went through his thoughts on the Dangers of Sin–after all, in Christ we are safe from Hell-fire right? But there is no denying the seriousness with which the writer to the Hebrews addresses sin’s deceitful and hardening effects. We can’t play with sin and not get burned one way or another.
It’s possible to run the wrong direction with this chapter and end up in an unhealthy guilt-ridden and fearful state of introspection. This has little to do with the fear of God and is not the response of faith! This chapter will have benefit if instead we take these words and run to our High Priest, Jesus, at right hand of the throne of grace, confessing known sin and asking Him to show us what more there is to confess.(Heb.4:14-16)
We are not meant to end our ponderings with thoughts of sin but of our Saviour! Neither are we meant to avoid ever considering our sinful state, or we will lack a real appreciation for the Gospel and the heart of God.
In our consideration of sin let’s ask God to create in us his heart toward sin and then eyes to see the way of escape He has prepared for us. By faith we can hold fast our profession of faith in Christ Jesus as our High Priest regardless of how many times and ways we fail. We can trust Him to increase our love for God and our hatred of sin as we ponder its consequences, as laid out here by John Owen. We can trust Him to search our hearts and lead us in the way that is everlasting.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. Ps.139:23,24
I’m continuing to read John Owen’s book, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, with the followers of Challies.com. We share our thoughts in the Comments every Thursday. Feel free to join in. Past notes and summaries are here: