“Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
― John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
Recently someone sent me a video of a leopard in India caught on camera stalking a pet dog asleep on a porch at night. Watching made my palms sweat. The dog, secure in his usual resting place, did not wake until the leopard was inches from him. Sin is like that. It creeps inside our hearts and our homes shrouded in darkness. Easy to overlook, justify, minimize, and rationalize… it’s probably nothing. By the time we realize what has happened, it’s too late. We are trapped in the terrible jaws of sin.
God speaks directly to Cain in Genesis 4:6-7 just before he murders his brother Able,
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Prowling predators are a vivid metaphor for sin in scripture. But sin is also inherent in our fallen humanity. Sin is not only out there in the shadows, but also deep inside our hearts. David despairs in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
With such a powerful, innate enemy, what hope do we have? How exactly are we supposed to defeat sin? The simple answer is we don’t and cannot possibly kill sin on our own. It would be like trying to kill a lion with bare hands. We need a savior, Christ Jesus, who was mighty to destroy sin once and for all on calvary. Let me be clear, the power of the cross is our only hope. Tapping into that power is possible through confession, contrition, and the community of believers. Through them we can rule over sin in our lives.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis calls pride, “the essential vice, the utmost evil.” Pride is the “great sin” from which all other sins spring. While behavior modification can excise drunkenness, pornography use or covetousness from our lives, making us appear outwardly victorious over sin, if it is only replaced by pride in our progress we are worse off than before. Confession is a deeply humbling act. Admitting to God and other believers that we are flawed and broken is the vulnerability required to activate the grace of God in our lives. If we don’t admit we have a problem, we cannot be healed.
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17
Psalm 51 is one of my most cherished scriptures. It reveals the prayers of David as he repents of his adultery with Bathsheba. Like David, I am also guilty of sexual sin and adultery. Like David, the chains of my sin were only broken through confrontation with believers, the crumbling of the walls of pride and selfishness, and the radically healing gospel poured out on me by my wife, family, and Christian brothers and sisters. Though the word contrition has fallen out of frequent usage, it has long been foundational to our faith. At its core, contrition is the first step, through the power of Christ, toward repentance and reconciliation with God our Father. It is faith in the sufficiency of the cross to put to death all our sin, past, present and future, and a desire for relationship with God on the basis of salvation and not our efforts. Contrition is the cracking of proud hearts and the hardened chains of sin.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2
What is the law of Christ? While opinions vary, one widely held view is that Paul is referring to Christ’s command to his disciples “…as I have loved you so love one another,” described in John 13:34. The timing of this command is astounding. Before sharing the Passover meal, Christ shocked his disciples by wrapping a towel around his waist and washing everyone’s feet. In less than twenty four hours he would give his life for the sins of the world. To love one another as Christ loved us requires getting into the messy, gross details of each others’ lives. It’s not pleasant, and necessitates sacrificing comfort, time, energy and often our dignity. These are the enemies of real relationship among believers. True community exists on the other side of vulnerability. Christ made himself absolutely vulnerable and carried the burdens of all humanity to the cross. So we are called to love one another.
You will not kill sin alone. You need the community of believers. It begins with vulnerability, confession and a broken spirit, and ends with the sweet grace of God and the peace of repentance. Be always killing sin. It is your daily work.