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 ESV)
I owe much of my understanding of our battle against sin and temptation to the works of John Owen, a man who many consider to be the greatest theologian of the the 1600’s (some would say of all time). There is as much that I am in agreement with Owen about that I disagree with, but his exposition of Romans 8:13 is perhaps one of the most helpful works ever written. Outside of the Bible itself, no other book has been a greater influence than his book – The Mortification of Sin.
Until a few years ago I was completely oblivious to the believer’s battle against sin and temptation, in fact I did not consider it at all. I knew that I still struggled with sin, but after several years of trying to do better and try harder I began to collapse from exhaustion. It wasn’t working, and I was growing weary and feeling completely overwhelmed by defeat. Ever been there? I didn’t understand the power and the deceitfulness of sin until I stumbled across something he wrote in the early chapters of his book. Talking about the power of sin Owen tell us…
“Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head. Men may come to that, that sin may not be heard speaking a scandalous word in their hearts – that is, provoking to any great sin with scandal in its mouth; but yet every rise of lust, might it have its course, would come to the height of villainy: it is like the grave that is never satisfied.”
I thought about the truth of his words and how I had began to see this being lived out in my life. If sin could have it’s way in our lives how far do you think it would go? Owen said it is like the grave that is never satisfied. It was those very words that the Lord used to open my eyes to the reality of the spiritual battle that we face as believers. We have an enemy that hates our guts who would stop at nothing to keep us from experiencing the victory that is ours in Christ.
Over the years I have come to understand that many of us are not experiencing victory in our Christian walk. If you could choose a word today to describe your walk with the Lord what word would you use? Here are a few words I would use: Exciting. Perplexing. Discouraged. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Difficult. Dry. Full. Confusing. Blessed. That was all just last week! My faith has been on a roller coaster this year, and I can honestly say I think I’ve experienced just about every kind of emotion one could muster. I know many people who can relate.
Those words all describe how my walk has felt, but those words have not accurately described the truth of what Scripture says about my relationship to God, or who I am in Christ. Feelings change. Just because I don’t ‘feel’ God’s presence does not mean that He isn’t with me. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I certainly don’t feel like I am more than a conqueror in Christ, but that doesn’t change the truth that Scripture declares it to be so.
Earlier this year I began to go back through the book Overcoming Sin and Temptation – a compilation of 3 different works of John Owen detailing the nature of our battle with sin, and the methods of which to overcome sin and temptation in our lives, and God began to make this word alive in my heart once again. Tim Challies has done a great job of going through this book on his own blog site, and I’ve always been encouraged by his words, but I felt a tug in my heart to take what Owen has written and go even deeper (wait, is this even possible??). Several years of prayer have gone by since I first felt this tug, and I pray this series will be the result of that time.
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Overcoming Sin and Temptation is available at:
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