As Paul states in Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” When we come to a point where we see sin for the awful thing it is, it makes us die or, in other words, repulses us to the point we want to be rid of the sin. So how do we bring sin to life so we can put it to death in Christ? What tool do we use? As Paul tells us here, we use the law. The fullness of the law in its precepts, testimonies, and judgments helps us to awaken sin to kill it.
In his work The Mortification of Sin, John Owen gives page after page of help in how to “kill sin before it kills you.” In one section, he speaks of “awakening sin to kill it.” At first glance, this could sound as if he is saying that in order to get sin out of your system you should rouse it with lust or practice it or something along those lines. Yet clearly that is not what is meant.
Rather, by awakening sin Owen means we are to become aware of it by exposing it for what it really is. As Paul states in Romans 7:9, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” When we come to a point where we see sin for the awful thing it is, it makes us die or, in other words, repulses us to the point we want to be rid of the sin. So how do we bring sin to life so we can put it to death in Christ? What tool do we use? As Paul tells us here, we use the law. The fullness of the law in its precepts, testimonies, and judgments helps us to awaken sin to kill it.
For when we begin to awaken sin with the law, we see what its consequences will be and begin to understand the utter sinfulness of sin. Here are six motivations the law gives us, gleaned from Owen, for hating our sin more. These negative consequences for sinning should help us in turning away from it.
Fear the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13 says, “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.” When you practice sin, you become incapable of spiritually evaluating situations properly. “Do not harden your hearts,” the ninety-fifth Psalm warns. You must realize that you cannot control sin, but rather it controls and blinds you when you participate in it.
Avoid the hardship of correction. Psalm 89:32-33 reads, “I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.” Know that God can use providence, authority, social exposure, conflict, or even evil men as his disciplinary tool. Habakkuk cried out that the Babylonians who were rising up were worse sinners than the Jews, and God replied that was indeed the case and that they would surely get their due. Yet he also stated that they were his rod against his people. You should know that if you sin, you will be corrected sooner or later.
Dislike strongly the loss of peace sin brings. The psalmist reminds us of the loss of peace with God we experience when we sin with these haunting words: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). A clear conscience before God and man is a wonderful thing. We should strenuously avoid sin to maintain that peace.
Shun a fruitless existence. In order to be fruitful for Christ, you must abide in him daily. As the Lord said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is sin that keeps us apart from Christ. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). The believer should desire to do good works unto the Lord and thus detest sin, for “it takes away a man’s usefulness in his generation” as Owen says.
Grieve not the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians, as Paul exhorts believers to put off their old self and put on the righteousness of Christ, he says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). When the believer sins, guilty feelings arise in his heart. He should consider that he is bringing anguish to the heart of the Spirit who is now ever-present in his life.
Do not crucify Jesus again. When you sin, Owen says that Christ’s “new creature in the heart is wounded, his love is foiled, and his enemy gratified.” He then points to Hebrews 6:6, where it says that apostates “crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame.” Before a person reaches apostasy, already in his sin he is shaming the Lord he claimed had shed his blood for him. Since we have already seen what great a price Christ paid to save us, we should not want in essence to add to that pain by sinning even more and “crucifying him again.”
Barry York is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. This article is used with permission.