Heart Check: the Only Adequate Motive for Killing Sin

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The point has been pounded sufficiently that sin needs to be put to death. The last task in this section is to clarify the motives that ought to impel our combat against sin. To some extent, I have exaggerated the degree to which men are negligent in this duty. At some level, most Christian men are doing something to resist sin, even if that effort is limited to knee-jerk exertions of self-control in moments of bodily cravings. Nonetheless, if we dig a little deeper, we will see that, all too often, even our best moments of resistance are defiled by sub-Christian motives.

1 - Temporary Happiness

Often mortification is fueled by a desire for temporary happiness. A man might realize that his anger is out of control, and he might be aware that, if left uncurbed, his anger could ruin his marriage and rupture his relationships with his children. Thus he begins a renewed campaign to control his temper in hopes of saving his family.

Now in this instance we need to affirm that it is a good thing to have an accurate perspective on the consequences of our sin. The man is right to sober up and to fear the long-term effects of uninhibited anger. Nevertheless, if his motives are not wrong, they are insufficient. Something is missing from his point of view which ought to feed his hatred of sin, namely, God. In this case, the man’s desire for a loving family ought to be a tributary that flows into a wider river of spiritual passion. He ought to care about something even greater than temporary happiness. He should love and desire holiness. Sadly, he does not. God looms small in this man’s universe, which, inevitably, will restrict his efforts against sin.

2 - Embarrassment

In this case, the man’s desire for a loving family ought to be a tributary that flows into a wider river of spiritual passion. He ought to care about something even greater than temporary happiness. He should love and desire holiness.

Another motive often relied upon to resist sin is embarrassment. Here consider a pastor who has a secret addiction to pornography. Regularly, he has nightmarish daydreams about what would happen to his ministry if the sin ever became public. The thought of people knowing the truth horrifies him. Therefore, he begins assiduously to attempt to stop viewing pornography in order to stave off potential shame.

Now, in this case, it is most certainly a good thing for a pastor to see the need to suffocate the fire of lust in his heart. Yet, once again, we must note how shortsighted the motive is. Shame before God, not embarrassment before men, ought to drive this man into repentance. In truth, this pastor does not hate sin, he hates humility. Thus his problem is twofold. He not only needs to deal with his lust; he needs to mortify his pride. Tragically, any progress he makes against lust will more than likely feed pride, which is to say, feed sin. Sin will not be defeated, only reinforced elsewhere.

3 - Vanity

Further, vanity is an inadequate motive for mortification. It is not uncommon to feel a sense of urgency to restrain gluttony, for example, when suddenly a favorite suit or pair of jeans no longer fits. Yet, often the urgency runs no deeper than the pain felt when looking into a mirror. In such instances we only want sin to be quelled so that we can look better in front of ourselves and before other people. The agenda is not to glorify God, but to reaffirm the ego. Men need to know that the Father will not supply grace to protect our vanity.

The Only Sufficient Motive

So, then, what is the only adequate motive for putting sin to death? The answer is a hunger and thirst for righteousness, a love of God and a hatred of everything opposed to Him. In John 4:34 Jesus said, ‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.’ What Jesus meant by this was that he was nourished by, and took pleasure in, obeying the Father. Submission to God was not a frustrating task, but a fulfilling charge. Jesus found more joy in reflecting holiness than a glutton finds in a donut or a miser in a hundred dollar bill.

Submission to God was not a frustrating task, but a fulfilling charge. Jesus found more joy in reflecting holiness than a glutton finds in a donut or a miser in a hundred dollar bill.

Although our performance will be less perfect than Christ’s, our motive can be similar. We ought to recognize that God is the source of everything good and praiseworthy. To see Him (Matt. 5:8) is the highest good available to any creature on earth or in heaven. This hope is precisely what Paul uses to motivate Christians to be earnest in their pursuit of righteousness. The full verse of 2 Corinthians 7:1 needs to be memorized and pondered: ‘Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’. For Paul, the great incentive for holiness (and mortification) was the promises of God. What were these promises? A quick read of the end of 2 Corinthians 6 reveals that they are the hope of dwelling with God, the possibility of lasting intimacy with our Maker.  

Once we appreciate that nearness to God is what we gain through mortification, duty becomes sugared with delight. The calling to put sin to death is not a necessary evil, but a pressing good. The less we have of sin, the more we have of God. What more could we ask for!