We live in an age of marketing. Every commodity from shampoo to Sunday school is sold with the assumption that the individual is the center of the universe. No one dares to contest the belief that the self is an object of worship and that self-interest is the most important motive for human behavior. As a result, sermons writing and copywriting too often follow an eerily similar pattern. Both begin with the idea of a consumer. Both start with the question, what will the individual gain from the product I am selling?
This strategy must be abandoned when focusing on the topic of sin. The reason for this is that self-centeredness is for sin what Pakistan is for global terrorism. The self cannot be pampered and consoled as if it were a friendly ally. It must be identified and targeted as a source of a dangerous and lethal problem.
This understood, when thinking about sin, the place to begin is not interest, or desire, or incentives, but duty. Left to itself, human nature would implement toward sin the same policy that the US government uses for the national debt – ignore the issue and hope that in time it becomes irrelevant. Only the Word of God can dispel this stupor and jump start the conscience. With sin, our starting place must be – not, what would I like to do? – but, what has God told me to be doing? Standing orders, this is our point of departure.
The Mandate to Mortify Sin
The memo has not reached enough Christian men that putting sin to death is a part of the basic job description of every believer. The New Testament is unambiguous on this point. Sin is not like dew, which, given time, will evaporate by itself. Sin is like the kudzu vine in Alabama, which, left untended, will cover every inch of ground in reach. In view of this, our calling is to be proactive in killing sin. The apostles are relentless in drumming this message. They understand that passivity toward sin is another name for unconditional surrender. Sin never plays for fun, only for keeps. It cares nothing for fair play or sportsmanship. Victory at any cost – that is the motto of sin. Men who understand this will pay attention to the repeated New Testament warnings to resist a dangerous and hostile enemy.
Romans 8:13 – ‘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 13:12-14 – ‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lust.’
Colossians 3:5 – ‘Therefore, put to death your members which are on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…But put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth…’
I Peter 2:11 – ‘Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against your soul’.
I John 3:9 – ‘No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.’
More passages could be listed from the New Testament (not to mention the Old), but these are sufficient to dispel lingering uncertainty. Alongside reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, and showing mercy to people in need, putting sin to death is an inescapable duty for every Christian. John Owen, an authority on the topic, was not speaking from paranoia, but pastoral love, when he said, ‘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.’