There would be no point in convincing a man that he had a duty to swim across the Atlantic Ocean if in fact he had no ability to complete the task. Responsibility would give way to despair. Without hope, motivation wilts like a flower planted in concrete. Therefore, from obligation we must move quickly to ability. Men must be convinced that they are equipped in Christ for the work. They need to know that they are not like the Russian infantry in WWI who were sent into combat without rifles. They are like a Special Forces unit for which God has made extraordinary provision to make sure that no armor, training, or weaponry is lacking to succeed in the mission.
1 – Knowledge
In order to put sin to death three things are needed. The first is knowledge. Some men mistakenly believe that identifying sin is obvious. They imagine sin to be like the British troops during the Revolutionary War that obligingly wore bright red uniforms as if to say, ‘Target here!’ But this is not the case. Sin is a demonic chameleon that camouflages behind cultural norms, half-formed opinions, and social patterns. Typically, sin is only obvious in its most egregious forms. When the lizard takes the shape of a dragon and inflicts genocide or pederasty, then human beings are shell-shocked and see black for black. Yet, under average skies, pride, lust, greed, gluttony, slothfulness, coveting, anger, and envy are a haze that goes unnoticed. Sometimes they are even praised.
Thus the first tool required for killing sin is the capacity to identify sin accurately. To ensure our ability to do this, God has given the Holy Scriptures. Although the law of God may not be much use in extinguishing the power of sin, the law is an incomparable resource when it comes to identifying sin. Paul says that he never would have known that coveting was evil apart from the law of God (Rom. 7:7). The same could be said of countless other sins. Acknowledging this, David writes in Psalm 19,
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes
Exposing faults that otherwise would be secret – this is the unique power and prerogative of God’s word. The Scriptures are a flashlight that shines into the crevices of the heart, revealing vermin and mold that festers if left in the darkness.
2 – Divine Power
In Louisiana there are grand, old oak trees, the root systems of which match their branches in breadth and depth. Imagine being told by a mentor or spiritual director to go outside and, relying solely on brute strength, to rip an oak tree out from the ground. The task would be humanly impossible. Yet, in truth, killing the ‘smallest’ of sins is an even greater challenge than plucking up a gigantic tree. The reason for this is that hoisting up a tree is a physical activity whereas killing sin is a spiritual one. Physically, even if an individual could not singlehandedly dig up a massive oak, he could find mechanical devices to complete the task. Yet, spiritually, there are no techniques or machines to remove sin. There is only one power in the universe sufficient for the task, the Everlasting might of the Living God. He alone is stronger than the gravitational force of sin. Therefore, the only possibility that any human being could have of countering indwelling sin would be if the divine power of God was willing to come and fill the soul.
Astoundingly, this is the exact good news of the gospel. Throughout the New Testament we read declarations that God has richly poured out his Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers. In Romans 8:11 Paul says, ‘But if the Spirit of Him who raise Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.’ In this passage Paul is not only thinking of physical resurrection but spiritual renewal. With the Holy Spirit dwelling within believers, the impossible becomes possible. Sin becomes conquerable. The strength that has decisively been revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus is now active and present in the life of a Christian. Thus our despair is dissolved and our lethargy condemned. We have no reason not to engage in the fight. The strength of God is on our side.
3 – Guaranteed Assistance
One last ingredient is required for a man to have confidence that sin can be mortified. He must not only know that the strength of God is sufficient for the task, he must also believe that the divine support is guaranteed. To have all of the wealth and power of the US military on your side in a battle would be of no use if, in the middle of a firefight, your plea for support is ignored. The same is true spiritually. Men must know that their prayers will be answered. They must be certain that God is not only all-powerful; He is also faithful.
Hebrews 4:16-18 removes all worry. In this passage, the writer of Hebrews does three things for us. First, he tell us that Jesus has strategically located himself at the strongest position available, the right hand of God. Second, the writer indicates that Jesus has a perfect understanding of our plight. He can sympathize absolutely with us because he has been tempted in every way yet without sin. In other words, not only has Jesus been in the battle, he knows the way out. Third, the writer tells us to ‘come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (4:16). The writer reaffirms for us that our prayers will not be unheard. Mercy and grace will be delivered in our hour of need. We not only have the power of God, we have the promise of God.
Knowledge, strength, and timely support – nothing is lacking for our battle against sin. All of our excuses are removed for hiding in the bunker. The words that Elisha spoke to his servant, the Holy Spirit now speaks to us: ‘Do not fear! Those who are with us are greater than those who are with them’ (I Kings 6:16).