I am in the thick of Brian Hedges book, Christ Formed in You. I’ve reached the second section of the book in which he teaches and encourages the believer to mortify her sin. He writes,
“Lots of us think we can tame sin, but like a tiger, sin turns and masters us at the first opportunity. You cannot get the wild out of sin simply by caging it. We may think we have evil under control, that we have tamed sin, rendering it harmless enough to share a peaceful, mutual coexistence. But sin will never be domesticated. It is wolf, not dog; piranha, not goldfish. Evil is untamable. It is our enemy – opposed to us in every way. At every moment, sin is wired to destroy.
The analogy with wild animals breaks down, however, for sin can be far more subtle in its destructive intentions than a slashing claw or crushing jaws. Sin regularly assaults us, though we often fail to notice. Sin knows us well and quietly gnaws away our faith and affections.
We can therefore never be tolerant or open-minded about our sin. We are called to aggressively hate our sin—to despise it, reject it, deplore it, starve it, and make every effort to kill it. As the seventeenth century pastor and theologian John Owen said, ‘Be killing sin or it will be killing you.'”
It’s very important to keep in mind the context. Hedges has just spent about 60 pages explaining the gospel in full detail. The reader will understand that pleasing God is not dependent on her “work”. Also, keep in mind the intended audience. This book is written for the born again Christian; the person who is fully persuaded that the gospel is true, who knows that her righteousness is imputed to her, declared by God, and not something she must achieve through moralism or legalism. Without the gospel, this chapter would be discouraging, frustrating, and a hopeless to-do list. With an understanding of the gospel, however, this chapter is encouraging and hopeful.
The battle with sin is not simply changing one’s behavior. The battle with sin is a battle of our hearts. Hedges: “To mortify sin will bring about behavioral change, but mortification is more than behavioral modification.”
Hedges offers 10 ways to kill sin:
1. Yield yourself to God.
2. Accept that the battle never ends.
3. Take God’s side against your sin.
4. Make no provision for the flesh.
5. Use your spiritual sword.
6. Aim at the heart.
7. Replace sin with grace.
8. Stay in community.
9. Look at the cross.
10. Depend on the Spirit.
(Sorry, you’ll have to read the book to get all the details about each one).
One reason I like this list so much is because each item is a positive command. Only #4 is has a negative word. “Make no provision for the flesh,” could say, Make ample provision for the Spirit, but that doesn’t carry the same connotation (so, nevermind). Also, they aren’t separate steps; they must be taken as a whole. They all emphasize dependence on God and His means of grace in our life (the list itself makes no provision for the flesh – no room for pride). I also appreciate #8. The church, sometimes, is de-emphasized in the process of our sanctification. God does not intend that we go it alone; the process isn’t “just me and God.” I’ve read a few books about growing in holiness, and this may be the first one that includes God’s role for the church to help us grow in Christlikeness.
He closes the chapter with these encouraging words:
The battle is not against our joy and happiness, but for our maximum pleasure, pleasure in God. The fight may be painful. It will involve giving up evil things that are presently dear to us. But when the battle is finished and the sin is mortified, God brings life – new, transforming, unexpectedly wonderful, joyful life –out of death. The old and tired is put off, the fresh and new is put on. God changes weakness into strength. He transforms our broken desires into something larger, more beautiful, and more powerful than we could ever have imagined. And in the power and goodness of those desires, God takes us places we didn’t think we could go.
When I consider my battle against sin as a battle for my maximum pleasure in God, then I’m more eager to put up a fight so that I might know Jesus more intimately, have a greater taste and appetite for God, that I might enjoy what pleases Him. I know it’s possible because a similar exchange has occurred in my marriage. I enjoy things today that I didn’t before I married Karl. Loving him has helped me to love some of the things he loves. It isn’t a perfect analogy (because not everything Karl loves is good for me), but you get my drift. I’m not all God wants me to be nor do I expect to be so until I see Him face-to-face. But I’m not who I was. And in ten more years, Lord willing, I won’t be the same person I am today. And for that I’m thankful.