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/ Songbook.ManuelAdam.com July 16th, 2004 Newsletter!
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How I Mortify Pride and Cultivate Humility by C.J. Mahaney
What does it mean to be
great? What does it mean to be humble? From the ancient Israelites
to the brothers James and John, who wished to be the greatest among
Jesus' disciples, this two-message series unpacks essential biblical
teachings on pride and humility, and offers a highly practical road
map to personal change. True greatness? True humility? They're the
http://www.familylife.com/download/CJMahaney.mp3 (right click, save
- Application Questions:
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Putting Sin to Death
J. Ligon Duncan III
Put to death, therefore, whatever
belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity,
lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of
these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these
ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid
yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice,
slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each
other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in
knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or
Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or
free, but Christ is all, and is in all. —Colossians
a man to be a true believer, and yet finds in himself a powerful
indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his
heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as
to duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and
perhaps defiling his conscience and exposing him to hardening
through the deceitfulness of sin—what shall he do? What shall he
take and insist on for the mortification of this sin, lust,
distemper, or corruption?"
Thus wrote the
Puritan, John Owen, in the middle of the seventeenth century. His
audience consisted of fifteen-year-old boys who were away from home
at Oxford University (where Owen was vice-chancellor). The book in
which these words were written (now volume 6 of his collected
writings) has justly remained a classic treatment of sin. I vividly
recall reading it for the first time over twenty-five years ago. I
have not found anything else that quite faces down the evil of
indwelling sin with as much vigor as Owen does. Too many books and
sermons (of the latter I include my own, of course) only touch the
surface of the problem, failing to become too specific for a host of
reasons. But conquering sinful habits (and habits are what they
become) is a mark of spiritual maturity. There can be no growth
without it. Dillydally here and the result will be something so
fragile, so insipid, that ruin is bound to be the eventual result.
It is important to
desire spiritual maturity. If we have no desire to grow, we will
not grow! If the heart is wrong, everything else that proceeds from
it will be wrong, as Jesus told the Pharisees again and again. In
addition, it is important to think properly and accurately
about what it means to become a Christian and be a Christian.
Consider what Paul tells the Colossians in chapter 3. There he
insists that there are two things about ourselves that we need to
know and reckon with, if we are Christians: We died with Christ, and
we have been raised with Christ. As a consequence, we are to seek
the things that are above, where Christ sits at God's right hand. We
are to live with our heads above the clouds, beholding
something of the glory and majesty of Jesus. We are to know who we
are and what is true of us. This is the positive aspect of
sanctification's path that Paul would have us utilize.
But there is also a
negative side. There is a power to negative thinking, Norman Vincent
Peale notwithstanding! Paul wants us to appreciate that unless we
know what not to do, there is no use in telling us what we
should do! There is as much power in negative thinking as there is
in positive thinking. The key word here is mortification.
It's an old word, long known and loved by readers of the King James
Version of the Bible, and it needs to be reintroduced into our
vocabulary. It means "putting sin to death." Every Christian must be
engaged in the duty (yes, it is a duty) of putting sin to death.
"Kill a sin or a part of a sin every day" was Owen's advice. "Kill
sin, or it will kill you," he added, indicating something of the
seriousness of the issue. What is it that Paul tells us here in
Colossians 3 that we need to do?
The Reality of What
First, he exposes the
reality of what we are. There is a general point that needs to be
made if we are going to be serious about dealing with indwelling
sin. We must say, "I need to face up to the reality of ongoing sin."
We have been delivered from sin's reign, but we have not as yet been
freed from the presence of sin. A constant struggle ensues within us
as the flesh lusts (wages war) with the soul. There is a spiritual
war that is going on in the innermost part of our being. We need,
therefore, to look sin (personal and particular sin) in the eye.
We rush on in reading
these verses, don't we? We note the "up close and personal" way in
which Paul lists two sets of five sins, and we find ourselves asking
what they mean. But we need to stop and reflect for a moment on the
appropriateness of all this talk about sin. J. C. Ryle's justly
famous volume, Holiness, begins with a statement to this
effect: "He who would make great strides in holiness must first
consider the greatness of sin." Ryle, writing at the end of the
nineteenth century, was merely reflecting what Anselm of Canterbury
had written in the Middle Ages. In a dialogue between himself and a
character named Boso, Anselm was attempting to answer the question,
Why did God become man (Cur Deus homo)? At one point in this
work, Anselm utters the famous line, "You have not yet considered
the gravity of sin." Because he was reluctant to recognize our
need for salvation, Boso was unable to see why the Lord Jesus
Christ had to become incarnate in order to save his people. Our
problem is sin. It has been so since the Garden of Eden, and it
remains so to this day.
What Anselm, Owen, and
Ryle are saying is that our hearts need to be exposed by God's Holy
Spirit to reveal the extent of sin's ravages upon us. This is
something like what happens when an MRI machine scans the inner
organs and tissues of our body. It can show us not only what is
healthy, but what is cancerous and unwanted. It can see what the eye
alone cannot see.
If you get bitten by a
snake, one of the best things you can do is to bring it with you to
the doctor (you need to kill it first!), so that the poison can be
recognized and the relevant antidote prescribed. It is the same with
sin. Unless we can identify the sins, we will not know what the
remedy should be. It is not enough to be vague and general about our
sins. Sins have names, and we will do well to learn what they are.
It will be a point of progress whenever we can identify what those
sins are that prevail in our lives. And before we can do that, we
will need to acknowledge that there is the need to do it. Sin has a
hold on us in ways that we sometimes refuse to acknowledge. We may
be in denial about it. We must begin by facing the fact of our
sin—our specific sins.
Robert Murray McCheyne,
the nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian minister whose life was
extinguished before he reached thirty, wrote in his posthumously
published Diary: "I have begun to realize that the seeds of
every known sin still linger in my heart." This is a point of
advance. When we know this, our eyes have been opened—just like
when a doctor diagnoses our disease, and we come to understand what
it is. Imagine a doctor saying to you, "Yes, there's something going
on inside you, but we will not worry about that! Let's look on the
bright side, shall we? Isn't it a beautiful day!" What would you
think of that? Even if that satisfied your need for denial in the
short term, I doubt that you would ever visit that doctor again.
Most of us, when things get serious, want to know the truth, even if
it hurts. And hurt it will, make no mistake about that.
What Needs to Be
identifies for us in detail what needs to be dealt with. There is a
translation issue in our text that needs to be looked at briefly.
The New American Standard Version renders verse 5 this way:
"Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to …" That sounds
like something Paul says in Romans 6. There is a time to "reckon
ourselves to be dead to sin." In Christ, the great change has
already taken place. But it is doubtful if that is Paul's message
here. Hence the New International Version renders it this way: "Put
to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature." This
is better, but it, too, disguises rather than clarifies what Paul
intends here. Let me go back to the King James Version for a minute:
"Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth." Probably
the NIV translates it the way it does lest we think that Paul is
suggesting some sort of self-mutilation. The Colossians were
about to make that very mistake. But we do need to appreciate that
the way sin operates in our lives is via the members of our
Christians need a physical holiness. New Testament holiness
transforms what we do with our bodies. It has eyes and hands and
The first list of five
sins moves from external acts to internal motivations. It is
staggering to think that the first thing Paul mentions is sexual
immorality. The word he uses covers all forms of prostitution, every
illegitimate sexual deviance—heterosexual, homosexual, or even
bestial. He links with it the attitude of the heart: impurity. Paul
wants us to consider that what the mind lingers on in secret, the
body will do externally. Then comes lust, that is, passions that
come and master us, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. Desire
is the next word, by which he means something that is out of
control. And he ends the list by suggesting that all sexual deviance
is a form of greed, which is a form of idolatry. These
sins are selfish at their heart. They show, as Calvin wrote in the
1559 edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
"Man's mind is a perpetual factory of idols." You have lost your
mind when you think that life is about satisfying your own personal
desires, and yours alone! You have made yourself like God when you
think that way. You are bowing down to the god of self.
Paul's day was
remarkably like our own. It was a day when sexual immorality
abounded. Homosexuality was as prevalent then as it is now. Paul's
words here seem particularly pertinent for us today. Holiness, true
holiness, demands total sexual purity. Sin has distorted what God
intended to be a beautiful thing.
Perhaps this touches
us very personally. Nobody else knows about it. Maybe, that's just
as well. Affairs, business trips, magazines, Internet
pornography—the list of possible areas that affect us is endless.
Put these sins to
death! If you don't, they will destroy you. "Because of these, the
wrath of God is coming," Paul warns. Frightening, isn't it? Do you
notice that Paul has several motives for ethical living, and not
just positive ones! In verses 1–4, the motive is positive. It is
because of who we are, of what we have become in Christ. We have
died and have been raised with Christ. Our lives are hidden with
Christ in God. But here, the motive is altogether negative. The
wrath of God is coming on those who do not repent. Turn or burn, is
what Paul is suggesting, blunt and harsh as that may sound.
Sin also has a
potential to destroy others. In verse 8, in another list of five
sins, Paul moves from internal emotions to external actions, doing
the opposite (or mirror image) of what he did in verses 5–7. The
five sins mentioned are: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy
language from your lips. He begins with anger: that spirit of being
opposed in a hostile way to things that God desires for our lives.
There is a righteous anger that is perfectly proper and in accord
with the highest reaches of holiness. But that is not what Paul has
in mind here.
To help us understand
what he means, he adds rage. We hear of road rage, or the
rage that can arise in a family—a seething cauldron of rage. One
commentator suggests that the word can be translated as
"exasperation." We sometimes regard exasperation as a virtue! We
say, "I don't suffer fools gladly."
Then comes malice, a
refusal to forgive, and allied to cynicism. Then comes slander:
defaming someone's character, or character assassination. It would
be wonderful to say that the church is free from this kind of thing,
but it is not. Paul is calling on Christians to be different from
the world—not to wag their tongues. If you cannot think of something
good to say about others, then say nothing at all!
Jonathan Edwards had a
daughter with an ungovernable temper. A young man asked Edwards if
he could marry her. "No!" he replied. Upon asking for the reason,
Edwards went on: "Because she is not worthy of you!" He explained,
"The grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else
Sex and speech are the
features of life that are most out of control. You will never grow
until you bring the surgeon's knife of God's Word to these points in
your life. Maybe you are where Augustine was, praying: "Give me
chastity, but not yet!" But God is saying to you: "I want it now!"
There is one more
thing that Paul seems eager to say. Sin cannot always be dealt with
privately. In verse 9, he urges the Colossians not to lie. He is not
simply calling for truthfulness, but rather for honesty and
accountability. "Don't pretend," he seems to be saying. If I am
going to be able to function in this fellowship, then I had better
stop pretending that I am better than I am. We need to be able to
say to each other: "I need your help, counsel, wisdom. I am
struggling to Zion, rather than marching to it."
The way of pretense is
a way that leads to failure in fellowship and Christian living.
How Are We to Do
Third, Paul gives
practical indications as to how we go about this. There are two
verbs that he employs in the passage that need to be engraved on our
hearts: "put to death" (vs. 5) and "rid yourselves" (vs. 8). They
bring to mind the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that
urge us to pluck out our right eyes and sever our right hands.
"Let not that
Christian think that he makes any progress in true holiness who is
not prepared to walk over the bellies of his lusts," wrote Owen in
his uncompromising way.
It may sound to you
like legalism. That is a convenient word which some Christians
employ to shirk the task of painful self-examination and change.
They use this when some application sounds as though it will hurt.
But it is not legalism to want to be as holy as Jesus. It is the
only sensible thing to desire. Anything less is compromise and
Without getting too
technical, the tense of the verb (aorist imperative) has in mind the
whole action. Paul is concerned not simply with the resolve to
mortify sin, but with the desire to be rid of it altogether. It is
as if he were saying, "Lay your hands on this sin's throat, and
don't release the pressure until it stops breathing."
What will that mean?
It will begin with an honest owning up to the gravity of our
condition. It will mean facing sin down and pursuing its destruction
at whatever cost to ourselves. It will mean going before the Lord
and saying, "Lord, I have this besetting sin. And I am so sorry. I
fly off the handle, or I trash people, or I gossip all the time. I
rejoice when others fall because it makes me feel better about
myself." It will mean changing habits and lifestyle, determined that
our members be used for that which is holy and not for
self-gratification at the expense of God's Word and God's ways.
Will you pursue this
task? Without it, you will always be less than what God wants you to
<Taken from New
Horizon, Oct 2003,
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Desiring God 2004 National Conference - September 24-26,
conference will including speakers like C.J. Mahaney, John Piper,
David Powlison, and Al Mohler. For more information, see
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Low priced Christian CDs at
Please pray for Manuel
Adam, the webmaster of songbook.manueladam.com as he is serving in
the military of Austria.
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