Bernie Diaz, October 17, 2018
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Ro. 6:12-13, ESV)
God doesn’t mess around with sin does he? According to Psalms 5 and 7, he actually hates unredeemed sinners, in the sense that he hates sin and that rebellion against him and his law, which cannot be separated from the sinners that commit those sins or miss the mark of righteousness he requires of people to come before his presence.
So where does that leave us, his favored creation, made in his image- warts, sins and all? My current sermon series from the book of Romans has reminded me that fortunately, disciples of Jesus Christ – God’s Lord and Savior, have had their sin nature crucified with Christ, which forgave them of their sins and the penalty of it, as well as putting to death or killing their old sin nature (Ro. 6:6-11).
Just Say No and Yes.
Part of what Christians call the “good news” that is the gospel, is that born-again believers of Jesus are given a new nature or heart when they are saved and justified by faith via God’s grace alone and yearn for righteousness rather than sin. They have been given a grace of Holy Spirit power to say no to sin and yes to the greater pleasure and treasure that is a relationship with Jesus and citizenship in his kingdom.
However, part of the ‘bad news’ that is juxtaposed with the gospel is the reality that the unredeemed – unbelievers, are spiritually, dead, deaf, dumb and blind (Ro. 8:7-8; Eph. 2:1-3) and are therefore slaves to their sin nature, which they inherited from Adam in the fall of mankind (Ro. 5:12).
So why are we so surprised and so often frustrated by our lost family, friends and co-workers that say no to the light of Jesus and love to say yes to the darkness of their sins? Wasn’t that us in our BC (Before Christ) life?
I learned myself several years ago that those that expect unbelievers to act like believers either suffer from naivete, ignorance or poor theology.
The great Puritan theologian and Pastor John Owen addresses this in his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a book that deals with the subject of mortification, of putting sin to death, and Owen dedicates one chapter to explaining why only Christians can behave like Christians.
He begins by insisting that only Christians have the ability to put much of the remaining sin in their lives to death. Unbelievers may suppress sin- say no for a while, mostly due to the moral law that God placed in their conscience (Ro. 2:12-14), but they cannot kill it.
“Unless a man be a believer—that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ—he can never mortify any one sin; I do not say, unless he know himself to be so, but unless indeed he be so. … There is no death of sin without the death of Christ”, writes Owen.
And again, “A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”
Indeed, as America’s mid-term election season nears, Christians that seek a “Christian nation” too often pray for if not rely on a political revival that would transform or Christianize a nation filled with unbelievers from the outside in. If we only had the right Supreme Court. President. Congress.
Why do we seek worldly solutions to spiritual problems? Such a revival it is supposed, would begin to kill the corporate sins of abortion, the sexual revolution, violence, poverty and any number of social and moral issues that plague the U.S.
Although I would personally love to see and live in a more moral and politically conservative America, I am under no illusion that such a societal and cultural shift will happen, absent a revival in the hearts and homes of Christians across the fruited plain.
Anything less than a revival of the American church, can only bring a Phariseeical sort of renaissance that Jesus vehemently opposed in the first century AD.
The kingdom of God and heaven is more concerned about its advance than a particular nation. God according to scripture, is “seeking worshippers in spirit and truth,” more than a particular cultural revolution.
If it is, indeed, the case that unbelievers cannot put sin to death- and they can’t because they do not have the heart to do so, due to their spiritual condition, then they and evangelical Christianity must have a higher priority than superficial righteousness or piety: conversion. Owen adds:
“Mortification is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work—the conversion of the whole soul—not the mortification of this or that particular lust. … Let the soul be first thoroughly converted, and then, ‘looking on him whom they had pierced,’ humiliation and mortification will ensue… There is a proper order to these things. First be saved, then put sin to death.
In reality, unbelievers who attempt to put sin to death actually go deeper into their sin. “This is the usual issue with persons attempting the mortification of sin without an interest in Christ first obtained. It deludes them, hardens them—destroys them.” And again, “To kill sin is the work of living men; where men are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live.”
Owen anticipates the following objection: “Shall [unregenerate men] cease striving against sin, live dissolutely, give their lusts their swing, and be as bad as the worst of men?” If unbelievers cannot put sin to death, would it be wrong of us to tell them to stop sinning or even expect them to?
He answers the objection as the apostle Paul would: “God forbid! It is to be looked on as a great issue of wisdom, goodness, and love of God, that by manifold ways and means he is pleased to restrain the sons of men from running forth into that compass of excess and riot which the depravity of their nature would carry them out unto with violence.”
God dispenses his common grace to all, and this grace keeps men and women from being as sinful as they can be. Sometimes God does convict unbelievers of sin and causes them to restrain that sin, yet without actually converting or saving them.
So, it becomes a matter of right priorities both for the person calling upon the unbelievers, and for the unbelievers themselves: “Let men know [that putting sin to death] is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy! Poor soul! You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin.”
Christians understand that the lost must be found before they can change. Don’t expect them to be the person they are not -yet. Don’t call upon unbelievers to stop sinning until you first call them to turn to God and trust in Christ with repentance and faith so that they can one day say no to sin.
Even if they do not turn to Christ they may still suppress a sin, but let’s not make it our main purpose to convince unbelievers not to sin or place their trust in other men and women; instead, let’s make it our mission to call them to believe in and give themselves to Jesus Christ.
Then we can see what God will do with our communities and country.