Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I have been alarmed at the presence of wickedness in my own life lately. I am aware of a strong tendency for self-comfort and pride. God has been speaking to me about the necessity for personal vigilance to my propensity for sin. These days I am reading a book written by a 17th century English Puritan pastor and theologian, John Owen, entitled, Sin and Temptation. God is using his words to challenge my complacency. Here are some reflections that have confronted my spiritual lethargy:

There are two laws at work within the heart of every Christian: "the law of sin" and "God's law." (Romans 7:22-23). "Sin has dominion over the Believer, though its rule is somewhat weakened." The law of sin is powerful. "Rewards and punsihments accompany it. . . . The pleasures of sin are its rewards. It threatens to deprive its adherents of its sensual contentments and to inflict temporal evils on them." It is this anxiety and fear that drives so much of my decision-making.

"The law of sin is not a written, commanding law so much as an inbred, impelling, urging law. . . . because it is inbred, it is strongly compelling." That is why God promises in the new covenant to make a new heart: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." (Jeremiah 31:33). The written law could never conquer the inbred law of sin in my life, therefore, God makes his law a living, indwelling principle in my life.

In Romans 7, Paul describes the the law of sin as an indwelling principle: "sin living in me" (v.20), "evil is right there with me" (v.21), "at work within my members" (v.23). "The law of sin always abides in the soul. It is never absent. . . . It is always ready to apply itself to every end and purpose that it serves. . . . So you never accomplish good - when you pray, when you give alms, when you meditate, when you do any duty for God with love for him - without this troublesome, perplexing indweller being there to handicap you."

"The Scripture everywhere assigns the place of sin to the heart. While this should be the throne of God, sin invades and possesses it." (Matthew 15:19) "Temptations do not put anything into a man which is not there already. . . . Here dwells our enemy. Within this fort the tyrant sin maintains its rebellion against God all my days."

There is still an even greater difficulty in my pursuit of God's will: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). The human heart is unsearchable. The heart of man is known only by God (Jeremiah 17:10). "Herein lies much of its security and strength. We fight an enemy whose strength is secret, and whose presence is hidden." But the heart is also "deceitful." It is deceitful because it "abounds in contradictions and instability." The harmony of mind, will and affections has been fractured by the presence of sin in my life. "All rebel against one another." Further, the deceit of the heart is evident by the many promises that it readily makes yet fails to fulfill.

Yesterday I "happened upon" an article in the Boundless webzine by Matt Kaufman, entitled, The Master Humbler. In his article he talks about a 17th-century French nobleman, the Duc Francois De La Rochefoucald, who had written collection of 500 or so pithy sayings, popularly known as The Maxims. His words describe my inner life so accurately. Here's a few examples:
  • A desire to be pitied or admired is often the strongest reason for our confiding in people.
  • We generally lack the courage to say that we have no faults and our enemies no virtues, but we actually are not far from thinking it.
  • In general, we give praise in order to get it.
  • We refuse praise from a desire to be praised twice.
  • When laziness and timidity yoke us to our duties, we often give virtue the credit for it.
  • We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those we bore.
  • When our vices desert us, we flatter ourselves that we are deserting our vices.
  • Dislike of lying is often an unknown desire to increase the value of our testimony and to give a sacred importance to our words.
  • We confess our faults to mitigate, by our sincerity, the harm they have done us in other people's minds.
  • We confess to small faults only to convey the impression that we have no big ones.
  • We behave politely to be treated politely, and to be considered polite.
  • Had we no pride ourselves, we should not complain of it in others.

As I surveyed a brief sampling of this penetrating wisdom, I was brought face-to-face with the stark reality of the ugliness of propensity for sin.

Owen gives counsel regarding how to deal with my heart: "First, let us never reckon that the work of contending with our own heart is ever finished. . . . Second, since indwelling sin resides in various, deceitful ways, remain vigilant. . . . Third, then, commit the whole matter with all care and diligence to Him who searches the heart to the uttermost. He knows how to anticipate all its treacheries and deceit. Here is where our safety lies. This is the course of action David takes in Psalm 139. After he describes the omnipresence of God and His omniscience, he prays, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts." (v.23). It is as if he says, "I know very little about my own deceitful heart, even when I think I am most sincere. Therefore, O God, who is present in my heart, and who knows my thoughts long beforehand, undertake this work within me. Prepare it thoroughly, for you alone are able to do so."

In this journey, I long to follow my Master with an undivided heart. Every day I must strike the sin within me with deathly blows, "loading against it sin al the firepower most destructive to its survival" and surrender my heart to King Jesus.