The Puritan John Owen famously wrote, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” How can Christians do this? Today, Steven Lawson discusses the spiritual weapons we should wield in our battle against sin.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining me today on the Ask Ligonier podcast is Dr. Steven Lawson, one of our teaching fellows here at Ligonier. Dr. Lawson, how can Christians kill indwelling or besetting sins?
DR. STEVEN LAWSON: Well, every Christian is called into the conflict of putting to death—or what we would say, mortifying—indwelling sin that remains in us. And it’s an ongoing battle until the end of our Christian life, until we’re glorified in heaven.
In Romans 7, especially the second half of the chapter, Paul talks about his internal struggle with sin: that what he does, he doesn’t want to do, and what he doesn’t do, he knows he should do, and, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of sin?” And that is Paul as a mature Christian after walking with the Lord for many, many years. And so, every one of us as believers are involved in this conflict with internal indwelling sin.
In Galatians 5:16, we’re told to walk in the Spirit and we will not perform the works of the flesh. And so, how do we put to death the deeds of the flesh? It begins, number one, with that verse I just quoted, with, “It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We cannot win the battle against sin just by sheer willpower. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit are we enabled to live a victorious life over sin. But it’s a struggle that we’ll be engaged in for the rest of our life.
We can only resist temptation by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even Jesus in His temptation and the wilderness experience—and Jesus was sinless; He didn’t even have a sin nature, and yet—He was anointed by the Spirit and filled by the Spirit and led by the Spirit into the wilderness. And Jesus overcame the temptations of the devil by the power of the Spirit to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the sharp two-edged sword of the Word of God. So, it speaks to us. If Jesus had to be filled with the Spirit in order to resist the advances of the devil in temptation, how much more so you and me? So, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we put to death the deeds of the flesh.
But I would add to that, that we must fix our eyes upon Jesus. We must be setting our mind on things above and not on things of the earth. If we’re setting our mind on things of the earth, we will succumb to indwelling sin. But there must be this transcendent vision, this transcendent focus upon Christ, who is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and as Hebrews 12:2 says, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith. He’s the One who authored saving faith in us at the time of our conversion, and He alone is the One who perfects this faith and deepens it and strengthens it as we run the race that is set before us. So, the second thing I would say is that we must be supremely Christ-focused and Christ-centered.
And then the third thing that I would say is we’ve got to meditate on Scripture. We’ve got to be in the Word. The Word has got to be in us. Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”—in other words, make its home in you and be a permanent resident inside of you. And His power is released in us as His Word is in us.
And I think of Psalm 119:9–11: “How shall a young man keep his way pure?” And we could add: “How shall an old man keep his way pure? How shall a young woman keep her way pure? How shall an old woman keep her way pure?” He gives us the answer: “By keeping it according to your word.” Verse 11: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
To hide God’s Word in your heart means more than just, “I cognitively know it,” but that there is an ongoing meditation upon the Word of God, the truths of the Word of God. And we draw strength from that. Psalm 1 speaks of that as well, verse 2:
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law, he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water. (Ps. 1:2–3, NASB)
As we meditate upon Scripture, there is the transferring of spiritual power, sanctifying power, to our lives. Like produces like. And the holy Scripture produces a holy life. And so that’s critically important.
And I would also add that we need to pray without ceasing. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, mildly rebukes the disciples that they couldn’t stay awake and watch Him pray, lest they enter into temptation. And so, that’s a needed reminder to us that we must continue to be in prayer and asking God to give us the ability to resist temptation, to resist the urges and the promptings of our sinful flesh. And again, it can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit, but God works through means to accomplish His end. And part of those means is prayer and asking God to make me more and more like Christ, which would be Christlikeness, which would be resisting sinful desires and lustful, fleshly appetites.
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