As believers, we lament with the apostle Paul:
“I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:19–20).
But after we lament, what should we do? How should we think about sin that has become a daily part of our identity?
John Owen explains with four responses:
- Starve it: Indwelling sin is a parasite, and it eats what you do. God’s word is poison to sin when embraced by a heart made new by the Holy Spirit. You starve indwelling sin by feeding yourself deeply on his word. Sin cannot abide in his word.
- Call Sin what it is: Don’t “admit” sin as a harmless (but un-housebroken) pet. Instead, confess it as an evil offense and put it out! Even if you love it! You can’t domesticate sin by welcoming it into your home. Sometimes sin lurks and festers for decades, deceiving the sinner that he really has it all under control, until it unleashes itself on everything you built, cherished, and loved.
- Extinguish indwelling sin by killing it: Enemies can be reconciled, but there is no hope for reconciliation for anything at enmity with God. Anything at enmity with God must be put to death. Our battles with sin draw us closer in union with Christ. Repentance is a new doorway into God’s presence and joy. From Sunday School – remember your union with Christ and the reality that it brings [Rom. 6:4-6].
- Daily cultivate your new life in Christ: the grace that comes from daily obedience to God’s word gives us the power of a new affection [life in Christ] instead of our old man and life in sin. And the dependence on God’s daily grace prevents the prideful sin of self sufficiency.
These recommendations are for believers only. Owen says, “Unless a man be regenerate (born again), unless he be a believer, all attempts that he can make for mortification [of sin] . . . are to no purpose. In vain he shall use many remedies, [but] he shall not be healed.”
What then should an unbeliever do? Cry out to God for the Holy Spirit to give him a new heart and convert his soul: “mortification [of sin] 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.”
Believers have peace with God which allows the peace of God to reign in their lives. But this peace is not separate from our daily war against the flesh. As John Wesley said: sin no longer reigns but it still remains. The gospel comes with grace, but demands irreconcilable war.