If you are someone with a lot of junk (like me!) who is trying to follow Jesus faithfully, you probably spend a lot of time focusing on self-discipline, putting sin to death, and training your heart to hate what God hates. And that’s good! I hear well-meaning people advise others to just focus on Jesus and not worry themselves over their sin. And while I appreciate part of what these folks are getting at—not obsessing over sin, but obsessing over Jesus—I don’t think essentially ignoring sin is what Jesus wants his followers to do. He said things like, “Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin; pluck out your eye if it causes you to stumble.” And Paul, full of the Holy Spirit, said things like, “I discipline my body and keep it under control.”
It doesn’t seem that God wants us to sit back passively and just wait on holiness to mystically happen. He commands us to cut, pluck, discipline—to do all that we must to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.” – Romans 12:1. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to be at continual and aggressive war with our sinful desires. But I think it’s important for people like you and me, who have lots of sin-killing work to do, to make sure we keep our eyes on the real prize as we wage this war.
What I mean is, it’s super easy for us to become so consumed with our battling that we forget why we’re battling. We can, as I often do, start to see conquering sin as the entire point of the Christian life. But it’s not! Hear me: killing sin is not what Christianity is all about. Killing sin is a means to an end . . . and that end is to glorify God by seeing Jesus more clearly and enjoying him more fully.
If the God of the Bible is clear about anything, it’s that he wants us to find our deepest joy and rest in him. The problem is that our sin—even as Christians—takes us in a totally different direction. Though we’ve been justified and are being sanctified, we still feel that pull in our heart to make any and every thing besides God our ultimate source of joy and rest. And when we fool around with these various lusts and prides of the flesh, we diminish our spiritual capacities to see and enjoy God. As we plunge further into sin, our heart grows harder; our sight grows dimmer; our affections for him shrivel up. BUT . . . when we cast off our sins and put the deeds of the body to death, our heart grows soft; our sight grows bright; and our affections for God warm. When we kill sin by the power of the Spirit, we enable our souls to see God more clearly and enjoy him more fully.
Cultivating a heart that has an ever-increasing capacity to glorify God by enjoying, savoring, and worshipping Jesus is the end and prize of all sin-killing. We fight sin to see God.
Remember this as you wage war against your flesh! Because if you don’t, even your victory over sinful patterns will leave your soul empty and dry—something I have experienced recently. Over the last few months, I’ve been focused on destroying a couple of specific sin patterns in my life. And by God’s grace, I have been walking in increasing victory. But a few weeks ago, I realized I had lost sight of why I was fighting. As I was driving down the road and thinking on the progress I’ve made, I found myself—even in the midst of victory—feeling dissatisfied and thirsty for something more. I was glad that my sinful activities were subdued . . . but I longed for a deeper gladness than what conquering sinful behaviors was giving me.
Not to go all Jesus Calling on you guys, but I do believe the Holy Spirit whispered this thought into my heart: “Well done on striving to empty your life of these sins. Now look to Jesus and feast on him!”
I had gotten so wrapped up in killing sin that I forgot Jesus calls me to do it in order that I can experience more of him. I wonder if a lot of Christians forget this? I wonder if that’s why they complain about repentance only dragging them into deeper sorrow, and then quickly return to their sinful patterns? Brothers and sisters, if this has been your experience, is it possible that you are turning from sinful acts, but not turning to Jesus? Is it possible that you’re throwing off sexual immorality, gluttony, drunkenness, but you’re not filling up on Jesus?
I think it may just be possible that is what’s going on.
Friend, join me today in remembering and meditating on the truth that biblical repentance is not about mere behavior modification. Biblical repentance is laying down the lusts and longings of our flesh and picking up the life that is in Jesus. If you are ferociously battling your sins today, praise God! But don’t forget to ferociously seek the presence of Jesus as you do. Feasting on Jesus is not only the point of killing sin, but also the method of killing sin. Fill up on him as you starve your flesh. Draw near to him as you flee from the idols you find so attractive. Read the Bible, pray, listen to sermons, read theological works, and spend time fellowshipping with other believers. Don’t just try to stop sinning and sit there bored, twiddling your spiritual thumbs. Feast on Jesus!