Scripture offers us some practical means by which we can hack up Agag and kill the remaining Amalekites in our life. None of them are fleshly or ritual.
John Owen, the great thinker and writer of Puritan times, observed that most of the Roman Catholic religious system consisted of “mistaken ways and means of mortification”: vows, orders, fastings, penances. All of that is useless. Sin cannot be annihilated through legalism, monasticism, Pharisaism, self-flagellation, or any other external means. The instrument of mortification is in the heart, and all the means of mortification are drawn from simple commands of Scripture that the believer must obey.
Let me highlight some of them. If you want to deal with sin in your life, here’s how.
If you’re going to kill sin, you’ve got to stop lust with a peremptory strike. 1 Peter 2:11 says, and I think it’s as simple and direct as you could possibly say it, “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” What is he saying? Stop lusting. It’s not too mystical. It’s like 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee immorality.” Put it out of your life. There’s no point sitting around waiting for some heavenly power to erase lust. Stop lusting and you’ll stop sinning.
If you want to stop lusting, then don’t provide anything for lust to feed on. Lust has to be halted before it gets started. If you struggle with gluttony, don’t go to the market with a lot of money, hungry, and alone. If you struggle with gluttony, you don’t load up on junk food. If you’re tempted with sexual desire, don’t fill your mind with the images that build that temptation. Don’t go to a movie that demonstrates that stuff, or read a novel that’s all about that, or watch television along those lines. Make no provision for the flesh. It’s a simple thing to remove what furnishes the mind with the means to entertain evil thoughts.
Pursue being like Christ. 1 John 3:3 says, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Fix your heart on Christ and Christ’s likeness, and ask yourself what Christ would do. It is an inexorable spiritual law that you become like the object of your worship.
You become like whatever you worship. The heathens become like their gods, be they idols or athletes. How much more will Christians become like Christ when we make Him the focus of our life, because we are not just becoming like Him on our own but by the work of the Holy Spirit, transforming us from one level of glory to the next? As you fix your heart on Christ you will become like Christ and you will not choose those things which make provision for your lust.
Psalm 119:11 says, “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” Joshua 1:8 says the same thing, that we should take the book of the law, meditate on it day and night, observe all things that are written in it and we’ll make our way prosperous and have success. Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth, Your Word is truth.” Paul said, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
When the Word fills you and overpowers your thinking and your life, that is what leads you to a Christ-centered focus. As you gaze into the glory of the Lord revealed in the Word, you’re transformed into the image of Christ. You will abstain from fleshly lust, you’ll kill sin. In fact, you will discover the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, with which you hack up sin. It’s the most effective weapon we have.
Prayer is an absolutely crucial component as we ask the Lord for strength. The psalmist in Psalm 19:13 says, “Keep back Your slave from presumptuous sins.” Stop me from sinning — a very direct prayer. I think this is in the heart of the writer of Hebrews when he writes in 4:16, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” I think the time of need is the time of temptation, the battle of the believer against sin. That’s when we need grace and mercy and that’s when He provides it.
Summing it all up, in 2 Corinthians 7:1, Paul says, “Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” That is to say, it’s our responsibility to do this, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement — get rid of it — lest it come back in devastating fashion as did the Amalekites.
Flesh is subtle and deceptive. It may leave you alone for a little while, make you think you’re rid of it, and then come back with a hellish fury. Sin is a stalker, always lurking. When Agag and his Amalekite friends want to make friends with you and declare an end to hostilities, that’s when you grab your sword and hack them to pieces. We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices. We better not be ignorant of our weapons.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1993, titled “Hacking Agag to Pieces.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at www.masters.edu.