I would like to remind you of some final helps in this process of killing sin.
Remember now, Romans 8:13 says that if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. In doing that, we noted you must abstain from fleshly lusts, make no provision for the flesh, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, meditate on the Word, hiding it in your heart, and watch and pray lest you enter into temptation. We noted also that you must be filled with the Holy Spirit, for He is the power that makes it happen, and you must discipline yourself into self-control. And we added some other duties that come alongside, like pursuing humility. But as you engage in applying all of those principles, there are some things you need to know.
You may be very successful at hiding from everybody around you. That is not killing it. If a sin has simply been papered over like a bad paint job on a wall, that is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is just another sin. If conscience has somehow been sugar-coated, you’re in a much more dangerous state than before. Successfully covering your sin doesn’t kill your sin, it makes it even more alive because it’s hiding. And in Proverbs 28:13 we read this, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will receive compassion.” You have not done your duty with regard to killing sin until you have confessed and forsaken it.
Someone might think that there was a certain sin which they practiced — sins of their mouth, their hands, their eyes, their ears, whatever. And then when they stop doing it, forsaking the outward practice of that evil, they imagine that they have therefore killed it, when the fact of the matter is they are ruminating on the pleasures of that sin in their own mind.
You may find yourself coming to the place where you say, “I’m not going to entertain myself by going to movies which parade immorality.” And so, you stop. But you allow the vivid imagery of seeing those movies to come back into your mind, and you entertain them again and again. You have not killed the sin at all. You may have moved it from the outside to the inside, into the privacy of your imagination where it is known only to you and to God, but that sin is not dead. If anything, it has become more deadly, because now it is married to pretended righteousness.
It was that very kind of thing for which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees. They avoided murder, but they tolerated hate. They avoided fornication and adultery, but they tolerated lust. And Jesus declared them worthy of eternal hell. Sin is not killed when it is merely covered with hypocrisy, when it is internalized. In both those cases it may even be more dangerous.
Some people imagine that because they have forsaken one sin and replaced it with another, they have really done some mortifying work in their life. What good is it to trade the lust of the flesh for the lust of the eyes? Or the lust of the eyes for the pride of life? Replacing fornication with covetousness gets you no-place. That tactic endangers you because it puts you in a position of being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
How do you repress sin? Some people do it with alcohol; they just drink themselves into oblivion. Some people drown their guilt with entertainment and other distractions. Some people go to counselors and other folks who will elevate their self-esteem, and thus they imagine that their guilt is gone, when it is only repressed under the deception of unwise counsel.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “If you merely repress a temptation or this first motion of sin within you, it will probably come up again more strongly. To that extent I agree with the modern psychologist, repression is always bad. ‘Well, what do you do?’ asks someone. I answer, ‘When you feel that first motion of sin, just pull yourself up and say, I am not having any dealings with this at all. Expose the thing and say: this is evil, this is vileness, this is the thing that drove the first man out of paradise … denounce it, hate it for what it is. Then you’ve really dealt with it.’ You must not merely push it back in a spirit of fear.”
That’s good advice. We deal with our sin courageously when we exterminate it, as we learned about in the case of Agag, by hacking it to pieces.
And one final thought, which takes us back to where we started. Sin is not killed until the conscience is quiet. The goal in all of our warfare against sin is identified in 1 Timothy 1:5 — love from a pure heart and a good conscience and an unhypocritical faith. As long as conscience is still plaguing us, as long as conscience remains defiled, sin is not killed.
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.
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