In our last post we began looking at this crucial passage in Romans 8:13 which teaches us the importance of killing sin.


Romans 8:13For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Deeds of the body


            The second question in our understanding of this passage comes in what Paul means by the “deeds of the body”. We may initially think that Paul only addresses those sins that we actually commit with our body parts such as our eyes, ears, and hands. But within the context of Paul’s argument throughout Romans 6-8, the deeds of the body can also be synonymous with the flesh. In other words, the deeds of the body can also be internal sins of the heart such as lust, greed, impatience, or an unforgiving spirit. They can also be external sins committed with our body such as sexual immorality, theft, or lying.


            In the book of Colossians we find a complementary passage which commands us to put to death sin.


“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouthColossians 3:5-8  


From Paul’s list here we see that both internal and external sins must be put to death. Passion is an internal sin, while sexual immorality is an external sin.   Evil desire is also an internal sin which could lead to covetousness and subsequent thievery. In the same manner, anger is an internal sin that can be expressed externally through slander or obscene talk.  The list Paul uses here could be a summary of specific sins that he mentions in Romans 8:13 simply as “deeds of the body”.


            We see many similarities between these two passages. In both cases, we are commanded to put to death sin. We are also warned of impending death if we live by the flesh. In Colossians Paul describes it as God’s coming wrath while in Romans he simply states it as death. Spiritual death under the excruciating wrath of God in hell becomes the final ramification for those who die in their sins and have not experienced the miracles of regeneration, justification, and union with Christ.


“M” is for Mortification


            The third question we must understand is this: What does it look like to actually kill sin? How do we put do death these deeds of the body? The King James Version uses the word “mortify” which no longer really has much meaning in our contemporary culture. When people say that they are “mortified” it usually means that they are embarrassed beyond all measure and want to slink away in shame. The Puritans of old called this process of killing sin “mortification”.  The word Paul uses here in Romans 8:13 to describe this act of killing sin is “thanatoo” which means to put to death and was often times used to describe an execution. Paul again uses the present active indicative verb choice to illustrate that this killing is not just a onetime action. Putting to death sin involves an ongoing, continual, brutal, endless lifestyle of mortification.


            We have already seen how deceitful, tenacious, and corrupting indwelling sin truly is. Sin is a foe that will never back down. Sin does not take a half-time break in the locker room to catch its breath. Sin does not retreat to the beach for a day of relaxation and sunbathing. Sin does not fall asleep at the wheel because it has grown so tired after hours of dogging us. John Owen says this about sin: “Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if left alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.”[1]  Sin does not take a break, so neither should we when it comes to this battle. We can never sleep. What did Jesus remind His disciples just hours before His betrayal in Matthew 26:40-41: “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Bishop Ryle says this, “Sin admits of no breathing time, no armistice, no truce.”[2]


            Randy Gardner holds the world record for going the longest time without any sleep—eleven days! In 1964, as a high school student in San Diego, California, he underwent a scientific study with a researcher from Stanford University to see how many days a person could go without sleep not using stimulants of any kind. Eventually the human body shuts down and has to give in to the innate need for sleep. We cannot physically stay awake forever.  In stark contradiction to this, sin never sleeps. It stays awake incessantly.


            Because sin never sleeps, continually pursues us, and desires nothing but a hostile takeover of our souls, we need to adopt the same attitude.  We need to actively, consistently, and fervently kill sin.  John Calvin comments on this passage in Romans 8:13 by saying that Paul “bids us to make every exertion to subdue sin’s lusts.”[3]  John Owen defines mortification this way:  “To kill a man, or any other living thing, is to take away the principle of all his strength, vigour, and power, so that he cannot act or exert, or put forth any proper actings of his own.”[4]


 One caution needs to be articulated before we go any further. Ultimate mortification or total death of sin will never occur in this life. We will never totally kill all sin. This total victory over sin should never be an expected part of our progressive sanctification. Our aim should be to mortify or kill all sin, but in reality, this will never happen this side of heaven. We may experience seasons of wonderful success and victory against sin, but we will never get to the point where we no longer have to practice the grueling process of mortification.  The moment we get to the point where we think that sin no longer can deceive us or manipulate us or that it somehow lies dormant within us, becomes that exact moment that we are the most vulnerable. The apostle John clearly tells us in 1 John 1:8 that “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”


In our next post we will discover what mortification of sin is NOT….

[1] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Heritage, 2002) 32

[2] J.C. Ryle, Holiness, (England: Evangelical Press, reprinted 2001) 54

[3] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XIX Acts-Romans, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005) , 294.

[4] Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 146



Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”[1]John Owen



            In Between a Rock and a Hard Place” is the fitting title of a book by a mountain climber named Aron Ralston.  In May 2003, while hiking in Utah, he was pinned between the canyon wall and an 800 pound boulder which crushed his right forearm. After five days of dehydration, delirium and a desperate attempt to dislodge the boulder, he used a dull utility knife to actually cut off his arm. Amputation was a drastic measure in order for Ralston to survive. 


            This story eerily captures the powerful words of Jesus in Mark 9:43 where he says, “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Jesus sounds very violent in this passage! How are we to take His emphatic words that command us to be brutal with our sin? While Jesus uses exaggeration and hyperbole here to show us the severity of sin, in the words of John Owen we must be killing sin or it will be killing us. We must deal forcefully with our sin because it is such a powerful force with which we must reckon.


Flesh for Fantasy


            Up to this point we have given a thoroughly Biblical definition of the true nature of sin, but we have not answered the ten million dollar question. How do we actually kill sin? How do we put this ruthless enemy to death?


            Romans 8:13 stands as the classic passage of Scripture which answers this question.  Paul writes, For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” As we explore this text, certain key questions emerge that we will attempt to answer. First of all, what does it mean to live according to the flesh? Secondly, what are the deeds of the body? Thirdly, what does it actually look like to kill sin? Fourthly, what role do we actually play in killing sin and what role does the Holy Spirit play?


            Let us answer the first question.  Paul tells us that if we live according to the flesh we will die. A spiritual death occurs when a person lives ultimately to feed the flesh. The key to understanding what it means to live according to the flesh comes in the tense of the verb. Paul uses the present active indicative which denotes continuous action. In other words, if a person’s habitual lifestyle is marked by constantly giving in to sinful desires, the end result will be spiritual death. I believe Paul is describing an unregenerate person who has never been made alive in Christ and given a new nature.


            John Owen gives this illustration[2] which I think poignantly describes what it means to live according to the flesh.  Living according to the flesh is like a man who sets out on a journey determined to reach his destination. All of his thoughts are obsessed on getting there as fast as he can.  On his way, he gets caught in a menacing thunderstorm and tries to find immediate shelter. He goes into a house and temporarily waits for the storm to pass. He is impatient because this storm has ruined his plans but he also knows that standing out in the pouring rain would not only be miserable but could result in being struck by lightning.  Once the storm has passed, he immediately gets right back out on the road to continue his journey.  This attitude characterizes people who are in bondage to sin and live according to the flesh.  They are on this path of pursuing their lusts and enjoying sin and then when they hear the gospel or they hear about hell or the “thunder and lightning” of the reality of eternal judgment, they get fox hole religion for a season out of fear.  They turn temporarily for shelter from the horrors of their sin, but nothing has truly changed. Once the storm passes, they are right back out on the path to sin again. There has been no true transformation. Their entire course in life fixates on pursuing the path of sin by living according to the flesh.


            If a person is truly born again, he or she has new desires and affections that deeply long to worship, obey, and follow Jesus. Because of this new nature, the entire course of a believer’s life is one of actively pursuing holiness. On the other hand, evidence that a person has not experienced the miracle of the new birth most poignantly shows itself in a lifestyle of slavery to sin and an ongoing pursuit of fleshly desires.


            For the believer who has been soundly saved by grace, he or she does not live according to the flesh. Paul argues this case earlier in Chapter 8:5-9 when he writes,


“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” 


Paul clearly asserts that those who have received the indwelling Spirit of Christ through the new birth do not live according to the flesh. That is no longer our nature. Our nature before salvation was enslavement to our flesh whereby our minds were hostile to God and we lacked the ability to submit to His law. Now that we have been liberated from this bondage to sin, we can freely submit to God’s law through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who has been poured out richly into our hearts.


            But there is a clear warning here. Just because we are no longer enslaved to sin does not mean that sin is no longer an active influence in our lives. We still retain the vestiges of our flesh and will never be completely sin free until the day we step foot into heaven. Only in our final glorification will we be free of the remnants of sin once and for all.  For the believer, sin as a power and dominion no longer has its grip on us and thus we are no longer under its rule. In our new found freedom as God’s regenerated and justified children, we can resist this insidious enemy. 


In the next post we will explore what Paul means by the “deeds of the body”…

[1] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, (Ross-shire, Scotland:  Christian Heritage, 2002), 28

[2] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, 16 vols. (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965-68) 6:317-18



The Big “Why”?

Ultimately why do we buy the lie and get deceived by sin? As Christians who faithfully read and study God’s word and are acutely aware of the devastating effects of sin, why do we go ahead and throw caution to the wind and give in? At the deepest level of our hearts, it all boils down to our desires. We have been fooled that to desire sin is better than to desire Christ.  We buy the lie that for the moment sin is all-satisfying instead of Jesus. Instead of seeing the beauty, majesty and excellencies of our Lord in His Person and work, we see the temporary joy that might come from indulging our flesh by sinning in rebellion against God.  Our ultimate desire is for temporary pleasure instead of true lasting pleasure that only comes from Christ alone.  C.S. Lewis captured this dilemma in his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory” when he writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[1]

            The reason we are far too easily pleased is because we have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We are content with the promise of temporary joy that comes from sin instead of finding our true contentment in the only One who can truly promise joy—eternal joy. Sin is a tricky foe that has resulted from a tragic fall. Sin is insidious. It is manipulative, devious, and never rests for a moment.

[1] “The Weight of Glory” (accessed 3/2/11)


Hidden Consequences

We face a tricky foe who promises a great deal of enjoyment, but in the end, only results in destruction. In addition to sin deceiving us with fleeting pleasures, our tricky foe also tries to hide the consequences of sin from us.  We are fooled by sin into believing that there will be no real damaging consequences for our actions. We may suffer a little discomfort here or there and maybe have a guilty conscience for a while, but the payoff for the pleasures of sin far outweighs whatever consequences we might have to endure. Not only are we blinded to the immediate consequences of sin, but we fail to see the ultimate future repercussions for giving in to this deceptive enemy.  In Romans 2:5 we find these terrifying words: “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” The end game for the unrepentant sinner who remains in a state of hardness is the full wrath of God’s fury. Ultimately it ends in eternal conscious torment the Bible calls hell.

Because sin is so deceitful, it tries to conceal this ultimate reality from us by diverting our attention from the pains of hell to the immediate pleasure we will experience if we just give in to temptation. One of the most heartbreaking illustrations of a person being deceived by sin manifests itself in the story of David and Bathsheba. Blinded by lust and power, David had no idea what the long term ramifications of his illicit rendezvous with Uriah’s wife would be.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.  It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.  And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”  So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.  And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” 2 Samuel 11:1-5  

What started out as an innocent walk on his roof devolved into a saga of treachery and betrayal. Did David truly understand the consequences of committing adultery with Bathsheba? Could he see the long term violence and sexual perversion that would plague his family? He was blinded by the deceitfulness of sin and thereby chose not to fully examine the ramifications of taking that second look at the bathing beauty below. What started out as a hot afternoon of “fun” resulted in murder, mayhem, and the menacing sting of the deceitfulness of sin.

 “Innocent” Distractions

            Sin not only promises fleeting pleasure and tries to hide its consequences, but it also distracts us into committing idolatry. Sin may deceive us into taking good things such as a spouse or family or career and then distorts these into ultimate things that in turn become idols.  That is why sin is so tricky. These gifts from God are not bad things in and of themselves, but they can be elevated to idol status if we exalt them above our love for Christ. Timothy Keller in his excellent book “Counterfeit Gods” says, “The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life…a counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”[1]

For example, the driven workaholic who finds ultimate satisfaction in a career may not think he is committing the sin of idolatry. He has been deceived into taking a good thing such as a satisfying job and transforming it into his “god”.  He is driven by this job and finds his identity and ultimate purpose in climbing the corporate ladder instead of finding that satisfaction, identity and joy in Christ.

The doting mother who worships her children has also been duped by the deceitfulness of sin because she has taken God’s precious gift of motherhood and elevated it to ultimate reality. Her children have become her idol and she may not even know it because she has been so blinded by sin. While she may not be out committing adultery or cheating on her taxes or backstabbing her neighbor, she has a false sense of religious pride in that she is doing okay in her spiritual walk because she has not committed any grievous sins. Yet, because sin has deceived her into making her children an idol, she in turn commits the gravest offense in the Bible—idoltary. She is living a false reality all because she has been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

In my next post find out WHY we buy the lie of sin….

[1] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, (New York, New York: Dutton, 2009) ,  xvii-xviii


What actually causes us to be hardened in our response to the living God? The answer lies in the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. If sin is such a powerful agent of deception, then we must understand how sin actually deceives us. How does sin in and of itself pull the wool over our eyes? What makes sin so exceedingly deceitful?    

The Ultimate Lie

            To answer these questions, we must again go back to the beginning when Eve was tempted in the Garden of Eden. In this tragic fall, we discover that the deceitfulness of sin comes primarily from a lie.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees with this statement about the true nature of Satan in John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” As the father of lies, Satan deceived Eve by tempting her to question the very word of God. The most insidious words that anyone can utter are these: “Did God actually say…?”  By planting a seed of doubt and confusion in Eve’s mind over the authority and validity of God’s word, Satan tells the biggest lie this world has ever known— the God of the universe cannot be trusted.  Sin can be so devious because it presents to us a lie that God’s word cannot be trusted and that there must be some better alternative rather than to obey Him.

            In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul reminds us about our ruthless enemy who stands behind all lies. He writes, “So that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” The word used here for “outwitted” means to be greedy with insatiable covetousness. Satan tries to take advantage of us by defrauding and cheating us. He has this lust for power and wants to deceive us with the deceitfulness of sin. And he also uses “designs”—these evil intentions, wicked plots, and sly strategies to keep us buying into the great lie that sin is better than obedience to God.

            The infamous former investment broker Bernie Madoff pulled off the largest Ponzi scheme ever in American history by defrauding investors of billions of dollars. Starting in the early 1990’s, he orchestrated a plot that would eventually cause his clients to lose almost $65 billion. In June 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison.  Basically a Ponzi scheme is a con game where stock brokers take advantage of those who have no real knowledge of the financial world and promise them major returns on investments that will never happen. The hope is that the instigator gets all of the unsuspecting victim’s money before the authorities figure it out. While Madoff’s sly scheme sent shockwaves through the financial world and caused irreparable damage to many, they come nowhere close to the damage inflicted by the wicked plots and evil intentions of the devil who deceives us with sin.

All sin stems from a lie that obedience to God does not pay off in the end.  Sin does a masterful job of deceiving us into believing the lie that it is actually good for us to surrender to our lusts. We buy into the lie that sin brings pleasure, enjoyment, satisfaction, and joy. Sin makes a huge promise that it cannot fulfill. Sin promises pleasure, excitement, and fulfillment, but these benefits are not really benefits at all. We have been tricked by sin and these are only fleeting pleasures.

Fleeting Pleasures

The writer of Hebrews describes the active faith of Moses who suffered the reproach of Christ rather than rushing headlong into the bountiful pleasures of Egypt. Hebrews 11:24-25 states, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” The word for “enjoy” in the original language means “to cling tightly.”  Moses did not want to hold on tightly to the fleeting pleasures of sin although he had every pleasure at his disposal. As a member of the royal court of Pharaoh, he could have had all the women, money, food and delicacies his heart desired. He had every pleasure imaginable at his fingertips.  But instead of buying into the deceitfulness of sin, Moses understood that the pleasure it offered was only fleeting.

            We must pay careful attention to this passage and understand that sin is actually defined as pleasurable. We would not sin if we did not think it brought us pleasure. Sin feels good. Sin is fun. Sin promises great excitement and allures us with enjoyment. But these promises are empty. These pleasures of sin are fleeting. They are temporary. They only last for a season. Sin is so deceitful because it tricks us into believing that disobedience is fun. If we are honest with ourselves, we know all too well that sin can be fun. We happily rush into sin because we believe that we will experience ultimate pleasure in that moment. But what does sin reap in the end? How do we experience the crash and burn of this deception when the fleeting pleasure passes? Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:7-8 with these words: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

In my next post find out how sin hides its evil consequences from us…


In our last post, we started exploring Hebrews 3:12-13.

In verse 13, the writer uses a strong adversative and challenges us to the ministry of exhortation. He commands us to keep on continually exhorting one another every day.  We often think of exhortation or the ministry of encouragement like that of a cheerleader who vapidly cheers from the sidelines with a perky smile. In our relationships with others, we often relegate the ministry of exhortation to cheering from a distance with plastic smiles.  We offer casual platitudes and pat each other on the back while never attempting to go deeper into true Biblical exhortation.

            The word used here for “exhortation” is the Greek word “parakaleo” which means to come along side other believers for the purpose of motivating and strengthening them to grow in grace. Exhortation means that we get personally involved down in the trenches of another person’s life. We walk along side of them in their pursuit of holiness by providing counsel, encouragement, and motivation. We must also notice that this ministry of exhortation happens on a daily basis. We are called to exhort one another every day as long as it is called “today”.

Adoniram Judson was a missionary to Burma in the 1800’s whose ministry reached over a million people with the gospel. During a time of Civil War between Burma and England, many were thrown in jail. He was imprisoned in terrible conditions where captives were often hanged by their thumbs as a means of torture. Adoniram survived by daily words of encouragement from his wife Ann. Day by day, she would enter the squalid prison cell, walk past the jeering guards and look her husband in the eye and say, “Don’t give up, Adoniram. God will give us the victory.” She would visit him almost every day with these loving words of encouragement until one day the visits stopped. He was eventually released from prison and went to look for her and found out that she was dying. He found her in a government-assigned tent that was almost as bad as the prison. She was lying on tattered blankets with her body shrunken by disease and malnutrition. He looked into her eyes and she said to him one last time, “Do not give up, Adinoram. God will give us the victory.” Millions of souls were saved as a result of the missionary endeavors of Adoniram Judson. But we often do not here of Ann, his wife.  She could have abandoned her husband and headed back to America, but instead, she submitted ultimately to the will of Christ by supporting him. She is the hero of this story. As the complement to her husband along with her submissive spirit, she was the spark of energy and exhortation that God used to send Adoniram forth in perseverance.

            Day by day we need the encouragement of other believers who will stimulate us to be prepared to fight this battle with our tricky foe—sin.  This word “parakaleo” shows up again in Hebrews 10:24-25 when the writer urges us to not forsake the assembling together as the gathered church. He writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The writer alarms us to the urgency of the ministry of exhortation in light of the Second Coming of Christ. Why is the ministry of exhortation so urgent? Why is there no time to waste in playing with the devil’s bait as Thomas Brooks has reminded us?

The Deceitfulness of Sin

            The writer of Hebrews gives us the reason why we must be urgent, watchful and consistently practice the ministry of exhortation. He warns us that we could become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. By using the word “hardened” he again harkens back to Psalm 95 and its dire warnings concerning rebellion and disobedience.  This word “hardened” was used to describe some of the Jews in Ephesus who scoffed at Paul’s teachings as evidenced in Acts 19:9 which states, “ But when some became stubborn (hardened) and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.”

This word for “hardened” (skleryno) in classical Greek was originally used as a medical term to describe the hardened swelling of a bone.[1] In current medical usage, we have a similar phenomenon called “atherosclerosis” otherwise known as the hardening of the arteries.  This condition occurs when cholesterol and fat collect and calcify in the arteries causing a narrow restriction which eventually prevents the healthy flow of oxygen to our major organs. Too much “sclerosis” or hardening can eventually lead to either a stroke or a heart attack.  Just as bad cholesterol can cause the hardening of arteries, the deceitfulness of sin can cause the spiritual hardening of our hearts.

In Ephesians 4:19, Paul describes the heart of an unregenerate sinner in that they have become callous. This word “callous” is very similar to the word “hardened”. This word “callous” in the original language means to become insensitive to pain. In spiritual terms it denotes a moral apathy whereby lost people are desensitized to sin. They no longer feel any shame or embarrassment at immorality. They are no longer bothered by their own immorality and sinfulness since these things have become their lifestyle. Nothing shocks them.  Persistent, habitual sin has a deadening affect on the human heart.

            What actually causes us to be hardened in our response to the living God? The answer lies in the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. Peter O’Brien says that “sin is viewed as a powerful agent that deceives.”[2] If sin is such a powerful agent of deception, then we must understand how sin actually deceives us. How does sin in and of itself pull the wool over our eyes? What makes sin so exceedingly deceitful?

Find out in my next post…

[1] Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume V, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdman’s, 1967) 1025-1030.

[2] Peter O’Brien argues that the Greek reading of the phrase “deceitfulness of sin” in the genitive case should be understood as objective (= ‘sin deceives’) rather than qualitative (= ‘sinful deception’). Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews: Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2010), 149


Over the next few weeks, I want to address an issue that every Christian struggles with. How d we successfully kill sin in our lives? How does this happen through the power of the gospel and not through will power, moralism, legalism, or any other Spirit-void, gospel-less methods?


“I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin[1] Bishop J.C. Ryle

            In the summer of 2010, Lynn France received a shock to her system when she saw a number of wedding photos posted on Facebook. This scandalous discovery showed pictures of her husband, John France, marrying another woman at a ceremony at Disney World. This was a classic case of deception and bigamy. In 2005, John and Lynn exchanged vows in a storybook wedding on Italy’s luxurious Amalfi coast. What started out as wedding bliss quickly turned into a nightmare of unfaithfulness.   Although Mr. France has denied the allegations and charged his first wife as being overly paranoid and mentally unstable, her pain is understandable.  Her world came crashing down with a click of a mouse and a seemingly innocent visit to Facebook. We recoil in sickening confusion when we hear stories like this.  We express disdain at the deception, manipulation, and secrecy of people whose entire lives are based upon one lie after another.

            And yet when it comes to our battle with sin, we face a tricky foe whose deception, manipulation, and secrecy are far more insidious and destructive than the shenanigans of John France. In this enemy called “sin”, we find a tenacious opponent who promises us endless enjoyment and indulgent satisfaction, but in the end, leads us down a path of destruction.  Through the one trespass of Adam, sin and death entered the world whereby all humans have inherited a nature bent on rebellion and hostility against the living God. In order to understand the true nature of sin, we must understand what the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called the “exceeding sinfulness of sin.”

 Sin is a tricky foe. Sin is a manipulative enemy. Sin is a master of deception.  As John Owen says, “Sin always aims at the utmost: every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin of that kind.”[2] Thomas Brooks describes the deceitfulness and “bewitching” nature of sin by saying, “So a man bewitched with sin had rather lose God, Christ, heaven, and his own soul than part with his sin. Oh, therefore, for ever take heed of playing with or nibbling at Satan’s golden baits”.[3] In other words, we must not be mesmerized by the allurements of sin nor should we playfully dismiss sin as an impotent opponent. Sin is a powerful force that brutally thrives on deception.

Hardened Compromise

In Hebrews 3:12-13, the writer gives some of the strongest warnings in the New Testament about the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. He writes, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  This exhortation comes in the context of a longer discussion regarding that disobedient generation of Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief. As they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, the children of Israel hardened their hearts in rebellion, and as a result, were barred entrance into the “rest” that God offered.

            Through the use of a powerful illustration from Israel’s history, the writer of Hebrews poignantly shows us what happens when people disobey the voice of God.  Disobedience ultimately leads to experiencing the wrath of God. In verses 12 and 13, he sharply warns us to stand up and pay attention to that unbelieving generation of Israelites so that we will not succumb to the same fate. He urges us to “take care”—which literally means to watch carefully for any upcoming hazards or pitfalls that would lead us into dangerous territory. In other words, be alert! Stand your guard! Pay careful attention!

When I was in college, I was somewhat of a dangerous driver (or so I’m told). It was an icy morning in Colorado Springs and I was late for class. I impatiently decided not to scrape all of the ice off my windshield. Instead, I left a small circle right in front of me so at least I could see straight ahead, but chose not to scrape the passenger windows.  In an act of impetuous stupidity, I drove to school and nearly got nailed by an oncoming car.  In a fit of frustration, I sheepishly stopped the car, got out, and scraped all the windows this time. In my single-focused desire to get to school on time, I would have given my Driver’s Ed. teacher a stroke. I not only failed to look both ways, but failed to even create space to actually look! I was not watching intensely for upcoming hazards.  I was flippant, impatient, and dangerous. And it could have cost me my life.

            This attitude stands in direct contrast to what the writer of Hebrews warns us about the dangers of sin. He writes with intensity as a concerned pastor who deeply cares for his people by warning them of the impending dangers of apostasy. We are called to “take care” as we look intently with a passionate focus upon and alertness to the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. We are to watch carefully that we do not have an unbelieving and hardened heart which would lead us away from faith in the living God.

This imagery of an unbelieving heart comes directly from Psalm 95.

 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”  Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” Psalm 95:7-11

From this Psalm, a stark warning rings out to us that we should not harden our hearts in rebellion against God.  As helpless sheep that are totally dependent upon the Great Shepherd Jesus, we must listen to the voice of our Savior and follow Him. We must not harden our hearts in unbelief when we hear His voice. This unbelief is not just some passive lack of acknowledgement of God’s voice or a casual disinterest in the things of God.  Instead, this type of unbelief violently digs its heels into the ground in arrogant defiance and stubbornly refuses to believe in God. This type of habitual and persistent unbelief eventually leads to the tragic sin of apostasy.

            The LORD Himself describes to Moses this unbelieving and hardened generation in Numbers 14:11: “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” Later in Numbers 14:27, God calls them a “wicked congregation”.  There exists a ruthless threat to a people who fail to heed the warnings from Scripture regarding the deceitfulness of sin.  If one is not passionately keeping his or her eyes fixed on Jesus, the potential of developing a hardened and unbelieving heart lurks wherever sin rears its ugly head. Where is the hope in this urgent warning? How do we come to terms with this tricky foe?

Find out in my next post….

[1] J.C. Ryle, Holiness, (England: Evangelical Press, reprinted 2001), 14

[2] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, (Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Heritage, 2002), 32

[3] Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 200), 34

Have we misunderstood God’s love?

Many people in our culture have a grave misunderstanding concerning the love of God. They attribute to God this squishy, all-encompassing love that never demands repentance, never addresses sin, and would surely never be expressed in righteous anger. What does the Bible say about God’s love?

            One of the most famous passages that describes God’s love comes from 1 John 4:1-7 which states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

            From this passage, John gives us four essential aspects of God’s infinite love that we would do well as Christians to embrace. First of all, God is love. He is the ultimate expression of love. He initiates love, He defines love, and He loves us first. Our capacity to love does not come intrinsically from within ourselves, but comes outside of ourselves through God. One of God’s chief attributes is love.

God revealed this Moses and it became the repeated theme of God’s character all throughout the Old Testament. Exodus 34:6–7 says, “ The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” God is gracious, loving, kind, patient, and yet, we also find that He will by no means clear the guilty, but will punish sinners for their repentance.

The danger many Christians make is to elevate the love of God as His one and ONLY attribute and fail to see that God is also holy, just, and righteous and cannot tolerate sin. Is God love? Absolutely! Is God holy and righteous? Absolutely. We cannot divorce these two attributes and pit them against each other. If we focus too much on God’s love, we can tend to drift into flimsy liberalism where anything goes and God just winks at sin and loves everybody unconditionally. If we focus too much on God’s justice, we can tend to drift into rigid legalism where we never hold out the hope of grace for the sinner.

The second essential characteristic of God’s love is that a sinner has to be truly born again in order to experience that love. John says that whoever loves “has been born of God”. This is none other than sovereign regeneration whereby God grants those who are spiritually dead new life in Christ through being born again.  There is not one single person born into this world who is automatically in a positive relationship with God and inherently righteous. The Bible says that we are all spiritually dead and under God’s condemnation and we desperately need new life implanted into us through God’s Holy Spirit. So if we truly want to express the love of God to other people, we need to honestly tell them that without Christ they are helpless, hopeless, and hell-bound and need God to cause them to be born again so that they can experience His infinite love.

The third essential teaching from this passage about God’s love is that it is fully expressed in Jesus Christ as the ONLY way of salvation. God sent His only Son Jesus so that we might live through him.  Jesus Himself was very emphatic in John 14:6 that He is THE way, truth, and life; not one of many ways or simply a good way, but the absolute and only way to heaven.  It is not loving to give a person a false assurance that God loves them outside of Jesus.  When we downplay the exclusivity of Christ, we deny His Lordship and do not show love to those who will die in their sins without Him. The most loving thing we can do is to tell a sinner that Jesus is their ONLY way of hope.

Finally, God’s love is manifested through wrath. At first glance, this may not make sense.  In verse 10 of our text it says that Jesus was the “propitiation” for our sins. The word propitiation means that Jesus (while on the cross) absorbed the full wrath of God against sin as our Substitute so that we would not have to endure that righteous anger. God’s wrath is not that He is some out of control deity like Zeus who explodes with infantile tempter tantrums and capriciously throws lightning bolts down on humans because He had a bad hair day! God’s wrath is His settled and righteous anger that comes as a result of His absolute holiness. Since God is holy and just, He must punish sin. The beauty of the gospel is that God punished sin in the body of Christ.  If a sinner repents and believes in Jesus, his or her sins were propitiated by Jesus. In other words, we will not have to suffer wrath in hell for eternity because Jesus suffered that wrath in our place. Yet on the other hand, if you do not repent and believe in Jesus as the only way of salvation and you die in your sins, you will face God’s wrath forever in hell.

God’s love is too immense and expansive to reduce down to this popular idea that He loves you “just the way you are”.  “Just the way we are” leads us straight to hell because “just the way we are” means that we are sinners condemned under His wrath. God loves us too much to let us stay “just the way we are”! He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that by faith in Him we could be transferred from spiritual death to spiritual life to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

If you claim to be a Christian, may I appeal to you to fully proclaim the love of God for sinners? But at the same time, would we also fully proclaim God’s holiness and justice and show sinners that God’s love and God’s wrath meet wondrously in the cross of Christ.  God does not simply love us “just the way we are”. It is a greater love than that. His love is a saving love that transcends our sinfulness and through Christ makes us into what He wants us to be for His glory. In other words, He loves us too much to allow us to stay “just the way we are!”