Like millions of other red-blooded American men I went and watched Spiderman 3 last week. By the time the credits rolled, I had seen a man gripped by the passions of vanity, self-centeredness, pride, power, fame, lust, arrogance and vengeance. I had seen a man enjoy and revel in these passions, actively seek their increase in his life, and then witness the destruction of himself and others that they left in their wake.
No, I’m not talking about Peter Parker.
I was referring to me. My sin nature.
Not being a woman, I don’t know what the sin nature “feels like” in a woman’s soul. But I can tell you, it feels real close, uncomfortably close, to Peter Parker in my soul. And if you’re a guy and you say to me that you can’t identify with Mr. Parker, “No, I’m never tempted to want
people attractive women to think I’m special, I have never had someone mistreat me that I wanted to see get “what was coming” to them, I have never used whatever type of power or prestige I possessed to feed my ego” then I suggest you take the log out of your eye and take a hard look in the mirror.
C. S. Lewis once commented that the Puritans had Christianity right when they considered that,
One essential symptom of the regenerate life is a permanent, and permanently horrified, perception of one’s natural and (it seems) unalterable corruption. The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.
Strong words, “to be contually attentive to the inner cesspool.” That’s not a very popular idea in Christian or non-Christian circles, to be continually on the watch for the evil that is within us. I find it very telling that the scriptwriters for Spiderman 3 went out of their way to repeatedly have different people describe Peter Parker as “a good person.” And yet the storyline makes clear that the seeds of vanity and pride and all those other poisonous passions were in Spidey’s soul before he ever put on the Venom suit, that the symbiote merely amplified what was already there.
At the end, Spiderman 3 said what
the world semi-Pelagians my flesh wanted to hear: that although we are tempted to do selfish things, that we, at heart, are good people who can always make the right choice. The truth is harder to bear: that our emotions, minds, and wills have been pervasively and permanently distorted by the Fall, and that only by God’s work within us to be “continually attentive to the inner cesspool,” to be continually putting to death the sin that we will daily find if we are willing to look, and to be continually looking to Christ for wisdom, strength, forgiveness, and grace can we live lives worthy of our Saviour’s calling.
Say that word, and what comes into your mind?
Some would immediately think of desire in a godly way, to desire to do good, to desire to worship God. There are whole books and ministries about this kind of desire.
Others would think of desires that the Bible condemns, such as the desire for money (1 Timothy 6:10) or the desire for adultery (Matthew 5:28) in every human heart.
Perhaps a few would even think of desires that aren’t strictly good or bad in a moral sense, like the desire for food when one is hungry(Luke 15:16).
In reality, the words of God in the Bible wisely teach us that human desire can be good and holy, warped and evil, or simply human. We are a mixture of all these types of desires, and often every desire is a mixture itself of the selfish and unselfish, of loving God and loving our own way.
The Bible often refers to our evil, selfish desires as lusts of the flesh, from our old self. In Galatians 5 Paul says that our old self has been put to death, crucified once we come to Christ. Elsewhere (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5) he encourages us to put to death (old word: mortify) these desires.
Frankly, sometimes it’s hard to sort out the selfish from the unselfish in our hearts. A young professional desires a promotion. A childless couple burns to have a baby to love. A spouse longs to have a truly intimate relationship with the one they married. We long to live a long, healthy life. We long for that cancer to be healed, or maybe we desire the loved one who has struggled so long with the pain to be at rest and go to Christ’s presence. You long for greater “significance” in your life, greater opportunity to serve Christ. It’s easy to see there are mixed desires in all of these longings.
So what do you do? We can bring all of our desires to the cross of Christ. Just like treasures we have buried in our hearts, we can come to the cross, and let the piercing word of God expose our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) and help show us what is there, and help us to put to death what is selfish, and fan the flame of what is pure and holy.
Why not pray a prayer like this: “Lord, you know what is in my heart. I lay it all at the cross of Christ. Take all my desires. Kill whatever is not worthy of you. Help strengthen my desires for You and your Kingdom. Make me into the person You want me to be. Amen.”
Note: The following is article #7 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
Chapter Six of Future Grace is the second applicational chapter, where Dr. Piper specifically talks about dealing with pride through grace. One of Piper’s central tenets is that true, biblical faith is more than simple acknowledgment of facts; it is “coming to Jesus for the satisfaction of all that God is for us in Him.” Conversely, whenever we turn to anything else for satisfaction, that is sin, that is unbelief, believing that God cannot provide for our satisfaction adequately and something else can.
Eternal life is not given to people who think that Jesus is the Son of God. It is given to people who drink from Jesus as the Son of God. (John 4:14, 6:15)
Given this truth, we can see that pride is turning away from taking satisfaction in God to derive satisfaction in self. As such, Piper states that pride lies at the root of every turning from God. Pride is the very essence of unbelief, and thus, “the battle against pride is the battle against unbelief; and the fight for humility is the fight of faith in future grace.”
Jeremiah 9:23 states, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” We can let all these things become our satisfaction. Pride boasts, while humility confesses that nothing but God can give us true joy. Piper wisely observes that even self-pity is a turning away from God in pride: “Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering.”
Anxiety is also fueled by pride, because the Bible instructs us to cast our anxieties on God, and yet that requires humility: “Faith admits the need for help. Pride won’t. Faith banks on God to give help. Pride won’t. Faith casts anxieties on God. Pride won’t.”
Piper says that humility can only survive in the presence of God. But indeed, where else could the delicate fruit of humility possibly be cultivated and nurtured? Pride can creep in as a poisonous weed into every thought and act, even servanthood and sacrifice. Only in God’s presence can He pluck up pride by the roots, break up the hard ground of our hearts, nurture humility, and continue to pull out the seemingly endless seedlings of pride that are always ready to sprout anew.
Piper ends the chapter with a passage from his personal journal:
How shall this insidious motive of pleasure in being made much of be broken except through bending all my faculties to delight in the pleasure of making much of God! …(This) is deeper than death to self. You have to go down deeper into the grave of the flesh to find the truly freeing stream of miracle water that ravishes you with the taste of God’s glory. Only in that speechless, all-satisfyng admiration (of God’s glory) is the end of self.
The question I am forced to ask myself is: How deep have I went into the grave of my flesh? Have I tasted only superficial religion and flashes of emotion, with my pride and self-will intact? I know there have been times when I have been deeply humbled, and deeply in the presence of God. But do I live there? And do I not realize that the only access to this all-satisfying presence of God is through this continual death and mortification of pride? Only by faith, only by God’s grace, can we walk this road.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:2)
Our need to mortify, or put to death, sin in our lives is a Biblical principle that is well-established (books have even been written about it!).
I have been impressed, however, that to follow Jesus we must also put to death something else, what I would term “the pursuit of good things.” What do I mean by that? There are so many things in our lives that are NOT sin, that we derive pleasure from: a good meal, a fulfilling job or ministry, a rich marriage, children who walk with God, a comfortable house, the esteem of others, a trusted friend.
None of these things are sin. But there’s a huge difference between enjoying these good things when God chooses to give them to us, and orienting our lives to pursue any of these things. We can only have one master, we can only have one focus of our heart, we can only have one treasure, we can only have one God. Jesus said we must sell ALL that we have to purchase the pearl of great price. We cannot claim ownership of anything in our lives besides Jesus.
If our heart wants any good thing more than God, what will happen?
(1) God can choose to give the thing to us, but send leanness into our souls, for we have embraced a lesser treasure than Him. God did this to the children of Israel in the wilderness when he gave them meat to eat. Many people seek their treasure in their mates, their prestige, their achievements, their ministry, and although they may find it, their souls unknowingly miss something far richer, the pleasure of communion with their Creator.
(2) God can withold the pleasure we seek, and because our hearts have embraced this lesser treasure, we will languish in despair. A prime Biblical example is Jacob, who had invested his treasure in his son Joseph, and after seemingly losing him, he “refused to be comforted.” (Genesis 37:35)
(3) If we choose not the path of despair in the pursuit of good things we do not have, we will end up choosing the path of our own way instead of God’s, and will fall into sin. Saul wanted to win a battle against the enemies of Israel (a good thing), but his desire for this good thing ended up leading him to consult a witch. Every pastor knows of people who started out wanting a fulfilling marriage (good thing), but when that desire was unfulfilled ended up leaving their spouse, justifying their sin with their assurance that God would want them to have this good thing (a good marriage) that they treasured in their heart.
So, where are you seeking a good thing more than God? A fit body, or maybe just plenty of good food? Success in business, marriage, parenting, or ministry? Mortify it. Put it to death. Seek Christ alone. You will find pleasures both from His gifts and from the beauty of His presence. Don’t let the pursuit of good things corrupt your soul. Pursue God alone.
I recently spent five grueling hours (grueling for a hopelessly out of shape bookworm) climbing a steep, winding mountain trail. Why? That was the only way I could see the view from the top of Mount LeConte. There were no shortcuts; I just had to put in a lot of hard work. But once I completed my quest and saw the view, I would have spent double the effort if necessary: what I saw was THAT spectacular.
The same can be said of reading the great Puritan theologian John Owen. It is HARD work, and a lot of it. So facing a 466 page anthology containing his 3 books on sin seemed more daunting than climbing LeConte, but I am pleased to report that the view is even more spectacular: it is life-changing.
This anthology, put together by Justin Taylor & Kelly Kapic, is not an abridgement: aside from some spelling updates and a few footnotes you’ve got the original manuscripts. There is an excellent introduction to Owen and his thought, as well as overviews of each of the three books. In the back are extremely detailed outlines of each book, as well as several indexes and a glossary of antiquated words (there are plenty of words Owen uses that will make you scratch your head so you will find yourself frequently consulting it!).
As stated before, this is an anthology of three different works by Owen. The first is his famous Mortification of Sin. I had read and reviewed an abridged version earlier this year, so I was interested in seeing how I would fare reading the original. Strangely, I actually like the original language better, it seemed more piercing and powerful.
The second book, Of Temptation, concerns itself on the nature and danger of temptation, and our duty against temptation and how to accomplish it. Owen simply amazes me: whereas most of us would exhaust our intelligent explanation of “temptation” in a few sentences, he spends eighty pages poring over the Scriptures, mining deep to bring insight that is both wise and cutting.
The last book, Indwelling Sin, is the longest and most thorough. Seventeen chapters that bring insight after insight on every page on the nature of the enemy within us, concerning its nature, power, and effect in our lives.
It has been said that once you finish reading what Owen says about a subject, you are convinced that he has covered it all. You may wonder, is it really worth reading over 400 pages on sin? And I will tell you, yes, it is hard work, but it is well worth the view. And just as I am planning on climbing LeConte again next year, I am going to reread this book next year as well, for I am sure that God has much more to teach me from its pages.
More information about the book from the publisher’s site is here.
More information about the book from Amazon is here.
—>cross posted at soapadoo!
Ok, I know that title isn’t exactly a news flash, but bear with me:
I was talking with some friends about some of the hard sayings of Jesus and how we tend to shy away from them. One of us blurted out, “It hurts to die to self!”
The more I think about that rather obvious statement, the more I am impacted by it. Our old self, our flesh, doesn’t exactly like crucifixion. When we say NO to our selfish desires, whether they be gluttony or jealousy or materialism or grudges or gossip or sloth, it’s NOT SUPPOSED to be a pleasant experience. And somehow when our flesh starts groaning or whining about the pain, we are caught off guard and think, “Wow, this is really hurting, maybe this whole dying to self thing is a little overblown in the Bible after all”
No pain, no gain.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. ( Galatians 5:4 )
From John Piper’s new book What Jesus Demands from the World:
The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. (Matthew 7:14)
The reason it is hard is not because Jesus is a hard taskmaster. It’s hard because the world is a hard place to enjoy Jesus above all. Our own suicidal tendency to enjoy other things more must be crushed (Matthew 5:29-30).
Today’s Monday Media Meltdown is this month’s installment of the “great book by a dead guy of the month club”— by John Owen. Owen was considered one of the greatest minds of the seventeeth century, serving as vice-chancellor at Oxford and publishing extensively. He also was very politically active during much political turbulence in England at the time. Owen was a contemporary of John Bunyan’s and once was able through his political connections to arrange to have Bunyan released from prison. Owen is also widely considered to be the most difficult of all the major Puritan theologians to read, because of his highly intricate and frankly not very readable prose.
Most people (including me!) find a modern re-written edition much more palatable than his originals, and many editions of (including the one I read this month) are a modern abridgement.Mortification is a word meaning to put to death, and this book explains how we both have a duty and a necessity to actively fight against every outbreak of sin in our lives daily. His most quoted advice from the book sums up his position, “always be killing sin or it will be killing you.” He urges us to “always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work.”
There are chapters on the importance of putting sin to death, the work of the Holy Spirit in mortification, how our spiritual health depends on it, what mortification is and is not, seeing sin for what it is, keeping a tender conscience and a watchful heart, waiting for God, and the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit.
No cute word pictures, no self-affirmations—just a blunt and comprehensive examination of what every Christian must do to become more holy. As Owen says, “Live in the light of Christ’s great work, and you will die a conqueror.” Read this book.
More information about this book from Amazon is available here.