Those words from John Owen are the brutal truth—if we make no effort to put to death sin in our lives, then we will be overcome by it. If only this defeat were a sudden, quick end! Rather, sin usually kills a person gradually, slowly bringing about compromise and hardening of the heart until it does not care for the truth of God. “Every rise of lust, might it have its course, would come to the height of villainy”—Owen was right about this, too.

I just got off the phone with an old friend who is slowly hardening his heart to the truth of God’s Word. As months and years wore on, he was caring less and less about God. These last few weeks, I’d been urging him to return to studying the Word, to pursuing God, but he responded only with self-pity, and tonight, with anger. I didn’t do a perfect job counseling him, but it was clear that no matter how wonderful and clever my words were, I could not change his heart—only the Spirit of God could do that. So now, all I can do is pray for the Holy Spirit to break his heart of stone.

What is most terrifying is that I know—I know—what he’s feeling. I feel the same undercurrent of complacency in my own heart; I feel the same lack of concern for the glory of God; I feel the same self-pity. And I know that if I let sin run its course and fail to kill it every day, I will be killed instead. Not quickly, but slowly and painlessly—like a man suffocating.

By the grace of God, may it never be.