While reading John Owen’s excellent book, The Mortification of Sin in Believers, I was broadsided by these powerful words:
Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of the love of Christ in the cross, lies at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification. Now, it is certain that that which I speak of proceeds from self-love. You set yourself with all diligence and earnestness to mortify such a lust or sin; what is the reason of it? It disquiets you, it has taken away your peace, it fills your heart with sorrow and trouble and fear; you have no rest because of it.…If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul. It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it.
Owen, of course, has the unique ability to write the biography of every Christian in the space of a paragraph.
My whole life is characterized by this failure. Last Wednesday, while speaking at prayer service, I was a bit too cavalier with a certain passage of scripture. I narrowly insisted on one interpretation when the passage was unclear. However, rather than being broken over mishandling God’s Word, I was more concerned that other people would see me mishandling God’s Word (which I did) and think worse of me for it.
On Thursday, our seminary instructor spoke about the importance of being diligent as a pastor. He pointed out how necessary it was to lead by example—to avoid a lazy approach to ministry. Because laziness is a sinful habit of mine, I was convicted by his words…but mainly because of the threat that other people would see me as lazy (which I am) and think worse of me for it. Seeing sin as sin had little to do with it.
And that was just in the space of two days.
In my case, the fear of man is much more powerful than the fear of the Lord. My goal is selfish: to preserve my reputation in the sight of others. Often, I hate sin for this reason only.
How we need to grow a proper fear of God—to understand how offensive sin is in His sight! How we need to cultivate “a sense of the love of Christ in the cross”! Without these, we will remain slaves to our own sinful nature, and we will not be conformed to the image of Christ. To become like Him, we must know Him and cherish Him as He is.