I’ve been deep in a months-long study of sin and temptation. It started as a homeschool project for my seventeen-year-old son. I ordered a pile of books to supplement a Bible course for this fall, books that would strengthen his faith and deepen his pursuit of God. But as I began reading, starting with, “The Pursuit of Holiness,” then, “The Crucified Life,” I saw that these books weren’t just for my son’s schooling. They were for my schooling.
A favorite prayer for years has been, “Make me know Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation.” (Psalm 25:4-5) God was answering, teaching me deep truths about the workings of sin and temptation, in general and, particularly, in my own life.
But I hadn’t seen anything until I got to John Owen, a pastor and leading theologian from the 1600’s in England. It’s hard to put into words the effect his works have had on me. Maybe the titles give a clue as to the power they pack: “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers;” “Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It;” and “Indwelling Sin.” (Mine is a single volume that includes all three works, called “Overcoming Sin and Temptation,” which can be found here.)
I’m on Owen’s third book now, reading slowly, as I did the first two. Every other sentence, I stop, ponder, re-read, repent, pray, praise . . . I’ve gained immense insight into the sin that dwells in me—the thoughts and inclinations, the subtle, even momentary shifts from a wholehearted pursuit of God. As this verse takes on a new dimension—“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9)—I’m deeply aware of the evidence in my own heart that it’s true.
As I tune into the inner war that daily takes place—to say what I should, do what I should, think what I should—I’m more desperate than ever for God. Without Him, there’d be no inner war. I’d be a slave to sin, plain and simple (Romans 6:5-7). But from the time He saved me and gave me His Spirit, the battle was enjoined.
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Galatians 5:17
I’m more aware of my sin, but I’m also more aware of the power of God. I’m more aware of the gift of God, in giving us His Spirit. And I’m more aware of my need of God—moment by moment. If I don’t cling to Him, if I don’t seek Him, if I don’t fill my thoughts with Him, if I don’t delight in Him . . . I will drift. I know this. Thus, I’m praying to remain gloriously . . . desperate.
Are you mindful of even subtle moments when your “flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh”? Does it make you more desperate for God?