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John Owen

Spit on My Face

Sin has farther-reaching consequences than we are probably comfortable with.  Many of us live under the Satanic delusion that if we indulge ourselves in some fleshly way or another and then immediately pray for forgiveness, that everything will be alright again.  God will take us back.  He won't remain angry at us.  After all, Christ took the wrath for that sin on the cross; as long as I'm truly sorry, God won't sustain the consequences of His displeasure. Once again, it was John Owen that opened my eyes to the falsehood of these thoughts.  Chapter 13 in Kapic and Taylor's edition of his Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers is entitled, "Do Not Speak Peace to Yourself Before God Speaks It, But Hearken to What God Says to Your Soul".  His point in this chapter is that the Christian who willfully sins ought not to kid himself that the relationship between him and God has been restored until God makes that plain.  He even goes so far to say that we can't even use the Scripture's promises of restoration for the repentant to assuage our souls before God has given the comfort Himself.

I don't mind admitting that I neither liked nor agreed with this chapter in Owen's work when I first read it.  Surely if we claim the Bible's promises of reconciliation, we will indeed be reconciled!

Numbers 12 changed my mind.  In that chapter, Miriam sinned when she spoke against Moses.  Her pride welled up and produced fruit when she grew tired of Moses' continual leadership and desired some spotlight for herself as well.  In punishment for this sin, she was struck with leprosy.  We are told in verse 11 that Aaron, and most likely Miriam as well, immediately sought forgiveness.  Moses himself even dropped to his face in that very moment to plead with Yahweh on her behalf.  God's answer to Moses' prayer ought to give us a chill: "If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days?  Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again" (Numbers 12:14).

Would it change how readily you give into the temptation of the Devil or your own wicked heart (James 1:14) if you knew that the fracture in your relationship to God after the fact would last for a week or more?  It should!  Life stinks when we have no joy and peace in serving the Lord.  Satan knows that.  He is ever your enemy.  When he overcomes your will with temptation and you take a bite of what he has offered, his weapons tear through your soul.  You have just invited the assassin into your home, and he is not interested in merely giving you some morsel that you desire so that you can indulge and then immediately fly back to God.  He knows, even if you don't, that God's displeasure at your transgression will not be immediately over.  One of the Enemy's greatest lies is to tell you that you can sin and then go immediately to the Father for a restored peace.

Don't get me wrong here.  I'm not talking about ultimate forgiveness for sins.  That's Christ's work.  I'm talking about peace and blessedness.  If you want to be greatly used of God tomorrow, then don't indulge in presumptuous sin today.  If you want to experience the joy and peace of salvation this month, then don't give into the temptation to willfully violate God's commands under some kind of illusion that you can simply ask for forgiveness and be immediately and totally restored.

We need to fear the shaming spit of our Father and let that fear drive us toward a more serious pursuit of holiness.  I don't like the way the worldlings live.  I've tasted the joy and beauty of living in God's peace and I don't want to go back, even for a week.  Start counting the costs of sin and let that steep price-tag allow you to pass right on by without even taking the offered temptation off of the shelf for a look.

The Universality of Obedience

The following quote comes from the first part of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, entitled, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, written by John Owen and edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor:

The second principle which to this purpose I shall propose is this: Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained...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.  Yea, but friend, you have neglected prayer or reading; you have been vain and loose in your conversation in other things, that have not been of the same nature with that lust wherewith you are perplexed.  These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan.  Jesus Christ bled for them also.  Why do you not set yourself against them also?  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.  Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone.  Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you.  Now, can you think that God will set in with such hypocritical endeavors - that ever his Spirit will bear witness to the treachery and falsehood of your spirit?  Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves him?  No.  God says, "Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost."  Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God's.  God's work consists in universal obedience; to be freed of the present perplexity is their own only.  Hence is that of the apostle: "Cleanse yourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).  If we will do anything, we must do all things.  So, then, it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.