Pursuing Purity Pt.5 – Make Matters Worse

30 01 2007

One of Bart Simpson’s favourite phrases is ‘I didn’t do it!’. Whatever misdemeanour the cartoon deliquent has pulled off, he constantly seems to be in denial. While John MacArthur has characterised The Simpsons as ‘plumbing the depths of moral nihilism’, its characters can very often mirror and prove to us our own behaviours in non-cartoon life. Which of us doesn’t look back to times in our lives, whether in infancy or adulthood when we have denied the things which we have obviously done wrong – whether that denial is to ourselves or to others?

One form of that denial which we engage in as adult Christians is letting ourselves off the hook too lightly when we offend God by our sin. Perhaps we take a step, entertain a thought, or make a statement which we know is offensive to our Heavenly Father. For a moment the shock and awe of our action makes our heart sink, but almost immediately we find the mechanisms of denial swinging into action. We begin to think of the comparitative innocence of our actions compared to others, we attribute our behaviours to diet/too much sleep/too little sleep/hereditary and a whole host of other factors, until we’re persuaded that our sin is something small, insignificant, not all that offensive to God. In so doing we offend our Master even more, and do untold damage to our own consciences.

John Owen writes against precisely this behaviour in The Mortification of Sin. People in the seventeenth century must have been every bit as good at Bart Simpson behaviour as we are today, and so Owen leaves them no quarter for self-commendation in their sin. Rather, he counsels them to make matters worse, to dwell in detail on the offense of their sin, in order that their repentance might be deep and true, their mortification of sin genuine and lasting. His words pack tremendous weight in helping us to watch our own hearts:

“Bring thy lust to the gospel – not for relief, but for farther conviction of its guilt; look on Him whom thou hast pierced, and be in bitterness. Say to thy soul ‘What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on ? Is this the return I make to the Father for His love, to the Son for His blood, to the Holy Ghost for His grace?”

In the area of personal holiness things really must get worse before they can get better! Mortification isn’t a matter of ‘I didn’t do it’ psychology, but ‘I did do it against God’ theology. Such reasoning will not be pleasant for us, but will yield rich benefits of true holiness if we see our sin in the light of God’s salvation.

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