As I wrote about a couple days ago, I’ve been reading Future Grace by John Piper. With summer about to kick in, and women’s clothes about to be more revealing, I’ve been contemplating how to best prepare my heart and guard my thoughts now that the curse of The Fall known as “winter” has finally departed. I found this section, which is actually a quote from Thomas Chalmers, to be particularly helpful.
There are two ways in which a practical moralist may attempt to displace from the human heart its love of the world –either by a demonstration of the world’s vanity, so that the heart shall be prevailed upon simply to withdraw its regard from an object that is not worthy of it; or, by setting forth another object, even God, as more worth of its attachment, so that the heart shall be prevailed upon not to resign an old affection, which shall have nothing to succeed it, but to exchange an old affection for a new one. My purpose is to show that from the constitution of our nature, the former method is altogether incompetent and ineffectual, and that the latter method will alone suffice for the rescue and recovery of the heart from the wrong affection that domineers over it.
What Chalmers is saying here is that we can preach to ourselves the ultimate vanity, uselessness, and worthlessness of sinful desires, and that may work to inspire holy living for a while, but eventually Satan and Sin are going to make sinful actions look appealing to us again, causing us to forget the vanity of it all. Satan and demons have been scheming and undermining Godly principles since the beginning of creation. If all we focus on is the vanity of sin, eventually we’ll lose sight of that. Not only that, but often times we aren’t just fighting blatant sin, we are fighting a sinful twist on a good desire that God gave us. We can’t even keep those good desires in their proper place and context by simply reminding ourselves of the vanity of sin. The pull is too strong.
That’s why Paul gives us a two-pronged approach to combating sin in Colossians:
Colossians 3:1-4 ESV
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (emphasis mine)
The first step is vivification: focusing on Christ, or putting on that which is holy. The strictest definition is closer to “putting on that which brings life.” The first way we do this is by focusing on Christ, setting our minds on Heavenly things. Dwelling on the nature and character of Christ, and the forgiveness we have in Him. The second way is reminding ourselves not just of our justification, our being made right with God, but also of the future grace of appearing “with him in glory.” So, we set our eyes on him as our Lord, Savior, and example. And we set our eyes on the promise of eternal life. This fuels the fire for holy ambition to kill sin in our lives.
Colossians 3:5-8 ESV
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (emphasis mine)
The second step is mortification: putting off sin, or putting off that which causes death. Paul is very clear on this point. We don’t just beat sin down to keep control over it. We kill sin. We hunt for sinful desires and tendencies in our hearts and we kill them. True, we don’t have the power to kill sin in and of ourselves, rather we kill it by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, but we kill it nonetheless.
I believe we reorient our affections through both vivification and mortification by devoting ourselves to prayer, community, gathering often for corporate worship and hearing the gospel preached, communion, reading and studying Scripture, and solitude. Yes, solitude. Time alone – away from the busyness of life and social media – is essential to searching one’s heart and hearing the Spirit’s conviction.
So, whether or not the onset of warm weather will bring up issues for you, we all have sinful desires that we need to confront — that we need to kill.