Have you ever been told, “Stop it! Just stop it!” If it is something trivial, like biting your nails, you can simply pull your finger out of your mouth, but if it is an ingrained habit, it can be very difficult to stop. In fact, most people who try to stop their bad habits give up. When it comes to sin, it is even harder to just stop. This is why the Bible calls us to put these things to death. It isn’t just a matter of stopping, it is a matter of putting the old self to death, burying him and walking away.
Lets look at the first of the three stages of repentance, to put off or put to death what is earthly in you (Col 3:5). Once we understand this process, we can work through these steps in our quiet times in a systematic way, growing in Christlikeness as we do. The first step is to “put to death what is earthly in you” (Col 3:5), or as the puritans used to say, we are to “mortify the flesh.” How do we do this? How do we mortify the flesh? Let’s work from the paradigm of the 3 functions of the heart to understand how we can put off the old ways. After all, sin begins in the heart (Matt 5:28, Mark 7:21-23), whether it be desires, actions or even thoughts.
So take one of the sins you have already identified, and lets look at each of these three functions and how to put to death sin when it starts with each of these functions. Remember that as we go through this, we are dependent on the Lord’s help. We cannot put these things off without His help.
The Bible presents our thought life as the primary heart function. It is through the mind, or our thought life that we are to be transformed (Rom 12:2) and spiritual warfare depends heavily on taking every thought captive (2 Cor 10:5). This doesn’t mean we neglect the other three functions, instead it indicates that the mind is the major conduit through which change comes, and that the other two functions of the heart are changed by rightly setting up this function.
We are instructed to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). This assumes that thoughts can be, and often are disobedient to Christ, and that we have an obligation to examine our thought life under the light of the word of God. It also assumes that we can control our thoughts. Therefore, thoughts, beliefs and expectations (all cognitive functions) that are unbiblical are candidates to be taken captive and put off.
The corruption of the fall affects our minds. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). So we can start by identifying what we think about and asking a simple question: Is this thought pleasing to the Lord? Or to ask the question another way, if God could read your mind, would He like what He see? (Actually the Lord can read your mind, see Ezek 11:5, Mark 2:8).
Our mind influences our desires, so evil thoughts will lead to evil desires. The mind also affects our volition, so we will act based on what we think or believe. This is why the Bible teaches us that when our minds are set on the flesh, we will live according to the flesh (Rom 8:5). Analyze your thought life and identify what you think, believe, and expect and ask whether those thoughts are pleasing to the Lord and these beliefs are biblical. Resolve to change your thought patterns and beliefs.[shareable]When our minds are set on the flesh, we will live according to the flesh.[/shareable]
Let’s be clear, not all our desires are good desires. In fact, even our good desires can be, and often are corrupted so that they become harmful to others, our relationships or ourselves. Desires and emotions are governed by our affections, the things we love. If we love something we will fear and grieve its loss or damage, and we will long for and hope for the satisfaction or fulfillment of that desire. We will also be happy when the thing we love returns our love, and/or is satisfied with our love or honored with good circumstances. Yet, the things we love are often lesser things, and not the God who is worthy of our love.
Often our desires or feelings are rooted in our thoughts or beliefs. If you identify desires that are evil, you can trace it back to the thoughts or beliefs that feed and inform it. This can take time, and considerable effort, but it can be a vital step in putting to death ungodly desires. Corrupt and evil desires work together with the mind, and can become an echo chamber that feeds sin. For example, if we love ourselves more than we ought and serve ourselves more than others, we will feel guilt, guilt then feeds the bad feelings by making us think wrong thoughts, and these wrong thoughts make us feel even worse. Ultimately we may think life is no longer worth living because we cannot be what we want to be (or what someone else wants us to be). [shareable]Corrupt and evil desires work together with the mind, and can become an echo chamber that feeds sin.[/shareable]
Our desires also affect our will. In fact, ultimately we are affective (desiring) people who do what we want to do. In other words, our will is affected or even directed by our desires. But if our heart is filled with corrupted desires (Eph 4:22), then we will ultimately act corruptly when our desires are not pure.
Start by analyzing your feelings, and examining them against the word of God. Do these desires glorify God, and lead to increased holiness and joy for us and for those around us? If not, it may be corrupt or sinful and a desire of the flesh. Sinful desires need to be put off or put to death. Resolve to eliminate these desires, first by refusing to act on them or be controlled by them, and second by asking the Lord give you a greater desire for holiness and a hatred for fleshly desires.
Often, when we want to change, we limit our efforts to our will, by simply resolving to act (or not act) a certain way. This approach will generally lead to disappointment, since the will generally never acts alone. Certainly, our will is where the commitments and intentions of our heart are expressed, but the will or volition is ultimately the joint upon which our activities pivot or move. While the will is engaged automatically, it primarily responds to the other functions of the heart.[shareable]The will or volition is ultimately the joint upon which our activities pivot or move.[/shareable]
Both our thoughts and our desires drive our wills. Therefore, what we do gives us a clue about what is going on in our hearts. Our volition or will is naturally bent toward the desires we have, but it is also directed by our thoughts. Therefore, when we do something, there is generally a desire and/or a thought process or belief behind that action. When we can identify what the desire is, then we can submit it to the word of God to examine its validity. Yet, the Bible gives us clear guidelines as to the type of behavior that is wrong, and we are told simply to put off actions that do not glorify the Lord or build up those around us.
If we want to put our sin to death, we must deal with our resolve or will, but we can’t just focus on our actions. The whole heart is involved in our sin. This is why we need a new heart, and this is why Christ offers hope, because in Christ we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:21), and part of this new creation is a new heart (Ezek 36:26-27).[shareable]Change starts with the recognition and confession of sin[/shareable]
Putting sin to death
Change starts with the recognition and confession of sin. Recognition of sin often starts by seeing the sinful things we do (volitional action), but we need to trace our actions back into the heart the evil or corrupt thoughts and desires. Confession requires that we confess to the Lord not just the sinful action but the involvement of the heart. As we take seriously the sins we harbor, and take steps to put these to death, the Lord will work with us. He has already broken the power of sin in us and He wants to complete the work He has started, so we can have great hope that as we work to put our sin to death, He will bring our desires for holiness to fruition.
Here’s a simple checklist you can go through in your quiet time to help you identify and put off sin:
- Reflect on the involvement of each function of the heart in your sin.
- Write down what you find – understand the anatomy of your sin.
- Pray – confess the sin, and ask the Lord for forgiveness (1 John 1:9), and ask Him to help you understand why He says these are wrong and to help you put them off.
[reminder]Do you use your quiet time to examine your heart for and bring your sin to the Lord?[/reminder]