There is a war waging in our hearts in regards to sin and righteousness. If you do not know this, or if you fail to believe this, then I wonder whether or not you have truly touched the grace of Jesus Christ in your life. Whether or not the Holy Spirit has caused your own heart to yearn for your Abba (Father). For to know God is to know His will. To know His will is to reflect deeply on His heart as revealed in His Word as holiness, righteousness, and truth. To know Him is to pursue Him, scraped knees and all.
What do we do when the enemy of our own hearts, that remnant of a sinful nature, rears its ugly head in our minds? How should we respond? For you must do something. To do nothing is tantamount to lowering your arms and raising a white flag so that sin might have its day. The late John Owen offers some sobering thoughts, some necessary aides that we need to consider in this battle of the wills (will of God vs. will of sin).
“Now, these duties are—First, PRAYER, especially private prayer; and, Secondly, MEDITATION.”[i]
On the method of meditation, he says…
“[This] is pondering on the truth as it is in Jesus, to discover the image and representation of truth in our own hearts [as Christians]; and so it has the same intent with prayer, which is to bring our souls into a frame that in all things corresponds to the mind and will of God…when we would undertake thoughts and meditations of God, his excellencies, his properties, his glory, his majesty, his love, his goodness, let it be done in a way of speaking to God [i.e., prayerfully], in a deep humiliation and abasement of our souls before him.”[ii]
And this can only be truly accomplished when we…
“meditate on the word [of God] …and then labor to have our hearts affected by it.”[iii]
In particular, whatever peculiar sin that is raising its arms (battling) against what we know to be pleasing to the Lord. Failing to do this not only makes us susceptible to strong influence that sin uses to draw us (influence us) into all manners of vile acts, but makes the next time easier to bend the knee having calloused our hearts.
On the method of prayer, that which is intended to combat this enemy known as sin, in light of what we have reflected on the mind of God as revealed in His Word, is to
“[work] upon the heart a deep, full sense of the vileness of sin, with a constant renewed detestation of it…This is one design of payer…namely, to draw out sin, to set it in order, to present it to itself in its vileness, abomination, and aggravating circumstances, so that it may be loathed, abhorred, and thrown away as a filthy thing. The one that pleads with God for sins remission, also pleads with his own heart for its detestation.”[iv]
If you would like victory over indwelling sin, Owens tells his readers,
“This is the way appointed and blessed by God to obtain strength and power against sin: Jas 1:5, ‘Does any man lack? Let him ask of God.’ Prayer is the way to obtain from God, by Christ, a supply of all our wants, assistance against all opposition, especially that opposition which is made against us by sin.”[v]
Biblical mediation and biblical prayer are two means that God has provided His people in Christ the power over sin. This is not a prescription for sinlessness, but it is surely one that provides the true believer with the ability to sin-less. For such means, provided by our heavenly Father, are that which God the Holy Spirit quickens us in waging this war within our own hearts, as we are being more and more conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Such is an exercise in godly dependency for which we image bearers were truly created for. Not to will what we want, but to will as He wants, as He designed us for His glory!
On our Failings…
But what about our failings in this? What about our inability to walk straightly every moment of every day? Are we then lost? Are we then without hope? Two things might be said on such thoughts. One, this work that we do is not a work that we have done, but is a work of God. What saves us, what delivers us in the end is not our efforts, but wholly His. Two, when we do fail (and we no doubt will from time to time for let’s face it we are weak), we are given this promise:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4.14-16).[vi]
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jn 1.9)
[i] John Owen, Indwelling Sin: The Remainder of Indwelling Sin in Believers, Reprint 1667, Annotated by William H. Gross, (N.C.: On the Wing, 2015), Locations 1992-1993. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Ibid., loc 1994-2000.
[iii] Ibid., loc 2003.
[iv] Ibid., loc 2042-2045.
[v] Ibid., loc 2055.
[vi] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).