Thursday, June 6, 2013

another dead guy named John

After nearly a year, I finally finished Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  The book.  Unfortunately not the actual overcoming of sin and temptation.  That would have been way more awesome. You see the complete ripoff of the book is that you don't actually overcome anything.  In fact, in the last few pages of the book he says that when the law exposes the indwelling sinful nature (see Romans 7), that sin
...finding its rule disturbed, it grows more outrageously oppressive and doubles the bondage of their souls.... yea - It is so far from being conquered that it is only enraged.  The whole work of the law does not only provoke and enrage sin, and cause it, as it has opportunity, to put out its strength with more power, and vigor, and force than formerly.  
So you get through the whole freaking book before he drops the bomb.  Oh by the way, if you try to be holy, you're just going to anger your sinful nature and it's going to lash out like an enraged heroin addict intent only one satisfying his unquenchable lust for more.  Lovely.  The book should come with a warning label acknowledging what you're getting yourself into because that kind of crazy redoubled psychotic attack is not what I signed up for.

I've always read Romans 7: 8-11 with some bewilderment.
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from the law, sin was dead.  Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.
It's like when I watch the news giving every detail of how a terrorist attack or school shooting happened, and I'm thinking, "awesome, you've just told a bunch of angry, imbalanced crazy people out there how to carry out their psychotic impulses and become famous."  In a similar manner, it's like the law is an instruction manual on how to sin, and as I read it my sinful nature says, "Oh, wow, I hadn't thought of that yet.  That sounds like a great idea."  And off it runs with even more enthusiasm than before.

Moreover, Owen points out that any attempts to suppress the sinful nature through our own power simply restrain certain types of violent eruptions of sin, diverting the flow of sin to other outlets while leaving the root of sin intact and flourishing.  Not so encouraging really.  Then you get all inspired because there is this great passage about how only grace can change the heart and remove the poison and fierceness put there by the sinful nature.  And then the book ends, and I'm like, "Um. Excuse me, but you can't just end there. That is completely unacceptable."  But apparently he didn't listen to me.

Because how does that grace thing work?  ACK!

Good thing I picked up a copy of The Letters of John Newton.  After following one of those random Facebook rabbit trails (don't judge, you know you do it too), I happened across a mention of Newton's Letters as a great collection of writings on personal holiness.  John Newton, most famous for authoring the hymn Amazing Grace, was a key figure in the Great Awakening in England during the 18th century.  He saw his letter writing as one of his greatest ministries.  I haven't even started the letters, and I'm already hooked by the introduction:
...true Evangelical religion produces intense exercise of soul.  Where the life of God has been implanted in the soul, a warfare begins between the good and the evil, between the new nature and the old.  If there is one thing outstanding in Newton's letters, it is, perhaps, the happy combination between spiritual mourning and spiritual rejoicing...  The purpose of God in showing believers the evil of their own hearts is to make them prize more highly the grace and all-sufficiency of Jesus.  In this way they go through life "sorrowful yet always rejoicing."
Wow.  It couldn't be more perfect.  Somehow the mix of mourning and rejoicing, of sin and holiness, works together for my sanctification.  I'm excited about embarking on this strange quest.  Even though I have no idea where it is headed, I can hear a voice calling my name.  I know that voice, and I'm both terrified and thrilled to follow it.  So here's to eavesdropping on the centuries-old conversations of another dead guy named John.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great description of the reality we all live, Wendy. I look forward to comments on Bunyan's letters. I have been thinking of rereading Owen's Communion With God to follow the way h e deals with our union/communion with Christ as the power and motivation for overcoming sin. Because I need genuine desire and power that is outside of myself to walk with Christ.