Excerpt from ‘The Dead End Of Sexual Sin’ by Rosaria Butterfield.
“ Eventually, the concept of indwelling sin provided a window to see how God intended to replace my shame with hope. Indeed, John Owen’s understanding of indwelling sin is the missing link in our current cultural confusion about what sexual sin is — and what to do about it.
As believers, we lament with the apostle Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:19–20). But after we lament, what should we do? How should we think about sin that has become a daily part of our identity?
Owen explained with four responses.
1. Starve It
Indwelling sin is a parasite, and it eats what you do. God’s word is poison to sin when embraced by a heart made new by the Holy Spirit. You starve indwelling sin by feeding yourself deeply on his word. Sin cannot abide in his word. So, fill your hearts and minds with Scripture.
One way that I do that is singing the Psalms. Psalm-singing, for me, is a powerful devotional practice as it helps me to melt my will into God’s and memorize his word in the process. We starve our indwelling sin by reading Scripture comprehensively, in big chunks, and by whole books at a time. This allows us to see God’s providence at work in big-picture ways.
2. Call Sin What It Is
Now that it is in the house, don’t buy it a collar and a leash and give it a sweet name. Don’t “admit” sin as a harmless (but un-housebroken) pet. Instead, confess it as an evil offense and put it out! Even if you love it! You can’t domesticate sin by welcoming it into your home.
Don’t make a false peace. Don’t make excuses. Don’t get sentimental about sin. Don’t play the victim. Don’t live by excuse-righteousness. If you bring the baby tiger into your house and name it Fluffy, don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and Fluffy is eating you alive. That is how sin works, and Fluffy knows her job. Sometimes sin lurks and festers for decades, deceiving the sinner that he really has it all under control, until it unleashes itself on everything you built, cherished, and loved.
Be wise about your choice sins and don’t coddle them. And remember that sin is not ever “who you are” if you are in Christ. In Christ, you are a son or daughter of the King; you are royalty. You do battle with sin because it distorts your real identity; you do not define yourself by these sins that are original with your consciousness and daily present in your life.
3. Extinguish Indwelling Sin by Killing It
Sin is not only an enemy, says Owen. Sin is at enmity with God. Enemies can be reconciled, but there is no hope for reconciliation for anything at enmity with God. Anything at enmity with God must be put to death. Our battles with sin draw us closer in union with Christ. Repentance is a new doorway into God’s presence and joy.
Indeed, our identity comes from being crucified and resurrected with Christ:
We have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin. (Romans 6:4–6)
Satan will use our indwelling sin as blackmail, declaring that we cannot be in Christ and sin in heart or body like this. In those moments, we remind him that he is right about one thing only: our sin is indeed sin. It is indeed transgression against God and nothing else.
But Satan is dead wrong about the most important matter. In repentance, we stand in the risen Christ. And the sin that we have committed (and will commit) is covered by his righteousness. But fight we must. To leave sin alone, says Owen, is to let sin grow — “not to conquer it is to be conquered by it.”
4. Daily Cultivate Your New Life in Christ
God does not leave us alone to fight the battle in shame and isolation. Instead, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the soul of each believer is “vivified.” “To vivicate” means to animate, or to give life to. Vivification complements mortification (to put to death), and by so doing, it allows us to see the wide angle of sanctification, which includes two aspects:
1) Deliverance from the desire of those choice sins, experienced when the grace of obedience gives us the “expulsive power of a new affection” (to quote Thomas Chalmers).
2) Humility over the fact that we daily need God’s constant flow of grace from heaven, and that no matter how sin tries to delude us, hiding our sin is never the answer. Indeed, the desire to be strong enough in ourselves, so that we can live independently of God, is the first sin, the essence of sin, and the mother of all sin.