SOURCE: Adapted from a work by John Piper
The battle plan
The link between the cross and the conquered sin in my life is my Holy-Spirit-empowered will. And that empowering by the Spirit is blood bought. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:5-6).
In other words, God intends that part of our experience of sanctification be the conscious, willed, opposition to specific sins in our lives. I only say “part” of our experience of sanctification because this is not the whole work of sanctification. In some areas of sin, God simply takes away the desire and the temptation is gone, and we don’t have to fight it any more.
Now here is what God showed [me . . .]: For decades I have applied this battle plan to sexual temptation but hardly at all to the sins of selfishness, anger, self-pity, blaming, and sullenness. I have engaged my will head-on with sexual lust. I have heard Jesus say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). Nobody spontaneously tears out his eye. That is an act of will overcoming all kinds of natural disinclination. That’s what I do when any illicit sexual thought tries to gain the ascendancy in my mind.
I go on the attack with A.N.T.H.E.M.:
- Say NO! within five seconds.
- TURN to something magnificent, like Christ crucified.
- HOLD the pure thing in the mind until the temptation is gone.
- ENJOY the greater pleasure of the blood-bought promises of God.
- MOVE on to meaningful Christ-exalting activity.
There is nothing passive in my will when the lion of lust comes out of the bushes. I don’t lie down and wait for a miracle. I act the miracle. I will explain that phrase in just a moment.
What I realized was that I was not applying any of this same gospel vigilance—what Peter O’Brien calls “continuous, sustained, strenuous effort”—against my most besetting sins. I was strangely passive, victim-like.
I had the unarticulated sense (mistakenly) that these sins (unlike sexual lust) should be defeated more spontaneously—with less direct use of my will. It should all happen naturally from the inside out. And if I tried to attack them with my will the way I did sexual lust, it would produce external conformity, not internal change. But I never let that thought stop me from attacking lust.
The text that broke though my inconsistency was Philippians 2:12-13.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so
now, not only as in my presence but much more in my
absence, work out your own salvation with fear and
trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and
to work for his good pleasure.
Why should there be “fear and trembling” as I attack my sin and bring about salvation from self-pity?
The reason given in the text is not a threat. It’s a gift.
Work to kill your sin, and will to kill your sin, and do it with fear and trembling because God Almighty—Maker of heaven and earth, Redeemer, Justifier, Sustainer, Father, Lover—is so close to you that your working and willing is his working and willing.
Tremble at this breathtaking thought.
God Almighty is in you. God is the one in you willing. God is the one in you working. Your “continuous, sustained, strenuous” effort is not only being carried out in the presence of the all-holy God, but is the very continuous, sustained, strenuous effort of God himself.
I am not waiting for a miracle. I am acting a miracle.
God is the decisive cause, but my will is the agent. And it becomes the agent in obedience to the command “work!” For in your working, God is working.
This is an excerpt from the revised edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (B&H Publishing Group, 2013).