Getting Sin “Under Control,” or “Putting Sin to Death”

July 19, 2010

I’ve been listening to a lot of sermons by Matt Chandler on Colossians recently – partly because my brother suggested him to me a while ago and I am just now getting around to him, and partly because I live in Dallas now, so I sort of feel obligated. Either way, I have benefited much from what he has said. In one of his sermons he speaks about dealing with sin in your daily life. If you’ve listened to his work, you know that he talks a lot about “behavior modification” and how that simply won’t do for the Christian. So in this particular sermon he gave a great analogy about how we view sin (or how we ought to view sin).

He’s speaking about “being raised with Christ” and how we are dead to sin — but we, as Christians, don’t really really see it that way. We have an almost “humane” way of dealing with sin. We tend to want to “manage” or “control” our sin, rather than kill it. It’s like we treat it as a pet — we try to domesticate it and put it to our use. He suggests that this is because we don’t really want to get rid of it all, because we often want to go back to it when life gets difficult. So we just want to keep it in order until we need it, but we don’t want to mortify it. But Scripture encourages us to “mortify” our sin, to literally kill it (Col 3:5). We are exhorted to not give it even a chance, to not stop when we have it tamed, but keep mortifying it until it is dead.

Chandler shares about watching When Animals Attack while he was on a business trip once, and likens the scene to how we approach sin. Apparently some people were shooting a commercial with a lion and a model laying right up next to it. But the situation went awry very quickly, because the lion attacked the woman. Which actually shocks most of the people watching, because they think it’s crazy that this lion is attacking her. And Chandler says, “No! It’s a lion! It’s an apex creature. That’s what it does! It’s hungry!”

I think that is a vivid picture of how we too often treat sin. We don’t want it to be out of control and wild, so we think we can “tame” or “control” it by making it our pet. And so we eventually get our sin under control enough to where it lies down for a while, and we think we’re good. But then it attacks us “randomly” and we are shocked! We think: “this is crazy!” No it’s not! That’s what sin does! It wants to kill us. It’s like having a hungry lion next to us (Scripture even compares Satan to a lion “seeking someone to devour”). It’s foolish for us to let it be, to think that we can control it or tame it and keep it around.

The truth is, we need to mortify it. Daily. We need to put it to death. We can’t fence it in. We can’t teach it to sit, lay, and roll over. We must be daily mortifying it, giving it no chance. To quote again what John Owen says, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” It is no light thing to deal with sin. He further adds, “It is impossible to fix bounds to sin.” There’s no taming it. That is foolishness of the greatest kind.

So why don’t we kill it? I think, perhaps, one reason is that we don’t view it this way. We somehow think we can contain it. We think that somehow it doesn’t need to be killed. We think it isn’t really that wild, and that we’re able to fence it in. But I think the other reason that we don’t kill it is because of the pain it involves. We’re not serious enough about getting rid of sin, because most of the time it hurts us.

As I was listening to Chandler’s sermon I was reminded of the beautiful image C.S. Lewis gives of sin in his short novel, The Great Divorce. (If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest you go and do so right now — it is a quick read and you will not regret having done so.) The image he gives in the 11th chapter is of a man with a lizard sitting on his shoulder, constantly whispering to him. The man seems sort of annoyed with the lizard and apologizes for his incessant chattering, and he is about to excuse himself because of the commotion until an angel comes and asks, “Would you like me to make him quiet?”

The man responds, “Of course I would.” And so the angel tells him that he will “kill” the lizard and proceeds to do just that. But the man stops him because he’s getting hurt in the process. The angel then asks again, “Don’t you want him killed?” To which the man responds, “You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.” He later adds, “I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because…well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”

The angel continues to ask if he may kill it, but the man squirms and says that it can be dealt with later. He even interjects at one point, saying, “Look! It’s gone to sleep of it’s own accord. I’m sure it will be alright now.” The angel again asks, “May I kill it?”

“Honestly… I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now,” he responds. “In fact… I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be silly to do it now.”

But the angel keeps pressing him, saying that there is no other time for it. And again the man stops him because it is hurting him. To which the angel replies, “I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.” Then there is more dialogue back and forth about waiting till later. The lizard even gets into the conversation, promising that, “I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again.” And so the man wavers back and forth again for a while.

Isn’t that how we deal with sin?

Sometimes as I read that chapter, it’s a little too poignant for me. It hits home. I do this too often. We do this too often! We think because sin is “asleep” that it won’t hurt us. We think that it’s something we can “keep in order” or “under control.” We just want it fenced in or “quiet” because, “well, it’s so damned embarrassing.” And we buy into the lie that it won’t be as bad the next time, or it won’t really happen again once we’ve got it under control.

But it’s a lie! It needs to be killed! It won’t be tamed! It won’t be controlled! Sin is a roaring lion that will kill us. It is a wild beast that will not be mastered, but must be put to death. We cannot keep living as if we can make it our pet simply to avoid the embarrassment of it. And though it may be painful, brutally so, we must mortify it daily! Are we willing to be so “violent” (as Chandler puts it) with sin? Or are we willing to simply try and manage our behavior — to keep things under wraps, as it were? Are we content to simply make sure the lion just doesn’t get out of our fence and cause problems too much? Or are we willing to take sin seriously? To deal with sin seriously. To put it to death. Daily. Whatever the cost. Are we willing to do that?

I certainly hope so…

In the end, the man lets the angel kill the lizard, even though it is very painful for him. And to his surprise, the lizard becomes a beautiful stallion that he is then able to ride upon. (That is a beautiful picture, that perhaps is for another post…) Oh that we would all be willing to do the same, to put our sin to death so that we might understand the beauty of Lewis’ image, or more importantly, the beauty of being dead to sin and raised with Christ

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