Andrew Henderson is leading a weekly study through John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin at his site, The Puritans Society. Thus, I read chapter 7 today (alas, a week behind) and was moved by the dangers of pressing lost people to fight individual sins. Take some time and read the chapter here, especially noting what Owen calls the “desperate evils” that accompany efforts of convicted but unsaved people to attain mere moral reformation. It’s vital for anyone who interacts with lost people.
Here’s the comment I made at Andrew’s site:
What sobering thoughts Owen provides! If I am aiming at “reform” by which I urge teens to abstinence, drunks to sobriety, deadbeat dads to attentiveness, gossips to silence, etc., I’m doing great damage. As Owen says (on my page 36 and following) there are three “desperate evils” that result:
- Sinners are distracted from their chief business—seeking conversion.
- Sinners who succeed at reformation have their consciences eased illegitimately and made comfortable and self-righteous in their lost state. (He later compares this to helping an enemy out of a field and into a castle. What a great picture.)
- Sinners who fail at reformation lose hope that the gospel can help them at all.
To cite another of his illustrations, we need to stop telling men to mend a hole in their house’s wall even as we fail to tell them that the whole house is on fire.
I fear that we’ve done great harm in calling lost people to live like Christians. And it happens a lot—at our schools, our camps, and our churches. Sinners need to be shown that their great need is their sin, not their sins.
Great, great chapter!
Here’s the idea unpacked and illustrated: If I convince a lost coworker not to curse (or smoke, or whatever), I run the risk (a) of succeeding only at that (so he’ll be the only non-cussing person in hell), (b) of helping him succeed and thus fortifying his self-righteous neglect of Christ, or (c) of discouraging him with his failed attempt. He doesn’t need my encouragement to clean up his language. He needs me to point him to Christ for salvation. Anything less isn’t just an insufficient goal—it’s actually undermining the only sufficient goal, which is conversion. Mere improvement of morals is worse than useless; it’s harmful!
Bottom line: Don’t help damn people through your efforts to improve them! Just give them the gospel.
Filed under: Devotional Thoughts, Evangelism, Fundamentalism, John Owen, Legalism, Ministry Musings, The Gospel | Tagged: Dead Religion, John Owen, Legalism, Moral Reformation, On the Mortification of Sin, The Gospel |