Thursday, July 12, 2007

Don't Focus on the Externals

John Owen warns about attempting to deal with the sins of those who are not regenerate:

Some casuists (those who rigidly apply ethical rules) among ourselves, who, overlooking the necessity of regeneration, do avowedly give this for direction to all sorts of persons that complain of any sin or lust, that they should vow against it, at least for a season, a month or so, seem to have a scantling of light in the mystery of the gospel, much like that of Nicodemus when he came first to Christ. They bid men vow to abstain from their sin for a season. This commonly makes their lust more impetuous.
Earlier Owen says that preaching against sin--however good that may be in itself--if it does not lead to regeneration first is

like the beating of an enemy in an open field, and driving him into an impregnable castle, not to be prevailed against.
What make these words from Owen particularly challenging is that he addresses them to those who are "preachers of the word." To them he says

It is their duty to plead with men about sins, to lay load on particular sins, but always remember that it be done with that which is the proper end of law and gospel--that is, that they make use of the sin they speak against to the discovery of the state and condition wherein the sinner is; otherwise, haply, they may work men to formality and hypocrisy, but little of the true end of preaching the gospel will be brought about. It will not avail to beat a man off from his drunkenness into a sober formality.
I fear that many brothers who are involved in Christian legalism unknowingly find this to be the effect of their preaching in the ears of many who hear them. (Quotes from Overcoming Sin and Temptation, pp. 84-86).

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