Welcome to week six of our book club. This week is reviewing chapter 9 of “The Pursuit of Holiness,” by Jerry Bridges.
In chapter nine, Jerry is talking about putting sin to death. We do that my mortification, which means, “to destroy the strength, vitality, or functioning of; to subdue or deaden.” To mortify sin takes a collaboration between the Holy Spirit and us in God’s strength.
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature;
sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed,
which is idolatry.”
For your journal: Consider the verse above, Colossians 3:5 and look up Romans 8:13, and write in your own words what it means to “put to death” the sinful deeds in our lives.
Here’s what Jerry says,
“But though mortification must be done by the strength and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, it is nevertheless a work which we must do. Without the Holy Spirit’s strength there will be no mortification, but without our working in His strength there will also be no mortification.”
So how does this mortification work? Jerry says the keys are conviction and commitment.
We need to start with the conviction that living a holy life in God’s will is of utmost importance in the Jesus-follower’s life. And that mortification of our sinful deeds is worth the pain and effort required. We must be persuaded that, as Hebrews 12:14 points out, “without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
We each develop conviction in specific areas of obedience. As we draw closer to God and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us and search us, He will point out areas of our hearts to work on. Another way that we become aware of commands for us to obey and things that speak to our hearts is by reading the Word of God. The Bible will remold and renew our minds. It is a good idea to commit some Scripture to memory so it can be relied upon for application to your life. We need God’s Word to become the dominant influence in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
“I have hidden Your Word in my heart
that I might not sin against You.”
Jerry says this is the way we develop conviction:
“by bringing God’s Word to bear on specific situations that arise in our lives and determining God’s will in that situation from the Word.”
There are always issues that we come across that Scripture doesn’t say anything about specifically. So what do we do? How do we determine our convictions on those issues? Jerry suggests a formula, made up of four questions, which I’ve outlined below:
“Formula: How to Know Right from Wrong”
(Based on 1 Corinthians 6:12; 8:13; 10:31)
Question #1: Is it helpful – physically, spiritually, and mentally?
Question #2: Does it bring me under its power?
Question #3: Does it hurt others?
Question #4: Does it glorify God?
In the book, Jerry uses examples of TV shows we watch – run those through these questions. If we seriously used this formula, our TV intake would go way down. However, there might be some shows that convict some people in different ways than others.
The book also talks about the example of a Christian tennis player. She was a national junior tennis champion and was so caught up in tennis that it was her whole life. She realized that she was so caught up in tennis that it was keeping her from wholly following Jesus. It was her idol. It had a certain power over her. So she stopped playing to break that power. She didn’t play again until several years later when the pull was gone, and just for recreation, with a freedom of conscience.
In these examples, the Bible doesn’t specifically talk about TV or tennis. They are morally neutral, in and of themselves. There are many positive things about tennis…and certain TV shows that can be helpful. But if they have a hold on you, a bit of obsession, or hurting others (even if not physically hurting, but maybe by neglect), or if they aren’t glorifying God, we need to bring those things before God. If you feel conviction in your heart, then He is telling you to back off.
Friends, I felt convicted about blogging. Even my blog, which is helpful spiritually and attempts to glorify God. Yes, even seemingly good things like this can be something God can convict us about. There was a time when it was bringing me under its power. I obsessed about it – topics, stats, followers, promotion; I sometimes neglected my family in order to write; it affected my attitude at times; and my motives were tainted with hints of pride that caused me to seek recognition and greatness. Social media has gone hand-in-hand with this – exact same issues. (Read: unhealthy addiction.)
I pushed those convictions away for a long time because I didn’t want to stop blogging or being on social media. But there wasn’t peace in my heart. Instead of things growing, they started dwindling. When I read the book, “What Would Jesus Post?” by Brian D. Wassom, it was the final nudge I needed to take a time out, get real with God (come clean before Him in my confession), renew my mind, get in line with God’s will, and re-do how I blog and use social media. God didn’t tell me to stop blogging or using social media. But He did things in my heart to break the power they had over me. He and I worked together, and I now have peace and freedom to blog and be socially online with pure motives and a clean conscience.
“It may not be the activity itself that determines whether something is sinful for us, but rather our response to that activity. Certainly the game of tennis is morally neutral and, under the right conditions, physically beneficial. But because this woman had made it an idol in her life, it had become sinful for her.”
So for me, I had to admit that blogging and social media had become a sin for me. Is it a sin for everyone? No, of course not. And it’s no longer a sin for me. I just have to keep my guard up, keep my motives in check, put limitations in place, keep God in first place, and run to Him for help at the first hint of temptation to fall back into old habits and thought patterns.
The next question, then, is to wonder how we handle situations where brothers and sisters in Christ differ in our convictions on certain things? We do need to be considerate of others and their convictions, even when it is something that does not give us issue, so that we don’t do something to cause them to fall back into something that’s sinful for them.
- Don’t judge those who have different convictions from our own. (Romans 14:1-4)
- Our convictions must be developed out of a sense of obedience to God. (Romans 14:5-8)
- We must be true to the convictions we have developed from obedience to God. (Romans 14:23)
If we go against our personal convictions, we are sinning, even if others have freedom in that thing. (Remember, we all have a responsibility to obey the commands God lays out in the Bible. This discussion is for the things God does not specifically address.) In my example, blogging is not a sin in itself. But for me, it became sin in the motives and attitudes I began to have and the way I went about it. It was my own issue that I needed to take up with God. I did, and have my new “marching orders” for the blog and social media use. I created a Facebook group called, Grace Bloggers, which was born out of all this. Grace Bloggers is for other bloggers who might feel the same, encountering the same types of convictions, walking the line of their blog becoming an idol, and ultimately wanting to break out of that and focus on glorifying God.
Here are some very important questions we need to ask ourselves: Am I willing to develop convictions from the Scriptures and to live by these convictions? Is there obedience we are unwilling to give? Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness? This is where the rubber meets the road, friends. Many hesitate. Many are scared. Many mistakenly think that giving something up will confine and restrict them, taking away pleasures. When in reality, obedience to God brings freedom. Along with faith, courage, and strength, it brings us to the second element Jerry suggests in the putting sin to death process: commitment.
For your journal: Write what these verses say about the importance of commitment to holiness:
Proverbs 27:20; Luke 14:33; 1 John 2:1
We have what Jerry calls the “just one more time” syndrome, where we don’t want to commit to stopping something (a sinful habit). And every time we give in to temptation, it gets harder to say no the next time.
I recently experienced this when I started watching the popular old sitcom, Friends on Netflix. I used to love watching it when it was actually on TV. Plus, I was reading a book about friendship and writing about it on Fancy Little Things, so I reasoned that it was like “research” as I observed the Friends interactions. But as I made my way through the first and second seasons, I felt conviction in my heart that Friends wasn’t what I should be watching. Between the occasional swear word, the sexually charged innuendos, the actually sleeping together out of wedlock, and such a worldly focus that is not part of my life, I felt wrong watching it. Yet at the same time, the overall storyline pulled me in and kept me wanting to find out what happened. I ignored and pushed down the feeling that I shouldn’t keep watching, and pushed on through season after season. It’s true that each time I gave in to watching another episode, it was easier to justify another one. I did watch all ten seasons to the end. Even though it was over, God kept working on my heart about it. I did finally talk to Him about it and ask forgiveness for ignoring His nudges. I learned many things through this, the biggest being that I won’t ignore His convictions and if I get tempted, to run directly to Him for help, instead of giving in. (Since then, I’ve had the chance to feel another conviction and experience giving it over to God and running to Him if I felt temptation. God and I worked together and the pull of that thing is gone. God changed my heart. Sweet freedom! This freedom and awesome closeness to God when I listen and obey is much better than any “pleasure” that a sin has.)
Our habits need to be broken, which takes commitment to a life of holiness…no exceptions. It takes a desire to live holy as we are commanded. Then it takes listening to convictions God gives us. Finally, it takes commitment to work together with God when temptation comes, to reject that thing. Then we find our habits broken, our hearts changed, and living a far greater life that is filled with so much more.
Jerry paraphrases 1 John 2:1 which says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin,” to say that John was saying, “Make it your aim not to sin.” He says he realized that he was just aiming to not sin very much. But God was calling him to a deeper level of commitment to holiness by aiming to not sin.
Learning to deny temptation is the only way we can put sin to death. It can be a slow, painful process, that is sometimes riddled with failure. But with a willing, surrendered heart, all things are possible through Him Who gives us strength.