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Peter Boland



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Killing Sin Revisited
I recently wrote a blog called, “Killing Sin at the Root.” In short, I said that to kill sin at the root is to lay the axe to every thought and desire which is not in perfect conformity to Christ. We do this by faith, laying hold of the promises of God which were obtained by the blood of Christ, and then applying those promises to every corrupt desire which creeps up in our heart.

Now, that is an easy thing to say. It is no great challenge to write a good blog on killing sin. The great challenge is actually doing it. If killing sin were as easy as writing a blog about it, I would glow daily with the glory of Christ shinning forth from my face as the noonday sun…but I don’t. Tragically, my sin often casts dark shadows on the matchless glory of Christ.

A Loose Axe Head
While the matter of killing sin will never be easy, there is at least one practical habit that will eventually give us some slow progress in sanctification. That habit is reading and meditating on the words of Scripture daily, until it is stored up in our heart. As Psalm 119:11 says,

“I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.”

If we are negligent in this habit, all else is vain. So, if we must lay the axe at the root of our desires in order to effectively kill sin, what happens if we are swinging at the root with a loose axe head? In Deuteronomy 19:5 it is written,

“…when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live.”

That “old man” of sin won’t be killed with a loose axe head, but rather, your neighbor (who you are commanded to love as you love yourself) will become the victim of your neglect. The axe head which must remain sharp and secured is the habit of reading and meditating on the words of Scripture daily. However, here in Deuteronomy there is a certain level of culpability. If the man does not know his axe head is loose, he may flee and live because his sin was unintentional.

Like a Bull in a China Shop
It is one thing if a new believer accidentally “kills a man” with his loose axe head, or if an older Christian goes through a temporary season where he is providentially hindered from proper axe maintenance, but it is a whole other thing when a believer knows that he ought to daily meditate on the words of Scripture and neglects it. He is culpable for his crime of neglect, even more so then a man would be culpable for turning a bull loose in a china shop. Your sinful nature is much more dangerous than a wild bull, and the stakes are much higher than fine china. In Exodus 21:28-29 we read,

“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.”

Here we see how culpability works in the Bible. If a man was truly ignorant of the violent tendency of his ox, though the ox still must die, the man may live. However, if a man knew the violent nature of his ox, and due to his negligence the ox ends up killing another man, both the man and the ox must die.

So what happens when an older believer knows they ought to be daily maintaining their axe, and thus killing sin, but willfully neglects daily reading and meditation on the Word of God? He deserves to die. There is no excuse. That man is fully culpable before God.

A High Hand
Lest someone think I am guilty of over-spiritualizing with the loose axe head and the ox, the Bible makes this truth perfectly plain when it speaks of sinning with “a high hand.” In Numbers 15:27-31 we read,

“If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”

These are some of the most terrifying words in all of Scripture. When someone has “despised the word of the LORD,” there is no atonement for them—“that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” May we take heed to this stern warning.

Our Daily Business
So what is the point of all of this as it relates to killing sin? If we would make it our daily business to be killing sin, then we must first make it our daily business to abide in the Word of God until the Word of God abides in us. George Muller said,

“I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it…What is the food of the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and…not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.”

He says,

“Now in brotherly love and affection I would give a few hints to my younger fellow-believers as to the way in which to keep up spiritual enjoyment. It is absolutely needful in order that happiness in the Lord may continue, that the Scriptures be regularly read. These are God’s appointed means for the nourishment of the inner man…Consider it, and ponder over it…Especially we should read regularly through the Scriptures, consecutively, and not pick out here and there a chapter. If we do, we remain spiritual dwarfs. I tell you so affectionately. For the first four years after my conversion I made no progress, because I neglected the Bible. But when I regularly read on through the whole with reference to my own heart and soul, I directly made progress. Then my peace and joy continued more and more. Now I have been doing this for 47 years. I have read through the whole Bible about 100 times and I always find it fresh when I begin again. Thus my peace and joy have increased more and more.”

However, this daily habit of reading and meditating on Scripture is not merely about knowing words written in a book, it is about knowing and communing with the triune God through his written Word. In John Piper’s biography on Robert Murray McCheyne he wrote,

“He has much to say about the disciplines of meditating on God’s word and praying. But we need to realize from the outset that all of these disciplines were designed to cultivate not occasional, but constant, communion with Christ. He did not think of his morning devotions as ‘laying up a stock of grace for the rest of the day, for manna will corrupt if laid by—but rather with the view of “giving the eye the habit of looking upward all the day, and drawing down gleams from the reconciled countenance.”’

In other words, all of McCheyne’s scheduled disciplines aimed at fixing the habit in his heart of living in constant communion with Christ. He had formed the habit of rising early to read the Scriptures and pray, and he tried to maintain this to the end of his life.”

Pick a Time
Now, Robert Murray McCheyne and many others often emphasize spending time alone with God in his word in the morning. However, while this is good (and may indeed be best), this is not always possible.

I must confess to my own shame that what has caused me to write this is something of my own struggle over the past year and a half. Our family relocated to a new city, and with that came a new job with a long commute. I am not a morning person…at all. Furthermore, my body requires 7-8 hours of sleep or I turn into a twisted and deranged man-eating werewolf. I still read the Bible daily during this season of life, but it was not as it was before. I was fortunate to have 30 minutes to pray and read daily. During those 30 short minutes I was half awake and half watching the clock so I wouldn’t be late for work.

Recently I decided to find a new job closer to home, and this was a large part of the reason. With this new job I will not be able to read at all in the mornings due to the early start time and my genetic make up, but I will have substantially more time to read and meditate on the Scriptures—and I will be able to do so without worrying about time and staring at the clock.

All of that to say, pick a time that works for you. It may not be your first hour of the day, but pick your best available hour or two of the day. If you know you ought to read the Scripture and commune with God, and that this is necessary for your sanctification, find a time when you can daily abide in the Word of God until the Word of God abides in you. In doing so you will find increasing joy, peace, and happiness in Christ.

Start Maintaining Your Axe
If your current job and circumstances don’t allow sufficient daily time to spend alone with God in his Word, then pray and diligently seek whatever changes you must make, lest you be guilty of sinning with a high hand and despising the Word of the Lord. Think with biblical priorities. Daily communing with God and killing sin ought to be the top priority in your life. If we fail in these two things, though we might outwardly appear successful before men, we will inevitably fail in every area of life before God.

I have been through seasons in my life, and I can certainly testify by experience that there is a direct correlation between the amount of quality time I spend alone with God daily in his Word, and the over all joy and holiness in my every day life. Whenever my time in the Word has been deficient, my soul has been sick and seriously lacking in bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Killing sin with a loose axe head just doesn’t work. It’s time to start maintaining your axe.

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