Not all sin is the same. While every sin places you under the wrath of God, and while any sin is sufficient to create an eternal chasm between God and man, not every sin is identical. In chapter 9 of his work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen wants you to think about that besetting sin in your life to consider if it is an “ordinary” sin, or if it is one that is particularly deadly and that, therefore, requires something more than the usual pattern of putting sin to death. The deadliness of a sin is not related so much to the category of that sin, but to how deeply-rooted it is in your life, and to how you have responded to God as he has revealed it to you.
Here are seven marks of a deeply deadly sin.
1. Your sin is deep-rooted and habitual.
There may be some sins that have been in your life so long and with such prevalence that you no longer find them shocking or particularly bothersome. Your mind and conscience have grown hard to the sin and it is now deeply ingrained in your thoughts and habits. You, my friend, are in a dangerous place when you have grown ambivalent to that sin. “Unless some extraordinary course be taken, such a person has no ground in the world to expect that his latter end shall be peace.”
The gospel offers no comfort to those who slow-dance with their favorite sin.
2. You proclaim God’s approval, but without battling sin.
You know that a certain sin is prevalent in your life, and yet you continue to proclaim that you are accepted in Christ. Even though God has revealed that sin to you, and even though you have made no real attempt to put it to death, still you recount God’s grace to you in the gospel and still you take comfort in the peace of the gospel. Owen wants you to know that you cannot preach God’s peace to yourself while you embrace that one great sin. The gospel offers no comfort to those who slow-dance with their favorite sin.
3. You apply grace and mercy to a sin you do not intend to put to death.
You cannot proclaim that the gospel has covered your sin if you do not intend to battle that sin. “To apply mercy to a sin not vigorously mortified is to fulfill the end of the flesh upon the gospel.” Sometimes your heart longs for peace with God, but at the same time it longs for the satisfaction of that sin. In these cases you may rashly look to the gospel to assuage your conscience even though you have no intention of stopping your sin. But the gospel does not allow you to apply God’s mercy and grace to a sin you love and intend to cling to.
4. Sin is frequently successful in seducing your desires.
There are times when your heart takes delight in a sin, even though you do not actually commit that sin outwardly. If a sin becomes your delight and has a great hold upon your soul, it is a dangerous sign of a particularly deadly sin. This is true even if you do not commit that sin. If your delight is in sin, not God, your soul is being drawn away from your Savior.
5. You argue against sin only out of fear of impending punishment.
It is a sign that sin has taken significant possession of your will when you argue against sin or fail to commit sin only because you fear punishment. In this case you do not delight to do God’s will, but only fear the consequences of disobedience. A true Christian battles sin out of a desire to please God and to find his delight in God.
6. You realize that God is allowing one sin in your life to make you aware of another sin.
There are times when God allows you to battle one sin in order to expose a deeper sin. “A new sin may be permitted, as well as a new affliction sent, to bring an old sin to remembrance.” In such a case God is exercising fatherly discipline. If God is disciplining you by allowing another sin or by bringing some kind of affliction, he is sending a message about the hardness or your heart and the depth of your sin. Heed the warning!
7. You have hardened your heart against God as he has exposed your sin before you.
God graciously reveals your sin through his Word, through conscience, through other Christians and through many other means. When he reveals your sin, he also prompts you to take action against it. If you continually reject his help and harden your heart against that sin, you are in a dangerous, dangerous state. “Unspeakable are the evils which attend such a frame of heart. Every particular warning to a man in such an estate is an inestimable mercy; how then does he despise God in them who holds out against them! And what infinite patience is this in God, that he does not cast off such a one, and swear in his wrath that he shall never enter his rest!”