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Exterminating the Pests

I recently had to call the exterminator. My father-in-law was
visiting and thought he spotted termites. I tried not to panic, hoped insurance
would cover the costs, and had someone come inspect the house. Thankfully, no
termites. That was the good news. The bad news is that we do have carpenter ants.
And, based on this fella's look in our crawl space, a few mice to boot.
When I got home that day, Holly (my wife) was ready to sell the house. She
doesn't do mice. So, now I'm on a quarterly pest control plan and
am a few hundred dollars poorer.
Dealing with pests is annoying. I don't have time for this kind of stuff.
Why did God make ants and mice anyway?
But not dealing with pests is dangerous. Carpenter ants (along with termites) eat
wood and can cause serious structural damage to a house. And mice carry diseases. If
you don't exterminate the pests, they just might exterminate you. Or make
you really sick. Or cost you a lot of money in home repairs later on. Better deal
with the pesky pests now than ignore them and pay for it later.
It kind of reminds me of what a seventeenth-century theologian named John Owen once
said about sin. "Be killing sin or sin will be killing you." Sins
are the termites of the soul, the carpenter ants that eat away at our hearts, our
inner lives, the subterranean parts of our very selves. Sins are like mice: they may
seem harmless enough when you look at them behind glass in the pet store, but they
also carry deadly disease.
Having to deal with sin in my life is sometimes annoying. I don't
particularly enjoy confession and repentance. But not dealing with sin is dangerous.
And the Apostle Paul tells us that they must be exterminated: "If you live
according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the
misdeeds of the body, you will live" (Rom. 8:12, NIV). Be killing sin, or
sin will be killing you.
So, how do you kill sin?
Look to the Cross
Well, first we must go to the place where sin has already been slain: the cross of
Christ. "'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the
cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you
have been healed'" (1 Pet. 2:24, NIV). Or, to quote John Owen
again, "There is no death of sin without the death of Christ." The
only way you can really kill a sin is through faith in Jesus, who has already died
for your sins on the cross.
Get to the Root
Next, it's important that we get to the root of sin in the heart. Jesus
taught that wickedness and sin come from the heart (Matt. 15:18-20) and Paul exhorts
us to go after not just sinful deeds, but evil desires (Col. 3:5). To draw on the
pest illustration again, it's not enough to just stomp on the ants when
they appear. Our exterminator sprayed the perimeter of our house, our trees, and
more. This was evidently the best chance of killing off the nest. Our sinful actions
always spring from a deeper nest of disordered affections, sinful motives and evil
desires. To kill sin, you have to go deep.
Make No Provision for the Flesh
Of course, that doesn't mean you can ignore the behaviors themselves. Paul,
in fact, tells us to "make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its
desires" (Rom. 13:14, ESV). If you struggle with lust, you may need to
cancel your Sports Illustrated subscription before February. If the temptation is
drunkenness, then stay out of bars. Or, if it's gluttony (and almost no one
ever talks about that weighty sin), maybe you need to avoid fast food restaurants
and the snack aisle in Walmart. But whatever your sinful tendency is,
you've got to pay attention to where and when you're tempted and
avoid those times and places.
Depend on the Spirit
But don't think you can exterminate sin on your own. You can't.
That's why Paul says that it's "by the Spirit"
that we put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:12). This doesn't
mean no effort on our part is required. It means, rather, that all of our effort
must be dependent effort. It's kind of like parachuting. You can't
parachute unless you jump. But you still have to trust the parachute to work. In the
same way, you and I must act. But we act in reliance on the Spirit's power
to carry us.
Remember it's an Ongoing Battle
Finally, realize that this will be an ongoing battle. I can expect at least
quarterly visits from my exterminator, and, if ants show up inside my house, I will
have to call them back sooner. They're going to keep coming back.
Therefore, aggressive action is required. Left unchecked, sins will also creep back
into our lives. In fact, quarterly bouts of repentance will be far too little in
this fight. The pests of sin have to be hunted and killed daily. Aggressive action
is required.
Brian G. Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles,
Michigan. Brian has been married to Holly since 1996 and they have four children. He
is the author of Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change
(Shepherd Press, 2010). And Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin
(Cruciform Press, 2011).
Brian blogs at Light and Heat. Follow him on Twitter @brianghedges