The Gospel Project editor Trevin Wax interviewed pastor and writer Jared Wilson. Wax asked,
Why are Christians tempted toward sin-management instead of sin-killing? What’s the difference?
Jared Wilson answered:
Sin-killing is more painful and requires more self-honesty. Any schmuck can change his behavior. The Pharisees did. Buddhists do. The unsaved working the program in addiction recovery can do that. But it’s the desire, something much more elusive, much deeper, more rooted in our interior life and worship-wiring, that has to be fixed.
It’s the difference between mowing over weeds and actually uprooting them. And it’s a pain to pull weeds; we’d all just rather mow them down. Over and over and over again. It takes some grit to manage our sin — and then we can feel proud of ourselves — but it takes grace to kill sin.
Sin management versus sin-killing. It is a convicting notion, and one that has stayed with me for a few days, mainly because I’ve been sin managing instead of sin killing. I started thinking about mowing over versus uprooting. These thoughts unearthed a memory.
My husband used to hate dandelions. He had a virulent hatred of them, one of the only things in life that he didn’t like. Or didn’t like enough so that he was instantly moved to action.
|Blackwell’s Herbarium, 1757
We didn’t have a lush yard. It was surrounded by towering pine trees, which drop acidic needles that spoil the soil for grass. It was on a slope, which helped any loose soil run off. It also bounded a lake, so the soil was sandy. At most there might be five or six dandelions cropping up, but whether there was five or or five hundred, the moment a yellow petal reared its head above the ground, my husband would launch off the couch and warrior-like go out to slay those persistent mangy weeds.
He had a special screwdriver that was too twisted and blunt to use for its intended purpose. He would grab it and march out to the offending weed. He’d bend over and jab the long screwdriver next to the stem, deep into the ground, He would use one hand to lift the dandelion and use the other to wiggle the screwdriver under the taproot. He’d grab it up and hold it aloft as if he was David brandishing Goliath’s head.
One reason he, and all people who have dealt with dandelions on the lawn know, is that they are almost impossible to eradicate. The Ortho lawn maintenance company says of dandelions,
Kill Dandelions in the Lawn: Even the best cared for lawns will have an occasional dandelion. They are difficult to completely eliminate, and the entire plant (root and all) of the dandelion needs to be removed or they can grow right back.
Kill Visible Dandelions The best way to attack dandelions is to kill the whole plant, taproot and all, and then keep new weeds from establishing themselves in your lawn. Don’t hand-pull them, as they will grow right back unless the tap root (often 2-3 feet deep) is completely removed.
When I mowed the lawn, it was more like pushing the mower between desert-like dunes to reach the few tufts of grass weakly standing in clumps. But even in our scraggly yard where it was tough to maintain grass or flowers, dandelions grew easily. The few my husband didn’t uproot, I’d mow them over but then they’d pop up in a day or two, all new and fresh.
Puritan John Owen said of killing sin,
Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, (Mark 9:47)
When we are drawn into sin, we are drawn away from Christ. When we sin, we are committing adultery with our Groom standing right there, watching. Sin is serious.
The dandelions-as-sin motif isn’t new or glitzy or insightful, it’s just an apt metaphor for the very important concept of sin killing vs. sin managing. Because you know what happens when you only manage sin. It will soon run away from you. The Satanic Sirens sing a sweet song … But just because I’ve mowed over the dandelion doesn’t mean it’s gone. It’s just easier to think it’s gone, because I can’t see it.
You know that ‘sin is crouching at our door, its desire is to have you, but you must rule over it.’ (Genesis 4:7).
How do we rule over it? But submitting to the One who has already won His victory over sin. Do it in these ways, as Sinclair Ferguson advises in his essay “How to Mortify Sin”, here. In summary, Ferguson wrote in part:
Turn to the Scriptures
Remember our new identity in Christ
Expose the workings of sin in every area of our lives
Acknowledge what sin really is: sin. Not a mistake, or a little problem or any other euphemism.
And so on. Please read the essay, it’s short.
Ferguson said, “You cannot “mortify” sin without the pain of the kill. There is no other way!” How true this is.
The sirens of sin crouch at our door, trying to convince us that a mowed over sin is just as good as an uprooted or plucked out sin.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
Hacking Agag to Pieces
What is mortification of the flesh?
Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers By John Owen (1616-1683)