7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
I’ve been preaching through Genesis for some time now. In the course of working expositionally through the book, I’ve stopped three times now to preach topically on different key issues raised by the text.
First, in light of God’s commission to Adam to “work and keep” the Garden (2:15) I preached a sermon on what the entire bible has to say about work.
Second, in light of Genesis 2:18-25, the description of the marriage of Adam and Eve, the first ever wedding on earth, I preached two sermons on what the bible has to say about marriage.
And third, beginning last week, in light of the sins of Cain recorded in first 16 verses of chapter 4, I preached the first of two sermons on sin. In particular, I began to answer the question of what Christians ought to do when we find sin in our lives. The short version, according to the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:13), is that we need to kill it so that it doesn’t kill us. I argued that the first step to doing so (killing sin) is in gaining an understanding of the nature and process of our sin. Specifically, I pointed out five aspects of the way sin “worked” in Cain: 1) Cain was born with a sinful nature, 2) Cain allowed something other than God to be first in his heart, 3) Cain’s sin grew as he was confronted with his sin, 4) Cain’s sin became increasingly irrational, and 5) Cain’s growing, irrational sin created entirely new desires of his flesh.
And yet, as I mentioned last week, that’s not enough. It’s not enough to simply know how sin “works”. Just as it isn’t enough to know what’s broken in a car or what’s wrong with a sick person, it isn’t enough to simply know how sin corrupts. There’s another step. We also need to know how to fix the car, heal the sickness, and kill the sin. But again, what does it mean to kill sin? Or, how do we do it? Answering that question is the very practical point of today’s sermon. Let’s pray that God would cause us to understand his Word and trust in his promises and insodoing empower us to kill the sin that is in us.
THE MORTIFICATION OF SIN
Where you find sin in your life confess it to God, confess it to anyone you’ve sinned against, do whatever you can to cut off access to your sin, and stop doing it. The bible talks like that regularly. In very simple and unmistakable terms the Apostle Paul commanded those in the Corinthians church to “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34). On one hand, then, making it more complicated than that has led many to unnecessarily continue on in sin. On the other hand though, at best, those steps can only hold our sin at bay. But God’s Word calls us to something more than merely holding our sin at bay. It calls us to kill it.
In just a couple of minutes we’re going to get as practical as I know how to get in a sermon on killing sin. Before we get there, though, I want to lay just a little bit more of a biblical foundation. Specifically, I want to help you see an important connection between God’s words to Cain in Genesis 4:7 and Paul’s words to the Romans in Romans 8:13. By doing so, I hope to help you see that from the beginning it has been God’s plan for his people to kill sin by trusting in him and working hard. To that end, listen again to the words of the Apostle.
Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Paul’s charge in v.13 is simple to understand. You, Christian, must fight to put your sins to death, for if you don’t you will die. But you must do it in the power God provides in His Spirit. You work and you trust. You make war against your sin and you hope in God for victory.
We see much the same language in Genesis 4:7.
Genesis 4:7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
In Genesis 4:7 God calls Cain to combat his sin by: 1) Doing well, and 2) Ruling over it.
“Doing well” is an interesting charge. It’s interesting because the whole point of the story of Cain is that he didn’t do well. He did very bad. That’s just how it was for the Apostle as well. He lamented the fact that there were times that he didn’t want to kill sin (Romans 7:15). And the same is true for you and me. We haven’t done well. We inherited the same sinful nature as Cain (which we saw last week) and Paul. We are born enemies of God; evil (not well)-doers.
But it’s interesting for another reason as well. Doing well, as we’re about to see in Genesis in Abraham, and as we see in crystal clear terms in Paul (Ephesians 2:8-9), is not about making ourselves acceptable to God; for, as we just acknowledged, we have not and cannot do so. Instead, doing well always first means trusting in God, placing our faith in God, hoping in God to do for us that which he requires of us. And in that sense killing sin by “doing well” is the same as putting sin to death “by the Spirit”.
What about God’s second charge to Cain, then—ruling over sin? If “doing well” means trusting in God, what is ruling over sin? Ruling over sin is a charge to fight against it. Another word for “rule” is “master”. Again, the point is fairly straight forward: work, fight, struggle to gain control over, master the sin that tempts you. And this is just what Paul had in mind when he commanded his readers to “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). He meant what God meant east of Eden: work hard to do the things I am calling and empowering you to do.
Again, God’s prescribed method for killing sin has always been deep trust and hard work. Trusting in God and fighting in the strength he provides was the Genesis recipe. It was also the Romans recipe. But again, on a practical level, how do we trust in God to kill sin? How do we put it to death in the Spirit’s power? Let’s look closer at what this looks like in real life…in your life.
Cultivate Appropriate Fear of Sin
The first sin-killing step that I want to draw your attention to this morning is cultivating an appropriate fear of sin. As long as we treat our sin like a domesticated house-pet, we will never kill it—we will never even have a real desire to. Let me say that another way. As long as we fail to recognize what sin is and what it can do to us (and I don’t mean mainly the earthly consequences of sin) we’ll always lack proper motivation to put it to death.
Picture the little child who sees a pretty lion walking outside of her home. She has no idea how deadly it is and so feels entirely comfortable walking up to it to pet it. No matter their appearance, however, both lions and sin are deadly. Therefore, we live in ignorance to that only to our own peril. Consider the following verses to that end.
Genesis 2:17 …the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Genesis 4:7 …sin is crouching at the door [like a lion crouches]. Its desire is for you [to kill and destroy you]
Genesis 6:5-7 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out [put to death] man whom I have created from the face of the land…’”
Romans 6:23 …the wages of sin is death…
Romans 8:13 …if you live according to the [sinful] flesh you will die…
There are wrong ways to fear sin (when we fear that it can separate Christians from the love of God, when we fear that the cross is insufficient for our sin, etc), but apart from a right fear we will never understand or appreciate either the need or the command to kill sin. Our ability to kill sin is directly related to our understanding that sin can kill us. Only once we come to recognize this we will begin to appropriately fear it and long for it to die in us so that we don’t die in it.
Therefore, we must cultivate an appropriate fear of it. Where many spend time considering the pleasures of sin, we must spend time considering its peril. This won’t happen overnight. We must develop it over time. Draw a particular sin to mind right now, then, and begin asking God to impress upon you its deadly power.
Cultivate Hatred for Sin
The second step to killing our sin is cultivating a hatred for it.
Is there anything in your life that you just can’t stand? Is there something you really, really wish you could get rid of? For me, growing up, at different times and in varying degrees, it was school, ear infections, most vegetables, country music, and alarm clocks. I couldn’t stand any of those things. I wanted them gone at nearly any cost. As an adult my list is a little different. It now includes the coronavirus, cancer, marital problems, disunity in the church, wayward children, bad doctrine, abdication and still ear infections and country music. I have a visceral reaction to and great disdain for each of those things. I’d love to blow every one of those things up.
I’m sure you have your own list. Everyone does. There are things in this fallen world that are truly vile and detestable. Unfortunately, the most vile and detestable thing of all is often not at the top of our list. The one thing that we truly need to mortify above everything else, because it is more sickening than everything else, is our sin.
Consider the Apostle Paul’s lament and assessment as he contemplated his own sin.
Romans 7:15, 24 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Sin is dishonoring to God, disgusting, and deadly. There is nothing in all creation more loathsome and dangerous than the sin in us. Just like we will never even want to put our sin to death if we don’t properly fear what it can do to us, we will never want to put it to death if we don’t properly understand how disgusting and evil it is.
One of sin’s greatest tricks is its ability to appear appetizing and pleasant. What’s more, sin can even make itself taste good in the short run. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, its fruit isn’t always immediately recognizable as vile. Obviously, then, if your sin sounds good or even merely mildly distasteful you will never want to put it to death.
Draw your sin to mind again, then, and ask God to draw your attention to the passages of the bible that describe its true nature. And then ask God to help you cultivate a proper hatred of it as another step in putting it to death.
Cultivate a War-time Mindset
The third step in killing sin is cultivating a war-time mindset toward it. A line in a Piper sermon on killing sin has long stayed with me. “Until you believe that life is war — that the stakes are your soul — you will probably just play at Christianity with no blood-earnestness and no vigilance and no passion and no wartime mindset” (John Piper, Kill Sin by the Spirit). For most of us, playing at Christianity is our default position. We don’t need to work to get that mindset. We need to work to overcome it and hold it back.
For that reason, we need, with God’s help, to cultivate our minds. We must cultivate a perspective that is always on guard for and always looking to destroy our sin in the understanding that it is always seeking to destroy us. We need to cultivate a proper vigilance and violence. Only once, by God’s grace, we begin to treat our sin as we ought—as a violent, vile, vicious enemy whose aim is our destruction—then, and only then, can we begin to make the kind of war on it that we must.
1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
1 Corinthians 9:27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
There is more to the Christian life than warring against sin, but there is not less. For the third time, draw your ongoing sin to mind and ask God to help you to recognize the need to make war against it; to fight against it with all you have unto death!
Cultivate a Greater Love for Jesus
As important as the first three steps are, the next three are even more important and necessary. The fourth step to killing sin is to cultivate a greater love for Jesus. Again, Paul provides a helpful backdrop and example for this.
Philippians 3:4-8 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
If Paul considered even the best parts of his life rubbish/trash compared to Jesus, how much more do you think he considered sin detestable compared to Jesus. And if Paul loved Jesus above all things, why would he ever chase after anything else.
In fact, the secret to all life-change is to develop a greater love for something else. If you want to quit smoking or over eating, develop a greater love for health. If you want to quit wasting time on Netflix of social media, develop a greater love for being productive. If you want to quit overspending on eating out or online shopping, develop a greater love for frugality or generosity. It’s good to remind ourselves of the negative effects of smoking, over eating, laziness, and wastefulness, but developing a greater love for something greater is always a more powerful change agent than fear or hatred.
The infinite advantage of Christianity is that Jesus is not just a little better (or even a lot better) than any alternative, he is infinitely better. The simple fact is this: Jesus is the most glorious, desirable thing in existence. What’s more, he offers himself freely to all who will trust in Him. The greatest way to kill the sin that is in us is not simply to see it for what it is (first three, negative steps), but to see it in light of the surpassing worth of King Jesus. Draw your sin to mind, remember the greatest momentary pleasure it ever gave you, and then ask God to begin to cultivate in you the recognition of Jesus’ infinitely greater worth and an appetite for it. And when that begins to happen by the grace of God, then you’ll find sin’s pull really starting to die.
Cultivate a Constant Consciousness of the Gospel
The fifth step is to cultivate a constant consciousness of the gospel. That is, we must kill sin by remembering that Jesus already secured the death of sin in us in his death on the cross.
Your sanctification is as much a part of your salvation as your conversion (and your election, justification, adoption, and glorification). That is, your hope is ultimately in the promise that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Similarly, Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
As your sin rears its head, remind yourself that Christ already won your victory over it. Maybe not today and maybe not this year, but your sin’s death has already been secured and will therefore, certainly die one day. Remind yourself of this and find hope, find healing, find strength, and find a renewed burden to fight in the knowledge that your victory is certain. Killing sin will happen in all Christians because Jesus was killed for the sin of all Christians! It will happen in God’s timing and for God’s glory, but the gospel is the good news that it will happen.
Cultivate an appropriate fear of sin knowing that its wages is death. Cultivate a hatred for your sin knowing that it is truly vile. Cultivate a war-time mentality toward your sin knowing that it is your sworn enemy. Cultivate a greater love for Jesus knowing that he is infinitely more valuable than anything else in creation—especially sin. And cultivate a constant consciousness of the gospel knowing that you victory over your sin was secured in Jesus. Remember your sin and then remember that it was placed on Jesus on the cross, that it was fully and finally atoned for, and that your victory over it was made certain.
Cultivate a Dependence on the Power of the Holy Spirit
Finally, kill your sin by cultivating a dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit. If we believe we can kill sin on our own we will attempt to do so using our own wisdom and strength. Once we recognize that we can’t, however, we will rely on God’s wisdom and strength. We must fight to cultivate a proper perspective on sin and the gospel, but we must do so in the knowledge that the ability to do so is entirely dependent on the power of God in us; it’s truly a miracle. Doing so will have two primary expressions: 1) Prayer, and 2) Holding on to the promises of God’s Word.
Prayer, as you know, isn’t a magic wand. It isn’t a quarter for the divine vending machine. It is an expression of our understanding that God holds all things in his hand. It is an expression of our understanding that we are entirely dependent on God for every single thing. It is an expression of our understanding that God’s will is always greater than ours and that we want it to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Prayer is an expression of our understanding that Jesus Christ is our only hope in life and death. Prayer, in this context, then, is an expression of our longing for our appetite for sin to die and our acknowledgement that it is in God’s power alone to do so.
Perhaps the most straightforward passage on this kind of need for prayer is found in our Lord’s words to his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
And so recall your sin and cry out to God. Plead with him to destroy any appetite you have for it. Express your trust in His promises to do so. Thank him for the blood of his Son which paid for your sin in full. Tell him how much you love the Spirit he has put inside of you to empower you for good. Express your trust in his timing and deliverance.
Cultivate a dependence on the Spirit for the desire and power to kill sin. Do it in prayer and, lastly, do it through clinging to the promises of God.
The Word of God is the means by which the Spirit puts to death our appetite for the lingering sin that is in us (Ephesians 6:17). In particular, it is God’s Word that gives us God’s promises concerning sin and death and Christ and life. Call your specific sins to mind and then find the specific promises of God for them!
If you struggle with anxiety, remember the promises of God in Matthew 6:25-33 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… [For] your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
If you struggle with pride, remember the promises of God in Jeremiah 9:23-24 “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.’”
If you struggle with being impatient, remember the promises of God in Galatians 6:9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
If you struggle with wanting the things of this world remember the promises of God in 1 Timothy 6:6-7 “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world…
If you struggle with bitterness, remember the promises of God in Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
You get the idea. Cultivating dependence on the Spirit to kill sin means cultivating dependence on the promises of God.
If we are to kill sin we must come to understand its nature and process in us. And then we must cultivate a proper fear and hatred of sin, a war-time mentality toward it, a greater love for Jesus than it, a constant consciousness of the Gospel’s power over it, and a dependence on the Spirit. In all of this I say “cultivate” because it won’t happen overnight. Each of these will take time. And yet, once again, the great promise of God in Jesus is that as we walk in faith and fight in the strength God provides, we will kill the sin that is in us because Jesus died for it. So get to work, Grace. Get to work trusting in God and making war! Amen.