January 8, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
And the king said, “And where is your master’s son [Mephibosheth]?” Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’”
The king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me.”
2 Samuel 9:13, 16:3, 19:25
The story of King David, Saul’s servant Ziba, and Jonathan’s lame son Mephibosheth presents yet another raw episode in scripture: God’s people respond to grace and kindness with less than corresponding gratitude. There’s deception and opportunism followed by apparent obsequiousness. Yet all of it is met with an astounding display of unmerited favor.
And as we heard Sunday, we marvel at such blatant thanklessness for evident kindness, until we replay in our own minds the innumerable instances of that very pattern in our own histories. Then we marvel at our own brazenness and thoughtlessness, and wonder if our hearts shall ever conform to the pattern of kindness shown us in the gospel.
How shall we all close that gap between what we are and what our privileged position as people allowed to benefit from the blessings of the King calls us to be? How shall the deception, conniving, or whatever subtle sin to which our hearts are inclined ever be eradicated from us? Does the fact that we shall struggle with sin until we see the Lord face to face mean that no progress can be made?
Nearly four centuries ago, John Owen wrote exhaustively about what measures ought be taken in our struggle against continuing sin. In doing so he dismissed the notion that sin is just something we have to get along with, and he upheld the truth that with the Word of the Lord and His Spirit there can be, and must be, a diligent fight against that disparity between what we are and what we’re called to be.
Among the strategies for warring against our sinful hearts in view of the mercy of the cross of Jesus, here are three Owen suggested in The Mortification of Sin.
We’re to consider the guilt of our sin. Any sin—whether against another or oneself—is ultimately a sin against God. He is the one primarily offended. For any violation of His law is first a violation of His love—a desecration of the covenant relationship He established by His own prerogative. Unless we recognize the failure to trust the God who came for us as our most egregious error, we forget that we live not before a code, but before a King.
For example, if lust plagues you, Owen implores you to see how you’re treating something God has made as a mere object. You offend the Creator by profaning His creation.
We’re to consider the evils of our sin. The effects of our sin may appear sooner or later, but sin always has a present effect, if nothing more than to make us more susceptible to sinning again—and perhaps with greater impunity. Owen admonished us to consider those present effects, to acknowledge that because we do not live in a spiritual vacuum we must see all sin as consequential.
If you struggle with dishonesty, Owen warns you about the precedent you set in your deceit. If it serves you once, it will be all the more alluring again.
We’re to consider the danger of our sin. Like an unattended fire, unless something is done to stop the spread of our sin, the damage can be substantial. So Owen bids us imagine where this sin could lead, what far more destructive effects it might have if dabbled in repeatedly.
If unrighteous anger afflicts you, Owen would have you notice how it can erupt into a rage that can wreak untold damage.
In a culture so immersed in pep talks, it may seem harsh—even counterproductive—to spend any time thinking about these regrettable outcomes of our failures. Yet, it’s through this honest appraisal of where we’ve been weak that the Lord, Owen says, purges us of our preference for sin. As the songwriter Don Chaffer said of God, “You craft the cold to counter that which we desire but burns us with its heat. ”
Owen is uncommonly forthright to have us muse on our sin. But he is just as direct in reminding us that in Christ we sit at the King’s table. Those who are in Christ eat at His table of grace—receiving His nourishment while enjoying His fellowship—not for what they have done but because of what He has done for them.
Reflection upon our sin will only have its proper effect when we recognize that, like Mephibosheth, we are lame, and yet we are privileged to sit with the King in the confidence of His steadfast love.
It does not take long to isolate a part of our souls that needs this strategy. For what weaknesses might you employ it today?