It was puritan John Owen who famously said, ‘Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.’[1] These words (and many other writings by the puritans on sin) have stood as lighthouses for the modern Church, guiding us back to the shores of an orthodox view of sin. It has become commonplace in our day to see even those of an evangelical persuasion belittling the heinousness of sin. ‘Judge not lest you be judged’ has become a popular slogan, and the speck in our brother’s eye seems to get smaller and smaller as the Church’s definition of what can be genuinely marked as sin is ever-changing. The truth is, we have come a long way from the writings of Paul that stated the Church is to ‘purge the evil person from among [itself]’ (1 Cor. 5:13). Just a few verses earlier, Paul gives the clear command that deliverance unto Satan for the ‘destruction of the flesh’ (5:5) was the proper response to rampant and unrepentant sin in the Church. In our day, one may find himself cast from the Church for even suggesting such an idea.

What can be said about this? Indeed, the world is ever seeking to justify her sin and ease the burden of conscience, but how can the Church, who is to be the light of God in a fallen world, take such a low view of sin? I am sure that we could take a trek through the annals of history and identify various shifts and compromises throughout the ages, and that may be an interesting study for another time. Instead, I believe we need to look no further than the spiritual climate we into which we find ourselves immersed. In a world of on-demand entertainment, binge-watching, and high definition sensuality, it is no wonder that Christians have fallen asleep in the light. Sins that were once unspeakable have now been plastered on every billboard, magazine, commercial, and sitcom. Slowly but surely, we have experienced a desensitization to moral depravity, and we are all the worse for it. It is much like the old ‘cooking a frog’ analogy. If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, he will undoubtedly leap out. But if you put that same frog in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, he will cook before he realizes what is happening. For this very reason, we of the household of faith must be especially on guard against all forms of sin lest we too become like this proverbial frog.

What then is sin? I believe that Pastor John Piper provides us with a helpful working definition. He says that sin ‘is any feeling or thought or speech or action that comes from a heart that does not treasure God over all other things.’ He goes on to say that sin is a product of ‘a heart that prefers anything above God, a heart that does not treasure God over all other persons and all other things…’[2] When viewed in such a way, how can anyone of us claim innocence? Thus, the first step in growing from sin to righteousness (assuming that one has been born again by the Spirit of God, cleansed from the wages of sin, and freed to righteous living) is to acknowledge our sin before God. ‘If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us..’ (1 Jn. 1:9). But, the one who ‘conceals his transgressions will not prosper.’ (Prov. 28:13). Confession is not only telling God that we have done something wrong but consists of a deeper element that seeks to align our understanding with God’s. For this reason, confession and Bible study will often go hand-in-hand. David said in Psalm 119:11 that, ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’ When God’s Word becomes precious to us and is visited often, it will expose the dross in our lives. Then, through prayer, we begin to see our sin through the eyes of God, and confession becomes a natural byproduct.

We must also acknowledge that, not only is the Spirit God’s agent of the new birth (Jn. 3:5), but He also plays a vital role in the conviction of sin, intercession for the removal of sin, and turning from sin. The Holy Spirit dwells within the bosom of the believer and progressively conforms him to the image of Christ. He ‘helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…’ (Rom. 8:26). The Spirit was sent to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:8), how much more so will He lead God’s people into all truth? It is by His illuminating work in our hearts that we are able to glean precious truths from God’s Word and apply them to our lives.

Another way in which we grow from sin to righteousness is through accountability to the local Church. Christ is building His Church, and ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Mt. 16:18). The Lord does not call ‘lone-wolf’ Christian. When we were baptized by the Spirit, we were also baptized into Christ’s body. The Church exists, in one sense, as the family of God. As such, we are called to bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2), exhort one another (Heb. 3:13), instruct one another (Rom. 15:14), and pray for one another (Jas. 5:16). The accountability and, at times, discipline that is provided by fellow members in the body of Christ is a special grace of God prescribed for the leaving off of sin. Left to ourselves, our hearts can easily deceive us. We are self-justifying and self-righteous creatures always ready to plead our own cause. Because of this, we require another to come alongside and examine our case (Prov. 18:17). As Proverbs 27:6 says, ‘faithful are the wounds of a friend.’

These are the primary ways in which we cease from sin. Certainly, more could be said, but for our purposes, this should prove sufficient. As a final word, let us learn never to take sin lightly. Sin is a cruel beast that shows no mercy and will cut the locks of our strength at the first sign of weakness. The Bible calls us to cease from sin (1 Pet. 4:1), flee from sin (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:22), and repent of sin (Acts 3:19; 2 Pet. 3:9). Sin is not something to be trifled with on any level. Though we may say, ‘it is but a little one,’ that cub will one day grow to a ferocious beast and tear us limb-from-limb. One characteristic of the puritans that I have always admired was the high view they took of sin. Though sinful men themselves, they were privy to sin’s devices. They made the mortification of sin their chief business, and we would do wise to follow in their stead.

[1] Owen, John. The Mortification of Sin. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.

[2] “What Is Sin? The Essence and Root of All Sinning.” Desiring God,