I recently began an abridged and made easy to read version of John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin.
This book has blessed my soul greatly. One thing that has been surprisingly encouraging was just how pastoral and gentle the book is. I was expecting a heavy handed blow, and there is much of that (as it is needed), but overall the book is very encouraging and gentle.
The book provides biblical insight into how we go about living a life of holiness, crucifying our sins.
It provides a brilliant and biblical balance between knowing that it is the Spirit within us Who we must rely on, but that does not obliterate our efforts and responsibilities to fight either. Without this theological balance, mortifying sin will either turn into moralism or legalism, and will become painful practice, filled with great failures, and will all be done in vain, or it will not take place at all as we sit by idol, blaming God for not being effectual within our hearts.
I would recommend this read for all Christians in the fight against sin.
One particular sin that this book has assisted to urge me on to repent of, and one that I think many people, men especially, have a difficult time mortifying, is lust.
In order to apply John Owen’s lesson and begin in developing an approach to crucifying this deadly and wicked sin, allow us to glean from Job.
Job was righteous man. The Lord affirms this (Job 1:1), and Job often demonstrates it throughout the book written about him.
In one of his many defenses, Job reveals that he had “made a covenant with his eyes” (Job 31:1). In this, it is revealed that righteous men keep, not only their hands to themselves, but their eyes as well. This covenant was to not gaze upon women. Gazing insinuates impure thoughts, lust, or as Jesus calls it, heart-adultery (Matthew 5: 27-28).
All people, but men especially, need to be prepared to make this same covenant as Job. We are not only bound to avoid the physical expressions of lust like pornography, masturbation, fornication, and adultery, but we must consider the expression of looking to be equally dangerous.
I believe that for many Christians, the eye glances are interpreted as a casual deed, deemed to be all but serious or dangerous. Therefore, many Christian men and women are plagued with this acceptable sin; a sin that we do not break over or even identify properly; and therefore, do not kill.
However, we need to view this sin with much fear and hatred. First of all, it is still breaking God’s Law. Secondly, it is the seed to many other sins, and is then very serious.
Lustful Glances at Men and Women Break God’s Law
To look upon a woman or man with lust grieves God as it breaks His Law. This ought to be motivation enough to mortify. As Owen puts is,
“We must hate all sin, as sin, and not just that which troubles us. Love for Christ, because He went to the cross, and hate for sin that sent Him there, is the solid foundation for true spiritual mortification.”
Our wandering eyes break the Law of God, as well as His heart.
Lustful Glances Grow Into Devastating Sins
We must also kill this sin immediately because, while it may not be as taboo as things like pornography, adultery, or fornication, it is the seed which grows into that wickedness.
Owens mentions this very thing. In his chapter, Why the Flesh Must be Mortified, he gives six reasons. His third reason is that if sin is not continuously mortified, it will eventually bring forth terrible, soul-destroying sins.
“Every time sin rises to tempt or entice, it always seeks to express itself in the extreme. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression; and every unbelieving thought would be Atheism. It is like the grave that is never satisfied.
In this, we see the deceitfulness of sin. It gradually prevails to harden man’s heart to his ruin (Heb. 3:13). Sin’s expression is modest in beginning but, once it has gained a foothold, it continues to take further ground and presses on to greater heights. This advance of sin keeps the soul from seeing that it is drifting from God. The soul becomes indifferent to the seed of sin as it continues to grow. This growth has no boundaries but utter denial of God and opposition to Him.”
Thus, it is to our own peril that we dare view the short indulging in of lust as harmless. It is these shortcomings which continue to grow into the greater ones which ruin us.
Job was righteous, as the Scriptures affirm. And although this covenant was no easier for Job as it is for us today, I would still like to point out the glaringly obvious and remind us all that this covenant Job made was a few thousand years prior to the invention of the legging and of Yoga pants…
I personally enjoy going to the gym. And there is no doubt that the gym is a very difficult place to be faithful to any kind of corneal covenant. This covenant is difficult enough, but in the name of bringing this post to a more specific focus, let’s address the difficulty of this task in a 21st century gym.
Modesty at the Gym
The gym is not inherently evil. It is a place where people and sculpt and improve their bodies. And being healthy is in fact a Christian virtue. Our bodies are not our own, they are a temple.
Especially if one has or plans to have a family, being healthy is requirement. Therefore, going to the gym and exercising is not an immoral thing to do. However, it is a difficult place to maintain our covenants.
Workout attire has grown more and more immodest, for both sexes, and this makes the gym a dangerous place for the Christian seeking the mortification of lust.
Recently, as I was in the middle of a workout, fighting the battle, a Shane and Shane song sprung forth from my ear buds, The song is titled after the Psalm it was written from, Psalm 63. The lyrics in the chorus read,
“In the face of precious Jesus my soul is satisfied.”
In that moment, when I heard those lyrics ring, I stopped and I asked myself the questions: Is gratifying my lust more important than Jesus? Is Jesus satisfying my soul, or is there something at this gym that must supplement the perfect love of Christ? As the questions were rhetorical, the answers were obvious.
That song, providentially timed in that moment, not only brought an acute attention to my losing effort which I had not yet even recognized, but it also greatly encouraged me to fight the battle harder than I was prior to its sweet melody.
And it was this moment that inspired me to write this blog. Therefore, I want to conclude with three suggestions for Christians frequenting the gym who know they struggle in this area.
1) Exercise to exclusively Christian music.
External pressures influence us internally. Sometimes it helps to fight the external with a little dose of the external. Let rich theology saturate your ears. When Christ exalting lyrical content is constantly on your mind it will help in the battle.
I know not everyone listen to music when they workout. But as I have been going to the gym for quite some time, it does seem that just about everyone does. I think the vast majority of people do.
2) Examine how you dress.
Obviously, the gym needs to be a place where we are comfortable and flexible. The point here is not an attempt to apply a church dress code to the gym. I am not asking people to workout in a tie. But a shirt would be nice.
What you must do, men and women included, is be willing to examine how your outfit may or may not cause Christians to stumble. Are you willing to love your brother and neighbor enough to not wear something you want to wear; albeit have the freedom to wear?
Does the bro-tank show off your body too well to care about your Christian sisters?
Are those volleyball spandex too flattering to not workout in, regardless of the struggle you have put your neighbor in?
Examine your motives and be willing to make fashion sacrifices.
3. Make prayer a workout routine.
Many of us have gym routines regardless of our specific goals. Whether it’s primarily a cardio workout, a bulking-free-weight-workout, stretching, or anything else, many of us have a strict routine. From the pre-workout stretching or warm ups, to the mid-workout flow, the post workout warm downs, many have these habits.
Some of you may even have a paper program where you are following something made by a professional. No matter what it might be, make pray an equal part of your warm up. Make prayer as essential to your workouts as stretching or dynamic warm ups are. Write prayer in to your schedule literally. Do not touch a weight, do not press a button, do not sit on a machine, until you have spent time with the Lord, asking Him to be with you, giving you the strength and focus you need to fight spiritually while you exercise physically.
The Spirit of God is not just with you in the valley, in the floods, or in the fire. He is with you at the gym too. Turn to the Lord for His assistance and focus. Give your workout to God.
And with this, do not be afraid to repent. Do not be afraid to confess. When you fall in this area, when you stumble in this area, turn to the Lord then too. And receive His ever gracious offer of forgiveness.
Remember the cross always; remember where your righteousness is always.
And from there, may the love of Christ compel you.