Becoming “Sermon-Proof” (John Owen on The Dangers of Sin)

mortificationofsinIn his book, The Mortification of Sin, John Owen notes (among other things) the importance and necessity of having “a clear and abiding sense” in our minds and consciences of “the guilt, danger, and evil of sin” (p.65). Without a clear, biblical understanding of sin for what it really is, we will be ill-equipped to “put to death the deeds of the body” by the Spirit (Romans 8:13).

There he points out a number of the many dangers that sin poses to us, the first of which is the danger of being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). He writes:

“This hardening is so serious that your heart becomes insensitive to moral influence. Sin leads to this. Every sin and lust will make a little progress in this direction. You who at one time were very tender and would melt under the influence of the Word and under trials will grow ‘sermon-proof’ and ‘trial proof.'” (p.68)

Sermon-proof. What a sobering phrase! It is bad enough that so many in our day simply avoid hearing the preaching of the Word in public worship altogether; but how much worse is the condition of those who, though they regularly attend the preaching of the Word, nevertheless have grown immune to its benefits.

Sermon-proof. That is a fitting description of the people of Isaiah’s day:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10, ESV)

To be sermon-proof is to continually hear, but not understand, to see, but not perceive. And what is the end result? A refusal to “turn” (or repent) and “be healed.” No wonder the writer of the book of Hebrews warns us of the “deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13)!

Are you sermon-proof? Do not content yourself with the mere hearing of sermons. Hearing sermons is certainly a good start, but it is not nearly enough. Hearing sermons, even on a regular, weekly basis is no firm evidence that one is not sermon proof. One can hear sermons until the proverbial cows come home, and yet do so with no benefit whatsoever.

Let us learn to attend the preaching of God’s Word in public worship “with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.90).

And, as the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it, let us “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, ESV).

Blood Cries Out

BloodBlood cries out to God for justice. And it does not go unnoticed by the Judge of all the earth. The Scriptures in both the Old Testament (Genesis 4:10) and New Testament (Hebrews 12:23) attest to this fact. In his book, Christ Set Forth, Thomas Goodwin writes,

“Many other things are said to cry in Scripture (and I might show how the cry of all other things do meet in this), but blood has the loudest cry of all things else, in the ears of the Lord of Hosts, the Judge of all the world (Heb 12:23). Neither has any cry the ear of God’s justice more than that of blood. ‘The voice of your brother’s blood,’ says God to Cain, ‘cries unto me from the ground’ (Gen 4:10).” (p.141)

Now Goodwin (1600-1679) certainly wasn’t writing about abortion as we know it (as such a thing was no doubt all but unheard of in his day), but his words most certainly apply to that vile practice. The biblical principle still stands – innocent blood cries out to God. And if Abel’s blood cried out from the ground against his brother who murdered him, what must the blood of well over 50 million babies sound like in the ears of the Judge of all the earth? Do we dare suppose that He will not bring the shedding of such blood to justice?

May God have mercy upon our nation, and turn us to repentance before it is too late.

And may He grant mercy and repentance to many of those who are even now guilty of shedding the most innocent of blood through abortion, so that they find forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus Christ, whose sprinkled blood “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). The blood of Christ alone can cover the guilt of our sins, even the sin of murder through abortion.

Thomas Brooks on the Nature of True Repentance

Brooks Precious RemediesIn his book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Thomas Brooks notes that there are three (3) essential aspects of true repentance:

First, “The formal act of repentance is a changing and converting” (p.57). In other words it involves a turning of one’s life from darkness to light; it is a conversion. It is no mere oblique change of direction in a person’s life.

Second, “The subject changed and converted is the whole man” (ibid). It involves not just a change of the outward actions, but also of the heart, the innermost part of a person. Not just the practice, but the very person is also changed.

Third, this conversion of heart and life is a change (or turning) “from sin to God” (ibid). Brooks writes, The heart must be changed from the state and power of sin, the life from the acts of sin, but both unto God; the heart to be under his power in a state of grace, the life to be under his rule in all new obedience” (ibid).

The point he makes here is to show what a difficult thing it is to truly repent. In fact, it is humanly impossible to convert one’s self. He writes, “It is not in the power of any mortal to repent at pleasure” (p.56). God Himself must grant and work repentance in the heart and life of a sinner (2 Timothy 2:25).

Satan often deceives sinners into thinking that they are more than able to repent whenever they want (as if it were within their own power and ability to do so), and so leads men and women to keep putting off repentance until a later date. But Brooks warns that “it is as hard a thing to repent as it is to make a world, or raise the dead” (p.60). In other words, it takes the power of God Himself. No wonder Hebrews 13:3 warns us about being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” It is a difficult (even impossible) thing as it is for a man to repent and turn to God, but even more difficult if one continues to put it off and so becomes even more hardened in sin and unbelief!

May God in His mercy grant repentance to many, to the praise of His glorious grace.

Thomas Watson on the Necessity of Sanctification

WatsonIn his book, A Body of Divinity, Thomas Watson gives six (6) reasons for the necessity of sanctification in the life of a Christian. They are as follows:

1. God has called us to it. Watson cites 2 Peter 1:3, which speaks not only of God giving us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” but also having called us to His own “glory and excellence” (or “virtue” – KJV). He also points us to 1 Thessalonians 4:7, which says, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, make no mistake about it – God has called you to a life of holiness and sanctification.

2. Without sanctification there is no evidencing our justification. As he writes, “Justification and sanctification go together” (p.244).  See 1 Corinthians 6:11; Micah 7:18-19. They must be kept distinct, but never separate. Although Watson does not necessarily spell it out as such, the concern here seems to be one related to our assurance. Without sanctification, what evidence or proof do we have that we have been justified by Christ?

3. Without sanctification we have no title to the new covenant.  Part of the new covenant is that God gives His redeemed people a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26-27 says,

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

So if we do not have a new heart within us by the Spirit of God and so do not walk in the statutes of God and carefully obey His rules or commandments, we are not yet members of the new covenant.

4. There is no going to heaven without sanctification. Here Watson twice quotes Hebrews 12:14 which states, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (NIV). This same thing is explicitly taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith in its chapter dealing with the doctrine of sanctification:

They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed,and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (Westminster Confession of Faith 13.1)

Notice that the writers of the Confession also use the language of Hebrews 12:14. In other words, without sanctification no man shall see the Lord (or go to heaven).

5. Without sanctification all our holy things are defiled. He writes, “A foul stomach turns the best food into ill humours [i.e. indigestion or illness]; so an unsanctified heart pollutes prayers, alms, sacraments” (p.245). See also Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 7:21-23.

6. Without sanctification we can show no sign of our election. Here he points us to 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which says, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (ESV, italics mine). Watson writes,”Election is the cause of our salvation, sanctification is our evidence. Sanctification is the ear-mark of Christ’s elect sheep” (p.245).

Let all of this be a comfort to every genuine believer in Jesus Christ, and an encouragement to grow in the grace of God in sanctification. May it also serve as a wake-up call of sorts to any who have up to this point contented themselves with a hollow profession of faith, but have never known the grace of God in truth.

The Urgency of the Gospel


Many of us are tempted to procrastinate when it comes to dealing with certain problems in our daily lives.  We often procrastinate knowing full well that ignoring problems and hoping that they will go away often just serves to make them even worse. Who among us can honestly say that we haven’t been there and done that a time or two?

But when it comes to eternity, procrastination can be devastating. The time that we each have in this life to settle where, how, and with whom we will spend eternity is really quite limited. Time flies, as the saying goes.  It is with good reason that the Psalmist writes,

So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, ESV)

In asking the Lord to teach us to number our days” (emphasis mine) the Psalmist shows us that numbering our days does not come naturally to us. We always seem to assume that tomorrow is somehow guaranteed to us. It is not, at least not in this life.

In his commentary in the book of Acts, Derek Thomas writes,

“Souls are lost by reason of procrastination. Awakened consciences that fail to make good their resolve to find peace with God discover that before they realize it, they have fallen even deeper into the mire of sin. Thinking that they can turn to God “at any time,” they discover that they are unable to do so.” (p.673)

He is speaking there of the example of the Roman Governor Felix in Acts chapter 24. Felix was very familiar with Christianity. In v.22 Luke writes that Felix had “a rather accurate knowledge of the Way.” Not only had he heard the gospel explained to him on numerous occasions (v.26), but he had heard it from no less  a preacher than the Apostle Paul himself!  Paul spoke to him about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (v.25). Paul did not beat around the bush.

What did Felix do with that knowledge? What was his response to the gospel of Christ? He procrastinated; he simply put it off.  As far as we know, he never repented & turned to Christ by faith.  While he was “alarmed” (v.25) by Paul’s mention of the judgment to come, he wasn’t “alarmed” enough to actually turn from his sin and turn to Christ by faith. Rather, he turned from hearing the gospel at all, telling Paul, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (v.26).

In other words, not now – maybe later.  He just assumed that he could put it off until later. He assumed that he would always have an “opportunity” (v.26) to hear the gospel and believe later, whenever he got around to it. How many today are of a very similar mindset?

Maybe that even describes you?

It is not without reason that the Scripture says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV).  As  the writer of Hebrews (quoting Psalm 95) warns us, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8, ESV). Did you catch that? To “hear his voice” in the gospel of Christ and to reject it or put it off is to harden your heart. In other words, procrastination is not a neutral posture. Indecision about Jesus Christ is itself a decision, and it has consequences.

As the example of Felix serves to demonstrate, hearing the gospel is not enough. Hearing it numerous times is not enough. Being familiar with the faith is not enough. Even being alarmed at the thought of the judgment to come is not enough if it does not lead to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, turn to Him by faith while there is yet time.  Today, if you hear His voice in the gospel, do not harden your heart by indecision and procrastination. Come to Him and have life that is abundant (John 10:10) and eternal (John 17:3). As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21,

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Don’t just fear the coming judgment –be delivered from it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Be reconciled to God in Him!

The Ultimate Cure for Discontentment


How many of us struggle with envy and discontentment? To put it another way, are we truly content and at ease with our present circumstances?  Are we anxious about the future?

How many of us are content with our income? Our automobiles? Our homes?  Our families? Our social status? No matter how much we have, we always seem to focus on what we do not have.  There is always someone around us who has more (or something better) than we do.  We are an envious lot.

It is not without reason that the 10th commandment not only prohibits envy, but does so at great length and in great detail.  The 10th commandment (Exodus 20:17) is much longer than the commandments against murder (v.13), adultery (v.14), theft (v.15), or bearing false witness (v.16).  Rather than simply saying, “Thou shalt not covet.”, the 10th commandment specifies a number of the various ways that we are tempted to covet:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV – emphasis added)

We covet the estate or place of others, the family of others, the possessions of others, and all kinds of things.  The green-eyed monster is a many-headed hydra.

So what is the cure for discontentment?  The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews writes,

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)

How are we to guard our lives from the love of money?  How are we to learn to be content with what we have?  Take a vow of poverty?  Lower our expectations?  Think about those who have less than we do or are worse off than we are? (And do that instead of focusing on those who have more than we do?)

All of those things may sound like good advice, but is that what the writer of Hebrews is saying?  No – not even close.  We are to guard our lives from the love of money; and we are to be content with what we have, not because we just need to bear down and get used to not having as much, but because we need to see with the eyes of faith how much we actually do have!

Concerning Hebrews 13:5, John Calvin writes,

It is quite certain that lack of faith is the source of greed. Anyone who has the firm conviction that he will never be forsaken by the Lord will not be unduly anxious because he will depend on His providence. Therefore when the apostle wants to cure us of the disease of greed he properly recalls us to the promises of God by which he bears witness that He will always be present to us. (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries Vol.12, p.207).

So faith in the providence of God (God’s “most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” – Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11) is part of the cure for envy and discontent.  When we believe that God Himself is working all things together for our good and is providing for our needs according to His power and wisdom, it is then that we will be able to rest from our anxiety about the future; it is then that we will be able to be content with our present circumstances.

But Hebrews 13:5 not only encourages us by pointing us to the providence of God; it also encourages us by pointing us to the God of providence.  We may be tempted to think that we do not have much in this life.  But in telling us that God Himself has promised His people that He will never leave us or forsake us, the writer of Hebrews is reminding us that we can be ‘content with what we have’ (v.5) because what (or rather who) we have is God Himself!

If you are in Christ by faith, you have God Himself as your God.  God has blessed you not just with things, but with Himself!  You have God Himself as your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:5-15).  You have Jesus Christ, the Son God Himself, as your Savior and mediator, who not only died for your sins and rose again from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25), but who is also reigning at the right hand of God the Father almighty and interceding on your behalf (Hebrews 7:25). And You have God the Holy Spirit dwelling within you (1 Corinthians 6:19), who also intercedes on your behalf (Romans 8:26-27).

So if you are a Christian be content with what you have, because you truly have more than anyone on this earth without Christ can even dream of having – you have the one true and living God, the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable triune God as your God. And He will never leave you or forsake you!

That is the ultimate cure for discontentment.