Mark 9:43-50 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is talking to his own disciples, not to the world. In other words, this is not an evangelistic word. The Lord Jesus is not explaining to his hearers how they become Christians. These are men who have spent at least two years following him. They are looking forward to reigning with him in the kingdom of God. Jesus is talking here about the struggle his people are going to have with themselves. He had warned them early on in their discipleship that they were bound to meet external persecution: “Men will revile you and persecute them and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” Jesus later on warns his men about Satan coming to them and accusing them of their sin. The devil will desire them, sifting them like wheat. But Christ is not preparing them for either of those conflicts in these familiar words of our text. He is talking about an inevitable battle with their own sins in their own sinful nature, and that is going to be their daily experience.
God’s way of redeeming us is to deliver all of us through Christ from the condemnation of sin, and also through the indwelling Spirit he delivers us all from the domination which sin has over every unregenerate man. But God’s way of redeeming us does not include deliverance from the presence of indwelling sin before we die. God does not extract all of sin from a single Christian – like a dentist extracts a decaying tooth. The forces of decay remain in the hearts and souls of every child of God and need to be resisted and shrunk. Every Christian gets jolted with the sudden force of remaining sin. We ask ourselves after some humiliating episode, “Can I really be a Christian at all when I am still thinking and imagining and talking and behaving in this way?” We feel we are Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I tell you this, that the day before the death of the holiest Christian that even angels have seen that that godly man or woman is going to be feeling just like that, groaning that he has made so little progress in the Christian life, “O wretched man that I am.”
As that is the case then the Christian life is going to be a struggle not only with the world, and Satan but it is going to be a struggle with ourselves and in ourselves. I am being told by the Lord himself that I must fight against the sin that is found in my own dear heart, and in my very soul, and in my precious mind, and in my body – my hands and eyes and feet. How stressful that is going to be! How I’ll try to do anything before I declare war on sin in myself. I won’t be happy listening to sermons on this theme. I will wriggle in the pew, and argue in my mind with the preacher, and threaten to leave the church, and try to discover some other way of growing as a Christian to prove him wrong. I will go to conventions and conferences, and read pamphlets, and hear tapes, and seek short cuts, and look for experiences of the Spirit. I will spend good money in that search – anything rather than have to fight with my own sinful self.
Don’t go looking anywhere else, because God has appointed two means of victory over remaining sin. Firstly, we must by faith look unto Jesus, and secondly, we must by repentance be killing remaining sin. You will meet these two exhortations – Believe! and Turn! – in every single book of the Bible. This is the daily life of the Christian, faith and repentance; looking unto Jesus and laying aside the sin that so easily besets us; trusting in the Lord and putting to death remaining sin; putting on Jesus and putting off all kinds of sin. These are the two sides of the coin. A British Republican can enter a bank and tell the teller behind the counter that he will only take coins which do not bear the head of the monarch on one side, but he is disappointed in his request for no such coins exist in the whole nation. So no follower of Jesus Christ can choose a Christian pathway which only consists of looking unto Jesus, and which shuns the duty of mortification. God’s way of victory consists of daily trusting in the Lord Jesus and daily putting to death sin.
In our text it is clearly this latter neglected and misunderstood subject that the Lord Jesus is referring to. Mortification was marginalised with the decline of orthodoxy 150 years ago. That period of the church became characterised by the rise of holiness and perfectionist movements which scorned my subject today, the Christian’s fight with remaining sin. Those movements promised a one-off act of faith by which Christ-likeness could be claimed and obtained. That was the secret of the Christian life, that not by struggling but by letting go and letting God go to work quietly in our lives Christians could avoid the battle. Would that it were so! Though such sentiments are not in vogue today still the teaching goes round, and most congregations never hear a sermon on the Christian’s daily duty to kill sin. “Peace! Peace!” they cry. There is no peace. They are just like Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning from a meeting with Hitler in Munich in 1938 getting off the plane in London with a piece of paper in his hand. “I believe it is peace for our time,” he told the cheering crowd. Then Hitler invades Czechoslovakia and a year later we are at war.
Our great confidence is this, that error can never continue to dominate the church century after century. The Father is going to teach his people, and so more realistic and biblical counsels will always emerge. Both in Britain and in the USA there was a host of anonymous men with their little magazines – men like Arthur Pink – who wrote on this theme, and others who even had small printing presses and they began to reprint books on holiness which were preached and written in better ages in the history of the church. John Murray of Westminster Seminary showed the errors of the perfectionist movements. Dr Lloyd-Jones had no time for the idea that you could, through passivity, that is, by letting go and letting God take over, become like the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of it . . . without any struggle . . . lo and behold . . . you find yourself godlike! Dr J.I.Packer in his writings popularised the Puritans especially the works of John Owen. In the last couple of years grand books on this theme have appeared like Kris Lundgaard’s “The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of the Enemy Within” (P&R, 1998). Kris is a minister in New Mexico in the USA, and he describes a period in his early life as a Christian when he was in despair for months and doubted whether he could be a Christian. “Why do I go on sinning?” he cried. Then in the writings of John Owen he came across this theme of today, mortifying sin. As he came to understand what that meant his Christian life was revolutionised. He was so anxious that others of us should be helped that he popularised that Puritan’s work in this book, “The Enemy Within,” and it has proved helpful to others. Then along came another American, Richard Rushing, a Baptist pastor from southern California with a similar pilgrimage. He made the same discovery, and it moved him to simplify John Owen’s book, “The Mortification of Sin” in another paperback (Banner of Truth, 2004). This was published just a few months ago, and it is also something to get your teeth into. What are Christians in California finding inspirational today? The answer is biblical teaching on mortification. May it be that in this instance what the USA is finding helpful today the UK will find helpful tomorrow.
One more word, and that is simply this, that we are always in danger of reacting from one extreme to another. In our appreciation of the Puritans I think we need to remember that the greatest writing and preaching of John Owen was on the subject of the glories of Christ. Scarcely anyone else wrote on that theme as he did, and I think he would be dismayed to learn that in the 21st century the church was more fascinated by what he said about killing indwelling sin than what he wrote about the greatness of the Lord Jesus. Let me remind you again there are two necessary ways in which we are changed from one degree of glory into another by the Spirit, one is by mortifying sin and the other is by looking to Jesus Christ, and you must do both, and never stop! Often in the Bible the truth is found at both extremes, not at one of them, so whatever I say you about mortification today I don’t intend to neglect telling you every Sunday about our Saviour Jesus Christ. There are these two mighty weapons which God has provided to help us overcome sin and the world and Satan; both are indispensable. Imagine a man going to war and leaving behind half the weapons he’s been allocated. He is facing a ruthless, merciless foe who wants to kill him. The enemy has overwhelming strength and yet this stupid soldier has discarded half his fire-power as he approaches this mighty warrior – what folly! With all your weapons working perfectly you are still facing a daunting prospect. What is going to be like for you when you ignore half of them? I cannot see growth and usefulness where any Christian doesn’t seek by the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death every single day remaining sin.
1. POWERFUL INDWELLING SIN IS FOUND IN EVERY CHRISTIAN.
Let’s read the words of the apostle Paul in his classic section on the effects of remaining sin in the believer. It is found in Romans 7 and you see there the different words and phrases he uses to describe it. He refers to it as, “the law of sin at work in my members” (v.23); “this body of death” (v.24); “my sinful nature” (v.18); “sin living in me” (v.17); “sin” (v.11); “the law of sin and death” (8:2). The Authorised Version often translates the phrase ‘sinful nature’ by the word “the flesh.” We Christians display the works of the flesh when we are, for example, overwhelmed with self-pity, or when we are full of bitterness, or when we retaliate, or when we lust, or are covetous, or unforgiving, or deceive, or are proud, or hate, or are angry. All such actions appear because of indwelling sin.
What I found interesting is that Paul in Romans 7 refers to it as a ‘law.’ Why does he do that? He uses the word because it expresses the power, and authority and control that sin wields in our lives. While the law of God says to us, “Honour your father and your mother” and demands our obedience, so indwelling sin cries, “Obey me! Go with the flow! Why be different? Fulfil your lusts!” Think of the law of gravity. It is a force that makes us obey it. Sin is just like that. It says to us, “I shall make you obey me. I will threaten, or I will make sin so sweet, that one way or another I shall constrain you to do what I want.” So the evils that we Christians wouldn’t do the law of sin constrains us to do. If you don’t eat any food for a whole day the law of hunger will make you cry out for something to eat. The law of sin in every Christian is like that, “Feed my desires! Give me a titbit!” it demands.
Remember where this law of sin is. It is an internal power; it is within the Christian. I go in and I find it, and I go in and in and I find it there, in my heart; in my soul, in my body; this law of sin and death affects me from within. Satan and the temptations of this world are from the outside coming to bear upon me, but the strength and madness of sin is within me. Every Christian will know its power. At times it is like a raging river carrying us along and we fight against it, but non-Christians don’t feel this power because they go with the flow. They have surrendered to sin and it is bearing them along remorselessly, day by day. But the Christian is fighting with it. Think of some people swimming and sailing along on the upper Zambesi river enjoying themselves and the excitement of the turbulent waters. They can take it if they’re bumped out of the boat. They can also enjoy the calm pools along the way, where overhanging trees shade the river. They take it all in their stride, but they are ignoring the fact that the thunderous Victoria Falls are around the next bend. The Christian alone knows the danger of sin and its consequences and he is resisting it all his life.
Especially when we are at our best we discover this law of sin. It is when we want to do good, then evil is present with us. These disciples were soon going to be serving people, preaching and testifying to the Saviour, defending his cause before councils and synagogues. It would be at times like that they would find the law of cowardice, and pride, and retaliation, and brashness, and hatred powerfully working within them. When they were sitting down on the shores of blue Galilee sipping a cool drink remaining sin ignored them. If they went through cold backslidings then sin would be very, very quiet, but once they had been restored, and set their minds on serving the Lord, and obeying the King, and loving God with all their hearts then, at that period, sin would be present within them. “I want to do good. I want to honour his name, but now I feel the power of the enemy within. What a sinner I am.” That is the pattern, that when we do good evil is present with us.
This law of sin never takes it easy. It never has a Sabbath rest. It is a permanent guest in our hearts. If only it would leave us for a while, pull back so that we could refresh ourselves, and call a truce. Alas, sin is always on duty. It subtly and persistently opposes us. If we think we should have a time of personal prayer, that is the time it opposes us. If we think we ought to go off to the meeting, then it opposes us. If we think we should make a call and encourage a friend, it is at that moment that it stirs itself and opposes us. We are in a constant tug of war against the law of sin and death. When there is a simple duty to do towards God or our neighbour then evil is right there with us. That’s the reason we feel lazy, or stingy, or sensitive, or critical, or self-justifying – indwelling sin makes us act like that. Do we want to pray? Do we want to meditate on the Word? Do we want to give a generous gift to the kingdom of God? Do we want to resist temptation? Do we want to get out of our armchair and visit a person? Then it is that this horrible pest arises with a thousand distractions and surprises and he makes sure that we don’t do what we want.
The strength of the sin that is within us does all this as easily as a donkey eats strawberries. It is an expert in destroying us. It doesn’t have to be instructed; it doesn’t have to serve an apprenticeship; sin so easily besets us. To know what is the most disturbing response to any condition we are in of joy or sorrow comes easily to the law of sin. It can make us mad, or resentful, or sorry for ourselves, or bitter, or lustful, or stingy. It can sow seeds of doubt in our lives. It can make us indifferent and apathetic. It will encourage us to misquote the Bible. It will use high theology to justify us doing nothing in the local church. It will persuade us that we are serving God by the attitude we adopt, that we are wise and mature. It whispers that our sins are not like other men’s; they are beautiful. Sin in us makes us act in all those ways and a thousand more. Remaining sin is the biggest enemy within every single Christian. That is the first thing I want you to understand.
2. THE CHRISTIAN’S DUTY IS TO RESIST SIN TO THE POINT OF DEATH.
Let me give you two key verses from the letters of Paul that explain this duty: Romans 8:13, “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” ; Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” What is indwelling sin? Paul is specific, “I’m talking about sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed.” Christian, these sins belong to your earthly nature. Such sins are latent in every single regenerate heart. We can huff and puff that we are not capable of sinking so low: “Am I a dog, that Paul would give me these warnings?” But Paul built his life and his strategy on one peculiar fact – his own infirmities.
It is well for us to build our lives upon the same platform, our spiritual weakness and our remaining temptability. What are we to do with whatever belongs to our earthly nature? Paul says, “Kill those sins! Mortify them.” Don’t explain and don’t condone; don’t nourish, don’t cherish and don’t tolerate. He says, “Terminate! Destroy!” You are indwelt by Jesus Christ. You are a new creation in him. You are a son of God. Be what you are. Live according to what you are. You have no right to live like someone over whom the Lord Jesus Christ has no influence at all. You have no right to condone one little detail that looks like a symptom of indwelling sin. No mercy, no quarter, no truce and no explanation. How can you as someone who has been redeemed from sin by the death of the Lamb of God continue to make excuses for sin? It is anomalous, it is ridiculous and illogical. It sadly does happen, but you must get into a vital mind set where you never think of sinning as natural and tolerable. The Christian has to kill indwelling sin. Starve it to death! It wants a little titbit, a touch, a taste, a feel, some morsel to feed its self-pity, or resentment, or lust. Just a little bit to keep it from dying. No! Kill it. Show it no mercy at all.
So the relentless battle with remaining sin is the context of these words of Jesus in the words of our text, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'” (vv.43-48). Jesus begins with a reference to our hand causing us to sin. He is talking about a hand that slips into the till and takes out money, that forges a signature, that forms a hard fist, that caresses the flesh, that lifts a sledgehammer and nails a hand to a cross, that picks up a stone to stone a woman caught in adultery, a hand that is raised high in voting for the punishment of an innocent man, that dials the number of a married woman, that in a temper slaps a child, that injects a vein, that picks up yet another glass of whiskey and drinks it, that switches on the web and guides the mouse to a porn channel, that raises two fingers in contempt at a driver you have dangerously overtaken. Cut your hand off rather than let your hand act like that. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell where the fire never goes out.
Then Jesus speaks of our feet causing us to sin. He is talking about pushing your foot down on the accelerator in a busy road, walking along to the brothel or the drug dealer, putting the boot in when the man is lying on the ground, tripping up a boy in school you don’t like, fouling an opponent on the soccer pitch, playing footsie under the table with a married woman, treading on someone’s toes, running along with some gossip to a friend’s house, buying an extravagant pair of designer shoes or trainers which you can’t afford, putting your feet up on the Algerian hassock and letting your wife do all the washing up and tidying. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.
Finally our Lord talks about the eye which causes a person to sin. He is talking about the eye that looks down the front of the blouse, the eye that goes to the top rack of magazines in the newsagent, the eye that seeks to catch the eye of a married woman, the eye that lusts and covets and disdains, the eye that looks away when there is cry for help, the eye whose eyelids fall and slumber where there is work to be done, the eye that shows admiration for what is carnal and worldly, the eye that wanders all around the congregation when the preacher is preaching about our need to repent and be saved, the eye that speaks murder, the eye that determines how the next burglary is going to occur, the eye that dodges the duty, the eye that sees the place of prominence, the unforgiving eye. What things do your eyes read? What videos do you rent? What websites do you visit? How many hours of TV did you look at last week? How many chapters of the Word of God did you read? “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (vv. 47&48).
That is the duty the Lord Jesus is bringing to his disciples. Let me amplify it a little. There are three things involved in the mortification of remaining sin, says John Owen:
i] We habitually are to weaken our lusts. John Owen describes the process like this, “When a man is nailed to a cross, he at first struggles, strives, and cries out with great strength and might; but as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, and scarce to be heard. So when a man first determines to conquer a lust or sin, and to deal with it in earnest, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved. By mortification, the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may sometimes have a dying pang that makes an appearance of great vigour and strength, but it is quickly over; especially if it is kept from considerable success.
“This Paul describes in Romans 6. Sin, he says, is crucified; it is fastened to the cross. To what end? ‘That the body of sin might be brought to nothing.’ The power of sin is weakened and abolished little by little, so that we should ‘no longer be enslaved to sin’; that is, so that sin should not be our master and control us as before. This includes not only our fleshly desires, but those of the mind and the will which are in opposition to God.” (John Owen, “The Mortification of Sin,” Banner of Truth, 2004, p.35).
ii] We never give up resisting sin. Recognise your enemy and make your mind up that you are going to destroy him by all possible means. Get to know his ways, when he attacks you and what his strategy is and be ready for him. John Owen says, “This is how men deal with their enemies. They search out their plans, ponder their goals, and consider how and by what means they have prevailed over them in the past. Then they can be defeated. Continue to attack your lusts each day.” You have all seen a drama where the monster – man or beast – is finally lying dead, and everyone relaxes. It’s all over, but then suddenly he stirs himself with a roar and attacks them again. He was dormant but not dead. Owen warns us, “Even when we think that a lust is dead because it is quiet, we must labour to give it new wounds and fresh blows every day.”
iii] As you defeat temptation you gain more power for the next engagement.
“Yield not to temptation
For yielding is sin.
Each victory will help you
Some other to win.”
You weaken your lusts not only by starving them but by encouraging those graces that stand in direct opposition to the lust. As you grow in humility your pride is weakened. As you grow in gentleness your anger is weakened. As you grow in patience your irritability is weakened. As you grow in purity your uncleanness is weakened. The graces of the Spirit weaken the lusts that fight against you. In other words those graces are strengthened by looking unto Jesus.
3. THE ENCOURAGEMENT THE LORD GIVES US FOR SUCH SELF-DENIAL.
If I were to go beyond the scope of this passage in speaking of encouragements to mortification then I would talk to you about such things as the motivating energy we get from keeping the Lord’s Day, and having holy Christian men and women as our friends, and sitting under biblical ministry each Sunday. I should speak to you about supplying your heart with gospel motives such as the constraining power of the love of Jesus Christ. The Lord was so central to Joseph far from home that he was able resist the seduction of Potiphar’s wife: “How can I do this thing and sin against God?” he asked. Joseph knew the Lord loved him. If I were to go outside the confines of our text to find motivation for killing our sin that I woul d speak to you about the importance of keeping a good conscience, one that is sensitive to the guilt and danger of certain sins.
I would also warn you about the places of temptation, and urge you to avoid occasions when you are more vulnerable to sinning. I would also urge you to strike at the first risings of sin when it seems to be innocently and gently setting out. It is none of the sort. It is a killer and a friend of the pit. Herod said to his soldiers, “Kill the child or one day he will be a man and he will kill me.” We must be as ruthless in our war against baby lusts. Most of all I would urge you to mortify sin by looking unto Jesus. He is with you. He has power over the temptation. No one in the heat of battle ever asked for him in vain. All fulness of grace is found in him and he can do for you exceeding abundantly above your expectations.
Those would be the kinds of motivations which the Bible as a whole brings to us to encourage us all in the mortification of sin, but none of these does the Lord Jesus bring to bear on his disciples here. He seeks to motivate his men to fight against sin by one great concern, he brings the fear of hell to bear upon them. They are his disciples, but he still warns them of hell. Notice how insistent he is; he does this three times. He talks of going into hell in verse 43, its portals open wide and we are in that place of woe; but then in verses 46 and 47 he speaks of being thrown into hell. Now if we are to think of hell as simply an unhappy life in this world, a state of contemporary physical and psychological pain like that experienced by a drug addict or a battered deserted woman, then Christ would have made it plain that that is the only hell there is. He would not have told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It was after he died that the rich man went to hell, but notice in our text Jehovah Jesus talks about men and women being ‘thrown into hell.’ They do not drift into it by the choices they themselves make of addiction and greed. They are taken, the Lord says elsewhere, by God’s angels, and they are thrown into hell. We gently put a child down in her cot. We lower our loved ones into a grave, but the wicked are thrown into hell, like rubbish thrown onto the dump, like the animals were tumbled into pits and burned when the Mad Cow disease swept through the land.
The words are fearful but they are not my words. They are not Jonathan Edwards’ words or John Calvin’s words. They are the words of Jesus of Nazareth. He tells us where the wicked are going, in verse 48, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Those words were already God-breathed the first time the Lord spoke them in Scripture in Isaiah 66, but so that we do not ignore their alarms the Lord Jesus here repeats them. People are to be cast into a hell where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. In other words, there will be no end to the judgment that comes upon them. Who are these people? Those who never resisted their sins, who allowed their hands and eyes and feet to do whatever pleased them. They will end in hell – if what Jesus Christ says is true. The conviction that he can say no wrong is my reason for urging you to completely mortify your lusts in hand and foot and eye, in other words, in the whole totality of life, because the hand stands for what we do, the foot where we go, and the eye what we see. Are you refusing to endure pain as you conquer remaining sin? It really hurts to kill the sin in your own heart and your own soul, but better your blood on the ground than your eternity in the cosmic incinerator of hell.
Do you understand what our Lord has been speaking to us about today? He is using a subject we all are aware of, that there are certain conditions in which to save the life of a man a limb must be amputated. For example, gangrene has set in and there is no alternative if a life is to be saved. So it is in the spiritual realm. Sin is not something non-physical with little relation to everyday life. We express both our sinfulness and our holiness with our hands and feet and eyes. We have been given a great commission in life, and that is to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. There are certain instincts and certain parts of our bodies that are particularly vulnerable to sin and destruction. Think of the lips of Judas on Jesus’ cheek, the eyes of David on the roof of his palace as he looked at a woman washing herself, the tongues of those who cried, “Crucify him!”, the men in Galatia who allowed themselves to be circumcised, the hands of the men who grabbed a woman and dragged her to Jesus to accuse her of adultery, and so on. The Lord Jesus is speaking with great seriousness and concreteness about sin. He doesn’t say, “It is morbid and obsessional to speak about sin because God is a God of love and so we shouldn’t worry.” No. The Lord Jesus offers no easy and cheap solutions. Complete eradication of sin is our Lord’s goal for every single believer. Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. That is his word to us. Unless we have that goal we are going to get nowhere in our Christian lives. Kill sin, or sin is going to kill you. Gouge out your sin. Sever it from your life. That is what our text is saying. The work must be decisive and complete. You alone can do it; it is your hand, your foot, your eye. You alone have to cast the severed sins away from you. No one else can or should do it. The battle for purity is serious and lifelong, but it is one you do not fight alone. It is by the Spirit’s power you mortify the deeds of the flesh. He will help you, giving you courage and determination. He impels you through to the end. By him you do this, but I say again you must do it. As Sinclair Ferguson puts it, “There can be no reconciliation between the Christian and sin, and no platform for negotiation. If we don’t engage in the effort to conquer it, we may be sure that it will conquer us. We must put out the flames of hell in our hearts, or we will find ourselves exposed to the flames of hell and separation from God, permanently” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Let’s Study Mark,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, p.154).
Let me ask you, when did you hear a preacher of Jesus Christ telling you that the way to God was through trust in Christ alone, but following him demanded everything. Have you been listening to people suggesting that the only purpose in being a Christian was to find complete personal fulfilment and satisfaction? What have you been hearing? Messages on how to be saved from meaninglessness and aimlessness in life, which claim, “This is the path of personal spirituality where your felt needs will be met”? Is that what you’ve been hearing? That is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Could anyone preach seriously on these words of the Saviour in a so-called user-friendly church? Wouldn’t they frown on such preaching because they claim it puts off the unchurched? If you agree, “Yes, you are right. They wouldn’t accept those warnings there. They want sophisticated, urbane, friendly talks,” then that is no place for a servant of Christ to be found. You have spent your time on Sundays badly, listening to men-pleasers. Life is too brief and serious to waste your Lord’s Days in this way.
During the Second World War the house of a London minister was hit by a bomb and when the preacher got out of the air-raid shelter it was to watch his house and all its contents going up in flames. The clothes he stood up in were all he had left. Later that day he went to Oxford to visit a friend and while he was there they went to a shop to buy some new clothes. He bought a suit, underwear, shirts, socks, handkerchiefs, ties and sweaters. The lady serving him got a bit irritated at all the things he was getting, and she said to him, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” There was indeed, and there is a holy war on today, and every Christian is involved in it.
It is in the light of that that I prick up my ears to what the Lord Jesus goes on to tell the disciples, “everyone will be salted with fire’ (v.49). In the Old Testament the sacrifices were salted with salt, but under the New Testament those whose lives are living sacrifices presented to God are going to be salted with fire. There’s bound to be fiery trials on our way to glory, and all of us have to pass through them. There’s a war on. Trials are designed by God and they come at his appointed time into our lives. Then we must say these words to those who are sympathising with us, “It’s all right. Everyone will be salted with fire.” There is no other way we can enter the kingdom of God. Count it all joy when you are salted with fire.
God is at work in our world; so are the forces of evil, and there is no time nor place for self-indulgent worship and comfy spiritualities that barely mention any other cost than putting more money in the coffers of the church and the pockets of preachers. There is a deadly resistance in some churches to preaching about sacrifice. The message they preach is this, “All the desires one finds in one’s heart must be God-given and we’ve got them in order to realise them.” A church member protests, “What feels so good can’t be bad or God wouldn’t have given it to me.” In such professing Christians the salt has lost its saltiness, and so in our text the Saviour is testing us about our Christian lives. If we will not mortifying remaining sin can we be his disciples? If our lives have lost their saltiness how will we ever make them salty again? (v. 49). There’s a war on; the kingdom of God is coming; sacrifices have to be made; to think otherwise is the road to total ruin. Be at peace among ourselves, yes, but to the world we must sting like salt stings. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other” (v.50). How different many churches are; their salt has gone and so the members are at war with one another.
How is it with me? Am I at war with sin, even when I find it in my own heart and soul and mind and body? Am I treating sin casually? Am I prepared to be cleansed with fiery trials if this is God’s will? Am I longing for my congregation to be the salt of the earth, dealing with the blandness and decay of the world around which is without Christ? Am I maintaining a loving relationship of peace with all my fellow believers who also yearn for this?
Remember that this is one indispensable part of the Christian life, but that thanks be to God we are always led to triumph in Christ. The resulting transformation in love and gentleness and humility and strength is worth every sacrifice we make, and one day we shall be with him and be like him. Then the good fight of faith will be over. May the Lord make all of us victors in the conflict
23rd May 2004 GEOFF THOMAS