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Monday, January 31, 2011 | Comments (19)

If someone were to ask you, “What’s the most dangerous spiritual responsibility to neglect?” You might think of Scripture reading, prayer, evangelism, listening to preaching, or attending corporate worship. And it’s not that you’d be wrong…God commands all believers to pursue those things. They’re non-negotiable.

But there’s another spiritual responsibility we often overlook. It’s an intimate, unpleasant, and exhausting duty—killing sin. Maybe that’s a provocative thing to say, and some might want to challenge it. After all, didn’t Christ deliver a crushing blow to sin when He rose from the dead? Wasn’t it His job to kill sin at Calvary? Well, yes, and that was the fundamental beginning to His judgment against sin.

Christ removed the penalty of our sin on the cross. As Christians, you and I no longer stand accused under the righteous requirements of the law (Romans 8:4). There’s no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The work of Christ also removed sin’s power over believers. Having been crucified with Christ, we’re no longer enslaved to sin’s grip. Christ rendered it powerless when He rose from the dead (Romans 6:14, 22). So if Christ removed sin’s penalty and power, what’s left to kill?

Too few Christians are asking that question today, and too few pastors are bringing it to their attention. That wasn’t true of Puritan pastor John Owen. He dealt comprehensively with the question, teaching Christians from Scripture how to kill remaining sin. In one of his classic works, The Mortification of Sin, there’s a famous quote from Owen I’ve never forgotten: “Be killing Sin, or sin will be killing you.” That’s right—kill or be killed. Take your pick.

Thankfully, other faithful pastors followed in Owen’s footsteps to expound on the Bible’s teaching on the believer’s relationship to indwelling sin. They understood the reality of remaining sin, took its threat seriously, and labored to help the body of Christ adopt biblical strategies for killing it. We owe the Lord a deep debt of gratitude for them for helping us with such practical issues in our sanctification.

It was about five years ago through the “Grace to You” podcast when I heard what proved to be one of the most impactful and helpful messages from John MacArthur. The sermon was called, “Hacking Agag to Pieces,” and it aired as part of the sermon series, Dealing with Sins of the Mind. I remember the powerful analogy John made in that sermon; he compared the remaining sin in the life of a believer with King Agag, the wicked ruler of the Amalekites in the Old Testament.

As the story goes, God sent Samuel to rebuke King Saul because he allowed Agag to live in disobedience to His command to annihilate the Amalekites. Samuel announced the end of Saul’s throne, and then turned to Agag to take care of a more gruesome business. Samuel hacked Agag to pieces with a sword.

I’ve never forgotten that graphic illustration of how serious God is that we be relentless to pursue and put to death every remaining sin in our lives. Here’s John’s conclusion to that message:

When Agag comes to you cheerfully and says, "Surely the bitterness of death is past," which is another way of saying, "Well the war is over, you're saved, you're on your way, I'm defeated, don't worry about me." When Agag and his Amalekite friends want to make friends with you and declare an end to hostilities, that's when you grab your sword and hack them to pieces.

As believers, indwelling sin continues to trouble us, but God calls us to treat that remaining sin like Samuel treated Agag. Kill it. Be brutal about it. But how do we do that? That’s the question we’ll explore in the next post, with the help of the Apostle Paul, John Owen, and John MacArthur. Sound good? Stick around.

Until then, be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.

Tommy Clayton
Content Developer, Broadcast Editor


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#1  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 5:37 AM

I am **really** looking forward to this series of posts. This is one of the reasons I really like this blog, you stay focused on Biblical issues.

#2  Posted by Tayon Shelby  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 7:08 AM

Sounds Good! Can't wait to read more. Thease post have really been a blessing to me.

#3  Posted by Brian Jonson  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 7:23 AM

Time for some self-surgery! Thank you for turning to this topic; it is important and shockingly avoided by so many evangelicals.

May the Lord help each of us who read this series focus on our own sin and not think of the sins of others. May we seek the holiness of the Lord.

#4  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 7:25 AM

Killing sin is important in our lives. Thanks for post.

#5  Posted by Joseph Whiting  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:27 AM

Awesome post! Can't wait until part 2!

#6  Posted by Ernest Feigenbaum  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 9:46 AM

I really enjoyed listening to “Hacking Agag to Pieces” when it was first broadcast, and have listened to it several times since then. I understand that only Christ will kill the flesh, but I'm also aware that we are to put to death the deeds [sin] of the flesh. I am so looking forward to this series.

#7  Posted by Paul Dresvyannikov  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Thank you for the wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it. Like some have said, Grace To You stays biblical which is so helpful for Christians seeking to live for God's glory to the fullest potential. Thank you, I am looking forward to your 2nd part in this series.

Your brother in Christ,

Paul Dresvyannikov.

#8  Posted by Mark Tanner  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 2:37 PM

In preparation for what is to come I recommend two things: 1) Read the biblical account of Agag in 1 Samuel 15 and 2) Listen to John's sermon titled "Hacking Agag to Pieces" code 80-128.

It will be a blessing to all who do; God bless all of you.

#9  Posted by Jesus Rodriguez  |  Monday, January 31, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Thank you for this post. I really need it. Help me help myself. God Bless

#10  Posted by Eugen Olsen  |  Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 4:32 AM

Just last night, I finally got to reading John Owen's 'Overcoming Sin & Temptation' - a book long overdue on my read-list! Personal battles with sin and temptation have always been difficult subject - knowing that sanctification is a work of Grace and the Holy Spirit, and how this works in perfect harmony with the commandments of 'casting off the old man' etc... I look forward to the next post, and am already completely submerged in Owen's wonderful book (although progress is a lot slower than usual - as rich and heavy as Edward's 'Religious Affections'. Be killing sin....

#11  Posted by Darla Wormuth  |  Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 8:34 AM

Here's a PDF of Owen's book.

#13  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 8:46 AM

Thanks for providing that link, Darla.

Keep in mind that reading Owen presents a challenge to many readers unaccustomed to the language of the Puritans. Many abridged copies of Owen's work on The Mortification of Sin have been published.

So...If you find Owen's sentences long and hard to untangle, I highly recommend the Puritan Paperback version of the book, abridged and made easy to read by Richard Rushing. I promise you will not lose the thrust of what Owen is saying. I own a copy and I'm indebted to Rushing for his work. The book runs anywhere from $5 to $10.


#14  Posted by Douglas Grogg  |  Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 11:25 AM is yet another site where a PDF of Mortification of Sin is available free of charge. Other works of Owen as well as those of many other puritan writers are also available free of charge. Thomas Brooks' "Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices" is one of those available in PDF. As the title suggests, it is a dear friend and a healing balm to those who are pursuing holiness and look forward to the Day when they will be free from even the very presence of sin. Eugene, I also find the reading of the puritans much slower reading. There is "so much wheat and so little chaff", and as a result, it takes much more time to digest. -His Unworthy Slave

#15  Posted by Trent Whalin  |  Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 7:25 PM

Thanks for this series!

And thanks #14!

#16  Posted by Jane Wilson  |  Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 10:15 PM

I find the Agag analogy with sin to be so compelling. It strikes fear in me every time I consider God's wrath poured out on sin. I remember a documentary about the "birth" of modern day Israel, after the world war, and the Jews were granted permission to enter the land. They came by airplane, and boat in rapid pace. Then as if an analogy for us Christians to consider... of our rebirth in Christ, they were just assembled together as a new batch of "brothers" when their enemies (countries on every side) pressed in and waged immediate war on them. With the intent to totally wipe them out before they had a chance to claim a home. It was such a striking picture to me, that analogy- of we as Christians when we enter into Christ... in short order we have an enemy that seeks to take us out on every possible side with immediacy and force. Yet, God protected Israel, and they were not destroyed at that time (amazingly). The point being: They had to fight. They had to fight AT ONCE. There was no time to hug and have lengthy reunions, and parties, nor how their religious doctrine lined up with one another. There was no time to build nice homes and plant gardens. It was grab your guns, "What's your name? Never mind... let's go...", and battle night and day. (Homes and gardens came in due time, yet still to this day amid frequent rocket fire.) And we as Christians have understood that "immediate fire" experience when we got saved. We were committed, the rockets came, and we took up arms and meant business. To be reminded of this battle with sin is so needed. With a clever enemy who will give us ease so that we gradually feel "safe" about sin... and set our arms down. We have tended our homes, our gardens, and our doctrine... and the weapons have a nice spot on the newly painted shelf. When we should be shouldering our sheilds and swords at all times. We all need to be reminded that it is not enough to recognize and accept there is war with sin, but to enter into it. I look forward to the insights and encouragement.

#17  Posted by Ernest Feigenbaum  |  Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Thanks Jane for sharing that very refreshing perspective.

#18  Posted by Elizabeth Offer  |  Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Dear Jane, and all bloggers, sinners/saints,

I, like all of you, am a sinner seeking a Savior. Thank the Lord I have found Him and I pray for others to find Hm too. Sin has been a big stumbling block for me, past and present.

I just think that comparing our struggle with sin to modern Israel is like comparing ourselves to King Saul's struggle with sin. They are bound for defeat. One day, I believe after the rapture, Israel will be saved and we will be brothers and sisters in Christ. I am looking forward to that day. I hope I have not offended anyone.

#20  Posted by Jane Wilson  |  Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 6:39 PM

I'd just like to clarify that I did not mean to transfer the focus of this thread onto eschatology. I just meant to use the analogy because it was a good reminder to me of the fact that sin is not "going away". We have to be willing to fight it, and then stand ready for battle at all times. I suppose there are other examples in history where an army did something similar. As I'm not a historian, I just used the example I was familiar with. It had a profound affect on me when I saw this particular secular documentary, and I feel there is a powerful spiritual lesson to be gained through this bit of history.

#21  Posted by Chris Rowe  |  Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 3:11 AM

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23. What a blessing this is for heart work is the difference between life and death. A.w. Pink in his book 'Practical Christianity' and of coarse John Owen are two of the very few writers that have gone into heart work with any detail. Thank you John for speaking on this important subject.