When Sin Plays Dead
Have you ever watched an opossum escape from a predator? They use a defense mechanism distinct to only a few animals—playing dead. When faced with a threat, an opossum will often fall on the ground, close his eyes, extend his limbs, and lie very still. He appears lifeless—and harmless. But when the danger passes, he revives and scurries away. You can almost hear laughter as he makes his escape.
Playing dead seems to be an effective means of survival, but opossums aren’t the sole practitioners of that strategy.
Our sins often “play dead” too, especially when faced with the threat of execution. They fake death in order to escape it. While you may think you’ve slain a particular sin, sometimes life still pulses within your enemy and it secretly takes its leave, stays quiet, and waits on danger to pass.
We’ve all been tricked by sin’s craftiness, haven’t we? How many times have you sheathed your sword, convinced sin was finished, only to suffer a violent retaliation a few hours later? How does that happen, and what can you do to stop it?
You may already know this, but John MacArthur has preached more than 3,000 sermons, written more than 150 books, and spent the last 50 years feeding God’s sheep from God’s Word. Much of that material relates directly to how you and I combat sin. John has a unique ability to equip, clarify, and warn, especially when he’s dealing with sin in the life of a Christian. One message in particular stands out to me in which John listed what killing sin is not.
I’d like to introduce you to my expansion of that list and end this series by addressing an important issue—What do you do when sin plays dead? In other words, how do you know if you’ve successfully slain sin? To answer those questions, I’ll share what I’ve learned biblically from John MacArthur and John Owen about what killing sin is not.
Killing sin is not covering it up. You may appear successful at covering up your sin. You can easily deceive your friends, family, and pastors. For awhile, you may even deceive yourself (Jer. 17:9). But hiding sin is not killing it—you’ll reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7).When you paint over sin like graffiti on a wall, that’s not putting it to death, it’s practicing hypocrisy. Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper. But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion."
Rather than conceal your sins, confess and forsake them. That’s how you kill sin (1 John 1:9). Merely covering up your sin obscures the problem from plain sight, which keeps it secret. You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Sin doesn’t die in those conditions—it thrives.
Don’t be deceived. Achan hid his sin and silenced his conscience until it was too late. He even brought sin’s treachery into his own home (Joshua 7:21). His deception cost him his life—and the life of his entire family (vv. 24-25). Don’t cover up your sin, kill it.
Killing sin is not internalizing it. When you stop your tongue, body, hands, eyes and ears from sinning, don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ve killed sin. Stopping the action is part of the process (as we noted last post), but binding your hands is not the same as keeping your heart (Pr. 4:23). Sinful actions are driven by sinful attitudes (James 4:1-2)—you must kill both.
Some imagine that ceasing sinful activity equates to gaining victory over sin, yet they often continue ruminating on the pleasures of previous sins in their mind. John MacArthur said this:
Perhaps you reason with yourself, “I'm not going to entertain myself by going to movies that parade immorality,” and so you stop. But maybe you allow the vivid imagery of those past sins, the experiences of seeing those movies, to creep back into your mind and relive the pleasures of those sins over and over. That’s not killing sin.
Killing sin is not forsaking some sins while tolerating others. Don’t imagine you’ve slain sin when you merely forsake one glaring sin while you tolerate others. Remember, even the minutest transgression of God’s holy law carries enough guilt and offense to cast you into hell for all eternity (Rom. 6:23). What good could come from trading the lust of the flesh for the lust of the eyes, or the lust of the eyes for the pride of life (1 John 2:16)? The lust hasn’t died; it merely changed forms. That would be like drinking a less-deadly poison—the result is the same. Likewise, forsaking sexual immorality but tolerating greed and covetousness is futile and puts you at greater risk of being hardened by sin’s deceit (Heb. 3:13).
Remember when Simon Magus appeared to forsake his sorcery in Acts 8? Time revealed the truth—his repentance was a sham. He apparently put away his spells and incantations, but his sinful ambition was alive and well. When Simon’s un-slain sin sought expression, the apostle Peter called him out:
You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours…for I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity. (Acts 8:21-23)
Don’t engage in selective sin-forsaking, and then imagine you’ve progressed spiritually. To trade sins is simply to prefer one sewage over another.
Killing sin is not repressing it. Some people repress sin with drugs and alcohol. They drink themselves into oblivion or take drug-induced trips away from reality. But there are even Christians who suppress their guilt with movies, music, and worldly entertainment. They find distractions to eclipse the misery sin brings. If that doesn’t suit them, some will even consult counseling professionals who attempt to manage the person’s guilt by elevating his self-esteem.
People seem to become very lazy, almost indifferent when it comes to contending against sin. Even the thought of fighting against temptation wearies them. So they don’t fully commit to the battle. Instead, they repress their sins with work, the gym, or tragically, even ministry—anything to resist full engagement with the enemy. But that’s not killing sin. David wrote:
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. (Ps. 32:3-4)
Keep in mind, that confession came from a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David testified to both the deceit and misery of sin. He was able—for a time at least—to suppress his guilt, until God came and announced His glorious work of putting David’s sin away (2 Sam. 12:13). David slaughtered God’s enemies by the tens of thousands (1 Sam. 18:7), but the enemy within his bosom proved too elusive for him.
Killing sin is not enjoying occasional victories over it. I’m going to let John Owen make this point:
Occasional conquests of sin do not count as killing sin. When a person faces some sudden invasion of sin in his life—such as a scandal or some evil tragedy—and becomes all stirred up about it, he may feel he has killed sin. He reacts to sin as fervently as the Corinthians did in 2 Cor. 7:11. But when the lust dies down for a time, he forgets about it. Yet the lust is like a thief that has only lain low in order to start its felony once more.
Likewise, when a sinner faces the affliction of some calamity, or the exposure of some sin, he deals with the problem by resolving never to do it again. It appears that the sin is gone, whereas it is only concealed, waiting to come back later on.
Killing sin is not ignoring your conscience. Part of the process of killing your sin is working through the issue of guilt. Until your conscience is quiet, and fully appeased, sin is still alive and active. If you truly want to know those areas of your life where sin thrives, listen to your conscience. Like sonar on a battleship, it can detect enemy presence hidden beneath the surface, in places you can’t immediately see or hear. To ignore the presence of the enemy is to hasten death.
If you want to kill sin, don’t ignore your conscience. Inform it with biblical truth so it functions accurately, flooding your soul with knowledge like a skylight brings light into a dark room.
You and I live in a culture that counsels us to run from guilt and kill our conscience. But it’s not wise to throw away your shield in battle, nor is it safe to ignore your conscience. Pain tells you something is wrong in your body; guilt tells you something is wrong in your soul. Listen to your conscience, Christian. If you silence the pangs of your conscience, you’re not killing sin—you’re accommodating it.
So the next time your sin drops to the ground before you, closes its eyes, and appears dead, don’t sheathe your sword. Review the points we’ve covered, examine your heart, and make sure you’ve done the grueling, Spirit-empowered work of completely executing your sin.
Kill your sins God’s way, or die sin’s way. Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.
Content Developer and Broadcast Editor
#1 Posted by
Dan Wilson | Friday, March 04, 2011at
We use to have a guy who traps pest in the yard. A opossum would be trapped in the trap. I let it go and it would try to fake me by playing dead and otherwise it knew I was not hurting it and growled. It trotted off. I probably woke it up and it was grumpy. Smiles.
Meant at times, sin plays dead, we must walk away and when sin play games like the opossum. we must read God's word to look up bible verses to defeat it. Like if I touch the opossum, I might had got bitten. Sin bites like a snake would bite.
#2 Posted by
Douglas Grogg | Friday, March 04, 2011at
Comment deleted by author.
#4 Posted by
bob wire | Saturday, March 05, 2011at
Comment deleted by author.
#6 Posted by
Douglas Grogg | Saturday, March 05, 2011at
Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper. But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion." Notice that the text does not say “He who confesses them will find compassion”. So many today have a false view of repentance. There is a serious question as to the genuineness of their salvation. To find compassion we must also forsake sin.
Objection: 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He promises to forgive us our sins.
Answer: Two things must be considered. First, two verses later John indicates that he was writing this to his “little children” that they might not sin. This promise is not to those who are not yet born again. Secondly the text goes on to say that the promise includes “and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. If the second part of the promise does not bring the most amount of joy to your heart, the condition of your heart is dreadful indeed. The heart is deceitful above all things.
Learn to search out heart sins. As sin is discovered within, study to find out the root or heart sin. Perhaps the root of the sin is pride. Consider this: God is opposed to the proud. Opposed to: to line up in battle array against. Such truth should cultivate the fear of God in us. The fear of God is after all the beginning and fountain head of all wisdom. Perhaps the root of the sin is unbelief. Consider this: other sins are against God’s holiness and against His Law. The sin of unbelief in a believer is a sin which is an especially grievous sin. It denies God’s love, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, kindness etc. Such a sin so grieves God. When you discover such a sin, speak to your soul. Ask him/her “How can you do this to Him?” “Go to Him; tell Him how you have so grieved Him.” Notice how David spoke to his soul in the psalms.
Consider also how David enlisted the help of God in searching out those hard to find sins. “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” Notice the exclamation point. He cried out to God for help in searching out sin. “Try me…” says David. “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3). (Psalms 139:23)
Consider also how every girl dreams of the day of her wedding. She wants to look special, doesn’t she? We also have a wedding day. It will be here sooner than we realize. What a motivation that is! (See 1 John 3:3) Each member of the Godhead has a very special love for each of the other members of the Godhead. When I consider these things I ask the Holy Spirit in particular, to complete His work in me and make me into a bride that will be beautiful to Christ. When the Father says to the Son, “Son, the time has come!” “Go get your Bride.” I want to be genuinely beautiful.
Mr. Clayton, May God grant you much fruitfulness in your labors for our Master. I can think of no greater privilege than to be used of Him to help purify the Bride of His Beloved Son. -His Unworthy Slave
#7 Posted by
Manuel Jr. Reyes | Saturday, March 05, 2011at
I think, to destroy sin 100% is to be taken by Jesus either alive or dead as 1 Thessalonians 4. That I think is the ultimate death of sin. However, as long as we live we shall still sin whether we like it or not (or should I say whether we like it or like it...). That is why Paul, in his struggle with his flesh wrote Romans 7 (add the fact that he even beats his body for submission). A spiritually matured Christian has the same struggle as Paul and has the same anger with sin. Yet, sin still plays dead because we are still alive. Therefore, I could conclude that we must keep on fighting sin and every time we fall, we stand-up again an fight once more - fall 7 times, stand up 8 times. Secondly, we Christians, are not sinless but we sin less and less. Thirdly, we have to be responsible for our sins - we must judge ourselves and suffer the consequences while still alive.
#8 Posted by
Greg Corron | Sunday, March 06, 2011at
Comment deleted by user.
#9 Posted by
Eugen Olsen | Monday, March 07, 2011at
Thanks Tommy, this series on sin has been challenging and encouraging - particularly dealing with issues we'd rather ignore or lightly address and pass over...
How do you personally approach the concept of 'confessing sin'? Especially in the epistles, there are many exhortations to 'exposing the deeds of darkness' and confession often is related to fellowship. While the Catholic concept of 'confession' with forgiveness granted by the priest is heretical and misleading, how do you practically understand and practice confession?
#10 Posted by
Ernest Cisneros | Monday, March 07, 2011at
"Occasional conquests of sin do not count as killing sin. When a person faces some sudden invasion of sin in his life—such as a scandal or some evil tragedy—and becomes all stirred up about it, he may feel he has killed sin. He reacts to sin as fervently as the Corinthians did in 2 Cor. 7:11. But when the lust dies down for a time, he forgets about it. Yet the lust is like a thief that has only lain low in order to start its felony once more.
Likewise, when a sinner faces the affliction of some calamity, or the exposure of some sin, he deals with the problem by resolving never to do it again. It appears that the sin is gone, whereas it is only concealed, waiting to come back later on."
This so hits the mark.
I have seen this with myself and others.
Thank You for The Blogs on Killing Sin it is most needed.
I think of 1 Timothy 4:7-10
"discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness"...
For "godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
"For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men..."
Keep Prescribing and teachng these things
For "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be[and are] a good servant of Christ Jesus"
#11 Posted by
Gabriel Powell | Monday, March 07, 2011at
Is it possible to go overboard in fighting sin...?
Doing anything to establish our righteousness apart from Christ is wrong. But as long as our motive is worship and glorifying God, we cannot go overboard in fighting sin.
The goal of fighting sin is not being good or being more acceptable to God. Instead the goal is to be like Christ because we are in Christ. Our desire should be to resemble Christ more because we love him. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery. We're not interested in flattering Jesus, but in bringing the glory and honor due His name.
#12 Posted by
Tommy Clayton | Monday, March 07, 2011at
Great question. I’ll try and keep my answer brief. I think part of the answer lies in understanding what the word confession means. Confession simply means to admit, acknowledge, or agree (literally, “to say the same thing”).
As it relates to sin, we must practice confession with contrition, humility, sincerity, and urgency. That means we come to God agreeing with everything He’s said about sin and our guilt.
In your comment, you related confession to fellowship (in the epistles). I’m assuming you were referencing (James 5:16), which says “Confess your sins to one another”? That’s a different idea than 1 John 1:9 (the verse I quoted in this article). John is referring to an act between the believer and God alone. Psalm 32:5 is a great model to follow in that regard. David said:
I will confess my transgressions to the LORD. And You forgave the guilt of my sin.
As far as the practice of confession, I think there should be urgency. We should never prolong confession and repentance. They should take place immediately after the sin. I also believe we must initially practice confession privately. If the sin was public, you can explore public confession after private confession has taken place. Also, confession should never be divorced from repentance. Those are just a few ideas. Psalms 32 and 51 are a great place to study confession and repentance.
One final thought (which you’ll find specifically in Psalm 51). True confession and repentance are concerned more with the guilt of our sins than the consequences. In other words, you come to God caring not for what may happen to you as a result of your sin, but consumed with an overwhelming desire to be cleansed and forgiven by God. That’s the attitude of David. He knew adultery called for death, and I believe he was prepared to accept that sentence had God called for it.
I hope that helps.
#13 Posted by
Douglas Grogg | Monday, March 07, 2011at
“Is it possible to go overboard in fighting sin, so that you are trying to establish your own actual righteousness…?” Greg #8
Greg, short answer: Absolutely not…but on the other hand.
Our right standing before God (Justification) is the imputed righteousness (perfect obedience, both active and passive) of Christ. Our sanctification (obedience-active and submission-passive) in this life is always tainted with sin. If we try to add our sin stained sanctification with Christ’s perfect obedience to justify us to God we offer a corrupted offering that He could never accept.
You posts over the last several weeks demonstrate that you fail to recognize the seriousness of sanctification in the life of the believer. Notice that I said believer. True sanctification is the distinguishing mark that separates the “professing christian” from those who have actually experienced the new birth. Exhortations to pursue sanctification are always written to believers, never to unbelievers. The new birth isn’t just a matter of getting our doctrine right. When we are born again, God not only takes away our hearts of stone and gives us a heart of flesh but He actually writes His Law upon that new heart of flesh. We are brought to actually love His Law. We really do hunger and thirst for that Law to be lived out in our lives because we really have been born from above. We are “Blessed” (See Matthew 5:6).
God warns us to work out our salvation. Not only are we to work it out, but God warns us that we are to work it out with fear and trembling. How can God make it any clearer than that? Who did Paul write those words to? He wrote those words to a suffering Church. He called them “my beloved”. He acknowledged that they “have always obeyed”. He also pointed out the motivating reasons for heeding these warnings, namely, “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (See Philippians 2:12, 13). I say this in love: Greg is it possible that though you understand the futility of keeping the law to justify yourself before God, you have never actually experienced the new birth?
May His saints be instructed and edified and may “almost christians” be brought to see their true condition that they may truly become born again and brought into His everlasting kingdom (See “The Almost Christian Discovered” by Matthew Mead 1629-1699). –His Unworthy Slave
#14 Posted by
David Johnston | Monday, March 07, 2011at
Re: #8 "Is it possible to go overboard in fighting sin, so that you are trying to establish your own actual righteousness, one that is better than the merely legal righteousness the God has granted? This is the trap of the super-religious cults, such as Mormonism."
I assume you mean a Christian, not a cultist, is trying to establish his own righteousness outside that of Christ's blood. If he knowingly does this, he sins, and further he would not be a Christian, since Christ's blood is foundational. If he does this unknowingly then it is yet another sin.
Consider another extreme, which seems its opposite:
"The last danger [of self-deception] is the terrible one of playing grace against the law and thereby being interested only in grace. There is no saving doctrine at all apart from the doctrine of grace; but we must beware lest we hide ourselves behind it in a wrong way. Again I remember a man who had been converted, but who then fell into sin. I was very ready to help him until I found that he was much too ready to help himself. In other words, he came and confessed his sin, but immediately he began to smile and said: 'After all, there is the doctrine of grace'. I felt he was too healthy; he was healing himself a little too quickly. The reaction to sin should be deep penitence. When a man is in a healthy spiritual condition he does not find relief quite as easily as that. He feels he is hopeless and vile. If therefore you find that you can heal yourself easily, if you find you can jump lightly to the doctrine of grace, I suggest you are in a dangerous condition. The truly spiritual man, while he believes in the doctrine of grace, when he is truly convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, feels at times that it is almost impossible that God can forgive him." (Lloyd-Jones, "Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)
#15 Posted by
Eugen Olsen | Monday, March 07, 2011at
Tommy, thanks so much for that reply. In my recent battles against sin, particularly 'the mortification of sin' (I'm laboring through John Owen's book...) I have come to grips with the reality that sin, even in its temptation and desire, is at war with the Spirit. If I yield to, let's say, a selfish impulse, it strikes a blow to the spirit of patience, kindness, goodness - it grieves the Holy Spirit - and leaves me guilty and without peace.
For a long time, I struggled (usually after the sin had bore fruit) I wondered why I even have these impulses if I'm a believer - why does the resistance and overcoming of temptation not happen 'naturally'? Why is the power of the Holy Spirit in me not greater and overcoming, right at the root of that temptation, against that sin? Well, when it came to lust, I remembered what Jesus said - rip out your eye, cut off your arm! That willing - that violent willing against sin - is obedience to Christ. It was during this time that I was working through Phil 2:12-13, particularly that this 'working out' of salvation is a 'bringing to fruition' (the word-study of this 'working out' must be far more thorough and complete to come to grips with what it means of course). Ultimately, this 'willing' and 'fight' against sin (relating to Phil 2:13) is God willing and working in you - a tremendous thought... So we should do so with fear and trembling, not only because our soul is at stake, but because the very power and holiness of God is at work in you!
Will you be talking about James 5:16 sometime? I am very encouraged and blessed by these articles. Thanks again Tommy!
#16 Posted by
Steve Nuhn | Tuesday, March 08, 2011at
This may be beyond the scope of this discussion, but my question is related to sin. I was talking with a friend about Gods sovereignty and his plan of redemption and why is there sin and are we bound or free to sin and finally the dreaded words man's free will. My friend asked the question, "was Christ capable of sin?" He stated that if Christ wasn't able to sin then why was he tempted and why did he suffer. How do we articulate to people that although God is sovereign in all things he does not cause people to sin?
#17 Posted by
Greg Corron | Tuesday, March 08, 2011at
Re #14: David,
I no longer will respond to any arguments made from non-scriptural sources. Who is Lloyd-Jones? He is just a man. Be careful, the cults always supplement the Bible with their own authors and end up relying on them more than Scripture.
- No Longer a Slave (Gal 4:7)
#18 Posted by
Greg Corron | Tuesday, March 08, 2011at
Re: #16 Steve,
We can safely say that Jesus was not capable of sin, since he never stopped being God, even when he walked on earth. He shared our weakness in being subject to temptation (Heb 4:15), but temptation is not the same thing as sin. Did he desire to sin? No, because he made it clear that to even desire something wrong is sinful. Temptation is simply having the option to sin and considering it. It is possible to deliberately "tempt" yourself with sinful desire, but Jesus did not. He did speak about his options to disobey God, so he was perfectly aware of them (Matt 26:53), and he endured the maximum pressure to make use of them.
The sovereignty issue is a deep one, and there is no way to do it justice in a blog comment. Clearly, God has consigned all to disobedience, meaning he made us that way intentionally. But because we are not animals, but endowed with understanding and a conscience, we are fully accountable.
We are free to make moral choices and we all understand them (Rom 1:19). That makes us accountable to God right there. We don't know exactly how God will deal with people who never attain a certain capacity of understanding, such as infants or the mentally handicapped. That is a side issue.
We are not free to choose our own nature, since God has made that choice for us, when we were born children of wrath and when we were born again and given a new nature (2 Cor 5:17, 1 Peter 1:3). Calvinists and Arminians disagree on who ultimately determines our new nature, Calvinists taking quite literally Rom 9:18 and similar passages.
But consider this: even God does not enjoy the freedom to change his own nature (Mal 3:6, 2 Tim 2:13). So freedom of choice never extends to decisively determining your nature. That is my understanding of the Calvinist position, which I agree with. We are who we are, by God's choice, and God is who he is (3:14), according to his unchanging nature.
#19 Posted by
Dan Wilson | Tuesday, March 08, 2011at
Comment deleted by user.
#20 Posted by
David Johnston | Thursday, March 10, 2011at
Re: #17: "I no longer will respond to any arguments made from non-scriptural sources. Who is Lloyd-Jones? He is just a man. Be careful, the cults always supplement the Bible with their own authors and end up relying on them more than Scripture." Greg,
Here is the scriptural source, Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. After reading those chapters for context, then focus on Matt 7:21-23. Consider the danger of self-deception and how it may manifest, which is the topic of the quote in #14.
That Lloyd-Jones is 'just a man' is true, but hardly intrinsic grounds to categorically dismiss what he says, or anyone else for that matter. We both know that God used just-a-man Simon Peter, and just-a-man Paul, and He calls others to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12).
'cults always supplement the Bible' You are right, we must take care to check against scripture the words of Lloyd-Jones as well as the words of others (Acts 17:10-11).
So, any thoughts about the quote in #14?