J.I. Packer on Mortifying Sin

From a video originally posted on Desire God. Click here to read the post and watch the video.

Some words of wisdom from J.I. Packer on fighting sin:

  • ask God to help you see sin as God sees it
  • pray that the Holy Spirit would drain the life out of sin
  • in prayer, seek to see and to fellowship with the Lord Jesus, whose disciple and servant you are
  • cherish the grateful love of God
  • thank Jesus for the new life I’ve been given by him

“I expect to find as I pray along these lines… that the sinful desire which was grabbing my heart is getting weaker, and love and loyalty to the Lord, a spirit of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving, is getting stronger and stronger. I experience at that point what Thomas Chalmers called the expulsive power of a new affection. Love to the Father and the Son simply drains the life out of love for sin. I never get to the end of mortifying sin because sin in my heart… is constantly expressing itself in new, disorderly desires” (J.I. Packer, from a video with Desiring God).

After 65 years of being a Christian, J.I. Packer says that there are sinful desires associated with old age just like there are sinful desires associated with youth. Yet even at age 85, he returns to prayer and the practices mentioned above to mortify sin. I am thankful for the example of this older, godly man who has remained faithful through the years and has never let up in his personal battle with his fallenness.

Behind the Poem: “As For Man”

To read the poem “As For Man” explained below, click here.

The Backstory
Laura and I walked into his room at Unity Hospital with hesitancy. A strong, gentle pastor that had been a rock for us during two difficult years of our lives as a newly married couple now lay before us in a bed, covered only in a hospital gown and a sheet, slumped slightly to one side. One tube that was wrapped over his ears and down to his nose supplied him with oxygen. An IV attached to a touchy machine that loved to beep every time he moved his right arm provided him with a steady stream of fluids. In stark contrast to the steady, precise manner in which he used to speak to us those Tuesday afternoons in his office at church, his words were now slurred together, and his thoughts were, at times, jumbled and incoherent. The former Bolivian missionary recognized Laura and was quick to switch to Spanish, a very comforting sign showing just how much of him did remain after the stroke that had suddenly taken him just the evening before. There, in that little hospital room on the ICU at Unity Hospital, I read this dear man Psalm 103. “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” it begins. Pastor Tom closed his eyes as if in deep concentration, and the eternal word of God began to comfort him like nothing else could. The very same word that had been his food for so many years was sweet to him again as he heard it afresh there in his hospital bed.

Verses 14-17 impacted me the most as I read them aloud:

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children.

Truly this man whom we considered a giant in the faith and who had been such a powerful instrument of God’s good grace to us in our time of desperate need was but grass. One day the wind will blow over him, and he will be no more. One day the wind will blow over me and I’ll be no more. “But” —and what a beautiful conjunction that is in God’s word— “the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.” There in that hospital room, the glaring reality of that truth was unmistakable. We are nothing and will come to such. God alone is eternal and will endure to everlasting as he has been from everlasting. We can place no hope in man, not even in a good man like the one we came to visit after his stroke. We can have all hope in God. Praise him that his steadfast love endures forever.

The Technical Stuff and Meaning
This poem is an Italian sonnet, which is a fourteen-lined poem divided into two parts. The first eight lines are called the octave and the remaining six lines are called the sestet. The first eight lines follow the rhyme scheme A-B-B-A-A-B-B-A and the last six follow the rhyme scheme C-D-C-C-D-C.

In the octave I developed the picture of one lily out of a field full that grew up above the rest. I had in mind this beloved pastor and mentor whom Laura and I visited in the hospital. He was dressed “in fairest white and luscious green.” He was a mature, fruit-bearing Christian. He was one to whom God had imparted much grace. And God had given him such grace for a specific purpose: to minister grace to others. Laura and I and countless others are the “lesser lilies.” I had in mind struggling lilies growing up underneath this one, towering lily, and that one helping the others to survive and even thrive despite the scorching sun.

In the sestet I shifted the focus from the strength of the lily in helping others to its demise and the uncertainty that that causes us lesser lilies— those of us who have been so helped by this one—to feel. The word bower means “a shady leafy shelter or recess in a garden or woods.” That’s exactly what Pastor Tom had been to us. The thought of losing a man that had been such a source of comfort and hope is troubling to say the least. And yet, precisely in feeling such trouble the words of Psalm 103 hit me so hard: “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone…. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting.” This precious flower of God will fade. God’s love for him and for all the other flowers of his field will not. What hope is ours. Bless the LORD, O my soul.

Find other editions of “Behind the Poem” below:
Behind the Poem: “It Is Enough”
Behind the Poem: “Innocence Lost, Glory Gained”
Behind the Poem: “Unrestrained”

2 Timothy 2:7

Pastor Sam Crabtree shared some very helpful words on fear from 2 Timothy, which I’d like to summarize here (click here for a video of his sermon and for his sermon notes).

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

God gives us a spirit of three things, each of which is antithetical to fear. That is, where each of these three things exists, fear does not exist.

The first one mentioned is power. Power works to stamp out fear. The example Pastor Sam gave was of a giant football lineman and a frail, 92-year-old woman. He asked if the lineman would be afraid of the 92-year-old. The answer is obviously no. Why? Because he’s a lot more powerful than she is physically speaking. Where power exists fear does not.

Next, God gives us a spirit of love. As is true with power, love and fear do not co-exist. The example Pastor Sam gave was a story he read many years ago in Reader’s Digest of a mother who saw her son grabbed and pulled into lake by an enormous alligator. What did the mother do? She headed straight for that alligator to get her son back, which she did! What compelled the mother to take on an alligator? Her strength? In this case, no. Would she have headed into the water after the alligator had it grabbed a million dollars? Probably not. So what did it? Love for her son overcame any fear she had of alligators and enabled her to perform a superhuman feat.

Finally, 2 Timothy 1:7 states that God has given us a spirit of self-control. (In other versions this word is rendered “sound mind,” “sound” referring to disciplined or controlled.) This, too, does not coexist well with fear. Pastor Sam’s example was of a hockey team who goes out to the middle of the hockey rink after a game to receive their medals. The players with ice skates have more self-control over their movements and therefore are not hesitant or afraid to waltz right out to the middle of the rink. The team’s coach and others who aren’t wearing ice skates and thus do not have much control over their movements are much more shaky and vulnerable and in that way are fearful as they make their way out on the ice.

So these three, power, love, and self-control displace and replace fear. Fear does not exist where these three things exist. It can’t.

Right after the declaration that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control, Paul says, “Therefore [as a result] do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8). God’s replacing fear with power, love, and self-control ultimately enables us to be bold witnesses of the gospel to those around us. The one who dwells in us is greater—as in, more powerful—than the one who is in the world, so why be afraid of anyone in this world? The love of an infinitely loving God has filled us. Let’s allow God’s love for others become our love for others and compel us to speak of that same love to others. Let us walk confidently, not fearfully, in the fruit of the Spirit, one of which is self-control. May we master our fear instead of letting it master us, and as we do so, may we speak with confidence the words of life to a dying world.

We believe, Father. Help us in our unbelief.