Enmity Expressed as Aversion
By John Fast
Having considered in our previous studies the nature and power of this law of indwelling sin, especially its hostility to all that is God (Rm 8:7), we turn in this study to investigate more thoroughly the ways in which this hostility manifests itself. This enmity is real and powerful, but power is only revealed in something that has life, and the strength of life is discovered by the strength of its actions.Vigorous and powerful actions reveal a strong and energetic life. Such are all the actions of this law of indwelling sin which simply demonstrates the strength of its power. Since hostility belongs to the nature of indwelling sin it will be found wherever sin is found. It is hostile to all things God, and the more of God there is in anything, the more hostility sin will have against it. When there is little of God, there will be little hostility against it from the law of sin. The hostility of indwelling sin demonstrates itself in two ways – first, by aversion; and secondly by opposition. In this study we will examine the aversion which indwelling sin has toward all that is God and is spiritually good, along with some means by which we can avoid the effects of this aversion. In our next study we will examine sin’s opposition.
Hostility Expressed by Aversion
Wherever there is a mutual hatred and hostility there will also be a mutual aversion. It was because of Sarah’s hostility toward Hagar that the latter fled from the former (Gn 16:4-6). Jacob fled from Esau because “Esau bore a grudge against Jacob” (Gn 27:41). Because of the hostility between them, the Jews avoided all dealings with the Samaritans (Jn 4:9). Because of their hostility to Jesus’ teaching, “many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore” (Jn 6:66). In all these instances – and many more examples could be sited – aversion was the effect of hostility.
In the same way there is an aversion toward everything that is of God because of the hostility which indwelling sin has against God. People may be very religious and “search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life”, yet all the while are “unwilling to come to Me that you might have life” (Jn 5:39, 40). The reason people are unwilling to obey God’s commands, and the reason they invent all sorts of excuses to avoid obeying His word, is because of their hostility toward God as God, “If then you act with hostility against Me, and are unwilling to obey Me,” (Lv 26:21). If someone loathes God’s discipline (Pv 3:11), then they will invent a form of Christianity in which the doctrine of God’s discipline is anathema, and its absence is a sign of God’s blessing instead of a curse, “But if you are without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hb 12:8; cf. Ps 50:17). An unwillingness and aversion to the word, the ways, and the principles of God is the effect of indwelling sin’s hostility toward God (Jer 7:28; Zeph 3:7)..
When do we most experience this aversion and see it asserting itself? Whenever we desire to do anything that is spiritually good, “evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good” (Rm 7:21). Whenever I want to do good, evil is present with me to hinder, discourage, obstruct, and provide excuses and worldly and humanitarian alternatives, because evil hates what is spiritually good just as darkness hates the light (Jn 3:19, 20). This is why the majority of professing Christians will replace what is truly spiritual with spirituality. They substitute religion and churchianity for Christianity. They trade spiritual grace, faith, and love for their own carnal versions of these spiritual traits. Because of this great aversion to all that is God, people will readily and enthusiastically exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rm 1:25). If this were not so then false religion, idolatry, cults, and Roman Catholicism would never have gotten a foothold in the world. Where this aversion dominates, the people become like those in Ezekiel 33:31, “And they come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people, and hear your words, but they do not do them…their heart goes after their gain.” They will allow an external, worldly, superficial, humanitarian, therapeutic, formal, respectable, and ritualistic involvement in religion and worship, just so long as their heart is kept far from it.
Many deceive themselves into thinking they have no such dislike toward God. They pretend they can serve and obey God whenever they please. They say they feel no particular distaste toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and think they have the freedom to choose to do good rather than evil. But if examined by biblical rules, it will be evident that their imaginary freedom is the result of one or both of two causes. First, they are ignorant of the true nature of their own souls, of their spiritual nature, and of its natural hostility toward God. They say they feel no such hostility, therefore they do not believe they have any. They are in the dark and convinced of their own intrinsic and basic goodness and see no reason why they should be, by nature, an object of God’s wrath (Eph 2:3). Or, secondly, it could be because all their religion is first and foremost motivated by self and self-interest. Whatever is motivated by self is always done for self and from self; therefore there is nothing to incite sin’s hostility against them. All they do in the name of Jesus they do for themselves and so they make themselves their own god and their own savior against which they have no hostility or aversion. It is as impossible for a person to serve themselves – their lusts, ambitions, pride, and preferences – and God, as it is for a person to serve two masters (Lk 16:13).
The more difficulty which attends anything truly spiritual and the less likely it is to result in any worldly benefit, the more aversion there will be to it. If people think godliness is a means of personal gain, they will have no aversion to godliness, or at least to a form of it (1 Tm 6:5). But if the price of godliness is the loss of all things which we consider to be gain, then this aversion makes its power known and felt. The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that God is a rewarder of all those who diligently seek Him (Hb 11:6), not negligently or selfishly, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jm 4:2, 3). As such, there is an aversion to all spiritual good that requires diligence, waiting, perseverance, and self-denial.
The greatest aversion will be felt toward those things that are purely spiritual and private, that occur in the closet where only God sees and that concern no one but God and our own souls. When Ananias and Sapphira sold their land, and the amount they determined to give to the church was still only between them and God, they were averse to part with the amount proportional to the sale, which led them to misrepresent the amount for which the land actually sold, thereby lying to the Holy Spirit (Ac 5:1-9). Paul warned the Corinthians not to let their “previously promised bountiful gift” be affected by covetousness which would produce an aversion to fulfilling their pledge (2 Cor 9:5). How many promises have we made to ourselves and to God that have all come to nothing? How many good intentions that never came to fruition? It is because of this indwelling hostility and aversion to all that is spiritually good. Hell will be full of good intenders who never became good practitioners. This aversion comes from two sources, the affections and the mind.
Unless we are first motivated by a love for God as God, and a love for Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we will grow weary in doing good. If there is no spiritual life consistent with the spiritual activity, there will be an aversion to it. If we love Christ we will never be tired of doing for Christ, learning of Christ, suffering for Christ, or forsaking all for Christ. This is why so many begin their Christian life well but end it badly. Like the seed sown on stony ground, they receive the word with joy, but as soon as their faith and love is tested, it soon withers because it was never real. It was because Israel grew weary of God that they stopped calling on Him and turned to idols and a superficial worship, “Yet you have not called on Me, O Jacob, but you have become weary of Me, O Israel” (Is 43:22).
When there is not a true love for God which He gives by His Spirit, there will be an aversion to anything that is truly spiritual – even a strong inclination to the contrary – to where a person would rather do anything else, embrace any distraction, and look for any excuse, than to consistently apply themselves to anything purely spiritual. He is weary before he begins. Once a person grows weary in doing that which is spiritually good, they not only give it up, but they positively avoid it, and never reap the promised reward (Gal 6:9). Whatever good they were doing, whether it was prayer, Bible reading, obedience, or some other private duty, it was motivated by love of self, not love for God. So long as what they do continues to be in their self-interest they will continue in it, but they act from a love of self for self, not from a love of God for God.
A person’s profession and practice of Christianity may be made into a trade or vocation by which they may pursue their own ends, and so they work and strive to be excellent and proficient in it, and, by hard work and practice, they do become successful and so delight in their success. But all of this is from a love of self, not from a love of God. Thus, they live for themselves and their affections offer little aversion to their religious pursuits. Self-love is a natural not a spiritual love, and is to be found even in the heart of devils.
But to be motivated by a love for Christ as He is in Himself, and to seek Him for Himself, is to love Him at the expense of our own self-interest. It is to love Him who would thwart all of our own ends, frustrate all our own ambitions, and separate us from our most treasured lusts. It is to love Him who, when we would have the honor and praise of men, would make us the object of their scorn and hatred (Jn 15:19; 1 Jn 3:13). It is to love Him, who when we would feel good about ourselves, will make us feel our sinfulness and cry out, “Wretched man that I am!” (Rm 7:24). It is to love Him who, when we would help ourselves, would make us see and feel our own helplessness and hopelessness. It is to love Him who, when we desire to be something, would make us nothing.
An adulterous and insincere heart does not desire Him, but His. They want Christ’s peace while they live in their sin. They want His comfort in times of fear, anxiety, and tragedy. They want His mercy to save them from His eternal wrath. They want Him to hear and answer their prayers. They want Him to bless their plans and their work. They want He should spare them from the destructive consequences of their sin. There is a natural love for Jesus as to someone who will do you good, benefit you, and for your own ends. But true spiritual faith, hope, and love desires Jesus Christ for Himself, and whereby only Christ is exalted. It is Him they love, it is Him they want, it is Him they live for, and it is to Him they look. They love Him without regard to any relation He bears to self or self-interest. A person that marries for money, security, position, lust, etc., marries out of love for something other than their spouse, and will only love their spouse as long as they continue to get what they married them for. This is one reason why Christ will often withhold His blessings, withdraw the sense of His presence, and like Job afflict us with trials; it is to see if we love Him for Himself, or just for what He gives.
A person’s affections must, like a stream, run in one direction or another. When a true Christian’s affections are turned from running toward the creature, they will run toward Christ. When we crucify the flesh with its lusts and desires, then our desires are for the things of God, not the things of this world. When we set our minds on things above, they cannot be set on the things of this world. Take it as a hard and fast rule, that if a person cannot love Jesus Christ with all their heart, it is because they do not seek Him for Himself. They have some other end for which they seek Him. Something else affords their heart more joy.
It is the greatest, most common, and most dangerous error of professing Christendom today which thinks they can love and embrace the world and Jesus too. As long as the heart is in league with any creature, it is at deadly hostility against the Lord and has a strong aversion to all that is spiritually good. When Jesus is merely the means to a self-serving and worldly end, then this last end is their god, and there will be hostility toward all that is a threat to their god and idol. They will be attracted to all that promotes their own end, and have an intense aversion for all that would vex and hinder their own end (Jn 8:45). They will invent a form of Christianity in which God’s highest priority is the fulfillment of their own end, not His, and as such is trendy and appealing rather than foolish and repulsive to the natural man (2 Pt 2:18, 19; Jude 4). To overcome this aversion to what is spiritually good, so that we would do the good we desire to do, is a great conquest over the power of indwelling sin, even though we still fall far short of what we should do. Love of self and for the creature will cause us to abhor Christ, whereas love for Christ will cause us to “abhor what is evil and cling to what is good” (Rm 12:9).
This aversion to all that is spiritually good also shows itself in the mind. This is why we must be continuously having our minds renewed and transformed so as not to be conformed to this world, but to the word and ways of God (Rm 12:2). This is ultimately the work of the Spirit, but the means which He uses is His word (Jn 17:17). This requires reading – not the latest, best-selling pop-theology, not the wisdom of this world, and not trendy blogs – but the Bible and time-tested books by godly men whose lives proved that they persevered to the end, who plumbed the depths of God’s word, who did not shy away from dogmatically proclaiming the hard and unpopular doctrines of Scripture, and who gave sinners no rest so long as they adhered to their sins. Men such as the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, J.C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, Archibald Alexander, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Martin Lloyd-Jones, and many others. It means reading the biographies of people who forsook all to serve the cause of Christ; people such as William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Adonirum and Ann Judson, John and Elizabeth Paton, and John Newton, just to name a few. Read accounts of the Great Awakening and learn the difference between true and false conversion and the work of special and common grace. Read to know and understand the great doctrines of the Bible; the nature and character of God, the necessity and nature of a new birth, the totally corrupt and helpless nature of fallen mankind, the necessity of Christ’s atoning death for sinners, and the inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness. Those who have no interest in the lives of great and godly men of the past, in the instruments through whom God has done His work in the world, and the truths they proclaimed which transformed entire nations, should not expect to have their professed love for God and the ways of God taken seriously.
It requires meditating on these great truths and prayer. The mind should be furnished with all that would keep us from being “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). Unless our minds are renewed and transformed we will be like Eve, whose mind was “led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor 11:3). We must know what the Bible says and does not say; what God promises and does not promise; what God commands and what He forbids.
In short, our minds should be furnished with all that is necessary for us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. But I ask, is there no difficulty in getting the mind into such a state where it is willing to spend much of its free time in being renewed and transformed by the marvelous truths of God’s word? Does our mind not start and stop, wander and falter when it must spend more than a few minutes in prayer, or in reading the Bible, or in meditating on some biblical truth? Would you not rather spend the bulk of your free time indulging some form of entertainment, some hobby, some religiously busy activity, or some humanitarian cause that gets the praise and notice of man? Do you prefer “Bible-studies” that discuss the latest popular book rather than the Bible; that are more fellowship than study, and more opinion than dogmatic truth? Would you rather learn how to better manage your money or improve your marriage than “to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:10)? Does your mind wander and grow weary during the preaching of God’s word? Do you complain if a sermon lasts longer than twenty minutes? Sadly, most of professing Christendom today panders to and profits from this aversion to all that is spiritually good.
All of this is from the secret aversion which the natural mind has toward all that is spiritually good, which proceeds from the hostility of the law of sin. Some complain they just cannot concentrate and that they cannot discipline their mind to think and dwell on spiritual matters for more than a few minutes, and so they stop all together. They get tired of battling, so they just quit. They start, but then get diverted and distracted and complain they just do not have the time. Yet they always find the time, put forth the effort, and spare no expense to do the things they really want to do and that serve their own interests; “their heart goes after their gain” (Ezk 33:31).
Herein lies the beginning of the apostasy of many professing Christians, and the origin of many carnal, worldly, and spurious opinions and practices. A person’s heart may strongly will and desire the ends, but when they come to will and desire the means, this is where their heart becomes weary of them, loathes them, and is adverse toward them. But this aversion, not being seen or felt for what it is, is never fought against, and so it prevails. People want the ends but they have a strong aversion and loathing for the means which God has ordained for those ends (1 Pt 2:4-10). They neglect and avoid the means but still hope for the ends. If it does not come easy, if they must persevere and wait, then they become neglectful.
Finding this aversion in their affections and minds, and not knowing how to overcome it by and through the power of Christ who subdues it and enables us; they are subdued by it, first to a partial neglect of prayer, Bible reading, holy living, and study, and then to a total neglect. As a result they open the door for all sorts of sin and false teaching to enter, and eventually to a full and utter falling away from the faith. Because they grew weary from contending against the powerful aversion within them, they come to totally neglect their private pursuit of what is spiritually good. Instead, they settle for a form of godliness, thereby deceiving themselves that they are living for God without having or desiring any knowledge of God. They reach the point where they will not endure sound doctrine, so they choose for themselves teachers according to their own particular desires; ones who will tell them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear (2 Tm 4:3, 4). When people have lived under this deception for a period of time, and have blinded and seared their consciences with their pretended faith, the end result is usually the acceptance and embracing of all sorts of gross error and sin. And the reason for all of this is because they gave in to the law of sin. It gained dominion over them. To give in to the law of sin in the least, to attempt to subdue it by appeasing it, is to feed and strengthen it. To leave it alone and not crucify it is to let it live and grow. To not conquer and subdue it is to be subdued and conquered by it.
This all begins with an aversion of the mind and affections to what is spiritually good. The mind and affections then become entangled with other things, “the desires for other things enter and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mk 4:19). It becomes unfruitful because the soul grows weary with battling this aversion toward private spiritual duties, so it prevails and chokes out all that is truly spiritual with the thorns of counterfeit spirituality, leaving only a mere form of godliness. The most dangerous counterfeits are those which bear the closest resemblance to the genuine article. The most dangerous servants of Satan are those who bear the greatest similarity to servants of righteousness (2 Cor 11:15). This natural aversion to all that is spiritually good assists them in their aim to substitute dark for light, bitter for sweet, and false for true and thereby “deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Rm 16:18).
Means to Prevent the Effects of Aversion
First, consider the surpassing greatness, superiority, and sweetness of the spiritual over the material and temporal (Eph 1:18, 19). If our first love is the things of the Spirit, then this will weaken the aversion by the flesh (Gal 5:16, 17). The more spiritual anything is, the more aversion there will be from the affections and mind, and the more difficult it will be to persevere in it. It is only those who overcome that will inherit the crown of life (Hb 10:36; Rv 2:7). If you can do no more than what is easy, pleasant, fun, and self-serving, the Lord will never let you taste the sweetness of serving and pleasing Him. People will complain how hard, how futile, how unproductive, and “how tiresome it is” (Mal 1:13) to serve God. They will murmur “what profit is it that we have kept His charge” (Mal 3:14); “I tried that and it didn’t work.” They taste no sweetness in it, but only bitterness. All they see is hardship, difficulty, futility, and monotony, but they do not see nor feel any sweetness or personal benefit. When people lose their delight in that which is truly spiritual, they invent outward forms in which they can delight. They expect higher wages than what God has promised (Lk 20:10). They forget that what they do is by reason of debt and obligation, not for pay and reward (Job 41:11). There is no credit in paying a debt we owe, but there is great guilt in refusing to give what is due.
The reason most professing Christians do not see their debt or feel their obligation is because they do not see or feel how deeply they are indebted to God for His grace. To them grace is not sweet, but expected; it is not amazing, but an entitlement. They think God is obligated to show them grace and so they feel no obligation to God for His grace, but instead presume upon, abuse, and corrupt His grace. There is nothing toward which the natural man has more aversion than God’s grace because it is the praise and glory of His grace which is the ultimate end for which God does everything in the world (Eph 1:6, 12, 14).
The ultimate end of all mankind is their own ends; “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:21). And because everyone thinks they love and care for themselves best, they resolve to do as much as they can for and by themselves. Any good they find in themselves they assign to themselves (Lk 18:11; Jn 5:44). Any good they do they attribute to their own goodness. Any success they have they ascribe to their own abilities, practices, and methods. The reason they are a Christian and others are not is because they made the right choice and others made the wrong choice. Since all a man’s ways are right in his own eyes (Pv 21:2) they think their ways are also right in the eyes of God. They may ascribe some partial credit to God’s grace, and in so doing think they give Him the praise due His grace. Because what they do is done in the name of Jesus, they think it is done for the glory of Jesus, and accepted by Jesus (Mt 7:22, 23). They deck themselves out with what God, by his grace, has done and given to them. They boast as if they had not received it (1 Cor 4:7). They appropriate to themselves what belongs to Christ and so rob Christ of His glory. They are loath to say with Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10), because to assign all to the grace of God is to renounce all glory for ourselves, thereby making grace bitter, not sweet. In this way indwelling sin always attempts to imitate, forge, and make false grace look like true grace. And because this way is the most pleasing and sweet to men, it is the practice of most people.
The more love we have for anything, the less aversion and hostility we will have toward it. Whatever we love the most, we will have the most affinity for. Sadly, the affections and minds of most are set on and preoccupied with the things of this world and on their lives in this world, thereby showing what they really love is their life in this world and so they lose it in the end. (Jn 12:25). Unless we see and feel the surpassing greatness and superiority of spiritual blessings, they will always appear to be adverse to the pursuit of our carnal and material interests.
A second important means in preventing the effects of aversion is to practice a universal holiness. Christian’s are called “to be holy in all your behavior” (1 Pt 1:15). We are to “cleanse ourselves from all defilements of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1). Holiness weakens the entire law of sin, and so also its hostility and aversion. It is absolutely impossible to be consistent in one spiritual duty unless we are consistent in all. If we have an aversion to holiness in one area we will have it in all. If sin entangles in one area, it will entangle every area. It is an immutable biblical principle that a little leaven will leaven the entire lump of dough. If we neglect one part it will disrupt the whole of our lives. We cannot compromise in one area of our life without doing so in everything.
There is a harmony in true spiritual grace that is missing in false and counterfeit versions of grace. True grace sanctifies every part of a person (1 Th 5:23). They are a totally new creature (2 Cor 5:17). They have a new nature which “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24). They have taken off every part of the old man and put on every part of the new man (Eph 4:22, 23). False grace will crucify some sins, but not all. It will hate some sins, but not all sin. It will have an aversion to some sins, but not all sin, even when it is shown to be sinful. There will be an aversion to some error but not all error. A universal respect to all of God’s commands is the only way of being preserved from the shame and disgrace to which a partial obedience always ultimately leads.
Thirdly, we must strive to watch over our hearts with all diligence (Pv 4:23) in order to prevent sin’s aversion in its first attempts to divert and hinder the good we would do. We must take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Just as we must guard against all temptations, we must also guard against the aversion which is in sin in order to prevent it. If it is not prevented in its first attempts, it will overcome and succeed. Whenever we set ourselves to do anything that is spiritually good, we will find, as Paul found, this aversion in us; its toxic insinuations into the mind and affections, its fears and compromises into the heart, its diversions and hindrances, and its substitutions. Like Jesus we must say, “Get behind me.” It is easy to stop a large stone from rolling down a hill when it first begins to move, but once it gains momentum almost nothing will stop it. We must rebuke sin early on or it will grow ever stronger. If we resist the devil he will flee, but if we give him ground he will prevail.
Fourthly, however persistent the assaults are which sin’s aversion makes against the doing of what is spiritually good, do not grow wearied out by its tenacity, or driven from your steadfastness by its obstinacy (Gal 6:9). We must take seriously the exhortation given in Hebrews, “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hb 6:11, 12). We must heed the warning of Peter, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pt 3:17).
There are many ways, all of them dangerous and destructive, by which a person is driven from doing what is spiritually good. Some are diverted by their career and business, some by their friends and family, some by entertainment, some by social and political causes, some by religious activity, some by a fear of man, some by the pull of the world, some by their own lusts, and some are disheartened by their own weakness. But the most dangerous and deadly of all is when the soul, being wearied out by sin’s tenacity, gives itself over, either partially or totally, to an aversion for doing what is spiritually good. This is a sign that a person has given themselves over to the power of sin, which, unless the Lord intervenes and breaks sin’s grip, will always prove disastrous to the soul, “for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Pt 2:19, 20).
To avoid and neglect that which is spiritually good, either in part or in whole, because of sin’s aversion to it, is to give sin the dominion and obey its lusts. We must not grow weary if we are to gain the reward. If we rely on our own strength, we will not only fail, but we rob God of the praise for His glorious grace which alone will strengthen us (Phil 4:13). That which we now find challenging will only become more arduous if we give in to sin’s aversion, but if we steadfastly abide in it, we will overcome. We must wait on God, “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Is 40:31). In this way the surpassing greatness is seen to be from God and not from ourselves, and He receives the praise due Him for His grace.
In our next study we will examine the second manifestation of indwelling sin’s hostility – that of opposition – and the two ways by which it opposes all that is God; by force, and by fraud.