Carrying Away the Mind
By John Fast
We observed in our last study that the first aim of sin’s deception is to carry away the mind, to trick it into making false judgments, to lessen and belittle sin’s sinfulness and to scorn holiness, to draw the mind away from the things of the Spirit and to set it on the things of the flesh and of the world, to fill our imaginations, and thereby our affections with them – in other words, to draw the mind away from its obligation to God (2 Cor 11:3). The danger which sin’s deceptions pose to the mind cannot be overemphasized or exaggerated, especially in a time where technology and mass media facilitates, multiplies, and disseminates sin’s deceptions exponentially. Most people willfully expose themselves to a constant and continuous stream of deception, leaving the vast majority of minds in a state of self-imposed spiritual darkness, having been carried away by the allurements, misinformation, and false messages of the world, and by the errors and false teachings of unprincipled men (2 Pt 3:17), masquerading and marketed as “Christian”, by people whose primary concern is not truth, but profit and ambition. Corrupted truth can never transform the mind, change the heart, nor promote a holy life, but leads to the deplorable and degenerate condition which characterizes the generality of professing Christendom in the world today. No one can slander and malign biblical Christianity more than by equating what passes for it today with what the Bible describes and demands. There is nothing more difficult than to find a true Christian within the mass of professing Christians today, or one whose mind has not been carried away by the deceitfulness of sin. Consequently, when one is found, they should be admired and encouraged, not despised and demeaned. Therefore, in this study we will consider two things:
- What is required from the mind in regard to its particular duties
- Show how sin works to deceive the mind and draw it away and lead it “astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3).
What is Required of the Mind
The conscience is shaped and formed as it is enlightened by the mind. Spiritual truth, being spiritual and not natural in nature, can only be understood by a regenerated spiritual mind, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). Before the mind can know anything, it must first be understood. However, the natural mind, no matter how outwardly religious or how well educated in other things, is incapable of truly understanding spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:14), and therefore incapable of having that truth inform, train, and sensitize their conscience. Unless the conscience is clearly enlightened by God’s truth, it is not affected by that truth so as to take a proper and serious consideration of it.
The mind, and therefore the conscience, will be enlightened, trained, and ruled by God’s word, or by something else other than God’s word. It will either be under the dominion of the Spirit of Christ or under the dominion of sin. These are the only two masters. Everyone serves one or the other. Every true believer is under the dominion of Jesus Christ, “For sin shall not be master over you,” (Rm 6:14). The Spirit of Christ and sin may reside in the same heart and mind, but only one can rule and have dominion. Christ has the sovereign rule in the life of a believer. They are led by the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, ruled by Him and His will, and therefore under the government of God and Jesus Christ and of no other. This is why the Christian, if he/she is to no longer be conformed to this world – to its thinking, its standards, its values, its wisdom – and if their mind and conscience is to love and approve the will of God, even when it runs painfully contrary to our own will, then they must be transformed by the renewing of their mind (Rm 12:2).
The conscience, being shaped by the mind, may object and make an uproar if it is violated by some neglect and carelessness of our will or affections. When the affections desire and the will approves of what violates our convictions, then our conscience will give us no rest until it is complied with, bribed, corrupted, or seared. But the conscience, being informed and shaped by the mind, is not so apt to take notice of our mind’s carelessness in drifting from the truth, and so it does not feel violated, which produces minimal anguish, and so it makes little noticeable objection. Carefulness and watchfulness against allowing our mind to be drawn away and drift from God’s truth by sin’s deceptions is one of the best evidences we have of our sincerity.
That which does not proceed from the Spirit and bear the marks of the Spirit is from the world and the flesh. Like Judas, men and women may cloak their carnal lusts and appease their consciences with spiritual and pious-sounding motives and justifications (Jn 12:4-6). God is “near to their lips, but far from their mind” (Jer 12:2), because their mind is set on the flesh and on the things which are on the earth, not on the things above, where Christ is (Col 3:1). If the mind is drawn away, if it is deceived, tainted, and distracted from its primary duties of watchfulness and obedience, then the entire soul, will, and affections will certainly be lured into, entangled in, and eventually dominated by sin.
It was against this danger which the author of Hebrews exhorts us, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hb 2:1). It is the failure of our minds, in allowing them to drift and lose sight of the glorious truths and requirements of God’s word, which he warns us against. The only prescription he gives to prevent this is to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard”. How much closer attention? Exceedingly, abundantly, above everything else; this is the force of the original Greek. It is something we must do if we are to avoid drifting into a counterfeit Christianity and apostasy. It is a divine obligation and necessity. Rightly understanding God’s word, His requirements, and our obligations to Him must be our highest priority, “for it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life” (Dt 32:47). Man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3). It is this obligation from which indwelling sin will work to draw the mind away.
To “pay much closer attention” obviously includes not only what we hear, but what we read. What we hear and read impacts our mind, which in turn sways our will and affections. It either helps or hurts our mind. If we fill our mind with, and dwell on the things of the Spirit of God – not private, subjective, and mystical impressions that claim to be from God, but on His revealed truth – then sin will find little room for entry, “let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil 4:8). But if our mind is filled with our own desires and the things of the world, or with the rubbish and poison that comes from the great majority of pulpits today, or with the hollow drivel, sacrilege, and mysticism of which the vast majority of present-day “Christian” books, blogs, articles, radio, television, and music consists, then our mind cannot help but be drawn away into sin and deception (Jer 23:27). The life, impact, power, true sense, influence, and imprint of God’s word are lost by its neglect, “For you will no longer remember the oracle of the Lord,” (Jer 23:36), and the mind is then carried away and drifts from our obligations to God. Error can never produce the effects of truth under any circumstances. All ignorance, error, and corruption of revealed truth will always be accompanied by a corresponding defect in the beliefs and practices. How can those who corrupt and abandon the truth in their profession and practice, who neglect, abuse, and despise its most glorious wisdoms, who charge its most important doctrines with error and falsehood, and who exalt and substitute their own wisdom, reasoning’s, and imagination’s above them, be the ones to reclaim and recover them? What hope is there for recovery when the truth itself is despised, adulterated, and prostituted?
The things of God become simply the means people use to pursue and achieve their own carnal and worldly ends and ambitions on which their mind is set. They engage in all sorts of false reasoning in order to justify, extenuate, and hide from themselves the sinfulness of their beliefs, motives, and actions; “they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tm 4:3, 4). In other words, their own desires, those that are compatible with their own character, personality, and disposition, whatever that may be, are the standard to which they hold any teacher and teaching.
Any teaching that is not “in accordance to their own desires”, their own agenda, their own ambitions, their own preferences, and their own reasoning, then they want nothing to do with it. They refuse to submit their mind to it. They reject it and hate it, if not the person who brings it to them, and so they “will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths”; that is, to teachings, teachers, and practices that are in accordance with, and that validate their own desires. They flock to and love such teachers and teaching and are ready to think them among the best. They will not receive the love of the truth (2 Th 2:10) because the truth requires them to forsake and crucify all their own desires. They see and feel too much loss by the truth, so they will “refuse to take correction” (Jer 5:3; 7:28; 17:23), choose sin and hide its sinfulness from themselves, rather than “suffer for doing what is right” (1 Pt 2:17). They do not see or feel any spiritual good of the truth, and so they will believe myths, lies, and deceptions, the beginning of which is to question and doubt the truth.
The great majority of people today, including most professing Christians, will not believe, even upon the clear, unambiguous conviction of God’s word, the fallacy of their beliefs, and their doom and misery now. They are devoted to their deceptions because their deceptions allow them to be at peace with and to take pleasure and comfort in their sin, so they refuse to believe the truth (2 Th 2:12). Sometimes God’s word comes so near a person’s life to where the very sin and error they live and lie in is pointed out and exposed. The thoughts and intentions of their heart are revealed (Hb 4:12), as if someone had been living in their home and seen and heard all that they said and did, but they will not believe that sin is so black, or that God is so angry. They will never admit that they are under sin’s dominion.
They maintain their false security by taking the measure of their spiritual condition from the judgment and opinion of others around them, “they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves” (2 Cor 10:12). As long as others, who they judge to be Christians, consider them to be Christians, then all is well. They will search high and low to find professing Christians, pastors, books, teachers, and churches that will tickle their ears and justify their beliefs and practices so they can be at peace in their sin, but they refuse to have their beliefs and practices measured against the standard of God’s word. They may search and scour the Bible to find justifications for their beliefs and actions, but not to see if those beliefs and actions are justifiable. They will not see, and they do not desire for Christ to reveal the sin and deceptions in which they live. They will do their utmost to avoid and silence any conviction that their “deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19). “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit” (Pv 14:8). Like Israel, “they hold fast to deceit….through deceit they refuse to know Me”, declares the Lord (Jer 8:5; 9:6).
The damning sin is some dear sin, the sin which is allowed to live in the heart and mind, and so a person cannot see it because they will not part with it. They cannot see it because they will not see it. They have too much invested in it (Hos 5:4), therefore they will not part with the deceptions that justify it. It is hard to say which is more powerful, the sin which they love, or their deceptions which allow them to live in it. These two are mutually dependent on one another and are so interwoven as to mutually assist one another to exclude the truth and holiness they have rejected. They may abstain from many sins, do many good works, be very religious, and “outwardly appear righteous to men” (Mt 23:28), but they allow themselves to live in some known sin, even if only in their mind and imagination, yet they will deny that sin has dominion over them. They are afraid to actually commit the sin which dominates their mind, so they satisfy themselves by letting “the imaginations of their heart run riot” (Ps 73:7). In this way sin will exercise its dominion over the mind.
Is it not strange to see someone that immerses themselves in the things of the world – its fashions, fads, trends, standards, opinions, and entertainment – but cannot see that they are secretly in love with the world and its toys? Is it not strange to see those whose own self-interest and desires are the measure and standard of truth, who adulterate God’s word to conform it to their life and desires, yet still profess to love God and His word, all because they cannot see their sin because they will not? The theological genius John Owen wrote four-hundred years ago,
“How can we possibly believe the promises concerning Heaven, immortality, and glory, when we do not believe the promises concerning our present life? And how can we be trusted when we say we believe these promises but make no effort to experience them ourselves? It is just here that men deceive themselves. It is not that they do not want the Gospel privileges of joy, peace, and assurance, but they are not prepared to repent of their evil attitudes and careless life-styles. Some have even attempted to reconcile these things and ruined their souls. But without the diligent exercise of the grace of obedience, we shall never enjoy the graces of joy, peace, and assurance.”
It is because people love the darkness that they will not come to the light (Jn 3:19, 20). To convince someone in who sin obviously has the dominion, that this is indeed their true condition, is a very difficult thing to do. They become virtually sermon-proof and immune to this conviction. Such are the great majority of professing Christians today. In vain do people pretend that the current visible general profession of Christianity bears any approximate resemblance to the pattern of it in the Bible. Rather, it better fits the description of the apostate church predicted by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:2-7 and 4:3, 4. It is not the wholesale corruption, prostitution, and commercialization of Christianity which is so surprising. What is remarkable is the insistence of the general visible church to still cling to the name of Christian for a religious system that retains so little of what the name represents, and stands so far out of relation to what the Bible teaches. Therefore, because they will not love the truth, it is only just that they should be deceived and doomed by their errors (2 Th 2:10-12).
I take no pleasure in having to write these things, but I am motivated by the thought of what will be required of me at the last day. Even though the Lord has seen fit to place me in a small and obscure position in the world, there still remains the duty and obligation of using even a single talent. It is nothing less than the glory of God, the honor of Christ, the purity of the gospel, and the eternal welfare of the souls of men which are at stake. To those to whom more has been given, more will be required, and sad will be their condition, and the condition of those who sit under them, if they do not diligently, and at the risk of all their earthly concerns, try to stem the tide of apostasy which has engulfed the visible church and our nation. I know full well that this will be met with apathy, scoffing, and ridicule by the majority of those who may take the time to read this. Some may read it and agree, but then exempt themselves from being under sin’s deceptions. It is a part of our own depraved nature not to see its own depravity. Mankind has always been ingenious and skillful at hiding his sin from himself.
Two Ways Sin Attempts to Hide
Pretend Christians deceive themselves into thinking that, because they hide their sin from themselves then God will not discover their sin or hate it (Ps 36:2). Because they have justified their sin to themselves and others, they think they are justified before God, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts;” (Lk 16:15). There are two ways people have of hiding their sins from themselves. The first is by covering up their sins with reason, rationalization, extenuation, and justification. They disguise their sin with seemingly noble, virtuous, and spiritual rationalizations. They engineer all sorts of hair-splitting exceptions to God’s clear commands. They add extenuations and provisions which the Bible has not allowed. They will design theological arguments to explain away the clear meaning of God’s prescriptions, redefine biblical words and ignore their contexts, devise excuses to “rethink” biblical doctrines and principles, and contrive exemptions from God’s threats, warnings, and judgments. They invent emotional, philosophical, and pragmatic arguments in sin’s favor. They point to its legality, acceptance, prevalence, popularity, success, and necessity. So many others can’t be wrong, or so they think. This is how the sin to which a person is enslaved is discovered, and that is by how much they argue for it. The seed of sin germinates best in the dark. When the seeds of sin are covered up with such pretenses, as most today do, they will eventually germinate and grow up to bear bitter fruit in the minds and lives of people (Gal 6:8). The origination of all apostasy rests in such deceptions. A little justification will blind the mind and harden the heart to the sinfulness of sin, even when it is clearly exposed to be sin by God’s word, “and be sure your sin will find you out” (Nm 32:23), either in this life or in the day of judgment (1 Tm 5:24).
The second way is by covering up their sins with religious activity and remorse. What do they do when they see their sin? They wash it away with regrets and remorse. They appease their conscience with religious activity, and this makes them think all is well. They comfort and flatter themselves with the knowledge that, unlike others, they see their sin and feel remorse for it. Where sin has the dominion, it will allow for all sorts of religious duties, even to abound in them, but it is all done to serve its own interests and to pacify the conscience, in order to keep them in a false security. In all their remorse and activity, there is no faith or love to God.
Herein resides a great distinction between the false and the true Christian; the true Christian’s sorrow and remorse for sin kills their sin, little by little, and makes them more watchful against, humble, fearful, and loathsome of their sin. As they grow in grace, knowledge, holiness, experience, and humility, then the more they love and desire to know the workings, power, and deceit of the remainders of indwelling sin. In the false, however, their sorrow and religious activity feeds their sin and makes them careless, proud, presumptuous, and secure.
The Mind’s First Duty in Regard to Obedience
For something to be done right, it is not enough that the thing itself be done, but that it is done according to the rule established for its performance, “if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tm 2:5). Herein lies the primary duty of the mind; to take care that all that God requires be done in the way which God requires, and according to the rule established by God. The Christian’s works of obedience are compared to a building built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:12-15). The construction of a building is not advanced by a person piling up wood, brick, concrete, and other building materials in any way they please or that suits their preference, but they must all be measured, cut, arranged, and fit according to a set rule. The building must conform to its foundation. In the same way, we can pile up all sorts of good works and religious activity, but no matter how self-sacrificial, successful, or humanitarian they may be, if they do not conform to the rule established by God, they count for nothing. If the duties are not conformed to the rule which God has established for their performance, they are all spiritually worthless.
Nothing is capable of achieving its desired end unless it is done according to the rule established for that end. God emphatically rejects all duties which deviate from His prescribed rule, “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me….Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, and your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me” (Is 1:11; Jer 6:20). The false Christian’s obedience is motivated by something external, such as the praise and applause of men, peer-pressure, or the force of education and tradition. If they are moved by anything internal it is only self-interest, to appease a disturbed conscience, but they never act from a new inward principle of spiritual life, a new nature, produced by the Spirit of God from which flow all other spiritual desires and duties.
To “walk in a manner worthy of our calling” (Eph 4:1), is to “walk in the same manner as He [Jesus] walked” (1 Jn 2:6). Therefore, the Apostle Paul states that believers are to “be careful how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise”, and the reason for this carefulness is “because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15, 16). There is so much to distract and lure the mind away from its obligation to God. This is the great duty of the mind; not just an outward, legal obedience to God’s word, but to be “obedient from the heart” (Rm 6:17), sincerely, diligently and accurately walking in the way of obedience according to the rule established by God.
Four Rules which Govern Our Obedience
There are certain special requirements in every obligation of obedience on which our mind is to be set. This is what it is to have our minds set on the things above; it is to have them set on that which is pleasing to God, “we have as our ambition…to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor 5:9). The first requirement for any obedience is that it be full, complete, and universal. Saul sparing the life of Agag, in direct violation of God’s specific command, rendered all his other obedience worthless (1 Sm 15:9-11). Naaman wished to be excused for his partial obedience – from that obedience which would jeopardize his honor, comfort, position, and livelihood (2 Kg 5:17, 18). The rich young ruler’s obedience lacked but one thing, but it was the damning thing (Mk 10:21). To be obedient in one area of our life, but not in another is inconsistent with a new nature, a new creature, a new man, and newness of life. This new life produces light in the mind, obedience in the will, and love in the affections for all the ways of God, “I esteem right all Your precepts concerning everything” (Ps 119:128). This is another great difference between a true and a false Christian; in one a new principle of spiritual life runs through every faculty and affection and sanctifies the entire person, whereas in the false the change is only partial and particular. This or that vice may be reformed, but the entire course of their life is not changed. They are still under the dominion of sin. A willful partial obedience is the same as a willful disobedience. A selective obedience is a worthless obedience. To appease their conscience people will, like Saul, form worthless resolutions to in some way compensate for their willful disobedience, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams (1 Sm 15:22).
A second requirement has to do with the principle behind the obedience; that is, that it is done in faith, and therefore in the strength of Christ, apart from whom we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). All of a believer’s obedience (for they are the only ones who desire to be obedient) is called “obedience of faith” (Rm 1:5), that is, the obedience which a life of faith produces. The life which the Christian now lives, they “live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20), He is the supreme object of their faith. They “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). The righteous live by their faith (Hab 2:4), whereas the rest of mankind lives by trusting in their own understanding and self-sufficiency. This faith is no mere mental assent, it is not blind optimism, nor is it faith in faith or believing you believe. It is certainly not presumption or “name it and claim it”, but it is an abiding principle of life, an ingrained attitude of mind toward God and His word which animates all the actions of life. To truly believe in and trust in God and His word is to rely on and act on nothing else but His word and character. Not on what we think His word says, or want it to mean, or hope His words promises, but on its real and true meaning. The conviction of the truth of God’s word should govern all our actions. If we do not live it, then we do not believe it, and if we do not believe it aright, we cannot help but live it wrongly. Not all of God’s promises are meant for everyone, most are specific to believers, and almost all are conditional, being conditioned on our faith. Just as doubting prayer is faithless prayer for which no answer can be expected (Jm 1:7), and just as faith without works is a dead faith (Jm 2:17), so works without faith are “dead works” (Hb 9:14). They are worthless in the sight of God. They flow from no higher principle of life than the good deeds of unbelievers. They are natural works done for natural ends, not spiritual in nature for spiritual ends. Spiritual duties and sacrifices require the spiritual life and strength produced and given by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, “working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (Hb 13:21).
A third requirement respects the mind giving a due regard to the way and manner in which every act of obedience is performed. It is not enough that someone worship God, but they must worship Him in the way He has prescribed, “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). It is not enough that someone pray, but they must pray in the way and manner which God has prescribed – in faith in the Son of God, persistently, and according to His will (1 Jn 5:14). The trite “thoughts and prayers” of unbelievers are just that – trite and worthless (Is 1:15; 59:2; Mic 3:4). There are two things concerning the manner in which every obedience is to be done:
The first is in regard to the outward means which God has prescribed, and this is especially true in regard to His church and His worship. God has not left His church and His worship to the mercy of man’s imagination, creativity, ingenuity, and cultural whims. God never has and never will allow the imagination and will of man to be the standard or principle of His worship. He has not given people leave to redefine or utterly disregard His qualifications for spiritual leadership to include novices and women (1 Tm 2:12; 3:6), nor to invent programs and ministries that pander to the flesh, segregate the church, and cater to every demographic of religious consumer. He has not authorized the attempt to sanctify a person’s idols by creating practices that pander to those idols, such as “Biker Church”, “Cowboy Church”, “Outdoorsman Ministries”, or rock-concert worship services. Although most people would profess that in general they do nothing but what God requires, and as He requires it. Yet, in practice they are not diligent to make the authority of God’s word to be the sole cause and reason for what they do and how they do it, thereby negating any spiritual good from what they do, and actually, in the long run, causing much harm by what they do and the manner in which they do it. If the fruit is bad, so is the tree and its root (Jer 21:14). Their mind is primarily influenced by personal preferences, the tradition of men, cultural trends, self-interest, and church growth marketing studies, not the exclusive authority of God’s word, and so “by their deeds they deny Him” (Tit 1:16). This is the reason God so often calls His people to pay much closer attention, so that they may do all things according to the way He has commanded, and not drift from them into vain, carnal, and worthless practices.
The second consideration is the inward way and manner in which every obedience is done. This has to do with the affections of the heart and mind. Right duties performed with a wrong heart render those works of obedience worthless. The Pharisees were very fastidious about their outward observance of obedience, but totally neglected the inward (Mt 23:23). God loves a cheerful, not a begrudging, coerced, stingy, ostentatious, or legal giver (2 Cor 9:7). Worship which is no more than tradition learned by rote (Is 29:13), or designed to appeal to the emotions and senses and bypass the mind and heart, is a carnal, irreverent, worthless, and pagan worship. God requires spiritual affections to accompany spiritual duties, without which all acts of obedience are worthless. Nothing receives a more severe and consistent condemnation in Scripture, and is given as the sure mark of a false faith, than the industrious multiplication of religious duties, pretenses, and activity while the heart remains spiritually negligent and disengaged (Is 1:15; Jer 3:10). With such things we are today inundated.
The fourth rule governing every obedience on which our mind should be set, concerns the end and aim of every duty, which is to be the glory of God in Christ Jesus, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). This rule even applies to such mundane and ordinary activities as eating and drinking. Sin will attempt to impose other ends for all our obedience. Those ends may be cloaked with spiritual, virtuous, and noble-sounding language and reasons. They may be justified with Bible passages mangled and ripped from their context. They may be accompanied by pragmatic, moral, and philosophical arguments, but their end and aim is something other than the glory of God – the two most common being the pacifying of our conscience and the praise and admiration of others, “they do all their deeds to be noticed by men” (Mt 23:5). By their sin people will strive to gratify their lusts, and by their religion and good works they endeavor to appease their conscience and feed their pride. Those whose secret end, aim, and design is their own glory, cannot seek the glory of God, no matter what pretenses they make toward that end (Jn 5:44). That which is done for some end other than the glory of God will have little or no opposition from the power of sin, because it is the fruit of the deceit of sin. If sin can rob our obedience of its spiritual benefit, if it can render our good works into dead works, then it will make little opposition against the works themselves. In all they do, the mind of the believer is to diligently and constantly watch against any end other than the glory of God. If sin can divert our minds from any of these four requirements which must govern all our obedience, it will succeed in stripping them of all their spiritual benefit. Sin attempts to do this in several ways.
How Sin Works to Deceive the Mind
The first way in which sin will work to divert our minds from our obligations of obedience toward God is by persuading the mind to be satisfied with the general performance of spiritual duties, and to carry it away from attending to the particulars. For example, to have the mind be content with general desires for the glory of God without any consideration for how every particular duty is to promote the glory of God. Saul thought he had glorified God by carrying out the command and will of God in general by defeating the Amalekites. Yet, by his failure to obey in every particular and in sparing Agag he dishonored God and forfeited his throne (1 Sm 15:9, 26). Those who satisfy themselves with a general purpose to glorify God, as most profess to do, but neglect that purpose in every specific part of their life and duties, will soon lose even their general purpose. The mind which is content with vague, general aims at God’s glory is already diverted from this end by the deceitfulness of sin. Those who are satisfied to worship God in general without any regard to the how and the way in which He is worshiped, have already had their mind deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. Most people are content to profess a general faith in God and Jesus Christ, but are wholly negligent of living by faith in all they do. They profess a general Christianity, but are woefully ignorant of the specific doctrines, implications, and life of Christianity. They content themselves with a general knowledge of God, and so reduce God to the attributes of love, mercy, and patience, and the gospel to grace and forgiveness, and use both to justify themselves and harden their hearts in their sin. Those who are content with a general self-denial in order to follow Christ, but do not deny self in every particular, are under the deception of sin. For someone to believe they are not a slave to sin in general, yet are still enslaved to some specific sin, they are still under the dominion of sin. There are none who think themselves so free, and to possess such liberty, and who make such an appearance of freedom to others, as those who are confirmed and committed servants of sin. It is in specific, not general actions that we display and practice our faith and obedience. It is in a specific, not a general obedience that we demonstrate our love for Jesus Christ (Jn 14:15). Only those who really deny self and follow Christ in all their specific actions actually do deny self and follow Christ. What we are in our specific and particular actions, that we are, and no more.
A second way sin will divert our minds is by instilling a self-satisfied contentment in the mere performance of the duty itself. The simple act of doing it is enough to assuage their conscience. They can go to sleep every night self-satisfied that they have checked-off all their spiritual boxes, even though all they do may fall far short of the rule established for its performance. As Saul said to Samuel after the defeat of the Amalikites, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord” (1 Sm 15:13). He congratulated himself for his obedience even though he had fallen far short of what God required. It was the same with Israel, “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice” (Is 58:3). They expected God to be as impressed and pleased with their duties as they were (cf. Lk 18:10-12). All they did was for self-serving motives, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? And when you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves” (Zech 7:5, 6)? Therefore, all they did was an abomination to God. People will attend church religiously, involve themselves in “Bible studies”, be conspicuously active and influential, abound in religious activity, but all they do is to be noticed by men (Mt 6:1, 5, 16;; 23:5) and to appease their conscience. They think that the very performance of these acts is in some way meritorious, admirable, and beneficial to themselves and praiseworthy of God. The deceit of sin works to draw the mind into being content with the mere performances of religion alone and the more numerous and ostentatious the better. If it succeeds here, the mind will be negligent and careless in its duty of watchfulness, exposing the soul to many dangers and deceptions.
This usually leads to a third way in which sin works to draw the mind away from a sincere obedience to God, and that is a formal, mechanical, and routine performance in all duties will quickly follow, which is the ultimate goal for which sin works to draw away the mind. The mind can be drawn away even in the midst of the most abundant duties, rendering them no more than dead works. Their reverence for God consists of nothing more than tradition learned by rote (Is 29:13), or the inventions of their own imagination geared to suit their own lusts and corrupt inclinations. They mechanically go through the motions of religious duties without any regard for the motive, attitude, and end for which they are done. They become negligent and slothful in their obedience, “But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?” (Mal 1:8). None of their sacrifices are done for God; even though they profess they all are (1 Pt 2:5). That which is done under such a disposition is not done for God and His glory (Mal 1:13). This is the reason why so many professing Christians languish spiritually and make no progress in holiness, faith, godliness, and in the true knowledge of God despite their involvement in a multitude of religious activities and duties. This is the routine of most worship and obedience performed today by those who have a form of godliness but are wholly destitute of its life and power, their minds being totally estranged from an obedient performance of all they do by the power and deceitfulness of sin.
The Mind’s Second Duty in Regard to Sin
Just as the mind of every believer must be diligent to watch against all of sin’s deceptions regarding the performance of every obedience, there are certain things in and about every sin – things which God has ordained and provided to effectively preserve the soul from the working of the law of indwelling sin – which our minds are obligated to pay much closer attention unto. Every true believer, being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23), is uniquely equipped by the Spirit of God for this duty. It is these things from which the law of sin will assiduously work to carry the mind away and divert its attention in order to gain an advantage. I will briefly mention only two, because they are the two which the mind of most of professing Christianity has been wholly carried away from today.
The first and most general from which sin will attempt to draw away the mind, is a proper and reverent consideration of the sovereignty of God. It is this sovereign God, God as lawgiver, who has forbidden every sin, and against whom every sin is ultimately committed, “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight,” (Ps 51:4). It was by having this thought fixed in his mind that Joseph rebuked the seductions of Potiphar’s wife, “How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God” (Gn 39:9), the God by whom it was forbidden and against whom it would be committed. This is why all sin is called rebellion, a casting off of His yoke, a despising of His law, and thereby of Him as sovereign lawgiver. We are called to know and obey God’s word, not add to it, amend it, edit it, or stand in judgement over it, “if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it” (Jm 4:11). To practice, teach, and preach what directly contradicts or corrupts God’s word is to preach, teach, and practice rebellion against God as sovereign lawgiver (Jer 28:16; 29:32). It was this consideration of God as sovereign lawgiver, concerning His command not to eat of the forbidden fruit, from which Satan diverted the mind of Eve from the simplicity and purity of her devotion to God (2 Cor 11:3), and it is the beginning of all our drifting from our own obedience. If we allow our mind to be carried away from remembering that “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:24), we will be ripe for serving another master.
A second truth from which sin – every sin – will work to draw away the mind, and which we must be diligent to maintain and fix in our mind, is the punishment, judgment, and wages pronounced for every sin by the word of God. The mind of people, being diverted from this consideration by the art of Satan, “You surely shall not die” (Gn 3:4), and by the flattery of false teachers, “Calamity will not come upon you” (Jer 23:17), has been the inlet for all sorts of wickedness and abominations. It is because there has been a complete loss of the consideration that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hb 10:31), who “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Na 1:3), that the most abominable sins are now celebrated as virtues. To lose all fear of God’s righteous wrath for sin, and for God as “a consuming fire” (Hb 12:29), is identified by the Apostle Paul as the ultimate extent to which a person can be hardened to the sinfulness of sin, “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rm 1:32). It is a deliberate, willful, malicious rebellion against, and a despising of known truth. This is the result of having been given over by God to a depraved mind (Rm 1:28).
What hope can there be for people who have been given over by God to a depraved mind; who would rather take pleasure in their wickedness than believe and love the truth; who refuse to repent of their corrupt practices and sinful lifestyles even at the cost of their eternal souls? This is the tragic condition of most of what passes for Christianity today, and it always begins with the failure of the mind to pay much closer attention to what was heard and read, thereby allowing it to be carried away by indwelling sin and drifting from the glorious truths of God’s word into error, heresy, partial apostasy, and eventually the total apostasy which characterizes so much of the professing church today, and which any honest comparison with the Bible’s descriptions will validate.
Who can deny that the power, glory, influence, and authority of Christianity are faded and almost utterly lost from the lives of the generality of professed Christians today? Who can refute the abysmal failure of professing Christianity to restrain or arrest our nation’s voracious appetite for, and indulgence in, all manner of depravity, both real and virtual? Our entire nation and the whole world are so obviously filled with the outrageous effects of the lusts of sinful humanity and the signs of God’s spiritual judgments (which are the worst judgments), that all things in heaven and earth declare the degeneracy of professing Christendom today. Christianity and its truths is the same as it always has been, it only suffers by those who make a profession of it, while their minds have been entangled and overcome by the deceitfulness of sin.
This is the first step by which indwelling sin works its deceit against our soul, and that is by carrying away the mind from its obligation in regard to obedience and sin. The resulting effect of sin’s deceit in drawing away the mind may be summed up under these three particulars:
- The relaxation of a watchful and careful disposition toward every obligation of obedience, and against all the allurements of every sin, especially those that are the most secret and subtle.
- The failure to diligently practice all the means which God has given for the specific purpose of weakening and ruining the power of the law of indwelling sin and for exposing its deceits.
- A spiritual negligence, laziness, and weariness concerning our specific obligations regarding obedience and sin.
Wherever these three dispositions are found – more or less – to the extent they are found, to that same extent has a person been carried away by their own lusts and the deceitfulness of sin. Let us diligently heed and pay much closer attention to all our obligations which God requires regarding our obedience and sin, lest we too be drawn away by the deceitfulness of sin and drift away from them (Hb 2:1). “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 Jn 5:21).
In our next study we will examine the second step in sin’s working by way of deceit, and that is by its enticing and entangling the affections (Jm 1:14).