How Sin Works to Gain and Retain the Consent of the Will
By John Fast
The third step in sin’s progressive work is in gaining the full and total consent of the will unto the actual commission of sin leading to death (Jm 1:15). This is given as the reason for the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s destruction by the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C., “And they rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers, and His warnings with which He warned them” (2 Kgs 17:15). Having rejected all of God’s commandments, His covenant, and all of His threats, sin gained the full consent of their will. Nothing remained to restrain them from the sin to which their will had consented. Having nothing but their own natural reasoning and darkened understanding to guide them, “they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them” (2 Kgs 17:15).
And so has it been since the foundation of the church. Even before the death of the last apostle John, the true church was threatened by false and lifeless forms and practices claiming to be Christian, or an improvement on it. The first great error was Gnosticism, followed by Arianism, then by various errors concerning the person of Jesus Christ and the Trinity, then by Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, then by the eventual domination of Roman Catholicism in the West and Eastern Orthodoxy in the East. The beginning of all of these was small, but they soon diffused themselves into various shapes and forms, carrying away the minds, ensnaring the affections, and gaining the consent of more and more people, until, after 1,500 years of church history, virtually nothing remained that bore any resemblance to the Christ and Christianity of the Bible. As J. Gresham Machen once stated, “What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires.” It took a Reformation and Reformers, raised up by God, to return to us the pure, unadulterated foundation of Scripture, and to wrest, reclaim, and cleanse the true Gospel and its effects from the horrible darkness, corruption, worldliness, carnality, ignorance, mysticism, superstition, and impotent form into which professing Christendom had degenerated and apostatized.
That which begins as true faith and truly spiritual at its first inception, becomes a lifeless form and imitation in succeeding generations. The same truths are still taught and professed, but the profession of them does not spring from the same causes, nor do they produce the same effects in the hearts, minds, and lives of people. Therefore, in the course of time, and under the influence of accommodation, ease, tradition, habit, and self-interest, most of professing Christendom will continue to have a form and appearance of being the same as they were at first, but, upon examination, are like a breathless corpse in which no life-giving Spirit dwells, “you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rv 3:1) – spiritually lifeless and dead.
In order to give people the illusion of having spiritual life, a multitude of external forms have been introduced into the church within the past 60-70 years, many of which are simply resurrected extra-biblical practices from the days of monasticism, the desert hermits, and the mystical sects of the early church, and given the respectable-sounding name of “spiritual disciplines”. To these are added rituals, extra-biblical experiences, entertainment for young and old, emotional manipulation, integration of secular philosophies and practices, gimmicks, and a host of specialized programs and activities all designed to keep people busy and active in religion, all while being totally oblivious to the fact that none of these things have any effect on their heart and life.
Today we have many parachurch ministries which focus on the church – church organization; church government; church leadership; church planting; church growth; church revitalization; church life; church strengthening, etc. None of these are bad in and of themselves, but when all the focus is on infusing life into the entity of the church, while the Head from whom the body derives its life is totally neglected, and if not neglected, then distorted and misrepresented, becoming simply the means to the end of revitalizing the body and infusing it with new life, to where Christ exists for the church and not the church for Christ, thereby creating the illusion and appearance of having life, but in reality it is still dead, then they are sinful. A church built on any foundation other than the true Jesus Christ is a false church. Churches and denominations built upon the writings and personalities of men are built on sand. Neither can any building remain if the foundation is removed or undermined.
Many, finding no spiritual life in traditional denominationalism, have gravitated to various pseudo-Christian movements and groups that in one way or another emphasize some outward forms and practices, which if they adhere to, give them the appearance of being spiritual. None of these things, however, ever have nor ever will have any power to produce any holiness, obedience, love for God, hatred of and aversion to sin, nor any growth in the true knowledge of God and His word, or any conformity to the image of Christ, “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23). True Christianity not only teaches us to deny self, but also our self-made religion.
We not only live in the age of information, but the age of misinformation, spin-doctoring, and where misrepresentation and making things appear other than they really are has become a science, a specialty, and a profession. Technology has provided multiple venues through which people can share, propagate, profit from, and promote themselves by misrepresentation. We have lived to witness some of the most extreme errors and heresies which the Christian faith has ever been diverted into, and all with the full consent of the will of those who have been so diverted. We are seeing old heresies reappearing with new names, being propagated by skilled and popular preachers (many of whom have gained a reputation for being reliable), capturing the hearts and minds of multitudes. Errors are like planets, they have an orbit, reappearing at various times, and the only thing novel about them is their name. In short, anything that is distinctly Christian, and all that is peculiar to the person of Jesus Christ which cannot be known by the natural mind, and does not align with popular culture and promote self-interest, is ignored, twisted, or reviled. The person who knows and can do many things, who can swell the numbers of a church, relate to the popular culture, organize, motivate, and entertain people is highly admired, while the man who is determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified is despised.
Nothing less than another Reformation, a new beginning, will again reclaim and cleanse true evangelical Christianity, its message and its power, from the accumulated and multiplied corruptions of the past, and from the form and appearance into which it has today degenerated. Jesus did not come to reform Judaism. Roman Catholicism could not be reformed from within, and neither will the true Gospel, its doctrines, and its effects be endured by the vast majority of today’s Protestant denominations, churches, Christianized movements, and degenerate forms of worldly Christianity. Charles Spurgeon once remarked that people will admire a Luther as they would a lion in a cage. As long as he is caged in the past he is safe, but no one wants a Luther turned loose in the church. Today, however, not only is there no desire for a Luther, but very, very few are willing to be a Luther, or a Calvin, or a John Bunyan, or a John Knox, or a George Whitefield and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The same pastors and people who today will tolerate antinomianism, relativism, modalism, mysticism, feminism, ecumenicalism, legalism, commercialism, and universalism are filled with indignation and will decry anyone who would teach and preach the doctrines of sin, the necessity and nature of a new birth, repentance, faith, holiness, obedience, and Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The greatest fear of most today is that people should become too serious, too reverent, too zealous, and too heavenly-minded; too biblical in their religion, have too much love for the Lord Jesus Christ, be too holy in their lives, and lose their love for the world.. They want enough religion to be respectable and commercially viable, but not so much as to be regarded as obsessive.
It is still impossible to patch an old garment with new cloth or put new wine into old wine skins. It is self-evident to all who have eyes to see that the deceit of sin has succeeded in gaining the full consent of the vast majority of professing Christendom. To deny it is to be willfully ignorant and self-deceived. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6), could be the motto of professing Christendom today. And why do they lack knowledge, especially in this age of information? Is it because it is unavailable, inaccessible, or unintelligible? No, it is “because you have rejected knowledge” (Hos 4:6), willfully and deliberately. “So the people without understanding are ruined” (Hos 4:14). There must be a return to first principles. Therefore it is imperative that we be conversant and knowledgeable in the way in which the deceit of sin works to gain and retain the consent of the will unto sin.
Three Preliminary Observations Concerning the Human Will
First, the human will is a rational will in that it is guided and informed by the mind. The will also has desires in that it is influenced by the affections. The true Christian has a spiritually renewed mind, so that, rather than being hostile in mind to the will of God (Col 1:21), they now approve of, and judge as good what the will of God is, “that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rm 12:2; cf. Eph 4:23). What the mind approves of as good, the affections are inclined to love, “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”; “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,” (Rm 7:12, 22). Unbelievers, however, “walk in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding” to the glory, wisdom, goodness, holiness, and beauty of spiritual truths, “because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (Eph 4:17, 18). Therefore, they give “themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph 4:19). They cannot get enough of their sin; they never have their fill of it, but only love and desire it more. Both the mind and affections exercise a determining influence upon the will of both believers and unbelievers. The will of each consents to what the mind approves and the affections love and desire.
Secondly, the will only chooses that which has the appearance of some present and/or future good. It will never consent to anything that it considers to be absolutely evil in any way whatsoever. All the various forms of self-made Christianity would have no adherents unless they had an appearance of wisdom and good (Col 2:23). The multitude of false teachers and teachings today would deceive no one unless they had an appearance of being right and good. God gave mankind a conscience to know the difference between right and wrong. Go anywhere in the world and ask anyone if they have ever done anything wrong, and if they are honest they will always admit they have. But how do they know, or why do they believe what they did was wrong? “In that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rm 2:15). The difference between good and evil is imprinted on the conscience. Good is the natural choice of the will. Therefore, whatever seeks to gain the consent of the will must be presented and represented to it under the appearance of its being intrinsically and fundamentally good, either in itself or in its effects. This is why God pronounces such a terrible woe on any people who would give evil the appearance of being good, and represent good as being evil (Is 5:20; cf. Pv 17:15). Yet this is what the natural mind and conscience habitually does; it corrupts every distinction between right and wrong, true and false, confounds good with evil, makes no distinction between the holy and the profane, turns vice into a virtue and moral wrongs into civil rights. The refrain of the unrenewed heart and mind is, “The way of the Lord is not right” (Ezk 33:17), so sin gains the consent of the will to what has the appearance of being good and right, apart from any rule and guidance of Scripture, until “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jg 21:25). All that is presented to the will for its consent and approval must be proposed in a way to make it appear to be good in itself.
Thirdly, we can better understand why the Holy Spirit places the conception of sin as a consequence of the mind first being carried away and secondly the affections ensnared by the deceit of sin. The influence of both the mind and the affections are necessary in order for sin to gain the consent of the will as to its actual commission. What remains is to show the principle ways by which the deceit of sin works and prevails to gain the consent of the will unto the actual commission of sin leading to death, and ways by which it avoids detection in order to retain the consent of the will.
Ways by Which Sin Gains the Consent of the Will
Two principle ways by which sin gains the consent of the will are,
- By false reasoning and understanding of Gospel grace
- By false conceptions of sin
First, sin influences the will by the false reasoning that the grace of God is magnified in pardoning sin, “Jesus died for my sins past, present and future”. This, as we explained in the twelfth study, opens the door for the will to give its consent to sin by desensitizing the conscience to sin’s evil, which the will has a natural aversion toward. This, in carnal and worldly hearts, goes so far as to make people think that civil freedom and liberty consists in the right to indulge in every lust and sin; that freedom consists of the freedom to do and live as they please; that religious freedom involves regarding all religions as equally true. Christian liberty is redefined as the liberty to indulge whatever lust God does not expressly forbid, rather than the liberty to obey what God commands because we are no longer “enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” (Tit 3:3). Christian liberty is not to be used “as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Pt 2:16). The poison of this numbing to the sinfulness of sin often taints the minds of true believers, which is why Scripture is so full of warnings and imperatives to diligently watch and guard against sin’s deceptions and those who promote them, “be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pt 3:17). Unprincipled men distort the grace of God and the person of Jesus Christ into a covering and license for sin.
In addition to what was stated before in the twelfth study regarding sin’s abuse of the doctrine of grace, we need to consider the biblical teaching concerning saving grace, and we will do so by briefly examining one particular passage of Scripture that will illuminate its two-fold nature. The primary aim of sin is to change the doctrine of grace in reference to both its necessity and its nature. The entire design and application of the doctrine is expressed in 1 John 2:1, 2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins;”. What do the “these things” that John has written refer to? The things in chapter one – fellowship with the Father through the Son (1:3); that this true fellowship is manifested by walking in the light, not in the darkness (1:6, 7); and that if we have this fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ, then His blood cleanses us from all sin (1:7). And what is the ultimate purpose for which John wrote “these things”? For the absolute avoidance, abstinence, and unwillingness to consent to any sin, “that you may not sin”. This is the sole and only genuine aim of the gospel of Jesus Christ, “that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Tit 2:14); “God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Ac 3:26). For what purpose did the psalmist hide God’s word in his heart? It was so “that I might not sin against You” (Ps 119:11).
But to be totally free from every sin while we live in this world is not our lot, for, “if we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). What then is to be done? Where do we turn for relief when we sin? The answer is provided in the text, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1Jn 2:1). There is full pardon, relief, intercession, and propitiation to be found in Jesus Christ. This is the only proper order and method of the doctrine of grace found in the Gospel, and this is where the deceit of sin will enter in to confound and confuse the doctrine of grace. It will alter the order and method of gospel grace. It puts the last first and excludes the first altogether. “If anyone sins, forgiveness has already been provided”, is the only gospel that sin will allow to take root in the unconverted minds of men and women. When the mind has been carried away and diverted from the true purpose and ends of the Gospel, sin imposes itself on the will in two ways in order to gain its consent unto sin.
First, by sudden and unexpected temptations. We all experience different seasons in life. Life is not static. There are temptations to sin which are unique to various times, seasons, and circumstances in life; temptations to which we are more prone at some times than at other times. Times of comfort, plenty, security, and prosperity have their own temptations as do times of trial, danger, want, and suffering. However, regardless of the season or circumstances, temptation will represent to the mind a real evil as a present good. When temptation is presented with an opportunity, it will solicit the consent of the will, which, if armed by grace, will resist and reject its solicitations. But if the mind is deceived by sin into a false conception of Gospel grace, and sin presents itself to the mind as a present good, thereby overcoming the opposition of the will to the temptation, based on a false understanding of Gospel grace, sin is then conceived in the sight of God, even if it is never actually committed. Thus the blood of Christ is used as a cloak and covering for sin and Gospel grace is abused to the service of Satan.
Secondly, it does so incrementally and imperceptibly. It insinuates the poison of this false view of grace little by little, over a period of time, until it becomes the dominate view of the Gospel, and the only one which carnal minds will except. It may be called by different names – carnal Christian; non-Lordship salvation; cross-centered / monergistic / free-grace sanctification; spiritual formation; seeker-sensitive; inclusive Christianity; liberation theology; social gospel – and a host of other names in order to give it the appearance of being good. But the upshot of this toxic definition of grace is the belief that a person’s own lusts may be indulged in because of the promise of grace and forgiveness; that love of the world is harmless; that an assiduous and watchful avoidance of particular sins is unnecessary and even harmful; that to feel guilt for sin is damaging; that the diligent pursuit of holiness and obedience is legalism; that not participating in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead exposing their sinfulness, is being judgmental, narrow-minded, and self-righteous; that exposing error and heresy and those who promote it is prideful, divisive, unloving, and censorious. As long as their deeds which they deem to be good outweigh their deeds that they deem to be bad, and forgiveness is provided for their bad, then they feel secure in their sin.
Hereby good is made to appear evil and evil is made to appear good. In other words, it is a gospel and a form of Christianity which hardens and darkens the conscience to the sinfulness of sin, not one that makes it sensitive and tender to the sinfulness of sin. The Bible knows nothing of a Christianity that desensitizes the heart and mind to the sinfulness of sin. In this way sin works to gain the consent of the will, as it has actually succeeded in doing within the vast majority of churches and professing Christians. We must be diligent to heed, and not ignore and neglect, the warning given by the author of Hebrews, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hb 2:1). The consequences of drifting from the true gospel are ruinous, a fact to which Scripture, reason, history, and experience testify, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hb 2:3); “You have rejected all those who wander from Your statutes,” (Ps 119:118).
A second way sin attempts to gain the consent of the will is by proposing all sorts of advantages, pleasures, and benefits that may be gained thereby, which is also one way in which it carries away the mind. It presents to the mind as good that which is universally and absolutely evil. In this way Satan gained the consent of Eve’s will to eat of the forbidden fruit. Ignoring all of God’s commands and warnings, she focused all her attention on the proposed pleasures and advantages to be derived by her sin and disobedience. When faced with the choice between trust and obedience or self-gratification, and relying on her own wisdom rather than God’s clear command and warning, she chose what her will had already fully consented to. To justify herself in her sin, Eve then solicited Adam to join her in it, and, seeing no immediate judgment from God on his wife, he also succumbed to its promised pleasures and willingly consented. All pleas for obedience fall on deaf ears and only the passing pleasures of sin are taken into consideration, the mind being carried away and the affections ensnared by them. The guilt, sinfulness, and consequences of sin are all hidden by the appearance of its proposed advantages and pleasures which have enticed and ensnared the affections, thereby succeeding in gaining the consent of the will unto sin. And the affections do so in two ways.
First, by being stirred up by some rash, impulsive, or sudden provocation which excites and inflames the affections, thereby drawing the will into consenting to some sin. Out of a sudden fear of being identified as a disciple of Jesus, Peter denied Him three times. David’s anger at Nabal incited him to take his own revenge, having every intention of killing Nabal’s entire household (1 Sm 25:32-34), “he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Pv 14:29). Seeing Bathsheba bathing suddenly inflamed David’s lust, thereby gaining the consent of his will to commit adultery with her, and then out of fear of being found out by her husband Uriah, to arrange his murder. His rash and impulsive sin resulted in the disintegration of his family and his public humiliation (2 Sm 12:10-12). A multitude in Ephesus were swept up by a crowd mentality, “So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and the majority did not know for what cause they had come together” (Ac 19:32). When surprised by some sudden provocation which excites and inflames the affections, the will is easily drawn into consenting to sin, “like fish caught in a treacherous net, and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them” (Eccl 9:12). Just as a trap suddenly springs shut thereby capturing its prey, sin will suddenly ensnare the affections, especially in evil times. Esau, his affections being provoked by the sight of food, impulsively consented to sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup (Gn 25:32).
Many, having their affections ensnared by a love for the entity of the church, or by a love for orthodoxy, or for a form of godliness, have lost their first love, “you have left your first love” (Rv 2:4). Love for the church separated from love for Christ is idolatry. Doctrinal truths separated from the person of Christ are like withering branches, they have no life, or power, or effect in the souls of people. If we are to avoid the conceiving of sin, we must be diligent to guard against ensnared affections. Sin may be suddenly conceived, and the consent of the will gained in a moment, resulting in actual guilt, and if actually acted on and committed, can have consequences that will last a lifetime, even eternally if not repented of and forsaken. Jesus’ warning to the church in Ephesus applies to all of professing Christendom today, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent” (Rv 2:5). Sadly, for most, their own self-interests are so intertwined with their self-made religion, and with the things of this world that “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God” (Hos 5:4) – that is, to the church’s first love. The tendrils of our heart must be unwound from all other things if they are to cling only to Christ.
Secondly, enticed and ensnared affections gain the consent of the will through tireless and frequent propositions and proposals, whereby they gain ground little by little. Imperceptibly they eventually gain dominion over the will. It was by frequent solicitations that Potiphar’s wife sought to entice the affections of Joseph, thereby seeking to gain the consent of his will into committing adultery with her (Gn 39:10). Consider the example of Joseph’s brothers. Their affections were enticed to hate him because he was the favorite son of their father Jacob (Gn 37:4). Their affections were further aggravated by Joseph’s dreams, “they hated him even more for his dreams” (Gn 37:8). Their hatred and jealousy boiled in their hearts and never stopped soliciting their wills until it resulted in gaining the consent of all but one of his brothers, Reuben, to murder him, “they plotted against him to put him to death” (Gn 37:18-21). The evil of what their wills had consented to do, the pain and sorrow that it would inflict on their aged father, the guilt which Joseph’s murder would bring on their own souls, are all disregarded, having no restraining influence to prevent their actually ridding themselves of their brother Joseph. Pilate wanted to release, and was willing to release Jesus (Lk 23:20), but the Jews “were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices began to prevail” (Lk 23:23), to the point where eventually, “he delivered Jesus to their will” (Lk 23:25). Demos deserted Paul because his will eventually consented to the persistent solicitations of his affections which were ensnared by this present world (2 Tm 4:10).
This is the most common way by which sin destroys the souls of those who otherwise appear to be walking with God, and who appear to be servants of righteousness. Sin entangles the affections with one temptation, thereby giving the will some liking for it, which eventually leads to another temptation, and another, and another, until the will is eventually giving its full consent to sins which at another time it would have rejected. How many have delivered over the true Gospel, the true Jesus, and true Christianity to the will of the culture because its loud voices have prevailed? How many, through the incessant solicitations of the world, the flesh and the devil, have consented to committing spiritual adultery with a false Jesus? The sins by which they fall away from the true faith are not the same sins which first entangled their affections. Sins which were once universally recognized and condemned as unequivocally evil – by means of frequent solicitations – eventually become commonplace and publicly accepted, and are even given the appearance of virtues, thereby paving the way for the wills of most people to consent to even more evil. Even if they never actually commit the sin to which their will consents, they give hearty approval to those who do, and thereby contract its guilt. Today, even among most professing Christians, things which were once obviously and unquestionably sinful, now must be explained as to why they are sinful.
These are the primary ways by which the deceit of sin works to gain the consent of the will. Many more might be mentioned, but they would all fall under the heading of one or both of these. What remains is to expose two particular ways which the deceit of sin uses to avoid detection so as to retain the consent of the will unto sin.
Two Ways Sin Retains the Consent of the Will
First, the deceit of sin makes full use of the spiritual darkness of the mind. The reason the believers in Ephesus previously worshiped the pagan goddess Artemis (Ac 19:26), and lived in all the sinful ways characteristic of paganism, was because before their conversion they lived “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding” (Eph 4:18). Without the true knowledge of God found only in the face of Jesus Christ as revealed in the true Gospel, the mind of man remains in spiritual darkness, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (Jn 3:19, 20). This is why the effects of sin are called “the unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:11; cf. Rm 13:12), the outcome of which is spiritual death (Rm 6:21). The source is the spiritually darkened mind which sin uses to bring about its evil and unfruitful deeds.
The minds of unbelievers are in total darkness. Spiritual truths are foolishness to them because they have no spiritual ability to understand them beyond a natural level (1 Cor 2:14). They walk in darkness, “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (Pv 4:19). All they can do is pervert, corrupt, confound and confuse, adulterate and misrepresent all the glorious truths of the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ, which tends, sooner or later, to make “the children of God and the children of the devil…obvious” (1 Jn 3:10), especially to those who “have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hb 5:14). They can be blind guides of the blind and invent a form of Christianity, but they can never know, comprehend, or live by its power. Rather they live in and under “the domain of darkness” (Col 1:13). They possess no spiritual light from which the deceit of sin needs to hide.
Believers, on the other hand, have a spiritually renewed mind, we are “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23; cf. Rm 12:2). It is God “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). In fact, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). All believers “are being (i.e. continuously, constantly by the power of God) transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18). This image is “the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col 3:10). The mind, affections, and will of the true Christian are being conformed to the true image of Christ, whereas the unrenewed mind, having a natural enmity to God, conforms Christ to the image of Him which they have created in their own mind, which is an idol. There can be no conformity to a false and unknown Christ. Being in darkness, they cannot comprehend the light (Jn 1:5), so they substitute their own conceptions of Jesus for the true image of Christ “who is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15; cf. Hb 1:3; Jn 14:9), the same God for which they have the utmost enmity.
Even in true believers there still remains, to one extent or another, a partial darkness. Some are still babes in Christ while some are more mature, and “who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hb 5:14). Not all believers have been given the same measure of the Spirit, but “God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Rm 12:3). Not all grow at the same rate and to the same stature. Only Jesus was given the Spirit without measure, and we will not be made like Him until we see Him face to face (1Jn 3:2). It is this partial darkness which the deceit of sin will make full use of in order to retain the consent of the will. If the light ever exposes the darkness and its unfruitful deeds to the mind for the evil which they really are, the affections will hate it, and sin will lose the consent of and its dominion over the will. There are two aspects of this remaining darkness in believers that the deceit of sin fully uses to its own advantage.
- One is ignorance of God’s word, His will, His nature, and His doctrines
- Another is errors and mistakes concerning God, His will, His nature, His word, and His doctrines – that is, accepting as true what is really false, and as light what is really darkness
As we said in a previous study, false teachers learn by experience that it is in their own self-interest to keep people ignorant of the great truths and doctrines of the Bible, either by ignoring them, diluting them, or corrupting them. The unbeliever is willingly ignorant because they will not come to the light lest their deeds should be exposed. They may go to the Bible to find justifications for their beliefs, opinions, practices, and presuppositions, but not to have them examined, governed, guided, and corrected by the light of Scripture. All ignorance of the nature, the word, and will of God will be taken full advantage of by the deceit of sin.
It was a result of his ignorance of the person of Jesus Christ, especially of His divine nature, that Paul “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (1 Tm 1:13). Sin took full advantage of Paul’s ignorance to retain the consent of his will, so that, “I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Ac 26:9). Not until on the road to Damascus, when this same Jesus of Nazareth revealed Himself to Paul to be the eternal and divine Son of God, was Paul’s ignorance removed, so that “he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God”, and “proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Act 9:20, 22) – that is, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. Had those who crucified Jesus not been ignorant of His divine Person, they never would have falsely accused Him, mocked Him, spit on Him, mercilessly scourged Him, driven nails thorough His hands and feet, nor placed a cruel crown of thorns on His holy head, “for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;” (1 Cor 2:8). The will of the Jews prevailed over Pilate’s will to release Jesus, but their will was influenced by their ignorance of who Jesus really is, “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also” (Ac 3:17). It was the ignorance of those who crucified Jesus which was the basis for His prayer on their behalf, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Were people today, even the great majority who profess to know and teach Jesus Christ, not blinded by their willful ignorance and own self-interests, they could never live the way that they do, nor give their hearty approval to those who practice the same.
If there is any darkness and ignorance of the mind, or will, and truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus, or any ignorance of Satan’s schemes, then sin will not hesitate to fully use it for its own advantage (2 Cor 2:11). Sin capitalized on Peter’s ignorance of his own weakness, thereby not only gaining the consent of his will, but retaining it long enough for him to deny Jesus, not just once, but three times in little more than an hour (Lk 22:59). In the Old Testament, God complained that His people were destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos 4:6). Being ignorant of the mind, will, and nature of God they rushed into every evil which presented itself as being good. Believers, however, “As obedient children” are not to “be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Pt 1:14, 15). Many a husband and father, being ignorant of their responsibility and obligation which the word of God places on them for the instruction and government of their family, abdicate almost their entire duty to the church and its various programs, thereby leading to a habitual, chronic, and sinful neglect of this duty. Through ignorance of God’s prescriptions for His own worship, all sorts of human inventions and practices are introduced into it and substituted for it, thereby corrupting and defiling it. It is by ignorance of God’s righteousness that people seek to establish their own as the grounds for their salvation, and refuse to subject themselves to God’s standard of righteousness (Rm 10:3).
The only knowledge which is acceptable with God is that which produces obedience and conformity to Christ, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk 8:21). The more ignorance there is of the nature, the will, and mind of God, the greater is the advantage given to the law of sin to not only gain the consent of the will, but to retain its consent until the sin to which the will has consented is actually accomplished and brings forth death. In a time such as ours, where biblical and theological ignorance dominates not only within the culture, but also professing Christendom, is it any wonder that the law of sin has successfully gained and retained the consent of the wills of the vast majority of people, churches, and professing Christians.
Even worse than ignorance, error is by far the foulest effect of darkness which gives a great advantage to the law of sin. Every error is the result of ignorance, whether the ignorance is intentional or unintentional, but not all ignorance results in error. Of all the errors which sin takes full advantage of, none are more deadly and dangerous than those concerning the person and nature of Jesus Christ, for no one comes to the Father but through Him (Jn 14:6). Judas’ erroneous conception of Jesus not only led to his consenting to betray Jesus, but “he began seeking (continuously and constantly) a good opportunity to betray Him” (Lk 22:6). Sin not only gained the consent of Judas’ will, it retained it until the sin was actually accomplished, resulting in His eternal ruin. Today there are as many Jesus’ as the mind of man has the ability to invent them. To attempt to refute them and to present the true doctrine of Jesus Christ would be neither helpful nor necessary as it has already been done numerous times in almost every generation since The Reformation. Therefore, all error concerning the person of Jesus Christ must be the result of a willful ignorance. It is not from a lack of light, but from a willful neglect and rejection of it. The problem is not in the head, but in the heart which can only be reached by a divine power. Suffice it to say, that when people believe things about God, whether it be God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, that are not true, and which contradict or have no foundation in His revelation of Himself in Scripture, and ascribe to Him that which is not so, they simply reveal that the god they worship is one of their own imagination and invention – an idol – and not the God of the Bible. To credit the creature with any attribute or power that belongs only to God – such as the ability to change the climate or “save” the planet, or to speak things into existence through “positive confession”, or to provide new revelation to the church – is also idolatry.
Satan will introduce and use the errors produced by the darkened mind in one of two ways. The first is by suppressing the truth in unrighteousness through persecution. When people are zealous and passionate for some error, they attempt to suppress and persecute those who steadfastly hold to the truth. The Jews persecuted Christ, His apostles, and the first believers. Pagan Rome persecuted the early church for three centuries. Roman Catholicism persecuted all who exposed and opposed its errors. The Puritans were persecuted for not conforming to the errors of The Church of England. Jonathan Edwards was persecuted by his own congregation for exposing the errors of The Halfway Covenant. Charles Spurgeon was persecuted by his own denomination for exposing and opposing the errors of Higher Criticism. Darkness always has and always will hate the light, especially when darkness is exposed by the light for what it really is. However, all that persecution accomplishes is to drive hypocrites from the truth into embracing and accommodating error, “simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Gal 6:12); “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tm 3:12). Today, those who refuse to accommodate God’s law, His person and nature, His Gospel and its effects, and the practices and worship of the church to the whims of the culture, increasingly find themselves – like those to whom the epistle of Hebrews was written – isolated, marginalized, stigmatized, and ostracized, not only by the culture, but by the vast majority of professing Christendom. They are accused of being self-righteous, unloving, intolerant, judgmental, narrow-minded, censorious, and divisive, when in reality it is those who embrace the errors of our time that “are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19). The true church, however, has always grown stronger and purer under persecution. Ease and accommodation fill the church with hypocrites, but persecution drives them from it and into embracing and accommodating falsehood.
It is one thing to suppress the truth, and another to exchange the truth of God for a lie. This is carried out through deception, which is the second way by which sin takes advantage of errors. Satan is described not only as a dragon who, through his human instruments, persecutes those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rv 12:17), but also as “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world;” (Rv 12:9). As a dragon Satan, through his human instruments, persecutes the saints, and as a serpent he deceives the whole world. He persecutes so people will shrink back from the truth (Hb 10:39), and he deceives so they might not see and believe the truth (2 Cor 4:3, 4). Today, the two primary means of introducing error into the church, by which people are deceived into erroneous beliefs about the nature and person of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, are through music and claims of extra-biblical revelation and experiences.
Through the music, or more precisely through the lyrics of popular contemporary “Christian” music, false views of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are easily insinuated and instilled into the minds of people, especially people who are and have been kept biblically and theologically ignorant, thereby predisposing the mind to be more receptive to the errors propagated by popular, engaging, and artful preachers and authors, especially when they “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:15). These errors typically are supported by nothing more than claims of extra-biblical revelation and subjective mystical experiences, which the Bible is very clear about, are nothing more than “a vision of their own imagination” and “the deception of their own heart” (Jer 23:16, 26). In other words, they are “the unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:11), which the Christian is not to participate in or with, but rather expose them for what they are. Their source is a spiritually darkened mind. This is an error which will support and give hearty approval to the error of others. Someone who claims to be the recipient of extra-biblical revelation and mystical impressions cannot condemn the errors of others who claim to have received them in the same way without discrediting themselves.
By these, and other means, Jesus and His Gospel is presented to the mind as something other than they really are, thereby deceiving the mind into receiving as true what is really false, and accepting for light what is really darkness. By this darkness their minds are blinded to “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). They are blinded to the truth by the errors which their mind and affections have been deceived into accepting as the truth. To be blinded to the truth by a false Christianity is no different than to be blinded by Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism, Catholicism, or any other false religion. There is nowhere that sin dwells more securely than in those who are blind, yet think they see. Indwelling sin can gain no greater advantage by which it is able to retain the consent of the will to sin. This is why it is the duty of every Christian to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm 12:2), by letting “the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Col 3:16), through which we grow in “the true knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, 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 4:13, 14). Darkness can only be dispelled by the light, and where the light has receded it is not replaced by a different kind of light, but darkness rushes in to take its place. This is one way by which sin retains the consent of the will, by making full use of the spiritual darkness of the mind.
The second way by which sin retains the consent of the will is by mitigating and minimizing the purifying, cleansing, and sanctifying work which the word of God and the Holy Spirit make against it in the heart. It does this by false notions of sanctification; that is, that because of the imputed righteousness of Christ we are already totally sanctified, and that the only sanctification is to realize that we are already sanctified, thereby mitigating our responsibility to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1), or “to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Pt 2:11). Hereby the doctrine of sanctification is corrupted by confusing and confounding holiness with righteousness. But the primary way it does so is by the assuagement of its own guilt. It argues for itself that it is not so bad, so evil, so dark, so destructive, and so fatal as it is described, and it extenuates itself in two ways: categorically and comparatively.
Categorically it will plead, by many subtle and secret arguments, that the sin to which the will has consented is not as evil and wrong as the conscience would convict it of being, and that it can be entered into and practiced without any real harm to their soul. They can indulge and participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, at least to a limited degree. “A little love of the world won’t hurt. Occasionally being entertained by sin is no big deal. I can regulate how much sin I expose myself to and engage in.” Or, it will reason that there is no hurry, no urgency to deal with this sin in my life. It will probably die out on its own. There is no need for that self-discipline and self-denial which putting to death the deeds of the body requires. With these, and similar arguments, sin will categorically extenuate its own guilt, thereby retaining the consent of the will unto all sorts of sin, if not to actually committing them, then to eventually giving their hearty approval to those who do practice them.
Comparatively, it will compare itself to others both living and dead. “After all, David committed adultery and murder but he was a man after God’s own heart. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife. What I am doing is not as bad as I see others doing, even other professing Christians. Yes, I agree that it is sin and should be forsaken and guarded against, but still it is not nearly of the same magnitude that I see in the lives of others. Profanity is part of everyone’s vocabulary today.” This is a large sphere for the deceit and subtlety of sin to hide and prowl about in, seeking someone to devour. By these and similar extenuations sin will work to conceal itself, especially when pursued by the living and active light of God’s word, to evade detection, remain hidden, and retain the consent of the will which sin has gained by one or more of its deceits. For all that we have covered so far in our study in the power and presence of indwelling sin, we have not even come close to uncovering and declaring all the ways by which the deceit of sin gains and retains the consent of the will unto sin.
Not every sin which the will consents to is actually brought forth unto its actual commission. There is a world of sin and evil conceived in the hearts and minds of people to which they never give birth. In our next study we will consider some of the ways by which the actual commission of conceived sin is aborted and prevented.