THE DARK GUEST
Sin: More Than What You Do
When it comes the word “sin,” most people think of morally wrong acts or actions. If they are especially discerning, they may include morally wrong attitudes and thoughts as well. But almost no one thinks of sin as a person, yet this is precisely how the apostle Paul refers to sin.
Paul explains that inside of every Christian live two people: the “old man” and the “new man,” or sometimes people refer to them as the “old self” and the “new self.” He writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off the old self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like ravod in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-23).
If having two “selves” inside of you sounds a bit like multiple-personality disorder, then you’re on the right track. Look at how Paul spoke of the “war” within himself: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want to do, but instead I do the very thing I hate. . . As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do is what I keep on doing!” (Rom. 7:15-19).
Paul’s words there summarize the daily struggle that Christians feel. We know what is good because God has told us in his Word. And because of the new heart given to us by God’s spirit, we even “delight in God’s law” just as Paul did (Rom. 7:22) just as At the same time, however, we have another “force” at work within us—like the law of gravity—constantly tugging and pulling, waging war against our minds and taking us prisoner to its demands (Rom. 7:23). That “force” or “law” is the sin that dwells within us.
The relationship of the Christian to old man is this: our old self has been crucified, but he is not yet totally dead. Like victims on crosses, which took hours and even days to die, the sinful self inside us is still writhing from the place where he was nailed. He has been crucified but not wholly mortified, nailed to the cross but not yet dead.
The term for this kind of ever-present sin in the life of the believer is “indwelling sin,” since is dwells within us, like an unwelcome guest who will not leave. For though Christians have been completely delivered from the penalty for sin (Rom. 8:1), we are every day being delivered still from the power of sin (Rom. 8:13-14). This process of deliverance comes through the work of the Holy Spirit as we trust Jesus and turn from sin. The Holy Spirit enables us to fight against the old man by giving us the desire and the ability to do what pleases God instead (Phil. 2:13). In this way, the old man is slowly put to death over the long course of our lives. We will never be rid of the dark guest who dwells within—not until Jesus returns to make us completely new, but God is able to set us free from his power in meaningful ways. All we must “do” is continue trusting him and asking him to help us repent of our sins as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice.
A Puritan’s Prayer for Deliverance
The Puritans, who get a terrible rap is American history books, were actually people who “loved the arts, wore brightly colored clothing, smoked and drank, and loved making love to their wives. They were an exuberant group, full of, as the French might say, les beans” (Wilson, 5 Cities That Ruled the World, p. 138). More importantly than that, however, the Puritans were people who took sin seriously. They understood, perhaps better than anyone since them, just how powerful the old self can still be. That is why one of the Puritans wrote this prayer, as a way of honestly asking God to free us from slavery to sin as we trust him more. The prayer is sometimes titled, “The Dark Guest.”
Bend my hands and cut them off, for I have often struck thee with a wayward will, when these fingers should embrace thee by faith.
I am not yet weaned from all created glory, honour, wisdom, and esteem of others, for I have a secret motive to eye my name in all I do.
Let me not only speak the word sin, but see the thing itself.
Give me to view a discovered sinfulness, to know that though my sins are crucified they are never wholly mortified.
Hatred, malice, ill-will,vain-glory that hungers for and hunts after man’s approval and applause, all are crucified, forgiven, but they rise again in my sinful heart.
O my crucified but never wholly mortified sinfulness!
O my life-long damage and daily shame!
O my indwelling and besetting sins!
O the tormenting slavery of a sinful heart!
Destroy, O God, the dark guest within whose hidden presence makes my life a hell.
Yet thou hast not left me here without grace; The cross still stands and meets my needs in the deepest straits of the soul.
I thank thee that my remembrance of it is like David’s sight of Goliath’s sword which preached forth thy deliverance.
The memory of my great sins, my many temptations, my falls, bring afresh into my mind the remembrance of thy great help, of thy support from heaven, of the great grace that saved such a wretch as I am.
Give me more of it.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.