The most important daily “spiritual discipline” that a Christian can practice is to preach the gospel to one’s soul. (And of the of the best examples of what that looks like is C.J. Mahaney’s sermon “The Troubled Soul”). But there are two sides of the gospel that we need to preach: the comfort and the call. Most of us are quick to preach the comfort of the gospel to ourselves and each other. The comfort of the gospel reminds us that in Christ we are more loved, accepted and empowered than we ever dared to dream. I need that message every day (and so don’t you!). But the call (or conviction) of the gospel reminds us that we are far more sinful, flawed and rebellious than we ever thought. This is something that does not come easily (at least not in a God-honoring form)
John Owen calls this “preaching the gospel to your lust”. One of the most memorable passages in Overcoming Sin and Temptation contains Owen’s counsel to not immediately move to the gospel for relief or comfort over your sin. Instead he urges us to bring our lust, our sinful desires, to the gospel. Why? So that our sin would become bitter to us, seen for the treasonous rebellion that it really is, an affront to God’s holiness and grace that is our in Jesus.
“Say to your soul–What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace? Do I thus requite the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? And can I keep myself out of the dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with any boldness before him? Do I account communion with him of so little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great salvation? In the meantime, what shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation-I have despised them all, and esteemed them as a thing of naught, that I might harbor a lust in my heart. Have I obtained a view of God’s fatherly countenance, that I might behold his face and provoke him to his face? Was my soul washed, that room might be made for new defilements? Shall I endeavor to disappoint the end of the death of Christ? Shall I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?” (pg. 105)
What soul-searing questions! They ought to make us tremble. And this is the sort of interrogation of the soul that we must bring to our lust, our radical-self centeredness that tempts us to rebel against our loving Lord. Owen’s goal in preaching the gospel to our lust is to ensure proper conviction in our souls, to not take forgiveness lightly, and to magnify God’s rich mercy that is ours in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is a good and necessary part in “the mortification of sin”, but it is not the only part. Thankfully Owen also beckons us to the comfort of the gospel. But that’s for next time when we look at “Owen and Preaching the Gospel to your Drooping Heart”.