The Despair of Religion

[Religious people] combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days.  They spend their strength for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which profits not [Isa. 55:2].

This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in.  A soul under the power of conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin, but has no strength for the combat.  They cannot but fight, and they can never conquer, they are like men thrust on the sword of enemies on purpose to be slain.  The law drives them on, and sin beats them back.  Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched.  By that time they are cold, they must go to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have no wound.

– John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers

The only way to kill sin is by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).  We must trust in the absolute sovereignty of God, that if he has given us new birth and called us to himself, he will finish the work he has started in us and he will work in us that which is pleasing to his sight (Phil. 1:6; Heb. 13:21).

Truly, religion will only bring pride or despair — and for most, it only brings despair.  Jesus, on the other hand, brings hope, life, joy, peace, and victory.  Let’s not turn to religious behavior for holiness, for then our sins will have mere flesh wounds.  Instead, let us turn to Jesus, so that the sins we slay might have bleeding, deep, to-the-bone wounds which have no hope of recovery.


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