“As we mature personally, as our families mature, and as our churches mature, we need the doctrine of sin more, not less; and we need to keep growing in rightly understanding and applying this doctrine. Be assured that this is no less true if you’re a pastor or teacher or ministry worker. There’s no pastoral privilege in relation to sin. There’s no ministry exemption from the opposition of the flesh. There’s only a heightened responsibility to oppose sin and to weaken the flesh, as an example to the flock.” -C.J. Mahaney, Humility (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2005), page 133.
The movement C.J. Mahaney founded, Sovereign Grace Ministries, is one that is supposedly built on an understanding and application of God's grace. I recently listened to several messages by Mahaney and read a couple of his books, including the one quoted from above. I find myself rather surprised. SGM seems to focus God's people on the subject of 'sin' much more than they do Christ. Rather than an emphasis on growing in grace within the body of Christ, there is a stated goal by SGM's founder of 'growing in the doctrine of sin.' That, to me, is quite shocking.
In Hebrews 10:17-18 the Lord says, “This is the covenant I will make with them (us)… I will remember their sins no more.” For the life of me I can't understand why pastors would put emphasis on remembering what God forgets. There’s no denial Christians struggle with ‘indwelling sin.’ There's also no denial that sin is destructive. The question, though, is "How does a believer defeat indwelling sin?" I am absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent convinced that every Christian leader who places more emphasis in his ministry to Christians on indwelling sin than he does Jesus Christ, will ultimately lead his people down the path of religious bondage, emotional pain and spiritual abuse. Sin's power and influence are only diminished by displaying the beauty of Jesus Christ. Focus on sin and it entices you; focus on Christ and He enraptures you. An easy way to remember this axiom of the faith is: "There's no high like the Most High!" When God's people regular taste of Him "and see that He is good," every false high that sin brings will be recognized as a sorry substitute for the real thing. The ancient people said as much when they asked of Philip, "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21).
Focusing on sin may 'sound' spiritual, but it is in essence anti-Christ. Binding God's people to
various religious rituals (church attendance, quiet time, devotionals, 30-minute morning prayers, promises, commitments, accountability, etc...) in order to overcome indwelling sin is completely missing Christ. Focus on Christ, not your performance or lack thereof. Focus on Christ, not your accountability or lack thereof. Focus on Christ, not your church attendance or lack thereof. When Christ is your focus, you will find growing satisfaction and delight in Him! When that happens, indwelling sin loses its power because it loses its enticement. Religious bondage may lead you to THINK the power of sin is gone in your life, but in reality, you haven't changed a lick by the bondage. All that's happened to you is you've been tied down by religion's rituals. If somebody were to cut the ropes that tie you to the institution of the church, you'd be sin's dead meat. But as you taste of the sweetness of Christ, sin begins to lose its power. I've already quoted Hebrews 10:17-18 as the biblical basis for the good practice of NOT remembering (or focusing) on what God forgets, but let me see if I can illustrate this principle from ancient Greek mythology.
Odysseus and his mighty sailors sailed the Aegean Sea. The sorceress Circe had warned Odysseus and his men to be wary of the beautiful but deadly Sirens. These half-woman, half-beast creatures would entice sailors with their beautiful music, compelling the men to sail closer to the island of the Sirens. Without warning, the Sirens would swoop down, kill and canabilize the sailors who had sailed too close to the island of the Sirens. The sorceress told Odysseus that he and his sailors should have their ears filled with wax to block the Sirens' songs from being heard. Odysseus complied with the instructions by ordering his men to fill their ears with wax. He, however, wanted to hear the Sirens' beautiful songs for himself. So he told his sailors to tie him up to the mast with strong ropes so that when the Sirens began to sing, he could focus on the singing, but he could not jump ship and swim toward the enticing but deadly island. The sailors complied and bound their captain to the ship's mast. When the ship sailed near the island of the Sirens, music began to fill the air, and Odysseus focused on the beautiful songs and found himself enraptured. He began to fight the ropes and chains that bound him, longing to draw closer to the Sirens. He struggled with all his might to free himself from the bondage. He wanted to free himself, but he was trapped and held by the ropes and men on his ship. His battle with bondage was bloody and ugly. Odysseus avoided death at the hands of the Sirens, but he was a miserable wretch as his shipmates sought to hold Odysseus "accountable" and keep him safe.
On the other hand, Jason and the Argonauts dealt with the Sirens in a different manner. They too sailed the Aegean, but unlike Odysseus, they refused the ear wax, the strong ropes, and all attempts to "bind" anyone to the mast of the ship. Instead, they brought the greatest musician in the land onto their ship, a Muse named Orpheus, and they ordered him to play his beautiful music. The music from Orpheus' lyre and harp was so much sweeter, so far better, so incredibly more beautiful than the songs of the Sirens that Jason and the Argonauts had no desire to listen to the Sirens' songs when their ship passed by the island of the Sirens. What kept Jason and the Argonauts on the ship was the greater pleasure and beauty of Orpheus' music.
Odysseus and Jason serve as parabolic illustrations for the modern church. The great mistake of many Christian leaders, including many associated with SGM, is that they are attempting the Odysseus approach to indwelling sin in their people. They wish to expose sin (confess it), focus on sin (analyze it), control sin ('by binding people'), as they put more and more emphasis on sin as "God's people 'mature.'" The only thing that this particular emphasis brings is tired, worn out people who collapse under the weight of 'authoritative leaders' and their edicts on how to be 'more holy.'
Pastors need to be more like Jason and the Argonauts. We need to bring Jesus into the church like Jason brought Orpheus onto the boat. Talk of Christ. Preach of Christ. Tell of Christ. Magnify Christ. Exalt Christ. Honor Christ. Uplift Christ. Sing of Christ. Speak of Christ. Point to Christ. Focus on Christ. The sweet music of Christ as written in the sacred hymn of Scripture is sufficient. The Holy Spirit does a pretty convincing job of guiding His people by the island of sin when the sweet song of the Savior is being played.