How to Train Your Dragons
Killing Pet Sins Before They Kill You
“Excuse me, can you repeat what you just said?”
I was certain I heard him wrong.
“ . . . ”
“So you’re saying that if we are struggling consistently with sexual sin, we should wean ourselves off of it by sinning in moderation? If we do said sin six times a week, you’re telling us to limit it to five per week for a time, then to four, three, two, until zero?”
The leader of a highly recommended program for male Christian purity reiterated the sentiment as everyone around me nodded at the sage’s words. After all, we just heard Jimmy’s video testimony about how he went from sinning several times a day to only sinning, well, several times a month. The strategy must work.
The friend who brought me braced himself.
“With all due respect, you can’t be serious. Do you know what sin is?”
As he continued to talk, it was evident that he did not.
To him, making provision for the flesh several times a week was, in the end, beneficial to our holiness. To him, a couple of slices of forbidden fruit wasn’t really that bad. To him, sin was manageable, tamable, controllable. To him, cutting off one’s members seemed like an overreaction — just gently wean yourself off of the sin.
To him, sin was not:
- The glory of God not honored.
- The holiness of God not reverenced.
- The greatness of God not admired.
- The power of God not praised.
- The truth of God not sought.
- The wisdom of God not esteemed.
- The beauty of God not treasured.
- The goodness of God not savored.
- The faithfulness of God not trusted.
- The promises of God not believed.
- The commandments of God not obeyed.
- The justice of God not respected.
- The wrath of God not feared.
- The grace of God not cherished.
- The presence of God not prized.
- The person of God not loved.
Nor was it,
The dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, and the contempt of his love. (John Bunyan)
To him, sin was like breaking the speed limit — nothing personal.
It was not an injury to our greatest Lover, a betrayal of our truest Friend, a dishonoring of our heavenly Father, an act of war against our mighty King, the creature spitting towards his Almighty Creator.
One of these was enough to curse the entire world. But allowing for several per week was apparently fine. Sin was a pet that we should eventually get rid of, but in the meantime, you could scratch its belly and teach it to play dead.
Sin Is Not a Pet
Sin is not a pet to be walked several times a week. It is a lion, a wolf, a bear. It bites and hunts at will. It attacks as a piranha. It is a restless evil lit ablaze by the fires of hell. Sin cannot be trained, bridled, or domesticated. Cannot be rescued, rehabilitated, or redeemed. Sin will never wear a collar, stick to its kennel, or cease clawing at your throat.
Sin marks us as targets for the great artillery of God’s wrath (Colossians 3:5–6). Sin makes us worthy of death (Romans 1:32). Sin will be found out and hated (Psalm 36:1–2). We never make peace with it, never make provision for it, never mark it in our calendars. Sin must be destroyed by the Spirit if we want to live (Romans 8:13).
Safer to have a pet male tiger than a pet sin.
The Lizard Upon the Shoulder
But many have tried. C.S. Lewis depicts this philosophy pictured above in The Great Divorce. In the book, a Ghost who has been kept out of heaven tries to keep his pet sin, a red lizard. In the scene, the Ghost constantly scolds the pet upon his shoulder. An angel asks the Ghost if he would like the lizard silenced.
“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.
“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.
“Oh — ah — look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost retreating.
“Don’t you want him killed?”
“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”
“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. “Shall I kill it?”
“ . . . ”
“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”
“There is no time. May I kill it.”
“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please — really — don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”
“May I kill it?”
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”
“The gradual process is of no use at all.”
More excuses are given, but now we overhear the lizard whispering in his ear,
“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams — all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent . . . ”
It is easy to fall into patterns of training our sin rather than killing it.
If your biggest reason to fight sin is that you don’t want to confess it again to an accountability group, you’re training your sin. If you only pray about the sin after you’ve “done it again,” you’re training your sin. If you do not seek Christ’s presence, if you do not commune with him in prayer and his word, if you do not invite believers into your life to stick daggers into your sin, you are training your sin to play dead without killing it.
Go and Sin No More
If you have a pet sin, you must renounce it at once. Your salvation depends on it.
Only those who have a string of sin’s carcasses behind them will enter into heaven. Only those who “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” knowing that God is working in them “to will and to work for his good pleasure” will be saved (Philippians 2:12–13).
But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.
There is a holiness that, if you do not have it, will keep you from seeing the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Do not be deceived. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap ruin (Galatians 6:8). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Many will say on that day that they knew him, but he will cast them out into darkness because they were “workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21–23). Warnings are active for the Christian, and the Spirit uses them to keep us fearing God and turning from sin.
The Christian doesn’t train his dragons. We do not plan on sinning five times per week, then four, then three, until infrequent times of rebellion. After he pardons the sinner, Jesus does not say go and sin less; he says, go and sin no more. Be killing your pets, or your pets will end up killing you.