When the black flag was hoisted in warfare, it indicated no quarter would be given to the enemy. This is the sort of war we must make against our own sin, because sin seeks only to dominate us until it destroys us.
Far too often, we make agreements with sin, we negotiate with sin, we confine our most treasured sins to comfortable yet small spaces within our affections, only to act on them when no one is looking or when we anticipate it will bring no particularly costly consequences.
These coddled sins deceive us into thinking we have mastered them. In reality, while we coddle that secret sin, we are in fact nursing it, and it grows stronger as we grow weaker in spiritual strength, discernment, and resolve. Instead, we must give no quarter to sinful affections; we must hoist the black flag and make war on our sinful affections daily and strive for their utter destruction.
There are numerous biblical examples of those who were otherwise respectable, but who coddled a secret sin or two. Judas Iscariot serves as a model, a warning of what happens when a small sin is coddled. Small sins have a tendency to break out in the most powerful ways and leave a wide swath of chaos and pain in their wake.
Judas never mortified his sin. He kept the expressions of sin under some level of control, such that he appeared to be a disciple. Since he was uncircumcised in heart (i.e. unconverted), he never mortified his sin. Thus, at the opportune time, Satan used the sinful desires Judas thought he kept comfortably in check to lure and entice Judas to his own destruction.
Because Judas was unconverted, he could not mortify sin. This is an apt warning for all Christians: when we are reluctant to mortify sin, we must examine ourselves and realize a crucial mark of being alive in Christ—being crucified and raised with Christ—is the mortification of sin. Consider what happens when we fail to mortify sin.
The Sin Judas Coddled
The Gospel writers are remarkable for the restraint they employed in dealing with Judas Iscariot prior to his betrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ. They scarcely give us any details regarding the life or personality of Judas, and it is certainly not for us to speculate.
The only negative thing the Gospel writers tell us about the character of Judas is recorded in the house of Simon the Leper (cf. Matt 26:6) in which Judas is referred to as a “thief” who embezzled from the apostolic treasury (John 12:6). He could not have embezzled too much or it would have been noticed, so Judas likely skimmed a bit off the top.
As things go, this was not a “big” sin (yes, there are big sins and little sins cf. WLC 150) in and of itself. Given the position of Judas, and from whom he was stealing, this was no petty sin (cf. WLC 151).
All the information the Gospels give us suggests Judas otherwise blended in with the twelve, participated in their ministries, and gave no apparent indication the others should not trust him or that he was not committed to the Lord. There was no obvious warning sign Judas was on a trajectory toward treason and the most dreadful apostasy:
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so” (Matt 26:24–25).
Even after that exchange, there is no indication anyone suspected it was within the character of Judas to betray the Lord. He seemed like a faithful member of the twelve.
The Trouble With Judas
Despite having no obvious character flaw, Judas nursed a secret sin, a private sin. He loved money—he was greedy, he felt entitled to what was not his, he was covetous. As such, he could not see the beauty of Christ. Judas could not make a break with sin and come to Jesus in faith.
The trouble with Judas was not that he advertised his avarice. He published no treatise on how he identified both as a disciple of Jesus and as avaricious (or is it avarice-attracted Disciple?), he never spoke publicly or signed a book deal talking about his sinful desires. Apparently, he did not act on them enough for anyone to notice until much later.
The trouble with Judas was simply that he allowed his greed to grow unchecked in his heart so much so that he would betray the Lord of Glory in order to enrich himself. The trouble with Judas was his affections.
The Deadliness of Sin
As Mary anointed Jesus from head to foot with incredibly costly ointment, Judas is scandalized. Valuing the substance at roughly a year’s wages, Judas objects at such an extravagant honor offered to Jesus:
“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:5–6)
The other Gospels tell us of the indignant reaction. We get the idea Judas almost choked on his food, seeing what Mary was doing, and the thought of over 300 denarii—which could have been otherwise added to the moneybag under his stewardship—being poured out over Jesus in an act of worshipful devotion. He could not keep silent.
For Judas, Jesus was not worth this honor, this gesture. For Judas, this extravagance was deeply offensive. Not because it was extravagant, but because it robbed Judas of the opportunity to skim off a small portion for his own uses. Now Judas would gain no benefit, no enrichment from Mary’s wealth, which she simply poured out at Jesus’ feet.
This reaction reveals where the mind of Judas was in his ministry. In Mary’s glorious act of devotion, the thoughts of Judas go quickly to how much money is gained or lost. He could not see the beauty and worthiness of Jesus because his stony heart was fixated on lucre.
The Gospels of Mark and Luke leave us no doubt as to the immediate reaction of Judas to Jesus receiving this honor and Judas being deprived of access to a fortune:
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him (Matt 26:14–16).
If Judas could not obtain money from wealthy Mary or by following Jesus, he would get it from the chief priests for betraying Jesus. Mark’s Gospel hones in on what Judas wanted: the chief priests “promised to give him money.” Money is what Judas wanted.
Judas felt deprived (from his point of view) of money from the family of Lazarus, and this activated his craving for money. He would obtain this money by any means possible, even betraying the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Calvin says this of Judas:
We are taught by this instance what a frightful beast the desire of possessing is; the loss which Judas thinks that he has sustained, by the loss of an opportunity for stealing, excites him to such rage that he does not hesitate to betray Christ. . . .
Judas betrayed Jesus, says Calvin, because he wanted to “regain in some way the prey which had been snatched from his hands; for it was the indignation excited in him, by the gain which he had lost, that drove him to the design of betraying Christ.”1
There is no indication before this that Judas planned to betray the Saviour. His avarice stirred up in him a desire to make good on his loss of embezzlement opportunity through selling out the Savior. This is exactly how sin works. It always works this way, unless we kill sin in ourselves.
The Puritan Robert Bolton warns us:
A man is in a damnable state, whatsoever good deeds seem to be in him, if he yield not to the work of the Holy Ghost, for leaving but any one known sin, which fighteth against peace of conscience. . . . Where there is but any one sin nourished and fostered, all our other graces are not only blemished, but abolished; they are no graces.2
Judas had made peace with his avarice, and it destroyed him. Sinclair Ferguson, likewise, notes the danger of coddling just one sin in the life of David, one unmortified lust weakened grace in every way, and destroyed confidence in God in prayer, darkening the mind, numbing the conscience, fighting the will for dominion, disturbing the thoughts, and breaking out in scandalous sins.3
John Owen explains further:
Where indwelling sin hath provoked, irritated, and given strength unto a special lust, it proves assuredly the principle means of a general [decline]; for as an infirmity and weakness in any one vital part will make the whole body consumptive, so will the weakness in any one grace, which a perplexing lust brings with it, makes the soul. It every way weakens the soul.4
Sin is our enemy, and we must wage “black flag” war on our sinful desires: mortifying the deeds and desires of the flesh.
Bolton sounds the alarm to rouse us to brutal warfare against our indwelling sin: “If Satan keep possession but by one reigning sin, it will be thy everlasting ruin. Thou shalt, then, be so far from ever enjoying any humble, holy acquaintance with our God, that thou art gone, body and soul, forever.”5
For Judas, avarice reigned in him, and Jesus was not worthy of 300 denarii. Because he nursed his indwelling sin, Judas had no gratitude to or delight in Jesus, but had been deceived into thinking money could satisfy him, because money reigned over him. We must take heed of sin in our own affections and be about the work of mortifying them.
The Christian life is one of continual struggle with sin. Regardless of how faithful a person is in mortifying the desires and deeds of the flesh, we will still endure temptations until the day of our death. Nonetheless, we can expect the power of temptation to diminish as we grow in holiness by God’s grace. John Owen summarizes this reality: “It is vain for a man to have any expectation of rest from his lust but by its death; of absolute freedom, but by his own.”6
Christians continually seek to kill our lusts, but only in death will the Christian be finally and completely free from the enticement and desire of sin. Historically, Christians of all sorts of communions were urged on to the labor of mortification through all their lives, to strive to grow both in holiness of life and holiness of desire.
Historic Reformed preaching has never encouraged people to expect sinless perfectionism, but to indeed seek and expect the diminishing of sin (its desires and deeds) and the magnifying of holiness (its affections and actions) in life. This is not—as one prominent PCA figure erroneously asserted—Wesleyanism, this is basic Christian living.
Nowadays in the PCA, there is insufficient emphasis on the costly, urgent, painful, and necessary work of mortification. Perhaps because of this deficiency related to sanctification and mortification, we have witnessed the rise of an organization in which people are encouraged to celebrate their gay Christian identities and offer their queer treasure to the church, but at the same time hold to an historic, biblical sexual ethic. That is not how sanctification works (nor is that in keeping with the historic, biblical sexual ethic). The organization held its inaugural conference in a PCA congregation with PCA seminary faculty participating.
Since that time, the organization has become more broad and accepting. What began as a support group for folks experiencing Sodomite lusts, has developed into a celebration of all manner of unnatural and distorted expressions of human sexuality (yet claiming to be celibate), even accepting those who embrace so-called transgenderism.
The movement that began as an affirmation that one could embrace much of Sodomite culture, affectations, and stereotypes so long as one abstained from sexual activity (“Side B”) has morphed into an organization that—at its last conference—was tolerant even of transgenderism.
Bethel McGrew recently noted, “At this point in time, one may legitimately ask just how sharp the dividing line remains between ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B,’ when it seems almost no expression of gay identity is out of bounds for Side B Christians.”
The tension of coddling sin is simply too great. Since 2018, there has been a steady movement of once-prominent Side-B people who moved to Side-A (i.e. completely accepting Sodomite sexual behavior). This is exactly how sin works: it makes us increasingly tolerant of what is wrong. Christians cannot tolerate sin’s desires or trappings without grave consequences.
Bolton again explains why a partial war against sin, a limited mortification, will not be successful: “He may cease and refrain from the outward gross acts of such hateful villainies, and yet his inward parts be still defiled with insatiable sensual hankerings after them, delightfully revolving them in his mind, and contemplative commission of them.”7
Just as one cannot make peace with a fire such that it destroys only part of your home, so too we cannot make peace with sin by entertaining only some of its expressions and associations. The blaze must be battled until it is extinguished, and sin must be mortified continually.8
Dear Christian, hate your sin. Give it no room within your heart. Do not tolerate it, but at its first rising against you, crush it, kill it, stomp it out. Do not think you can flirt with some of the trappings of it, or yield only a little. Perhaps, for a while, you might notice only a little yielding, but your sin grows strong within you.
The example of Judas shows us what happens when we coddle sin. The example of Side-B is a contemporary exhibit for why we must not think we can bargain even with the unconsummated desires of sin.
At the recent Gospel Reformation Network National Conference, O. Palmer Robertson rebuked the mentality of “not cure, but care” as “not the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Instead, “if the Holy Spirit is living in someone, God is eventually going to deliver them,” says Robertson. Those who give sin any room or quarter in their affections are in grave danger. God’s people in Christ have been delivered both internally and externally from ongoing sexual depravity.
Instead of allowing sinful desires to shelter in your heart, meditate upon the greatness of God’s love for you in Christ. Let the beauty and light of Christ’s love expose the warped and twisted, distorted and hideous nature of your sin. One more encouragement from Bolton to this end: “Consider the unquenchable nature of Christ’s inflamed love unto thee.”9
And there find abundant means, an abundant source of spiritual strength, not only to resist temptation in the moment but to steadily attack our distorted and sinful desires, because we are beloved by Him who is most lovely.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:6–7).
After the Memphis Assembly, it appears the PCA is closing the door to Revoice and the Saint Louis Theology. Let us, however, not only lock that door securely, but learn from the example of the Revoice movement: unmortified lust, sinful affections that are allowed to take root will reshape our way of thinking and eventually break forth into deeds.
Let us strive by all the means of God’s appointment to purge all the leaven of sin from our minds and our hearts, and so press on to know the Lord.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
©Ryan Biese. All Rights Reserved.
- John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Vol. 2, translated by William Pringle (1848; repr. Grand Rapids : Baker Books, 2005), 12.
- Robert Bolton, General Directions for a Comfortable Walking with God (1837; repr., Morgan, Penna. : Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1991), 35.
- Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life (1987; repr. Edinburgh : Banner of Truth, 2015), 139.
- John Owen, Works, Vol. 6 (1850; repr. Edinburgh : Banner of Truth, 1995), 299.
- Bolton, ibid., loc. cit.
- John Owen, op. cit., 178.
- Bolton, op. cit., 40.
- See John Owen, op cit, 178., “You cannot bargain with the fire to take but so much of your houses; ye have no way but to quench it. It is in this case as it is in the contest between a wise man and a fool: Prov. xxix. 9, ‘Whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest.’ Whatever frame or temper he be in, his importunate folly makes him troublesome. It is so with this indwelling sin: whether it violently tumultuate, as it will do on provocations and temptations, it will be outrageous in the soul; or whether it seem to be pleased and contented, to be satisfied, all is one, there is no peace, no rest to be had with it or by it.”
- Bolton, op. cit., 68.
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