God's Sovereign Use of Sin for Holiness

We do not grow in certain sins because we pursue change with a “corrupt principle”, said John Owen - that being self-love, not love of God:

“It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it. Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone. Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you. Now, can you think that God will set in with such hypocritical endeavors—that ever his Spirit will bear witness to the treachery and falsehood of your spirit? Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves him? No. God says, “Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost.” Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God’s. God’s work consists in universal obedience; to be freed of the present perplexity is their own only. Hence is that of the apostle: “Cleanse yourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1) [emphasis Jed’s]. If we will do anything, we must do all things. So, then, it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.”

God sees and knows that our self-love begets sins which do not “disquiet” us. If they rule over us, “we would be lost”. Therefore - and this amazes me - God sovereignly allows sins that do disquiet us to remain in us. He uses sin - yes, you read that right - he does not author sin, but in his sovereignty, and in his jealous, fatherly love, and in his knowing our hearts - he uses sin to cause us to pursue “God’s work”, not our own: “universal obedience”. Not perfection, but to care about holiness in every aspect of our lives.

How does sin cause us to pursue His work? His aim is to give us a “universal humble frame and temper of heart”, one that cares for holiness everywhere in life. There is no other place to find that than at the foot of the cross. So He allows “disquieting” sin to hound us there, to free us from self-love, in love.