David Powlison, in his excellent book Seeing With New Eyes, touches on the reality of indwelling sin--particularly with regard to what we believe and how it impacts our actions. Powlison rightly insists that all believers live in a tension between the flesh and the Spirit in this life. Employing the illustration of "competing voices" he writes,
"In each saint, the cravings and works of indwelling sin grapple against the Holy Spirit's desires and fruit (Gal. 5). It is no surprise, then, that in life stories you often notice competing voices jostling for the final say. A transcription of what takes place in a person's soul reads like a courtroom drama where different witnesses tell contradictory stories about what happened."
He then gives the following example:
"A man may repent of a criminal lifestyle and find genuine new life in Christ. But, at the same time, in the name of Christ he embraces a bizarre eschatological scheme and a political conspiracy theory. He may genuinely turn from violence and drug addiction--high hosannas! At the same time he may become newly self-righteous toward former partners-in-crime and adopt the abrasive manner of the person who led him to Christ--a Bronx cheer for such results. Souls are cured, but they also sicken in new ways. Souls always need more curing."
I was struck with the profound simplicity of the last two sentences. "Souls are cured, but they also sicken in new ways. Souls always need more curing." Who among us could be so blind to the fact that our souls are constantly in need of more curing? The reality is that most of us are not readily aware of our need for more curing--particularly when it regards a self-righteous attitude or posture toward others who are struggling with sins other than our own at present. This, in turn, reminded me of one of Jonathan Edwards' reflections on the reality of self-righteousness in the lives of believers. In his sermon, "Bringing the Ark to Zion a Second Time," Edwards wrote:
"A man is brought, when converted, wholly to renounce all his sins as well as to renounce all his own righteousness. But that don't argue that he is wholly freed from all remains of sin. So no more is he wholly freed from remains of self-righteousness. There is a fountain of it left. There is an exceeding disposition in men, as long as they live, to make a righteousness of what is in themselves, and an exceeding disposition in men to make a righteousness of spiritual experiences, as well as other things...a convert is apt to be exalted with high thoughts of his own eminency in grace."
This is, of course, squarely in keeping with the teaching of our Reformed Confessions about the nature of sanctification. For instance, Westminster Confession of Faith (Ch. 12.2) declares, "Sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh."
No matter how long we have been Christians, of this much we must be certain: Our souls always need more curing. The blood of Jesus never stops cleansing the consciences of believers. There is never a time in our Christian lives when we do not need the cleansing blood of Jesus and the purifying work of the Holy Spirit. There is never a time when we do not find "a continual and irreconcilable war" within. There is always more pride to be leveled. There is always more self-righteousness to be mortified. There is always more love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control to be nurtured in our lives. There is always more greed, lust, envy, laziness, sinful anger, bitterness, jealousy, gossip and slander that needs to be mortified within our hearts and lives. Our souls always need more curing. The good news? God has promised to cure the hearts of His people by the Gospel throughout the time of our sojourning here until He brings us to glory. Only then will we be able to say that our souls need no more curing.