The subject of sin is not a comfortable topic for study or discussion. Even so, there is great value in understanding the problem of sin, as it is by having a right understanding of the problem we are able to effectively fight against it and appreciate what Christ has done for us.
On this episode of the podcast we are joined by Mark Jones, who uses his knowledge of the works of the Puritans to guide others into a greater understanding of the problem of and solution to our indwelling sin.
I trust that you will find this conversation an encouragement to renew your fight against sin while relying more fully on the finished work of Jesus Christ to do so.
On This Episode We’ll Discuss:
- Why Mark wanted to write a book on the topic of sin
- How the Puritans can help us better understand our sinfulness and Christ’s provision for our weakness
- Particular Puritan works that we can all benefit from
- How the average Christian misunderstands sin
- The differences between sins of omission and sins of commission
- How having a greater understanding of sin deepens our Christian life
- Encouragements we have from Puritan works for fighting sin
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About Our Guest
Mark Jones is the Senior Minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA). He is the author and editor of a number of books and speaks all over the world on topics related to the Christian life. He’s also the author of Knowing Sin: Seeing A Neglected Doctrine Through The Eyes Of The Puritans.
- Reading the Puritans: Where to Start
- The Mischief of Sin by Thomas Watson
- Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock (2 Volumes)
- Knowing Christ by Mark Jones
- Hear Mark Jones’ sermons
Welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining us on this episode. We are speaking with Mark Jones. He is the senior Minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church. He’s the author and editor of a number of books, and he speaks all over the world on the topic of Christian Living. He’s also the author of Knowing Sin: A Neglected Doctrine to the Eyes of the Puritans. So, Mark Jones, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Great to be on with you. Thanks for having me.
As we kick things off, could you spend a moment and share a little bit about yourself and your family and your Ministry?
Yes, I’m a pastor at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church. We are a PCA Church (Presbyterian Church in America), and we have two sites right now because in Vancouver there’s no land. So, when your Church, you go out of your Church building, you need to go find another building. And so we have a Surrey site where I preach 09:00 in the morning there, and then I drive into Vancouver to our Vancouver site, preach there.
And it’s been really encouraging the last few years, especially; our Church growth and just young people and really seeing the gospel work. I also like to write as a hobby and coach soccer, so I do quite a bit of coaching and then occasionally, I travel around the world to conferences when I feel it’s a valuable use of time and resources. And then I have four kids, a wife, and other than that, not much else.
Well, that sounds like plenty to stay on top of. So you mentioned writing and you have a new book that’s out and it’s on how the Puritans viewed and taught about the subject of sin. So what brought about your desire to write a book on the topic of sin?
A few things really struck me. One was I wanted to write a book because it keeps me out of trouble, or at least it keeps me a bit more busy. So I kind of felt like I had a period of time where I could devote a few months to some sustained writing.
And then I had done a lot of research through my previous studies on the Puritans. And so once you get into the thick of the Puritans, there’s a lot of research that you keep in your back pocket, so to speak. And as a pastor and someone who does travel a bit and tries to stay attuned to what’s going on, I just thought that it was really important to have a fresh look at the doctrine of sin.
It’s one of those doctrines that I think gets missed out in our preaching and even in our prayer life and just our awareness of who we are. So just a number of factors came together for me to write the book, and thankfully, Moody seemed quite keen on it, and it’s been so far, so good.
Now, the title will probably strike someone’s ear right off the bat. I anticipate that Knowing Sin is kind of an intentional homage to JI Packer’s Knowing God. Is that right, or just happy coincidence?
Yeah, well, I had also written a book called Knowing Christ, and JI Packer wrote the forward to that. And I kind of thought, okay, we started with Knowing God, and then I specifically wrote a book, Knowing Christ. And then Knowing Sin was sort of a companion volume as, it were, to that. So I might keep going with the Knowing series, we’ll see. But, yeah, that’s the short story.
That’s great. We’ll be sure to link to your previous Knowing Christ as well in the show notes. As you’re listening to this and you’re hearing some resources mentioned and you want to keep track of those, you can always head to the show notes at Reasonabletheology.org. So we’re talking about your book Knowing Sin. You’ve got this previous book, Knowing Christ. And of course, there’s J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. Do you see these topics, particularly Knowing God, Knowing Christ, and Knowing Sin, as kind of the foundational aspects of strong, good theology?
Yeah, I think what you see in the historic writings, even beginning with Calvin, but going through the churches, we have to understand who is God is fundamental, but who are we? And when you understand who we are truly according to how God’s Word looks at humans, whether in Christ or out of Christ, you see your need for God.
But then when you see who God is, you see how we fall so very far short of his perfection. So I think those are the sort of twin pillars of true knowledge. And then in the middle of that, knowing Christ is the link between knowing God and knowing sin. And if you didn’t have knowing Christ, knowing sin and knowing God would actually be a very brutal couple of doctrines, but Christ brings them together in a way we can have joy and hope and peace.
Amen. Now, this isn’t a book with just your ideas of sin or even just the result of your study of Scripture on sin, though there’s plenty of that in there, but particularly on insights gained from the Puritans and their writings about sin. So, two questions: One, what made you interested in kind of looking at it through the lens of the Puritans, and what unique insights do they bring to this conversation?
I think the Puritans were especially gifted with not just learning, whereby they were well read, well studied, well taught, but they seem to have a pastoral manner about them. So that when they wrote, it wasn’t just mere academic theology, but it was devotional theology.
And so sometimes you’ll see them say certain phrases or comments and it’s evocative, it really strikes you the language they use and leaves memories in your head, vivid illustrations and so on. So I think the Puritans, for me, combine the balance between good theology and pastoral application. And they do so with a vividness in their writing that it’s quite striking compared to other areas as of the Church, in my mind.
And of course, they kind of get a bad rap. If some people are familiar just with the caricature of Puritans being very Dower and very strict what would you say to someone who maybe has not approached a study of the Puritans or reading some of their works? And even that word Puritan is almost a negative for them? Could you help get them over that hurdle and just encourage them not only to read your book, just to be exposing themselves to the Puritans?
For me, the striking thing in terms of the Puritans is the caricatures they exist. There’s also a wide group of Christians, at least in North America, who love the Puritans, and then there are some who don’t know them so well, and seems like the haunting fear that somebody somewhere is having a good time is this fear of the Puritans, which really doesn’t live up to what you read about the Puritans and the types of things they wrote about don’t really give me that impression.
There were some areas where I think they were a little more stricter than the average Christian today in North America. And I think that’s more an indictment upon us than them, to be honest. But I would say that their teachings on Christ.
For example, I did my PhD dissertation on Thomas Goodwin’s Christology. If you read Goodwin’s work on Christ, it’s the most heartwarming, soul satisfying work that I’ve read in the English language. And so anyone who has a bad view of the Puritans needs to really try and give them a chance, because I did. And I found that nothing has satisfied my soul in terms of human writings like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.
Now, we do have a resource on the blog to draw people’s attention to is just reading the Puritans, where to start. And it’s just a recommendation of some good entry level ways to get your kind of foot in the door, so to speak, of engaging with the Puritans.
I’ll put that in the show notes for you. But my question for you is you’ve mentioned this Thomas Goodwin work. Are there other particular Puritan works that come to mind that you’d recommend for gaining a better understanding of, particularly this topic of sin?
Probably Thomas Watson would be the guy who he’s clear and he’s got great phrases, a great turn of phrase. So I would highly recommend Thomas Watson. I have edited Steven Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God and modernized it and updated it and done a lot of work to translate phrases and words and give definitions of archaic words.
And that will be coming up with Crossway later this year. So I would say start off with Watson. Maybe. But you can also jump into Steven Charnick’s The Attributes of God and others such as John Flavel. And you need to take your time and maybe get to a point where you understand the language of Puritan writers before you dive into him.
But there’s some pretty good modern editions of their work, so I would just poke around. Bunyan is obviously a great place to start in terms of pilgrims progress and Holy war, so there’s plenty of places to get your feet wet.
Yeah. And as much as we would recommend people read the Puritan works and benefit by them, you can’t get around that. They were writing a long time ago. They’re known for very long titles and subtitles, very long sentences. Obviously, there’s going to be some archaic grammar and things, so it’s not without its challenges, but it’s very fruitful to be reading the Puritans.
Yeah. It’s like going for a run and you throw some Hills in, and when you’re done, you feel really good about the fact that you got up those Hills and made it. And I think the Puritans are like that. It’s like Hill running. But you’re always thankful at the end.
Yeah, absolutely. It takes a little bit more work. It is not light reading most of the time, but even as you work slowly through these works, you’re going to recognize the benefit even as you’re reading them. This isn’t just put the book down and then later in life you look back and see you’re benefiting them as you’re working through them.
So by writing this book on sin, by bringing these Puritan perspectives and their writings on sin, you’re trying to help the reader gain a better understanding of the problem of sin. Are there some misunderstandings that you’re attempting to address with this book?
A little bit, yes. I think there’s a few, maybe off the top of my head. One would be people like to use euphemisms but they also will come up with phrases that are sort of half truths about sin. For example, sin is missing the mark. Well, yeah, I guess on a very basic level, you could say sin is missing the mark, but it’s so much more than that.
And so I have chapters in there that highlight what sin is, what it isn’t I think also people tend to externalize sin. It’s a natural human propensity. The Pharisees did that. They thought they were good people because they externalize sin. Whereas Christ in the Sermon on the Mountain internalizes the problems.
And so does David in Psalm 51, for example. So people think about inward temptations and they say, well, those aren’t sins because I never actually did anything. And I think what I try to show is how search and inward temptations actually are sin if we are bringing them about through meditating upon evil and thinking about evil and so on. So, yeah, there’s a few ways I’m trying to correct our popular conceptions. Absolutely.
Could you expand on that a little bit more? I’m just interested to hear your further thought on that externalizing versus internalizing Santa, could you expand on that a little bit more in terms of what it means to externalize sin and the problems that can create for us?
The way I kind of like to approach this is in terms of Christ himself. So he was tempted. And we have to remember, what does that mean? And I think what we find with Christ is that there were external temptations. Absolutely.
The devil solicited him in a time of weakness where he’s hungry, thirsty, and so on. So there’s these external temptations that come to Christ and he doesn’t give in to them. However, unlike Christ, there is an analogy that breaks down. So he was tempted in every way that we are in terms of, I think those external temptations, we also have indwelling sin.
And so our will will be often led astray by desires. And they are defiled desires or their desires that are not in accordance with God’s law. So if I desire to steal something from somebody, that desire is a wrongheaded desire, it’s a sinful desire, it’s a bad impulse. And I need to deal with that because really, what leads to actual sins, the committing of an actual sin, are the inward sins that we allow to reign unchecked.
So it’s vital as a Christian that we deal with the root of the problem right to the heart. And we crush it by the Spirit, in accordance with the means that God has provided. And then we can actually have some victories in our lives in terms of how we live. But until we get to the root of the problem, we’re just putting Band-Aids over open wounds.
And as the individual reader, the individual Christian starts to try to get at the root of the problem, they’re going to start to see the sins that they struggle with. In particular, are there particular sins that Christians in our day seem especially to struggle with?
That’s a tricky question, and I think, in a sense, it depends where you live. But what the Puritans taught me is our stage of life, whether we’re young or old, will yield various temptations to certain sins.
People who are rich will have certain sins. People who are poor will have certain sins. And because sin is so ugly and powerful and real, we have to insist that the seed of every sin is in our hearts. So, given the right time circumstance, apart from the Grace of God, we could do any sin. But at the same time, a young teenage boy is going to have problems dealing with lust in a way that a five year old boy probably won’t experience in the same way.
So an elderly gentleman might have different types of sins that he’d ever struggled with as a child. What we need to do is distinguish even the sexes, male and female, have different types of proclivities and sins that they commit. I think if you just looked at something like violent anger that leads to fighting you would see that as more of a male sin, right? Just because of how we’re created, um. So I think that’s important to understand. And then I think in Western culture, we may have sins that are a result of the affluence of our culture, maybe other things that you wouldn’t see in different cultures. So it’s a complex question and quite worthy of discussion.
I think now some might be hearing the premise of the book, and they may have a fleeting thought of what can the Puritans tell me about my modern day challenges? If people think through areas that they are weak or struggling with sin and they’re thinking of temptations online or just time management and making time for spiritual disciplines with all the things that we have that demands our time, that just the Puritans couldn’t even imagine.
In terms of Internet and the phone ringing and all these things, what would you say to someone who has a little bit of doubt that going so far back to the Puritans is a great place to start for understanding our sin. Has sin changed that much over the years?
I think that’s a fair question. I’m not here to say, well, there’s no merit to that. There are struggles. Even in my own life, I recognize that if I had a phone or smartphone when I was 15, as opposed to now, I might have got myself put in jail or real serious trouble because I was so immature. And now kids have these temptations.
But what I think is crucial for us to understand is the essence of sin doesn’t change. So the basic principles of idolatry of going after something other than God or putting something before God. The essence of laziness. And it may manifest itself differently today in terms of laziness, like watching TV for a long time. But I think the Puritans understood laziness in terms of whatever issues they may have had to deal with.
So the principles don’t change what we see in David’s life, what we see in Peter’s life, fear of man, concern for self at the expense of others. Those principles don’t change. So we say the internal driving principles of sin never change from age to age. And the outward sort of manifestation where it could be watching too much TV or too much time on your phone. Those things can differ. The accidents, so to speak. But, yeah I’m happy to admit differences, but I’m also insistent upon the core principles don’t really change. Solomon’s life in Ecclesiastes is as relevant to us today as it was back then.
Yeah, the root problem in the heart of our sin, that doesn’t really change. We’re still struggling with the same problems that they were struggling with in Moses day. We just have different contexts. Uh, that plays out in one of the things that your book does that’s helpful is it gives the distinction between sins of Commission and sins of omission. Could you define both of those and then explain a little bit what that’s about?
Very basically, sins of Commission is something you actually commit. So if I were to steal an Orange from the grocery store, I would be committing a sin. Now, if for example, I saw an old lady lying on the ground outside my house and she couldn’t get up, and I was in my office looking up the window and just saying, oh, well, hopefully she gains some strength and get herself up and moves along.
That would be a sin of omission, because I’m omitting. A duty to care for someone to show love, to do, not kill, is also preserve life. And so we have duties that are required of us, and then we have other duties whereby we shouldn’t do things.
So in terms of Christ, again, I think this is really crucial. What amazes me about Christ life is both that he didn’t commit any sins, but not only did he not commit sins, he also did everything that was required of him at every stage of his life. He was always pleasing the Father. He was always speaking the exact words the Father gave to him.
There was never an instance where he failed to do his duty. And so we need to understand that the Christian life is not just a negative, don’t do this, but it’s a positive. What should we do? And Ephesians Four is a great chapter for that. If you want a quick glance at Paul, looking at what we shouldn’t do, and then coupling that with what we should do in place of the things that we shouldn’t do.
Now, this process of studying about looking at the Puritans, reading a book like yours about sin is not a theoretical one. It’s not simply, though, it is theological and doctrinal. It’s not only that. In what ways does having a greater grasp of our sinfulness actually deepen our Christian life?
For me, the Scriptures are quite clear. That where you see great declarations of God’s Grace, you see often declarations of man’s sinfulness. So in Exodus, we see this. We see this in Isaiah, specifically chapter six. But all through Isaiah, Peter saying, Depart from me, I’m a sinful man. There’s.
So many places, David in Psalm 51 ransacks the biblical vocabulary for sin, but then it’s outdone by the biblical vocabulary for Grace. So when you see an emphasis on biblical, true and proper emphasis upon sin, you very often find an emphasis upon how God Salvation mercy, compassion, faithfulness, love, et cetera, are closely present. And so that’s why I think we can’t really lose when we understand sin biblically, because we’ll always be confronted in the same passages, very often by the mercies of God.
And bringing in that aspect of being confronted with the mercy of God. The love of God is so important because the Puritans and you and other writers and pastors and theologians, the point of spending time with doctrine is not just only to recognize how terrible we are apart from Christ. That I think is absolutely necessary. But there is also encouragement on the other side of that. So what encouragements do we gain, particularly from the Puritans, even in the midst of a heavy topic like sin and its consequences?
The encouragements, I think the Puritans, what they did so well with sin is they didn’t hold back when they described it. There’s no, um, sanitizing of the topic. But what they do so well is they bring out the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of the Spirit always in connection with that. And so when you look at how Goodwin will write, for example, speaking of Christians, that our sins move Christ more to pity than to anger, it’s not that he can’t ever be disappointed and displeased with us, but there’s always a sense in which there’s more pity and more Grace to those who feel the weight of their sins.
So there’s some very practical conclusions we can draw from the doctrine of sin in terms of how it leads us to Christ and then the specific ways in which Christ is intercessor. Christ as Savior on the cross, Christ is resurrected, or the Spirit functions in our day to day Christian living, even in terms of our confession of our sins and how we can feel refreshed by the fact that God accepts us for the sake of his Son. So really crucial to locate all of the solutions to sin in Christ and to the Spirit based upon the Father’s love.
That’s great. Now what is it that you hope readers take away from this book? They picked up a copy and they’ve read through it. What is the primary takeaway that you hope they’ll have?
There would be hopefully a few takeaways, I think. I’d like the readers to feel like they got into a ring with Mike Tyson for a few minutes and I feel like they’ve been hit. And then that sounds bleak.
But really, I do want readers to feel hammered by the doctrine of sin, because that fresh awakening to who we are by nature will, I pray, lead to a fresh awakening of how deep the Father’s love is and how wide his mercy is, and how Christ is the only hope to getting us to a position where we can stand before a Holy God.
So that, to me, is a fresh awakening to who we are, but also a fresh awakening to who God is in Christ towards us. And if that’s all that happens, I think that is all that needs to happen. In terms of Christian living.
It’S so important what you mentioned of not wanting to pull that punch and not wanting, uh, to give in to the urge to soften the blow because, you know, it’s hard. But so much harm has been done in the history of the Church by trying to minimize sin, isn’t that right?
Yes. And you’ll find that it’s always a temptation. It’s always a trick of the devil. I think if people go to Church and they hear, oh, we’re sinners and Christ died on the cross, there’s a sense in which that’s not really how the Bible tries to describe.
There is a sense in which we can summarize it that way. But you find the Bible gets to specific sins, and what we need to do is not hold back on specific sins. I think a lot of Christians are okay with generalities. But when you get to someone’s pride or their unbelief or their lust or their other disordered desires in the specifics, that’s where you start to find a bit of pushback.
And that’s where conviction really takes place is in the specifics. So that’s another thing that I think we have to remember to really insist upon locating specific sins in our lives, not just the general principle.
It’s always more comfortable to stay within the vague arenas of being generous with our sin, isn’t it? So where can listeners go to learn a little bit about you and your ministry?
I actually just been put on Spotify our Church sermons. Faith Vancouver. I don’t even know what the address is. I just found out the other day. But Faithvan.com, that’s our church website.
I do have an Amazon author page that people can go and check out some of the books there. Knowing Sin is obviously on there. I think Westminster Books and also Heritage Books and a number of other Christian booksellers are selling it. And yeah, it’s been really well received so far in terms of sales and feedback and things like that. So in this day and age, it’s pretty easy to find information online.
Excellent. I’m glad to hear that. And encouraging all the listeners of this episode to pick up a copy of Knowing Sin. Our guest on this episode has been Mark Jones again senior Minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church, author of Knowing Sin: Seeing a Neglected Doctrine Through the Eyes of the Puritans encourage you to pick up a copy, read through it, take the time to go through it slowly so that you might be impacted the way the Puritans have really grasped the depth of sin and our need for Christ and I trust that you will be blessed for it.
So Mark Jones, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Thanks Clay, great being on with you.