Proverbs 6:27 asks a question with what should be an obvious answer: “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” It is a question that really does not need an answer, because everyone who is even remotely familiar with how fire operates knows that it is extremely difficult to carry it close without being burned. No one would dream of actually doing this—unless, of course, he was looking to be burned. We know better.
But the very thing that we would not dream of doing in everyday life, we do with regularity in our Christian lives. We play with fire. We carry it next to our clothes. We do this by entertaining our sins and toying with them instead of putting them to death at the first opportunity. Rather than taking drastic action to deal with our sins, we coddle them. We hold them close, because we like them too much.
The Puritan theologian John Owen, in his helpful treatise On the Mortification of Sin, argues that when we coddle our sins and fail to put them to death, we are in effect hurting ourselves. Sin, according to Owen, is a thick black cloud that envelops our souls and blocks out the beams of God’s grace and favor toward us. It keeps us from seeing that God really is for us in Christ. It keeps us from sensing God’s grace and favor. This means that when we toy with our sins and refuse to put them to death, we show the truthfulness of Proverbs 6:27. We are playing with fire, and we will be burned.
Instead of toying with our sins, we need to deal drastically with them. This is Jesus’ whole point in Matthew 18:7–9 when He tells us to cut off our hand or foot or to pluck out our eye if any of them is causing us to sin. We must deal drastically with our sins, even if it means a great inconvenience to ourselves.
Interestingly, in each case, Jesus says that we should not simply remove the offending part of our body but that we should also “throw it away.” Again, I think, the point is that we should deal drastically with our sins. Jesus knew that if we simply removed the offending member, we would be tempted to pick it back up and keep it or to reattach it somehow. So Jesus tells us not only to remove it but also to put it far away from us. He is warning us not to play with fire.
Our trouble is that we do not hate our sins enough. We like playing with fire. We see our sins as familiar companions, but they are a destructive force. We need to cultivate a hatred for our sins—to destroy them before they destroy us—by continually reminding ourselves of what our sins cost Jesus on the cross and of what our sins continue to cost us. We rob ourselves of joy and of all awareness of the grace and favor of God when we toy with our sins. We cannot carry fire close to our chests without being burned.