Today we continue our study through John Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin. The idea is we read this together and that we read the corresponding chapters prior to the blog post each week. This week we consider chapters 5 and 6.
As we read, may we keep in mind Owen’s goal in writing this book as stated in the preface: “to promote the work of gospel mortification in the hearts of believers and direct them into safe paths where they will find rest for their souls.” (viii)
Chapter 5, What Mortification Is Not
Maybe the first thing we ought to consider from this chapter is that Owen assumes you can be a true believer and still experience an intense struggle with sin. Owen asks, What shall we do if we find ourselves in this situation? He believes we must first consider what mortification is not:
1. Mortification is not the utter destruction of sin in our lives, although we seek this utter destruction, both of sins fruit and its root in the heart and life.
There may doubtless be times of wonderful success by the Spirit and grace of Christ, and such a great victory that a man may have almost constant triumph over it; but the utter killing and destruction of it, we cannot expect in this life. . . We are complete only in Christ, not in ourselves (Colossians 2:10).
I appreciate how Owen often points us to the grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. We are absolutely dependent on God in our efforts at mortification. And while this chapter may seem discouraging, pointing out how far we fall short in our fight, and how much there is left in the battle when we may think we have won, we can take heart, knowing not only that our guilt has been taken away and our sin atoned for by the blood of Christ, but that we will triumph over sin completely through Jesus Christ!
2. Mortification is not the utter destruction of outward sins alone.
Here Owen emphasizes the importance of the heart and the danger of thinking we’ve made progress in mortification when in reality we may have simply substituted one sin for another.
3. Mortification is not just the improvement of our natural condition.
We cannot evaluate our progress in mortification based on our natural tempers.
4. A sin is not mortified when it is only re-directed.
A man may be aware of a lust and set himself against the outbreakings of it, but in the meantime suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself in some other way...As men grow older they do not usually persist in the pursuit of youthful lusts, although they have never mortified any one of them. One may leave one lust, so that he may serve another. . . He has changed his master, but is a servant still.
How have you seen in your own life the same ‘root sin’ expressed in different ways at different times?
5. Occasional victories over particular sins do not necessarily mean they are mortified.
Chapter 6, What Mortification Is
Owen says the mortification of a lust consists in three things:
A habitual weakening of it
Constant fighting against it
Evidence of success in the face of it
First, a habitual weakening of the lust. Owen reminds us that our lusts wage war against our soul. He says that lust gets its strength by temptation. In our fight against sin we must begin by striving to weaken the lust, or by “crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).
How is the habitual weakening of our lusts related to the death of Christ on the cross (Romans 6:6, Galatians 5:24)?
Second, constant fighting against the lust. There are three things required in this fight:
1. We must recognize the enemy we are dealing with and resolve that it is to be destroyed by all means possible. If you see your sin as a trivial thing you will not put forth any effort at mortifying it.
2. We need to be intimately acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions which give lust its success. We must not let our guard down. Just because a struggle is not current does not mean we are not vigilant. Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. The start of the fight is to always be ready. “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
3. We need to continue to attack our lusts daily with the spiritual weapons that are most detrimental to it.
Third, evidence of success in the battle. Here Owen does well to point out that if you are fighting against pride you will see growth in humility. The fight against any vice should see fruit in the corresponding virtue (If I want to care less about the things of this world, such as rooting for the Detroit Lions, I will begin to care more about eternal things). Owen says, “These graces of the Spirit, as they are expressed in various ways, weaken the perplexing lusts that wage their warfare against us.
Read chapters 7-8 by next Wednesday, November 18. We are only a few weeks in so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and read along.
It would be great to hear what you gained from these chapters. Feel free to post comments below or talk with one another about what you are reading. Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.