Posts filed under Mortification of Sin

The Mortification of Sin

I say, then, we must by faith consider the supply and fullness that we have in Christ Jesus, and how HE can at any time give strength and deliverance. If you do not immediately find success in your battle, you will at least be secure in your chariot, and you will not flee from the field while the conflict continues.

Once again, I have the privilege of filling in for Troy this week. This week, it truly is a privilege to write the blog on "The Mortification of Sin", as the last chapter in Owen's book is perhaps the most encouraging and sweetest of all his chapters. (Troy said this was his favorite chapter in the book.)

Chapter 14: The Work of Christ and the Power of the Spirit

It's easy, I think, to read through Owen's work and feel utterly discouraged. It's easy to feel crushed, inadequate in our battle against indwelling sin, even in danger of eternal damnation. This stems from the fact that all of us fail daily in our battle against remaining lusts. But here, Owen recognizes that this, in fact, is the regular experience of all of God's children. 

This chapter reads as great encouragement in our battles against indwelling sin. Are we weary in this battle? Do we feel beaten down? Do we feel crushed? Take heart, because the grace of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit will preserve us in this fight! Owen reminds us that as we abide in Jesus Christ, Christ gives us "purging grace", and to trust in the fullness we have in Christ "for our supply is an important part of our abiding in Christ". In other words, as we are united to Christ in faith, not only can we be assured that we are eternally safe in his arms, but we can also be assured that Jesus Christ himself will carry us, arm and equip us, give us the strength and grace we need to mortify our sin. Owen encourages us all to dwell on this great truth!

Let your soul, by faith, dwell on such thoughts as these: I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, and I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is the doorway to the ruin of my soul. I do not know what to do. My soul has become parched ground, and a habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them. I have made vows, but did not keep them. Many times I have been persuaded that I have gained the victory, and that I should be delivered, but I was deceived. Now I plainly see that without some great help and assistance, I will perish and be forced to abandon God.
BUT YET, though this is my state and condition, I will lift up my hands that hang down, and strengthen my feeble knees, for, behold, the Lord Jesus Christ has all the fullness of grace in His heart, and all the fulness of power in His hand. He is able to slay all of these enemies. There is sufficient provision in Him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conquerer!

What a beautiful and encouraging promise! It is as I quoted above, though we may feel weak, tired, worn down by this fight, we can be assured that our chariot, Jesus Christ himself, keeps us secure and we will not flee the fight against sin. He will sustain us!

Owen also encourages us in this chapter to make use of EVERY means available to us by which Christ reveals Himself.  Here is a great reminder to participate as often as we can in what we would call the "ordinary means of grace". 

The ways and means by which Christ usually communicates Himself are His ordinances. He that is seeking help from Christ should seek Him in these! As our faith looks to Christ for help, it sets our hearts to work. It is not an idle, groundless hope. If there is any vigor, efficacy, and power in prayer or sacrament to help in mortifying sin, a man will assuredly be interested in it all, because of his expectation of help...All these are of great use when they are based on the expectation of help from Christ and spring from this root...

I wonder how many of us participate in these "ordinary means of grace" (prayer, the reading and preaching of the Word, the sacraments, the gathered worship of God's people) expecting to receive the help and grace we need in our battle against indwelling sin. Do we come to the Word with the expectation that through it, Christ will work in and through us? Do we come to the Lord's Supper fully expecting that, as Calvin said, just as our bodies are nourished by the bread and wine so too is our soul nourished by the blood and body of Jesus Christ?

Two final points Owen touches on are this. First, mortification is tied to our union with Christ in his death and resurrection. Owen points to the blood of Christ as the source of our "washing, purging, and cleansing". We can be assured that the old man was crucified with Christ, and therefore because we participate with Christ, because we are united to him, how can we go on living in sin? We are dead to sin, and just as Christ was raised up to glory, we too are and will be raised up to grace and newness of life. Secondly, and finally, Owen encourages us to remember the role of the Holy Spirit in mortification. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, he reveals the fullness of Christ for our assurance of victory and salvation, he "brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power", and he IS the Author and Finisher of our sanctification.

 

Posted on December 23, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

Busy week and one chapter make for a brief post….

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 13.

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 13, Wait for the Verdict of God

In this chapter Owen give us the last of his nine preparatory directions in fighting against sin: When God stirs your heart about the guilt of your sin, concerning either its root and indwelling, or its breaking out, be careful you do not speak peace to yourself before God speaks it. Listen closely to what He says to your soul.

Rob Edwards, in his study guide on this book, summarizes it like this: We must not console ourselves about our sin when God does not; neither must we find our consolation with regard to our sin in ways that God has not provided. he argues that comforting ourselves in our sin exposes us to the deceitfulness of sin.

A few questions and quotes:

How do you console yourself about your sin? Where do you find peace?

In what ways are we to seek the peace that actually flows from God’s grace?

God keeps good things locked up for his family, and gives them out to all His children at His pleasure.

If you are not sure whether the peace you have is from God or a false peace, Owen provides five rules to aid us in discerning the difference.

How does the peace that God provides not only comfort us but change us?

How does peace from God at the same time produce deep humility?

God will justify us from our sins, but he will not justify the least sin in us.

NEXT WEEK

One more chapter! Read chapter 14 by next Wednesday, December 16.

YOUR TURN

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.

 

Posted on December 10, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

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 11 and 12.

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 11, A Tender Conscience and a Watchful Heart

Owen is in the midst of giving us nine preparatory directions for gaining victory over sin. In the process he emphasizes both the law and the gospel and speaks to both believers and unbelievers. It is important to pay attention and notice the difference. Owen is not shy or timid and he does not coddle his readers. Reading this book by Owen is different from most of what I read or even hear preached. He deals with matters of eternal life and death in a very serious manner. It’s hard, but good; challenging, but edifying. I’ve heard more than one person say they are “scared” to read Owen. Perhaps this is a good reason to read “together” and talk about any questions we may have.

Preparatory Direction 3: Charge your conscience with the guilt of indwelling sin.

Our first instinct may be to react against this charge, after all, hasn’t Christ freed us from the guilt of sin? I often pronounce this gracious truth during our gathered worship service following our confession of sin: Believer in Jesus Christ, you are free from the guilt and power of sin. Owen would say a hearty “Amen” to this. He is not saying that believers are guilty before God, but he is exhorting us to consider what sin is and what it rightly deserves...AND he is exhorting us to consider if we have truly been freed from this guilt. Owen speaks against a false assurance that claims freedom from the guilt and power of sin while at the same time purposely allows any sin to be indulged in. You cannot claim to be free from the guilt of sin if at the same time you actively pursue and engage in sin without repentance. Owen turns to the law of God to give us a clear view of our guilt. He then turns to the gospel, not for relief for guilt (as I expected), but for further conviction of our guilt!

Look on Him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you. Say to your soul, ‘What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on!...Do I count fellowship with Him of so little value that, for this vile lust’s sake, I have hardly left Him any room in my heart?

Owen then encourages us to reflect on all the benefits we have under the gospel so that we might see, in comparison, the heinousness and guilt of sin.

Preparatory Direction 5: Consider whether the trouble that you are perplexed with is related to your particular make-up and nature.

How relevant this is in our day! Whatever we may claim about how we were made or what tendencies and desires we may have, Owen contends that “this is not in the least a just excuse for the guilt of your sin...It is from the Fall and the original depravity of our nature that the poison and nourishment of any sin abides in our natural temper.” This simply means we must be more humble and diligent in our fight against sin and use any and all means necessary to overcome sin, provided those means are undertaken in complete reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now, having summarized Owen’s exhortation on this point, if you find yourself having a particular craving for some sin in your make-up, I would not simply say to you: here, read Owen, it’s just further evidence of your guilt. We are reading the abridged version of Owen’s book, and I did not take the time to read the full version to find out what else he may say on this matter, but there is much more that ought to be considered in this struggle. The compassion of Christ and the hope of the gospel must undergird our thoughts on these matters. At the same time, if Owen is exhorting those who claim to know and love Jesus but who would excuse their sin because of their make-up, his serious dealings with sin are helpful and needed.

In the remainder of chapter 11 Owen wants us to give ourselves to serious, constant vigilance in our fight against sin. If we do this in other areas of our lives, should we not make the effort in the matters of the soul? For example, if, as the new year approaches, you will make all kinds of resolutions and commitments to losing weight and getting in shape, if you will pay money to join the gym, or give up sleep to get up early and spend up to an hour a day doing “Insanity”, if you will stop buying sweets, etc...all in an effort to improve your health, should you not also put forth that same kind of effort in your fight against sin? Or, as Owen asks: Are the things of the soul of less importance?

Chapter 12, Humility

In this chapter Owen encourages us to meditate on and think often about the greatness of God. This will not only lead us to praise and worship and love and serve God, but it will also cultivate humility in us as we have a clearer picture of our own vileness before this holy and majestic God. As the reality of God’s holiness grows in our minds and the corresponding reality of our own sinfulness also grows in our minds, the gap between the holy God and our sinful selves widens. What can possibly fill or bridge that gap? Only the good news of the gospel, the cross of Jesus Christ, the work of our wonderful Savior. Or as Paul said it: Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)

NEXT WEEK

Read chapter 13 by next Wednesday, December 9.

YOUR TURN

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.

Posted on December 3, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

This week, I (Andy) have the distinct privilege of writing the Mortification of Sin blog. Troy asked me to do it this week while he enjoys a Thanksgiving week vacation with his family. I do confess, I have not been reading along with the blog (although I have read the book several times), so I will do my best to provide some continuity between Troy's format for the blog and my style of writing.

I do appreciate that Troy has been reminding you of John Owen's purpose in writing this book, “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)  This well stated and important to keep in mind. The gospel alone, through the working of the Holy Spirit in us, has the power to mortify sin in our hearts.

Chapter 9, The Dangerous Symptoms of Sin

John Owen will, in this chapter, outline several "symptoms" of sin to help us determine how deep-seated our sin is and what measures we must take in mortifying it. However, the beginning of this chapter is one of the most frightening passages in the work. Consider this portion from the first section:

If a sin has been corrupting your heart for a long time, and you have allowed it to prevail and abide in power, without vigorously attempting to kill it, and heal the wounds that it causes, this is a serious condition...When a lust has remained a long time in the heart, corrupting festering, and poisoning, it brings the soul into a woeful condition. In this instance an ordinary course of humiliation will not be sufficient. Such a lust will make deep imprints on the soul. It will make its company a habit in your affections. It will grow so familiar to your mind and conscience that they are not disturbed at its presence as some strange thing. It will so take advantage in such a state that it will often exert itself without you even taking notice of it at all. Unless a serious and extraordinary course is taken, a person in this state has no grounds to expect that his latter end shall be peace.

Owen gives us much cause to examine our lives. Let's think about our sins. Many of us struggle and fight against habitual sin. Many of us are in a battle against a sin that continues to haunt us. It is indeed painful, and sometimes frustrating. But this battle is good. It shows us that the sin has no dominion over us. We continue to fight to mortify it. We see it as a foreign invader, remnants of the old nature trying to corrupt who we are now in Christ. What Owen is talking about here, though, is a sin that we do not fight against. Notice what he says. He talks about sin that becomes familiar. He talks about sin that is so deep rooted that we do not consider it alien to ourselves. This is very different. What I think Owen is truly getting at here is this. We should not claim to belong to Christ if we are not making an effort to mortify all indwelling sin. If we are under the bondage of a sin, a sin that is so deep-rooted that we don't fight against it, we don't repent of it, we don't consider it foreign to our new nature, then we must ask the question, "Do I truly belong to Christ?" Owen sums this up when he says,

How will such a person be able to distinguish between the long abode of an unmortified lust and the dominion of sin, which cannot happen to a regenerate person?

What Owen really describes here is a person who is still in bondage to sin. This is not someone who struggles against a habitual sin, someone with desires to mortify their sin, but rather, someone who is still in need of deliverance from the bondage of sin and death. And this truly is the most deadly "symptom" of sin.

Chapter 10, Seeing Sin for What It Is

Seeing sin for what it is can be incredibly difficult, even in the lives of Believers. We become too familiar with sin, too comfortable with it, and here John Owen wants to remind us of how deadly sin truly is. Owen will give us several things to keep in mind so as to remind us of the gravity of all sin. Again, some of these are frightening as we consider the dangers of a mindset that becomes too familiar and too happy to let sin reign in our lives. Owen reminds us of not only the temporal consequences of being in bondage to sin, but also the eternal consequences.

These are difficult chapters to read and grasp. Owen is not trying to scare us or lead us to some kind of works-based salvation. Instead, what he is trying to do, I think, is spur the believer on in his battle against sin. It's as if he's saying, "Do you claim to be a believer in Jesus Christ? Then this is how we must think about sin and strive to deal with it. If we make too little of our sin, if we allow sin to have dominion over us, if we give up in our battle against sin, the we should seriously be asking whether or not we truly are new creations in Christ Jesus!" This is why he closes chapter 10 with this statement:

We must keep in mind the danger of such lust. We must keep alive in our hearts the guilt, danger, and evil of it. We should be much in the meditation of these things, and cause the heart and mind to swell on them. We should engage our thoughts in these considerations. We should not let them go from us until they have powerful influence upon our souls, and make us tremble.

 

 

Posted on November 25, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

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 7 and 8.

 

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 7, Only Believers Can Mortify Sin

In this chapter Owen begins to consider the general rules and principles that are necessary to gain true victory in our fight against sin. The first, and perhaps most important, rule is this:

Unless a man is a true believer, and grafted into Christ, he can never mortify a single sin.

 

Owen has already made it clear that mortification is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is only given to those who are united to Jesus Christ, to those who are Christians. Thus, it follows that only those who have the Spirit can have any hope of mortifying sin in their lives.

We have seen that the Spirit alone can truly mortify sin; He has promised to do it, and all other means without Him are empty and vain.

He has promised to do it. Be encouraged by those words. All those who have the Spirit, in other words, all Christians, do have certain hope that the Spirit in them will mortify sin in their lives. Sin will not get the final say or the upper hand. It has been defeated decisively at the cross of Jesus Christ and it will be defeated finally (and completely eradicated) when we meet Jesus face to face, either at his second coming or when he calls us home. In the in between time, the already / not yet time, all believers have the hope that we will be made more and more like Jesus and will, by the power of the Spirit, mortify sin more and more. As the catechism says, the Spirit enables us “more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness”.

At the same time, those who are not Christians should not be encouraged to mortify sin in their lives. What?! Does this mean we encourage people who do not know and love Jesus to live as they please and indulge in sin? No, of course not. It simply means we encourage them to deal with the root of the problem in their lives before they attempt to bear new fruit. Owen says there are three serious problems for people who seek mortification without knowing Jesus:

  1. The mind and soul are diverted from that which is most important. (They need to seek conversion first!)

  2. This duty, being a good thing in itself and in its proper place, tends to bring a false peace to the conscience.

  3. When a man has for a season such soul deception, and then finds out after the long course of his life that his sin was not truly mortified, or that he has just changed one sin for another, he begins to believe that victory over sin is impossible.

This is a good time for us all to examine our own hearts and lives. Before we continue in our fight against sin we should ask: Do I have the Spirit? Have I repented of my sin and acknowledged my need for a Savior and am I trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation?

Chapter 8, God Requires Universal Obedience

Owen’s second general rule in the fight against sin is this:    

You cannot mortify a specific lust that is troubling you, unless you are seeking to obey the Lord from the heart in all areas!

What an important point for us to consider! This was certainly an eye-opener for me. It made me think of Jerry Bridges’ book, Respectable Sins. I think it is easy for us to think we are doing well in our fight against sin if we are not guilty of any of the “major” sins: murder, adultery, lying, stealing, looking at pornography, etc. But what about complaining, selfishness, gluttony, laziness, or neglecting to seek after God?

We must hate all sin, as sin, and not just that which troubles us. . . If you hate sin as sin, and every evil way, you would be watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God. . . We must not be concerned only with that which troubles us, but with all that troubles God. God’s work is to have full victory, and universal obedience, not just the victory over the sins which trouble our soul.

If we will do anything, we must do everything. So, then, our need is not only an intense opposition to this or that particular lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart that watches over every evil, and seeks the performance of every duty that is pleasing to God.

NEXT WEEK

Read chapters 9-10 by next Wednesday, November 25.

YOUR TURN

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.


Posted on November 19, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

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:

  1. A habitual weakening of it

  2. Constant fighting against it

  3. 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.

NEXT WEEK

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.

YOUR TURN

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.

 

 

Posted on November 11, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

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. So hopefully if you are joining us you have already read the first four chapter, but if not, we’re not too far along for you to catch up or simply join in. Each Wednesday I hope to post a blog that will contain thoughts, quotes, and questions related to the previous week’s reading.

 

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 3, The Work of the Spirit in Mortification, begins with this great reminder:

The Holy Spirit is our only sufficiency for the work of mortification. All ways and means apart from Him have no true effect. He only is the great power behind it, and He works in us as He pleases.

He then begins by discussing vain methods of mortification, which can be man-made means that were never appointed by God for this purpose, or even God-given methods that are not used in the proper place or order. Owen says in the latter case many consider them as the fountain and not the stream coming from the fountain. He also believes we often seek to accomplish our own victory and that we may fight against sin for a time, but as the pain of conviction wears off we give up the fight and then sin returns to its former dominion. His conclusion: These ways are not sufficient. There is no self-endeavour that can accomplish mortification. Almighty energy is necessary for its accomplishment.

Some questions for you to consider:

  1. In what ways do you attempt to destroy the sins that trouble you?

  2. What are you trusting in to change you?

  3. What are the reasons such things do not work?

  4. How do you often use the right things - such as reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, etc. - in the wrong way to accomplish mortification?

In the second half of chapter three Owen focuses on the Spirit’s work in mortification and says that God promised His Spirit to be given to us for this very work. He lays out three ways the Spirit mortifies sin in the lives of believers:

  1. He causes our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the works of the flesh (See Galatians 5:19-24). If you have just finished a delicious, healthy meal prepared for you by your spouse, you will be too satisfied and full to even consider then eating at Cactus Willies or Old Country Buffet (and if you would choose one of those buffets over a home-cooked meal, you need to come eat at our house sometime!). Perhaps not the best analogy, but something kind of like that.

  2. By the effective destruction of the root and habit of sin, to weaken, destroy, and take it away. Praise God the Spirit does this in our lives. He takes away our stony heart and burns the very root of our lusts.

  3. He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives communion with Christ in his death, and fellowship in his suffering.

Some are concerned that all this focus on mortification and fighting against sin will move us away from the gospel of grace, but notice how often and careful Owen is to ground this mortification, not only in the work of the Spirit, but in our communion with Christ!

So how does our role line up with the work of the Spirit? (Jerry Bridges has a great book on this, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role & Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness). Owen contends that the Spirit does not so work in us that it is not still an act of our obedience.

The Holy Spirit works in us and with us, not against us or without us, so that His assistance is an encouragement as to the accomplishing of the work.

Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

God provides the way of escape, he gives us the desire to escape, he inclines our heart to turn from the temptation, we turn by his grace and enablement, and he removes the temptation.

In Chapter 4 Owen seeks to show the joy of our spiritual life depends greatly upon the mortification of sin.

He wants to make clear he is not saying this joy proceeds from our success, as if it were tied to it. Yes, the use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours, but the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.

Mortification is not the immediate means that God has instituted to give us life, vigour, courage, and consolation. The immediate cause of these privileges is our adoption...Our spiritual life, vigour, courage and consolation, then, come at the hand of the Spirit as we sense and understand our adoption and justification.

So here’s a big question: What is the relationship between justification, adoption, and mortification?

And here is a huge truth about the deceitfulness and deadly danger of sin:

Sin untunes and unframes the heart itself, by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God. It lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father (1 John 2:15; 3:17). The umortified soul cannot say uprightly and truly that God is its portion, having something else that it loves. The soul and its affections, that should be full of God, cannot be full of Him, since it is entangled in worldly pursuits.

Owen ends chapter four with a helpful gardening illustration on pages 24-25, another reminder of the need for daily mortification and daily fixing our eyes on Jesus!

NEXT WEEK

Read chapters 5-6 by next Wednesday. We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.

YOUR TURN

It would be great to hear what you gained from these opening 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.

 

Posted on November 4, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

Today we begin working our way 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. So hopefully if you are joining us you have already read the first two chapters. Each Wednesday I hope to post a blog that will contain thoughts, quotes, and questions related to the previous week’s reading.

 

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)

How does the gospel inform and empower and direct our fight against sin?

In the opening chapter Owen examines the second half of Romans 8:13, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”, and comes to this thesis:

The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, should also make it their business all of their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin. (2)

Owen claimed that the fight against sin is a necessary and central part of the Christian life, and that “there is a clear connection between the mortifying of the deeds of the body and living” (2). Does this mean that our salvation - ‘life’ - depends on our work of mortifying sin? No. Eternal life is the gift of God (Romans 6:21), so Owen points out the connection is not a cause and effect connection, but rather a means and end.

It is very important that in our fight against sin we recognize that “our strength in the performance of this duty comes through the Spirit” (2). This is Owen’s third point in chapter one and he reminds us that all other ways of mortification are in vain. Owen writes, “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, to the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world” (3). A strong statement to be sure and one to keep in mind as we carry on the fight.

Our fight is against indwelling sin, the corrupted flesh that can give birth to evil desires. We are to fight against or mortify indwelling sin. To mortify is to put to death. Owen says it is “the constant duty of believers to render a death blow to the deeds of the flesh, that they may not have life and strength to bring forth their destructive influence” (4). Perhaps he has in mind James 1:13-15.

Owen begins chapter two by reminding us of Colossians 3:5:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

And then he asks:

            Do you mortify?

Do you make it your daily work?

You must always be at it while you live;

do not take a day off from this work;

Always be killing sin or it will be killing you.

He then gives six reasons for why we must be at this important work.

1. Indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world, therefore, there is always a need for it to be mortified.

He that is appointed to kill an enemy, has only done half his work if he quits before the enemy is dead.

2. Sin is still acting and laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh.

This may have been the point that hit me hardest in the first two chapters. Listen to the warnings Owen gives:

When sin lets us alone, we may let sin alone; but sin is always active when it seems to be the most quiet, and its waters are often deep when they are calm… Sin is always acting, always conceiving, and always seducing and tempting...If sin is always of killing our souls, and we are slothful, negligent, and foolish in this batter, can we expect a favorable outcome? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed upon. It will always be so while we live in this world. Sin will not spare for one day.

This is where it is important to remember that our fight must be driven by the gospel. It must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. If we are not careful we can read that warning and be driven to despair! How can I defeat so great an enemy? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ! God will complete the work He has begun in us. Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world. If we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

3. Sin, if not continually mortified, will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, and soul-destroying sins.

Every time sin rises to tempt or entice, it always seeks to express itself in the extreme.

Think about that! Don’t be deceived by sin or think you can tame it.

4. The Holy Spirit and our new nature are given to us to oppose sin and lust.

His graces and gifts are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and get benefit from. If we do not seek daily to mortify sin, we sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, Who has given us the weapons of our warfare.

5. Neglect of this duty makes the inner man decay instead of renewing him.

6. Our spiritual growth is our daily duty.

This cannot be accomplished without the daily mortifying of sin… We will not be making progress in holiness without walking over the bellies of our lusts.

Gotta love Owen’s use of imagery!

Owen’s main point so far:

Even while we claim the meritorious mortification of our sin through the work of the cross of Christ, and though the implantation of our new life in Christ is in opposition to and destructive of the expression of sin, sin remains, acts, and works in the best of believers while we are yet in this world. It must be our daily duty to mortify it.

And one closing thought from Owen: Let a man pretend what he will, little concern over sin is a serious offense to the grace and mercy of God! Or, as Charles Spurgeon put it, “I cannot trifle with the evil which slew my best Friend.”

NEXT WEEK

Read chapters 3-4 by next Wednesday. We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and read along.

YOUR TURN

It would be great to hear what you gained from these opening 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.

 

Posted on October 28, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.

The Mortification of Sin

In my sermon on Mark 9:42-50 I encouraged us in our fight against sin to ask the question: What do I need to get rid of? I’m going to read John Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin, praying God will use this book to help expose the idols of my heart and enable me more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. I invite you to read along with me, following the reading schedule below. I plan to write a brief update related to the reading each Wednesday on this blog.

Posted on October 21, 2015 and filed under Mortification of Sin.