The Carnality of Christians and the Mortification of Sin

by Mike Ratliff

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:9-24 ESV)

If we are honest, each of us would have to confess that there are sins that have an incredible hold on us. It seems that no matter how devoted we become in our walk before our Lord, there will be some sins that trip us up, making us stumble and fall to our deep chagrin. Our self-loathing resulting from this can be quite severe. We cry out to God, we promise Him that we are done with that sin. We declare that we would rather die than do it again. We weep. We mourn. We then start to recover and become joyous in the Lord again. Then a short time later there is that sin pouncing upon us out of no where. We seem to have little or no strength or resolve to fight it off and then we stumble right back into it again.

This whip-saw, teeter-totter, up and down, back and forth hell on earth drives us to near madness. Why can’t victory come Lord? I have let go so You could control me Lord! Aren’t we supposed to ‘Let go and Let God?” Part of the problem in our 21st Century American Church is that there is little emphasis, if any, on proper biblical discipleship. Also, many preachers seem to believe that all they have to do is encourage their pew sitters by being positive. No one, it seems, is taught how to live as a true disciple of Christ.

Part of what is missing in the 21st Century Church is a proper Biblical understanding of sin as something alive within each of us. The Bible is very clear that, unlike most people’s understanding, no one is good because our hearts are desperately wicked.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV)

But, but, but…didn’t that get washed away when I got saved? Justification by Faith is an “imputation” of Christ’s righteousness to our account. It did not make us perfect little Christians. Our regeneration changed us into new creations, but that means that God called and drew us to believe and gave us the ability to do so. We now have the ability to obey Him. However, our sin nature is still intact and very much alive. We all have a tremendous drive to be fulfilled. From birth we have been desperately seeking fulfillment from all of our experiences, senses, or whatever. The most used part of our being that we use for this is via our flesh. We seek things from our flesh to feed our insatiable appetite for fulfillment. Of course, nothing we can do or acquire this way gives us any lasting fulfillment. This means that we are like zombies on a treadmill seeking anything to fill that void in our hearts. Many people use religion in a hope to fill that void. That, of course, is nothing more than chasing after the wind in church.

Our 21st Century churches have left out four vital emphases that, if restored, would, I believe, lead to one of the deepest revivals in our history. The first one that is tragically missing as a vital emphasis is the Holiness of God. God is Holy, but most Christians seem to have no idea how important that is for us to understand. His Holiness sets Him apart from his creatures. He does not have our weaknesses. When we recognize His Holiness, He is awesome and adorable to us in His strength and (this is vital) He is visitant to our consciences. His presence there exposes and condemns sin within us. When we take His Holiness lightly or do not understand how vital it is then we suffer the consequence of a hardened heart. Our consciences become weak and impure. However, when we have a vital and fearful understanding of God’s Holiness and Awesomeness, then our consciences become cleansed and powerful in driving us to obedience.

The second missing emphasis in the 21st Century American Church is the significance of motivating desire. Desire is the index of our hearts. Motivation is the decisive test of whether our actions are good or bad. If our hearts are wrong, lacking reverence, or love, or purity, or humility, or a forgiving spirit, but instead festering with pride, self-seeking ambition, envy, greed, hatred, sexual lust or the like, nothing that one does can be right in God’s sight. In our 21st Century American Church, too often, however, the moral life is reduced to role-play, in which prescribed and expected performance is everything and no attention is paid to the craving, ragings and hostilities of the heart so long as we do what we think we should do. We check our hearts this way, but it is all external and not the way God assesses us. Scripture tells us to mortify sin, but we think that means to break bad habits. However, to mortify sin means to drain the life away from our sinful desires and urgings. We think we can change our habits by replacing them with good habits, but unless we kill the root then we have not mortified the sin within us. Our motives are still rooted in the flesh.

I used to work with a fellow who was probably the best example of a repentant Christian I have ever met. He had a sign pinned to his cubicle wall right over his phone with a duplicate right next to his computer monitor. All it had on it was the question, “What are your motives?” I really admired this guy’s spirit. He was one of the most gentle and tender-hearted men I have ever met. I watched him deal with some of the most difficult and unreasonable people imaginable and stay as calm and gentle as ever. I pray God develops this desire in my heart.

The third missing emphasis in the 21st Century American Church is the need for self-scrutiny. We must understand the fallen nature of our hearts. If we are ignorant of this then we are in great spiritual danger. If we start to believe that we have some “goodness” in us that God would desire then we have made a huge error by falling for our heart’s deceitfulness. We fail miserably and set ourselves up for a huge fall into sin when we trust what our hearts tell us. We must never forget what God says about our hearts in Jeremiah 17:9-10. We must never take what our hearts tell us about ourselves as pure truth. Our hearts lie. They tell us that our motives and attitudes are pure when they aren’t. We must watch and examine ourselves by Scripture in order even to know what habits of our hearts need to be mortified. Our mind-sets must be changed. Do we hear teachings from the pulpits in our churches about this? I think not.

The fourth and last missing emphasis in the 21st Century American Church is the life-changing power of God. Now we are back to the wonderful miracle of the regenerated heart. Our new birth does change us drastically. We are changed morally, but it is not something standing alone. It is rooted in a sustained exercise of faith, hope and love. This walking by faith is the process whereby the power of Christ’s death to deliver from domination by sinful desire. and the power of the Holy Spirit to induce Christlike attitudes and actions are constantly being proved. Part of this miracle of being able to mature unto Christlikeness is powered by the expectation that we can know deliverance from sinful passions in the heart through prayer to Jesus. Real deliverance from sinful passions is a wonderful blessing. In the words of John Owen from his The Mortification of Sin, “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if the remnant, the little flock of Christ, in America could grasp how powerful we are when we are living lives of repentance by actively putting to death the sinful desires of our hearts then we would be those bringing light into the darkness of this dying world. The aberrant versions of Christianity, born out of disillusion with inconsistent Christians in our 21st Century churches, would quickly fade away because sold-out Christians who walk the walk by faith will be used by God to reveal what real Christianity is. The counterfeit church would lose all its luster because nothing can outshine what God uses to reflect His glory.

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20 thoughts on “The Carnality of Christians and the Mortification of Sin

  1. “Our self-loathing resulting from this can be quite severe. We cry out to God, we promise Him that we are done with that sin. We declare that we would rather die than do it again. We weep. We mourn. We then start to recover and become joyous in the Lord again. Then a short time later there is that sin pouncing upon us out of no where. ”

    Yep. Been there. Done that. Still do it.

    You are right about the church today – there is a serious downplaying of sin in modern Christianity. Sin is serious; it has to be a serious danger in the mind of the Christian. If it is not, then the Christian will only slip deeper and find – they might not have been a Christian at all.

    We need to stop those pet peeve sins, even though it is very very tough. Whatever it takes, we have to be willing to throw those away for God. Man should not serve two masters. Our God is a jealous God.

    What shall we serve? A sin as disgusting as a dog’s vomit? Or the almighty Creator of heaven and earth?

    For us it shouldn’t even be a question. Yet we still give in to sin. It is our nature. That is why we have to have God’s help to get out of it.

    Thanks for another good post.

    Your brother in Christ,

    A. Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian

  2. Hey brother!

    Great comment! I do believe you understand it. :-) I am re-reading Owen’s “Mortification of Sin” because I have allowed some sins back in. I am sick of it and it is as disgusting as your dog’s vomit on your patio. Sin is horrible and we must learn to hate it like God hates it. I want so much to see my evil desires dead at my feet.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  3. Mike, Writing this article must have cost you much. I am so glad for our faithful enabler, keeper, and sustainer Jesus Christ who kept you so it was written.

    I hope to be clear in my comments. As I read through the article so many thoughts came to me, and some old recurring questions… and praise and repentence and joy and grief.

    Romans 6:1-19
    What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

    5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

    12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

    16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

    I have been recurringly confused in trying to understand these verses and the fullness of the TRUTH they express, especially given the verses Romans 7:9-24. And then when I look at Romans 7:19-24 I get recurringly confused thinking about them in light of Ezekiel 26:24-31, Ezekiel 11:19-20, Jeremiah 31:33, and 2 Corinthians 5:17.

    The foundational confusion I think is around do the regenerate have a new heart or not? What does this having a new heart mean? What does being dead to sin in Christ mean? and being set free from sin?

    I know that none of these verses contradict one another because they are GOD’s holy Word.

    Like all other true children of God I long to live my life here so as to glorify HIM, glorify HIS precious name, and be a testimony, through HIS grace and enabling, to HIS holiness, majesty, awesomeness, and wonderworking power in the life of HIS child.

  4. Kim,
    Yes, it was costly. However, I rejoiced as I worked my way through it. I am convinced that our new Heart is one that has an open link to God whereas our old dead Heart did not. That is the difference. We are regenerated, Born Again, as the Holy Spirit washes our Hearts with the Blood of Christ, purifying it so He can live there. This enables us to pray and have a relationship with God. However, this does not make us perfect because the part of us that is not changed by this regeneration is our SOUL. This is why I am convinced that our Spirit and Soul are seperate. Our Spirit is regenerated and for the rest of our lives our Souls will be going through sanctification. Our Souls are made up of our Mind, our Wills and our Emotions. Our Spirits are made up our Conscience, our Fellowship and our Discernment. Our Hearts are made up of our Souls and the Conscience. That means that our Hearts are actually a combination of the Soul and Spirit.

    Anyway, whether you believe all of that or not is not important. What is important is that we must understand that there are parts of our Hearts that are in reclaimation while other parts are regenerated fully. We are works in progress.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  5. Thank you Mike for answering my query. I think I have asked you something similar before and you graciously answered me then, too. I don’t know why sometimes this gets my mind so confused, but it has in the past. I also appreciate that your answer is worded simply so I can understand it. The statement: “there are parts of our Hearts that are in reclaimation while other parts are regenerated fully.” and your explanation of what constitutes our Spirit and what constitutes our soul are very helpful in clearing up the confusion. Thank you again so very much.

    In Christ, Kim

    ps.- I am going to bookmark this page and name it “Help for Confusion” for quick access if confusion occurs again.

    pps.- It now, this minute, strikes me that being given our new heart can be likened as to getting a heart transplant. The heart the surgeons transplant in, after removing the old heart, is new. It is not part of the natural person to whom it is transplanted in at all. It utterly coming from a seperate source. And it is transplanted into a person and that person’s natural functions, such as blood flow, etc. (equivilant to the soul’s mind, emotions, and will) pumps through the new heart. Nevertheless it is a new heart and not like the old (natural) heart.

  6. That, Mike is the practical experience of the Christian journey. Years ago when I would fall I would become Spiritually immobilized for a while and defeated. But God showed me that I did not fall on the battlefield of law, but on the battlefield of grace. The practical victory in Christ this side of heaven is not to never fall, but to allow Him to empower you to get up again. Perfection? A goal, not yet an experience!

  7. Thankyou Mike for such wise thoughts. I needed to hear that. When I repeat sin, I get so upset with myself and I know that is the conviction of the Holy Spirit. There are areas in my walk that I have yet to conquer and I will be honest I get so frustrated with myself. I know we are but clay and are not fully formed and I know He is still working on me, molding me into His image but the guilt still lingers. I want so much to be like Him and I hate when I fail Him. I am so thankful for His undying grace..where would we all be without it?

    Cristina

  8. Rick,

    How precious that is that when we fall it is on the battlefield of grace. We must never allow ourselves to come under the bondage of perfectionism. Forget that however, being joyful as small victories are won is awesome! However, I do want to look upon my “evil desires” dead at my feet before I die. I suppose these deep desires to be Christlike are born in us at salvation and will materialize in Heaven.

    Christina,

    For me, a continual reminder of God’s Holiness coupled with exulting in Him, no matter what my circumstances, sure helps me stay on track. And yes, we are works in progress. And where would we be without His grace? We would all be condemned by the Law. Praise God for saving us by His grace!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  9. Pingback: Life in the Spirit « Possessing the Treasure

  10. Paul Washer asks people which is closer to God’s holiness…a seraphim flying around Him crying holy, holy, holy or a bacteria floating in your bathtub? Neither.

    “We fail miserably and set ourselves up for a huge fall into sin when we trust what our hearts tell us” This is a valuable truth that has helped me through some dry areas in my spiritual life. Relying on what God says in His word (He’ll never leave nor forsake us), continues to give me hope instead of relying on my feelings of dispair.

    A very helpful post. Thank you, Mike.

  11. Great place to meet the Believers- Mike: Have found Wm.R. Newell’s book on Romans, especially chaper 6 that Kim T. quoted, to be very helpful for me….Another author is Miles Sanford which has a great deal to say about this “old man” being crucified with Christ. Our faith in what our Lord declares in Romans 6 is the answer……Both authors can be found online….Thanks for words of encouragement.
    Brother Henry

  12. So can someone who has been faithful but then fallen in the way of the law get up again and perhaps even reach holiness in a deeper and more powerful way than ever before. Are there any examples of someone like this in the Saints ?

  13. Anne,

    That’s a good question. The ones that immediately come to my mind are King David and the Apostle Peter. David committed adultery with Basheba. He had her husband killed. But in Psalm 51 we read of his repentance. Peter denied Christ three times, but he sure came back. I hope this answers your questions.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  14. Too often, Christians will excuse sin with such phrases as “we’re all sinners”, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace”, “I’m just human”, etc.
    Now there is some truth in those sayings: God had imperfect disciples: Moses, David, Jonah, and Peter are a few examples, but that’s no excuse to keep sinning and not want to grow spiritually.

  15. I heard a pastor say that we, as sinners saved by grace, no longer practice sin, though we do sin. And if we do not understand the seriousness of sin, then do we truly understand our Lord’s sacrifice? I pray that if I ever think lightly of sin that God would remind me of just how serious it is and what it cost His Son because of it. May I never become complacent where my own sins are concerned.

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