Our Sin Problem Part 1

by Mike Ratliff

Most believers I know become quite perturbed with me when I dwell on the topic of sin after salvation. I fear that many of our number consider this a taboo topic. In their estimation, they are saved and they don’t have to worry about sin anymore. Of course these same believers are never very interested in the topic of personal holiness either. When these believers do sin they come across with an attitude like, “I know I sinned, but God is going to forgive me so what is the big deal?” It is as if they are living as examples of certain admonitions from scripture.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1 ESV)

What was the Apostle Paul’s response to that question?

By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. 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. 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. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 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. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:2-14 ESV)

We have looked at the Mortification of Sin in the last few posts. Even though this subject may not be glamorous or controversial thereby drawing thousands of readers to this blog, it is vital for the well-being of our hearts. It is also what the Pilgrim will be constantly going through in their sojourn to the celestial city. The following quote is from Martin Luther’s Tabletalk.

“We have within us many sins against our Lord God, and which justly displease Him: such as anger, impatience, covetousness, greediness, incontinence, hatred, malice, etc. These are great sins, which everywhere in the world go on with power and get the upper hand. Yet these are nothing in comparison with condemning God’s Word; yea, all these would remain uncommitted, if we did but love and reverence that. But, alas! the whole world is drowned in this sin. No man cares a flip for the Gospel. All snarl at and persecute it, holding it as no sin. I behold with wonder in the church that among the hearers, one looks this way, another that; and that among so great a multitude, few come to hear the sermon. This sin is so common, that people will not confess it to be like other sins. Everyone deems it a slight thing to hear a discourse without attention, and not diligently to mark, learn and inwardly digest it. It is not so about other sins such as murder, adultery, thieving, etc. After these sins, in due time follow grief, sorrow of heart, and remorse. But not to hear God’s Word with diligence, yea, to condemn and persecute it, of this man makes no account. Yet it is a sin so fearful that for the committing it, both land and people must be destroyed, as it went with Jerusalem, with Rome, Greece, and other kingdoms.” – Martin Luther

Sin is serious. Yes, Christians are under Grace, but our sin still separates us from God’s fellowship. Christ died to deliver His people from sin. When we grasp sin and seemingly live in it, it must break His heart. Also, when Christians sin they are taking the Spirit of Christ into that sin as well since He indwells all genuine believers.

John Owen was born in 1616. He entered Queen’s College, Oxford at the age of twelve and secured his M.A. in 1635 when he was nineteen. In his early twenties, conviction of sin threw him into such turmoil that for three months he could scarcely utter a coherent word on anything; but slowly he learned to trust Christ, and so found peace. His body of work is huge. By common consent he is the weightiest Puritan theologian, and many would bracket him with John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards as one of the three greatest Reformed theologians of all time.

Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin, is a discourse of pastoral sermons on Romans 8:13.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13 ESV)

The sermons were preached in Oxford and the work was published in 1656. I read it over a year ago for the first time. I am reading it again and it is as if it is for the first time again. The theme of these sermons is the negative side of God’s work of sanctification (that is, character renewal in Christ’s image). Reformed teachers from Calvin on have regularly explained the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in terms of the positive, vivification (developing virtues), and the negative, mortification (killing sins).

The Westminster Confession (13:1) says: “They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sactified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and ressurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

I dare say, that in our day and time, I have have heard, more times than I can count, such utter nonsense from certain “evangelists” saying that perfectionism is possible in this life. They say that being subjects of the King in His Kingdom, fully realized on Earth now, means that salvation is unto godly perfection. These people also say that salvation can be lost by not being perfect. Thank God that our salvation is not dependent upon our level of perfection, but is upon the work of Christ!

Owen asks the following question in Chapter 5 which reveals the practical and useful nature of these sermons:

“Suppose a man to be a true believer, and yet finds in himself a powerful indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as to duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his conscience and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin, – what shall he do? What course shall he take and insist on for the mortification of this sin, lust, distemper or corruption?”

In Chapter 6 he says, “The mortification of a lust consists in three things.” Then he proceeds to explain the three things that kill our sin. We will concentrate in this post on the first. We will explore the other two later. The first is, An habitual weakening of it.

(1.) An habitual weakening of it. Every lust is a depraved habit or
disposition, continually inclining the heart to evil. Thence is that
description of him who hath no lust truly mortified, Gen. vi. 5,
“Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil
continually.” He is always under the power of a strong bent and
inclination to sin. And the reason why a natural man is not always
perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because
he hath many to serve, every one crying to be satisfied; thence he is
carried on with great variety, but still in general he lies towards
the satisfaction of self.

And on this account some men may go in their own thoughts and in the
eyes of the world for mortified men, who yet have in them no less
predominancy of lust than those who cry out with astonishment upon the
account of its perplexing tumultuatings, yea, than those who have by
the power of it been hurried into scandalous sins; only their lusts
are in and about things which raise not such a tumult in the soul,
about which they are exercised with a calmer frame of spirit, the very
fabric of nature being not so nearly concerned in them as in some
other.


I say, then, that the first thing in mortification is the weakening of
this habit, that it shall not impel and tumultuate as formerly; that
it shall not entice and draw aside; that it shall not disquiet and
perplex the killing of its life, vigour, promptness, and readiness to
be stirring. This is called “crucifying the flesh with the lusts
thereof,” Gal. v. 24; that is, taking away its blood and spirits that
give it strength and power, — the wasting of the body of death “day
by day,” 2 Cor. iv. 16.

As a man nailed to the cross; he first struggles, and strives, and
cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits
waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse,
scarce to be heard; — when a man first sets on a lust or distemper,
to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it
cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved;
but when by mortification the blood and spirits of it are let out, it
moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the
heart; it may have sometimes a dying pang, that makes an appearance of
great vigour and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it be
kept from considerable success. This the apostle describes, as in the
whole chapter, so especially, Rom. vi. 6.

“Sin,” saith he, “is crucified; it is fastened to the cross.” To what
end? “That the body of death may be destroyed,” the power of sin
weakened and abolished by little and little, that “henceforth we
should not serve sin;” that is, that sin might not incline, impel us
with such efficacy as to make us servants to it, as it hath done
heretofore. And this is spoken not only with respect to carnal and
sensual affections, or desires of worldly things, — not only in
respect of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride
of life, — but also as to the flesh, that is, in the mind and will,
in that opposition unto God which is in us by nature. Of what nature
soever the troubling distemper be, by what ways soever it make itself
out, either by impelling to evil or hindering from that which is good,
the rule is the same; and unless this be done effectually, all
after-contention will not compass the end aimed at. A man may beat
down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary; whilst the
root abides in strength and vigour, the beating down of the present
fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more. This is the folly
of some men; they set themselves with all earnestness and diligence
against the appearing eruption of lust, but, leaving the principle and
root untouched, perhaps unsearched out, they make but little or no
progress in this work of mortification.

I have mentioned in earlier posts that simply changing habits is not enough to effectually mortify our sins. That is right, but it is a major component of the process. Simply changing habit s is not enough, but it is where we start. I like to visualize me taking every thought capture, placing it before my Lord in comparison to the Law as I rejoice and reflect on His Holiness, justice and grace. This nullifies the habit we all have of dwelling on our sin. If we give our sinful desires a home then we will eventually find in ourselves “a powerful indwelling sin, leading [him]us captive to the law of it” A strong realization of the Holiness of God is vital for this process to work. When we are fully enraptured by God, intent on His glory, and terrified of letting Him down then we are heeding our consciences which are captive to His Holiness and The Word of God. This motivation is where our victory begins.

We will look at the second of the three things which will mortify our sins in the next post.

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12 thoughts on “Our Sin Problem Part 1

  1. He deals with a stronghold of sin that has developed strength in persons heart and life. How to crucify it? It actually comes by faith, but where and how to find such “reckoning” faith? Prayer with fasting(food and distractions), and an unusual immersing oneself in God’s Word. But the things that Owen describes are very foreign in today’s Christian experience, and most evangelicals would consider it legalism.

    Legalism? Is it legalism to desire to please the Lord? Is it legalism to abhor one’s own sin? Is it legalism to seek to be a clean vessel? And is it legalism to seek to worship the Lord with clean hands and a clean heart? No, never, and what our modern preachers might call legalism the Bible describes as devotion and love for the Savior. To be content with our sin is to make an agreement with the very thing that caused our Lord to suffer.

    A very good teaching, Mike, but sadly as one born/written out of due time but eternal in the heavens!

  2. Amen Rick! I have been acused of Legalism by a few people for teaching these things. Self-centeredness is what plauges our Church these days. Until we learn to kill that in complete devotion to our Lord then, yes, it is out of due time. Oh for a return to God-focused, humble submission to Him in all things!

  3. I agree, great teaching Mike. When you really think about it, everytime we sin we should remind ourselves that the pain that Jesus suffered on the cross was because of that sin. We should bow our heads in shame knowing this.

    Cristina

  4. Thanks Cristina! I hesitate to say this, but I woke up several times last night and early this morning with this post actively being composed in my mind. That is why there will be three parts. :-) I believe that God is showing His people that we need to quit playing around with being conformed to this world and get serious about personal holiness. Great comment Cristina!

  5. Jessica,

    Let’s pray for God’s light to be shown into our sin-darkened hearts. I would like to see God move in a mighty spiritual work in the Church before I die. Even so, it may be that it will be a movement within only the Remnant. If that be so then praise God. He is sovereign. He is God and we are not.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  6. I’m interested in “picking apart” his example of the man getting rid of the bitter fruit but not cutting out the root. I think we all have sins that we are constantly battling and wouldn’t it be nice to have steps that we could take to cut out the root of it. I’m a very concrete thinker so any advice needs to come from that way of thinking so that I can apply it to my life. Who knows maybe I’m already doing what he’s talking about and just really don’t understand what he is trying to say. This is not a book that I could just sit down and read. It’s sort of old English which is hard for me to understand in such a way that I could thoroughly apply it to my life. I do think he has good things to say from what I got out of it…just need a bigger brain I suppose.

  7. Sarah, my dear sister in Christ, I do understand about the 17th Century English. I am reading a book by William Tyndale that was written in the 16th Century. It is in even an older form that Owen’s. Yes, it is tough going, but these men have much to teach us. I will try to do a better job to explain what John Owen is telling us. It does take practice to read and understand the anitquated English, but it is well worth the effort. :-)

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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