by Mike Ratliff
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:1-6 ESV)
I find it appalling that our version of the church in the early 21st Century has so neglected Discipleship that Christians across the board are clueless about the deadly issue of resident sin within them. They not only do not know it is there, but they are given no training on how to deal with it. After salvation they are told that they are new creations in Christ, the old has passed away, behold the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Well, that is true, at salvation believer’s hearts are quickened. What was dead is now alive. What this means is that where there was zero spiritual life before there is now abundant spiritual life. However, this means that believers are now in Christ spiritually and He is in them spiritually. They can pray, worship and read their bibles with understanding. However, it does not mean that their “old man” sin nature is dead and gone. He is still there. He now has an alive Spirit to deal with whereas before, the Soul controlled everything. Now there is huge battle taking place between the Spirit and Soul for dominance in the heart of the believer.
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? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:9-25 ESV)
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this study we have looked at the teaching of Puritan John Owen on the Mortification of Sin. We saw where he gave us a three step process that, when applied to our sinful desires, will drain the life from them. Step one is an habitual weakening of it. This is the development of a habit of taking every thought capture to the Word of Christ and the Holiness of God. It is habitually never letting our hearts even think about sinful desires. It is cutting sin off before it even happens. Step two is in constant fighting and contending against sin. This is taking the habits developed in Step one and putting them into action constantly. We never let up. We beat on our sinful desires, we cut them, we stab them, we bleed them, we club them, we declare all out continual war on them. Even when it appears the life is draining away from those sinful desires we continue to attack. This is the brutal tearing away from our wicked hearts what it really wants. It can be quite painful, but the result of deliverance and victory. In this post we will look at Step three from John Owen. It is: Mortification consists in success.
(3.) In success. Frequent success against any lust is another part and
evidence of mortification. By success I understand not a mere
disappointment of sin, that it be not brought forth nor accomplished,
but a victory over it, and pursuit of it to a complete conquest. For
instance, when the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing,
forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the
lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin, and brings it to the law
of God and love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to
When I read this section last year I was puzzled by this. How can having victory or success frequently over sin be a step in killing it? However, I understand this a little better now. John Owen is telling us that our sinful desires will either be fully living or slowly dying. Either they will control us mercilessly or we will be constantly draining the life from them. They never really die completely until we cross the threshold of Heaven. However, if we fight this good fight for personal holiness we will experience success in fighting off temptations that used to dominate us. The more we have success the more dead these sinful desires become. Look at how the heart that has taken on Christ’s character treats temptation. It pays attention to what is going on. “When the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing,forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin, and brings it to the law of God and love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to the uttermost.” That is the process we must learn, practice and become proficient in to kill our sinful desires.
Now, I say, when a man comes to this state and condition, that lust is
weakened in the root and principle, that its motions and actions are
fewer and weaker than formerly, so that they are not able to hinder
his duty nor interrupt his peace, — when he can, in a quiet, sedate
frame of spirit, find out and fight against sin, and have success
against it, — then sin is mortified in some considerable measure,
and, notwithstanding all its opposition, a man may have peace with God
all his days.
This is vital for our understanding of why we must take up the sword against our sin nature. Why is it imperative that we do this? We will not have peace with God in an abiding sense if we are wallowing in sin. Even if we are broken hearted and mourning until we are tearless, if we are not actively fighting this fight we will have sin issues in our hearts that block our Abiding in Christ. This walk that keeps us on the way of the cross is a walk of repentance. The Mortification of Sin is a vital part of walking in Repentance. If we are walking in Repentance then we are Abiding in Christ. We are walking by faith. We are walking in the Spriit. If we are not then we are walking in the flesh. We may have a Born Again Heart, but we have defiled consciences and darkened minds. On the other hand, if we are actively fighting this fight, abiding in Christ and submitting to the Lordship of Christ then our consciences will be pure, our hearts tender and we will have an abiding peace with God. His Holiness will be apparent to our consciences and we will live in the very healthy fear and dread of the Living God.
Unto these heads, then, do I refer the mortification aimed at; that
is, of any one perplexing distemper, whereby the general pravity and
corruption of our nature attempts to exert and put forth itself:–
First, The weakening of its indwelling disposition, whereby it
inclines, entices, impels to evil, rebels, opposes, fights against
God, by the implanting, habitual residence, and cherishing of a
principle of grace that stands in direct opposition to it and is
destructive of it, is the foundation of it. So, by the implanting and
growth of humility is pride weakened, passion by patience, uncleanness
by purity of mind and conscience, love of this world by
heavenly-mindedness: which are graces of the Spirit, or the same
habitual grace variously acting itself by the Holy Ghost, according to
the variety or diversity of the objects about which it is exercised;
as the other are several lusts, or the same natural corruption
variously acting itself, according to the various advantages and
occasions that it meets withal. — The promptness, alacrity, vigour of
the Spirit, or new man, in contending with, cheerful fighting against,
the lust spoken of, by all the ways and with all the means that are
appointed thereunto, constantly using the succours provided against
its motions and actings, is a second thing hereunto required. –
Success unto several degrees attends these two. Now this, if the
distemper hath not an unconquerable advantage from its natural
situation, may possibly be to such a universal conquest as the soul
may never more sensibly feel its opposition, and shall, however,
assuredly arise to an allowance of peace to the conscience, according
to the tenor of the covenant of grace.
In his closing of this sermon, John Owen tells the very things that we must do in the killing of certain sinful desires. These things will be the weapons we have in our hands to deal the deadly blows to those “distempers.” “So, by the implanting and growth of humility is pride weakened, passion by patience, uncleanness by purity of mind and conscience, love of this world by heavenly-mindedness: which are graces of the Spirit, or the same habitual grace variously acting itself by the Holy Ghost, according to the variety or diversity of the objects about which it is exercised;” We cannot fight this battle alone. We must have the Holy Spirit working in our Hearts as we pray, fast, and humble ourselves. Along with the workings of the Holy Spirit and His promptings, we must do our part which is in our prayers, devotions, confessions, repentings, and fastings.
Dear Christian, I pray that this little study on the Mortification of Sin has blessed you. I pray it has sparked a deep driving hunger for personal holiness and an abiding peace with God. From that, I pray that you will seek to understand your enemy then go all out to kill it all by the grace of God.
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