Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Colossians 3:8
I am working through John Owen’s Mortification of Sin and trying to apply what he writes, follow his instruction, with regards to putting to death the sin of corrupting, filthy, and obscene talk. In chapter one I was reminded that all believers are about the business of mortifying the sinful flesh. If I am not killing sin, it will be killing me. In chapter 2 I was reminded that this is an every day battle. I must fight sin as long as it fights me- which is continually. I will not mortify sinful speech patterns making really good New Year’s Day. I will not put wicked speech to death be being extra diligent during lent. The fight against sin is daily.
Owen bases his book 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.” Chapter 3 of Mortification is a brief exposition of “by the Spirit.” My fight against sin will only be effectual when it is carried out in and by the Spirit. For certain, there are things I must do. But victory will rely on the accomplishments of the Spirit, not on my own.
Much of false religion is built upon man trying to solve his sin problem in his own strength. Paul says as much in Colossians 2 16:23 and concludes that asceticism and severity to the body have an appearance of wisdom but are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Man demonstrates his futility in two ways. He may try to use ways means for mortification never ordained by God or he may use the means ordained by God wrongly. In this way man usually confuses the stream for the fountain. Man will view praying, fasting, meditation etc. as the ends unto themselves. “If the fast so much, and pray so much, and keep their hours and times, the work is done.” In these endeavors man simply tortures his physical body while doing nothing to put to death his sinful flesh.
Holiness does not come by checklist. Even when everything on the list is Scripture.
It is the Spirit who will change my stubborn, proud, rebellious, unbelieving heart. Only the Spirit can put out the fire of my tongue- a world of iniquity.
The Spirit will mortify the sins of my mouth in three ways. By causing my heart to abound in life-demonstrating grace. The Spirit will produce his fruit in my speech that will push out my words of sin. The same spring cannot put forth bitter water and sweet. Secondly, the Spirit will do this by really changing my heart- the source of my speech. The Spirit will consume and destroy my lusts by an almighty efficiency. He will do this finally, by bringing the cross of Christ into my heart. The Spirit will give me communion with Christ in his death: the death that put sin to death.
If the Spirit does the work, why does he tell me to do it? First, mortification is like every other work: God’s. He works in us to will and do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). He does all our works (Is. 26:12): the work of faith (2 Thess. 1:11; Col. 2:12) and the work of prayer (Rom. 8:26; Zech. 12:10). Yet we are told to do the work. Second, because the Spirit is not going to work apart from us, or against us. The Spirit will not make me holy against my will. The Spirit is not going to bless the labors I don’t make. I am not going to stop using filthy language just because I want to or because I think it is a good idea. I have work to do.
But the Spirit gets the job done.