John Owen begins chapter 2 of The Mortification of Sin with the oft quoted phrase, “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” The idea is taken from Colossians 3 and Romans 8. Those passages both teach that one’s position in Christ as dead to sin does not free him from the duty of putting sin to death. While I am focusing on applying Mortification to my speech, I must realize the devotion do battling the indwelling power of sin must last all my days.
I will always have to battle against sin because it is still dwelling in me and will dwell in me as long as I am in this world. I will never be perfect in this life. There may be days, weeks, and months, where I never utter a single swear word. Sin will still be in me. If not the sin that leads me to swear, than other sin will eagerly substitute.
But that is not all! Sin is not merely dwelling in me, content to sit at ease. Sin is active within me “laboring to forth the deeds of the flesh.” Whether or not I am fighting against the sin of wicked speech, it is fighting against me.
Owen’s third point is that sin “aims always at the utmost.” If sin is let alone, “it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.” This seems to be at odds with another popular treatment of sin and temptation- C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. There, the novice demon is reminded to not seek some great and heinous downfall of the one he tempts. The Prince of Darkness is more than happy to fill hell with “good” people. Experience too, seems to offer a rebuttal to this point. The vast majority of humanity has neither the inclination nor the means to mortify sin and very few men are as bad as they could be. Am I really going to murder someone just because I say a profanity at the person going 10 mph below the speed limit? According to Jesus, the idea is not that far-fetched (cf. Matt. 5:21-22). My inability to control my tongue is a lack of self-control. Proverbs and James have plenty to say about this. So Owen’s point is not a scare tactic ready-made for fire-and-brimstone evangelists.
To ignore the battle against sin is to ignore the great gift of salvation: the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to believers to kill sin (Rom. 8:13). The Holy Spirit yearns to fight against my sinful flesh. If I habitually ignore God’s good gift, I have no reason to expect any other gifts from Him.
If I am not at work in putting a profane mouth to death, I will become “earthly, carnal, cold, wrathful, complying with the men…and things of the world.” In a word, I will die.
If I am going to put sinful speech to death, it must be a daily endeavor. I am called to perfect holiness (2 Cor. 7:1), grow in grace (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18), and be renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).
To not give attention to the daily mortification of sin puts me in grave danger. If I am not growing in righteousness, I am growing in sin and prone to become blind to the truth I was cleansed from my sins. To not give attention to the daily mortification of sin puts those around me in grave danger. My lack of holiness will become their standard of morality and they will comfort themselves with false assurances of security since they are just as good as me. If I do not demonstrate the saving righteousness of Christ, my own righteousness will lead to condemnation for those around me.
I began the journey of mortifying some of my sinful speech patterns. This chapter really brought home to me that I need to give attention to this every day. It can’t just be a “general attitude.” I can’t just fight against sin when it is convenient, or when I have nothing else to do. If I am going to put the sin of profane speech to death, I must be given over to the fight. Daily.