The Mortification of Sin Chapter 4: Spiritual life and peace

Chapter 4 is Owen’s last chapter addressing the statement: why believers must be about the business of mortifying sin. Why should I set to work putting to death the sinful speech patterns of my flesh? Because the life, vigor, and comfort of my spiritual life is greatly dependent upon putting such sin to death.

Whatever we want from God in our spiritual life falls under one of two heads: either a strong, powerful, vigorous spiritual life; or peace, comfort, and consolation in our spiritual life. We tend to oscillate between these two needs. I don’t know that one ever really needs or desires one part to the exclusion of the other, but there are certainly times when power is needed more than comfort and times when peace is more needed than power.

Whatever the spiritual need, it will not come without mortification. I appreciate how Owen is careful to say that the connection is not “necessarily tied to it.” Throughout these first chapters, he is careful to guard against the person who might be taking his counsel as some sort of spiritual legalism. Again, holiness is not a matter of keeping rules. Even when the rules are God’s rules. Paul did that, and he ended up counting it all worthless. We use God’s means for obtaining peace, but “the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.”

There is a chance I could completely, so much as lies in me, put to death the deeds of sinful speech and I might still feel weak and helpless before the Lord. By the Spirit I might so root out sinful speech that my first impulse when getting stuck behind a slow driver is not to utter profanity; and I might still be unsettled and restless in my spirit. But God does promise life…

It is the Spirit alone who communicates these two great blessings of life and peace. And the Spirit does this on the basis of God’s work of adoption and justification. The Spirit’s work alone, communicating to us the blessings of justification and adoption is the “immediate cause” of enjoying such spiritual blessings.

Still, in “our ordinary walking with God” peace and power of spiritual life depend on mortification as an “effectual influence” on spiritual vigor. This is true because of the harm sin does to the soul. Sin weakens the soul, depriving it of vigor. Sin darkens the soul, depriving it of peace. Sin “untunes and unframes the heart itself, by entangling its affections.”

I can be a pretty miserable person. Which is to say, I can be a pretty miserable Christian. These funks can go on for quite some time. As they occur, and are occurring now, I recognize that I am the one to blame. The Lord sometimes withdraws himself, or the blessings of his presence, for no apparent reason. But I am not sure I have ever experienced that. When I am miserable, it is pretty much my own fault.

Mortifying the deeds of sinful speech might not help me feel any better spiritually. I could go on, doing (or not doing) exactly the same things and my life would probably continue the same. Or I could fight sin. I could, by the Spirit, put to death the things that are killing me spiritually. As Owen illustrates in this chapter, when you start pulling out all the weeds, the good stuff grows better. Yes, it is God who gives the growth. But he gives men the ho. “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.”

Do you want God’s power and peace? “Mortification is the soul’s vigorous opposition to self; wherein sincerity is most evident.”

Prove it.

The Spirit of Power

“Without the Holy Spirit there is no life, no motion, no being, The Spirit is the power supply for all these things. . . The Holy Spirit is the power of life itself.” (R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, 74, 75)

Sproul notes the apostles frequently couple the Spirit with power (Greek- dunamis) in the New Testament. A quick search turned up these results:

  • Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
  • Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.
  • Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
  • Acts 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
  • Romans 1:4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
  • Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
  • Romans 15:19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;
  • 1 Corinthians 2:4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
  • Galatians 3:5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles [powers] among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
  • Ephesians 3:16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
  • Hebrews 2:4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles [powers] and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The Holy Spirit is a person of power. If you are lacking vigor and vitality in your spiritual life, you are not walking in the power of the Spirit’s fullness. Your failings demonstrate where you still walk in the flesh.

Names of the Holy Spirit in the Bible

In June I will be teaching a course on Pneumatology at Ambassador International University in Zambia.

I have just begun digging into the subject. In the attached file you will find an organized list of all the verses in Scripture (that I have found so far!) that refer to the Holy Spirit by name. There are some references with brackets around them: that indicates I am not yet sure if they actually refer to the Holy Spirit.

Some summary observations: there are 31 names, or titles, of the Holy Spirit. He is mentioned in every NT book except Philemon, James, 2-3 John. The book with the most references to the Spirit is Acts. Acts has nearly double the references (57) as the book with the next highest number: Romans (30). The single place you should probably go to get the most “bang for your buck” is Romans 8. In Romans 8 the Spirit is mentioned by name 20 times and 7 different names for Him are used. 

If you want to study what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit, the attached file would be a good place to help you begin the journey.


How do I know if I am being led by the Holy Spirit? Counsel from Wilhelmus á Brakel

At the conclusion of volume 2 of The Christian’s Reasonable Service Wilhelmus á Brakel appends a lengthy treatment entitled “A Warning Against a Natural and Spiritless Religion.” á Brakel confronts the reader with the hard truth that men can live morally and rightly yet still be cut off from eternal life. In the midst of that discussion he offers six indications of the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer:

1)      Man has his own spirit; there are many seducing spirits, and the evil spirit can transform himself into an angel of light. He, with the intent to deceive, can give thoughts which are essentially good, but stir man up to use them in an erroneous manner. We must therefore give heed and know by which spirit we are being moved.[1]

2)      The Holy Spirit convinces man of sin and causes him to grieve, be perplexed, and in many ways be troubled about his sin.[2]

3)      The man who is conquered by the Holy Spirit will be regenerated and translated from darkness to light, from death to life, and from being earthly minded to being heavenly minded.[3]

4)      The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of faith who brings God’s children to Christ, causing them to receive Jesus by a true faith as their ransom and righteousness.[4]

5)      The Holy Spirit unites His children and keeps them united to the church, for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13).[5]

6)      The Holy Spirit leads believers in all things according to the Word of God; He leads them into all truth. The Word of God is truth, however, and the only rule by which we shall not err. By that Word he regenerates, sanctifies, leads, and comforts them.[6]

Know then with certainty that where these matters are not found, there God’s Spirit is not present. Be assured that whatever is deemed to be spiritual but which does not harmonize with the above, is nothing but illusory and are seductions of a man’s own spirit.

As you consider these words you will hopefully come to realize one thing a person being led by the Holy Spirit will not speak much about: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gets the credit for many a foolish and sinful act. Who is to argue against, “I just felt led by the Spirit….”? You are to argue against, for the very reasons listed above.

There are powerful and mysterious forces at work in all men, but this is not necessarily the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes your sin large in your eyes. If you do not have a growing awareness of your own sin, the Spirit is not at work. The Spirit reveals sin to you in order to show Christ as even greater. If your love for Christ and his work is not increasing, the Spirit is not at work. By making Christ great in your eyes you will be led to a greater desire for fellowship with Christ’s body: the church. If you are not seeking increasing fellowship and participation in a local church, the Spirit is not at work. The Spirit does all this work with, through, and toward the Word of God. He is the Spirit of truth, not the Spirit of hunch. If you are not growing in your study, knowledge, and application of Scripture, the Spirit is not at work.

[1] [Note: all footnoted Scripture references are added by me] Prov. 16:25; Ps. 36:1-2; Jer. 17:9; Luke 18:9-11; 1 John 4:1; 2 Cor. 11:14

[2] John 16:8-11; 2 Cor. 7:10

[3] 1 Cor. 6:11; Titus 3:4-7

[4] John 16:13-15; 2 Cor. 3:17-18; 1 John 5:6

[5] Eph. 2:18-22; 4:1-6

[6] John 14:26; 16:13; 17:17; 1 Cor. 2:9-12; Eph. 5:26; 1 John 2:22-27