Mortification of Sin chapter 10: do these 3 things or sin will destroy you.

Sin “darkens the mind so that it cannot make a right judgment about things [and] shall not judge aright of its guilt.” Sin, when it has taken root, blind the mind; deceives the heart; and takes the sinner away to ruin. To battle this deadly trait, believers must develop a clear and abiding sense of the guilt, danger, and evil of sin.

I must keep on my mind and conscience the guilt of sin. I am a believer. I have received God’s grace and God’s Spirit of holiness. When I sin, I am not simply yielding to my nature. I am openly rebelling against the new nature God in Christ has given me. My sin is a repudiation of the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness that God has given me.

My sin is dangerous. My sin hardens my heart away from the fear of God. My sin convinces me that it is no great evil. My sin persuades me that God will forgive- that is His business. Mt sin will eventually make me sermon-proof. I will not hear God’s voice. I will grow unconcerned about my sin. Sin is no big deal. My sin places me in danger of receiving God’s stern discipline. Am I ready and able for God’s anger to break out against me? Am I willing to suffer the loss of my family, friends, and possessions? Am I ready to suffer the loss of peace and strength all the days of my life? Living a life that longs for death? Am I ready to be destroyed for my sin? Eternally? “Though God does resolve to deliver some from a continuance of sin that they may not be destroyed, yet he will deliver none from destruction that continue in sin.” Only an atheist believes continuing in sin will not lead to destruction.

My sin is not only dangerous with respect to the future; it is evil with respect to the present. My sin grieves the Holy Spirit. I should be ashamed at such treatment of the Spirit who strives so righteously within me to form the image of Christ. The Lord Jesus is also wounded by sin. I crucify him afresh. I deny his love and put him to shame.  Sin robs me of my usefulness to those around me. God will not bless me witness, teaching, preaching, praying, etc. God will blast all my undertakings.

How treacherous is the sin in my heart? Will I continue to pursue it even as I meditate on its guilt, danger, and evil? Yes. Yes I will. That is how treacherous sin is. Still I make excuses. Still I plead mercy. Still I think I will be the one exception in the entire universe. That God will somehow let me slide by with no consequences.

Pray for me, a sinner.

Mortification of Sin chapter 9: 6 Marks of a deadly sin

Chapter 9 begins the specific instructions for mortifying sin. The Mortification of Sin is quite short. In my edition, its 14 chapters cover 160 pages. In chapter 9 Owen finally gets to “the main thing I aim at”! In other words, the first half of the book is merely an introduction.

The first direction for mortifying sin is: consider the dangerous symptoms of your lust and whether or not those symptoms are deadly. Owen describes 6 marks and symptoms of temptation and sin that mark it out as particularly deadly. He describes these 6 marks as “some” of the deadly signs. So this list of 6 should not be considered exhaustive.

The first mark of a deadly lust is inveterateness. I can’t recall the last time I used “inveterate” in conversation. Probably because I never have. Inveterate refers to something that is long-established and unlikely to change. It is something that is habituated. The longer sin has made its home in your heart, the harder it will be to remove.

The second mark someone is infected with a particularly deadly sin is when the heart convinces him peace should be made with sin. What believer would possibly tell himself that it is okay to sin? Not many, so the heart takes more indirect routes to arrive at the same destination. First, the heart may convince the man that everything else is okay, so this sin must not be so bad. A second way to excuse sin is to simply gain allowance for it by asking God to forgive it. I will obey God in other matters, but in this, God will just have to give me mercy.

The third sign of a particularly deadly sin is frequent success of temptation. This temptation and sin is so successful, that the soul actually comes to delight in it. So strong is the temptation and sin, that even when on occasion the sin is not carried out, the soul inwardly delights in the sin and regrets not being able to bring forth the action of sin.

The fourth sign sin has taken possession of the will is when a man will only fight sin with the un-beneficial consequences of it. When men seek to fight sin only be the fear or shame of getting caught; by the discomfort of punishment sin might bring; they are near to death. A man who fights sin with law, instead of the gospel is one who is possessed by sin and on the verge of utter defeat.

The fifth dangerous symptom is when a sin is sent as a chastening judgment by God. This is terrifying to me. What a horrible possibility to consider: that God would use entangling sin to punish his child. How could one know if God was punishing your sin with more sin? How were you dealing with sin before entanglement in this sin? Have you been leading a life of spiritual negligence? Have you been living with no self-control? Do you have other un-repented sin that you are content to live with? Have you spurned God’s previous mercies? Are you basically conformed to the world? If these things are true, God may have cast you into even greater sin. Your soul is in peril.

The sixth sign of a deadly sin is when you have already withstood God’s previous dealings with it. If God has dealt with you in your sin, and you have hardened your heart against God’s Spirit; your only hope is a sovereign act of God’s grace (Is. 57:17-18). While Owen does not cite the passage, the situation seems very similar to the one in Hebrews 6:4-6. Someone who has refused the conviction from the reading and preaching of God’s word, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is close to unspeakable evil.

Chapter 9 of The Mortification of Sin is a thunderbolt. Books could be written from it. An entire of series of sermons could be preached from it.

The Mortification of Sin, chapter 8: You gotta be all in

If a man is going to mortify sin he must be a believer. If a man is to mortify sin, he must really desire to mortify sin. This is Owen’s second general principle for anyone seeking victory over sin: do you really want it? The battle with sin cannot be entered into half-heartedly. Anyone not ready battle to the death should just stay at home (Deut. 20:5-9; Luke 14:26-33; Matt. 8:21-22).

When Owen calls for total dedication, he is calling for total dedication. It is not enough to be devoted to the idea of mortification. It is not enough to be devoted to the duty of mortifying a particular sin. To secure victory, one must be devoted to mortification of all sins. It is not enough for me to devote myself to cleaning up one area of my like while I still pleasure in mud baths is other areas of life.

Key to this endeavor is hating sin as sin. Mortification of sin does not mean, just the really big sins; just the really gross sins; just the sins that are really embarrassing to me; just the sins that could really get me in trouble… We must be watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets God, not just the things that grieve us. Paul exhorts us to cleanse ourselves of every defilement and to bring holiness to completion (2 Cor. 7:1). “So…it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil, and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.”

Owen does not make it clear in so many words in this chapter; but by this counsel he is not expecting a believer to gain complete mastery over all sins simultaneously. The emphasis is on devotion to the entire task. I cannot expect to gain victory over any one sin while I am simultaneously cherishing another sin in my heart. WE are limited and finite. We are not holy- i.e. not complete in perfections. I simply cannot fight differing manifestations of the lusts of the eyes and flesh and the pride of life with equal vigor. But it is certain I am not going to mortify this lust with my right hand while I am feeding that lust with my left hand.

In my fight against sin, I need to realize that it is a fight against all sin. I cannot kill one sin while coddling another.

Mortification of Sin chapter 6: 3 General Descriptions of what mortification is

In chapter 6 of The Mortification of Sin, John Owen gives three general descriptions of what the mortification of sin is .This follows the 5 general descriptions in chapter 5 of what mortifying a sin is not. (I wonder if the book should be entitled The Mortifying of Sin as the continual nature of the work of mortification is often repeated.)  Owen is widely circling the prey. These general principles will give way to general directions in the next chapter which will give way to particular directions in still future chapters.

Since every sin is the result of a habitual lust, such lust and sin must be fought habitually. The only reason one particular sin does not overcome a man is because he is related to sin like a  your old with five dollars in a candy store- there is just so much to choose from. Nevertheless, his general inclination is toward himself and sin. And eventually, he will find his favorite candy. Mortifying sin is attacking the roots of sin and the strengths of its habituating nature. Sin with violence, earnestness, and frequency rises up to provoke, entice, and disquiet the soul. It must be confronted at the foundational and fundamental levels.

The strongest temptations and lusts seek hospitable ground to grow in. Lust and sin find out where a man is naturally weakest, and there take root. Lust “falls in with the natural constitution and temper, with a suitable course of life, with occasions.” Sin attacks and latches on where are most prone to give in.

Just as men have many different constitutions and tempers, so does sin. Some sins are obvious, open, and visible; e.g. sexual sins. Some sins primarily focus internally on the destruction of the soul; e.g. worldliness. A man might outwardly appear well, serene, and holy; but sin might be as dominant in his life as in the most flamboyant of sodomites.

Such sin must be weakened at the habit. The life and vigor animating sin must be cut off. Sin must be attacked continuously at the root. A man can pick the bitter fruit off a tree as long as he wants. As long as the root remains, the fruit will be rotten. As long as you are content to focus on the “appearing lust” of sin but leave the “principle and root untouched” little to no progress will be made in mortifying sin.

Turning to myself, as long as my goal is only to stop swearing when I am alone in the car or when I think no one can hear me, my soul will remain profane. I am not really going to put profanity to death until I get to the death-giving roots of my profanity.

Secondly, mortification is always mortifying. Man must be under sure conviction of the sinfulness of sin. Man must be convinced of the danger of sin; the peril of sin; the end of sin. As long as man thinks lightly of sin, he will not take up arms against it. Under the conviction of the sinfulness of sin, man will be eager to do battle with it.

The one doing battle with sin, will wage a wise warfare. A crucial aspect of this is studying the enemy. What are the “counsels and designs” of my lusts? What are the ends of my sin? “How and by what means” has temptation formerly prevailed in my life? What are sin’s ways and progress in my life? What are its advantages? How has it triumphed? The wise man finds out “the subtleties, policies and depths of any indwelling sin.”

When this is done, one is ready to load sin daily with all the things that are “grievous, killing, and destructive to it.” The wise soldier is tenacious and never stops fighting, even when the enemy is quiet. The one fighting against sin is always seeking to give it “new wounds, new blows, every day.”

Thirdly, mortifying does result in mortification! The one fighting against sin does actually gain victory over sin. Not victory in the sense that sin never bothers him again. But victory in the sense that sin is immediately confronted and successfully overcome whenever lust stirs temptations.

Now I saw 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.

And this victory all comes from man’s wise warfare? No. The deep-rooted lusts of sins are replaced by contrary “graces of the Spirit.” Pride is weakened by the Spirit’s gift of humility; passion by patience; uncleanness by purity; worldliness by heavenly-mindedness. Daily fighting against sin is only by the promptness and vigor of the new man created by the Spirit using all the comforts and weapons He provides. This is the victory granted by the new covenant of grace: the covenant in which God promises to place is Spirit in all His people.

Mortification of Sin chapter 5

The first 4 chapters of John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin cover the “why” of mortification. If this were a how-to book, the first 4 chapters would be why-to. Chapter 5 begins the how-to of mortification…in a manner of speaking. Owen states the tri-fold outline for the rest of the book: 1) to state what mortification is and is not; 2) to give general directions that make mortification possible; 3) to give particular directions for how mortification is to be carried out.

Chapter 5 continues to form the first half of the first point: what mortification is not. I am trying to mortify sinful speech habits. This chapter valuably teaches me not to be deceived by false healings.

Mortification is not a complete eradication of a sin.  This is a warning with some encouragement to it. I had to spend some time on this point to make sure I understood Owen correctly. Very few believers would disagree with the statement that “sin is never dead” in a believer. Most Christians recognize the battle against the old sinful nature; the flesh; continues until death. But the point Owen makes is “a sin,” not “sin.” I stumbled at this at first, but I think I’ve come around to his argument. There will always be something within me that wants to impulsively with a sinful word. I will always be putting that to death.

Mortification is not the dissimulation of sin. Don’t worry, I had to look it up too. Mortification is not the hiding of sin under a false appearance. Yeah, I’ve got no problem understanding this one, because this is what I have been doing for most of my life. I know how not to swear around other people. And I know it is a charade.

Sin is not mortified by just making what is already good about you better. This is a really good one. Everyone has sins they are more inclined to by their own nature. I don’t think I’ve ever been tempted to vanity because I’ve seen a mirror: I know it would be folly. I haven’t mortified vanity. Just because I hate broccoli, doesn’t mean I have mortified the sin of being a gluttonous broccoli eater. I can’t look to those areas in my life where I am not really tempted, and consider those battles won against sin.

Sin is not mortified when it is just channeled another direction. Taking up a combat sport so you stop beating your wife isn’t solving your violent rage. (And yes, I think involvement in a combat sport is sinful.)  Giving up porn but dishonoring your wife’s body isn’t solving your lust problem.  While we are mortifying the “deeds of the body,” we recognize deeds come from the overflow of the heart.

Mortification is not occasional victories over sin. There are at least 2 common periods of time when people are able to stop sinning for a while: when their sin gets them in trouble or when their life is otherwise in crisis. There is no hand in the cookie jar mortification. And there is no foxhole mortification. God can certainly use such occasions to set a person on the path of true mortification. Man, however, wrongly tends to think he is on that right path because of a momentary surge of sin-fighting adrenaline. Shame, fear, and embarrassment are not the affections that drive mortification.

Mortification must be motivated by love for God because of his loveliness and hatred of sin for its wickedness.

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 Mortification of Sin chapter 2

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.

Mortification of Sin and Obscene Talk: Introduction & Chapter 1

When I was pastoring, I went through John Owen’s the Mortification of Sin with the midweek Bible study and prayer group. This month, I had occasion to fill in for our pastor who was vacationing. I preached a sermon on mortification from Romans 8 and gave a Sunday school lesson on the subject from Colossians 2-3.

I’ve decided I should probably actually try to apply Owen rather than simply telling people he wrote a really good book on mortification. I’m not perfect; I’ve got sin to kill.

One of the sins listed in Colossians 3 that believers are to put to death is “obscene talk” (Col. 3:9). When I am alone, or think no one can hear me, I swear. When I am driving and traffic irritates me I swear. When I am riding my bike and encounter an inconsiderate driver or pedestrian (like the 10 Amish who decided to simply stop and block the entire 20 ft. wide path with their bikes this morning) I swear. When I am at work and have to deal with incompetence, I swear. When I was moving things around to type this, two pens fell off my table, “damn.” I don’t yell and cuss to people’s face. I don’t swear when I am with others, or know others can hear me. But often, my initial response to anything remotely inconvenient is a swear word. Or several.

It is obscene talk. It is sin. If I don’t do anything about it, it will kill me (Rom. 8:13). It is killing me.

So I am going to start working through Owen- not to teach- but to live. Is The Mortification of Sin a book that truly offers help to a 21st century believer? I am sure obscene talk is not my biggest sin. But I don’t think it is a minor sin either. It is a sin I feel comfortable working with in a “public” manner though. To whatever extent the three people who read this blog are public.

Onward to chapter 1.

Chapter 1 introduces the subject of mortification in broad strokes. Owen presents the book as an exposition of the second half of Romans 8:13, “…if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” He briefly summarizes the five main parts of the phrase.

We begin with hope! If by the Spirit…you will live. “There is a certain infallible connection and coherence between true mortification and eternal life.” God, in Christ, by His Spirit, has given me all that I need for putting my filthy mouth to death. If I carry out this work by His Spirit, I will certainly succeed to eternal life.

I find more hope in his second point. If…you…you will. This promise is for believers: believers who have already been freed from the condemnation of sin (Rom. 8:1)! I find hope in knowing that God has already released me from the guilt of my sin. But I also find hope in the necessary admission that believers sin. Believers are to put sin to death by the Spirit. This is “their business, all their days, to mortify the indwelling power of sin.” I don’t have to live behind a mask or behind a charade of piety. I need to face the fact that I will always have sin to fight. This isn’t embarrassing.

Third, I must put obscene talk to death by the Spirit. “All other…helps leave us helpless.” I am to do it. But I am to do it by the Holy Spirit. I suppose here is something of Paul’s “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” dynamic here. I am not going to stop swearing by simply asking the Holy Spirit to erase swear words from my mind. The Holy Spirit is not God’s lightning-bolt-zap of sanctification. But neither am I going to stop cussing by merely being more disciplined, following more rules, or following better rules. I have to put it to death. The Holy Spirit has to kill it. “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”

Fourth, I have to recognize my swearing as one of the deeds of the body. My outbursts of profanity are the work of the sinful flesh that I reside with. “Though the outward deeds are here only expressed, yet the inward and nearest causes are chiefly intended.” In other words, I could stop swearing entirely tomorrow, and the sin could still be as healthy as ever. I see that even now. Why am I so easily able to not swear directly to my coworkers? Why do I not swear when my wife and kids are in the car with me? Am I more holy when other people are around? Should I just make sure someone is always within earshot of me so I never swear again? Swearing is a problem, and it needs to be put to death. But profanity is not the problem. To stop swearing I need “to take away the principle of all [its] strength, vigor, and power.” All of the “strength to produce its effects” must be taken away by the Spirit.

Finally, the promise you shall live. My obscene talk is killing me. It will continue to kill me unless I kill it. But God promises I will live. I will “lead a good, vigorous, comfortable, spiritual life…here, and obtain eternal life hereafter.” In fact, “the vigor, and power, and comfort” of my spiritual life depends on it.

So how will I try to practice this chapter this coming week? For my work, I am going to try to carefully monitor my speech. I am going to try to discover just how often I practice obscene talk. I will be praying that the Holy Spirit opens my eyes to begin to see the depth and breadth of my sin. In the Lord’s providence, I am reading through Psalm 119 at the moment. What better medicine to address my words than the Psalm so full of love for God’s words? By the Spirit, I will meditate on Psalm 119 and ask the Counselor to convict and cleanse me by it.

Have you fought the fight against obscene talk? What advice would you share with me?