Mortification of Sin
Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. (John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Banner of Truth, 2000, vol. VI. pg. 9)
John Owen penned these penetrating words hundreds of years ago. Yet, they still ring true; they, perhaps, are now more relevant than ever before. Why? Because we live now. If we were alive in Owens' day, they would be truer than the generation before. In our day, as always, sin is not killed. Sin is not slain. Sin is not seen as the monster that it is. No, sin is celebrated and paraded around; all the world is a carnival and most, if not all, happily join in the fun and games.
Sin is horrible. Sin marred the image of God in man. Sin separated mankind from his glorious God. Sin evicted man from God's paradise. Sin ushered in all manners of evil and treachery. Sin curses God, destroys lives, kills families, erodes the foundation of civilization, elevates man to heights he ought not contemplate, attempts to dethrone the Lord of the universe, calls evil good and good evil, and crucified the perfect Son of God. Sin is anti-God! Sin is cosmic treason!
As believers, we ought to hate sin. Christians need to be killing sin. How? Good question. Let's look into this very important and often neglected discipline.
To begin, mortification is the killing of indwelling sin that remains in the flesh of a believer. Romans 8:13 reads, “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.” Readers may also consult John 15:2, 1 Corinthians 9:27, and Colossians 3:5. Unfortunately, sin indwells believers as long as they are in the world (Rom. 7:24; 2 Cor. 4:16; Gal. 5:17; Phil. 3:12, 21; 2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Jn. 1:8). The flesh is where sin dwells and works (Rom. 7:23; Heb. 12:1; Jms. 1:14).
So, what are we to do? First, do not take sin lightly. Do not grow hardened or calloused to sin and its effects. Beware of becoming desensitized or used to sin. Never say, “this is just the way it is.” Or, “It's always been this way.” Or, “I'm just a sinner saved by grace.” These are excuses and attempts to justify sin or sinful behavior.
Second, realize that mortification is the work of the Spirit that indwells believers. Be sure, we cooperate with the Spirit, but it is primarily his work in us. The Spirit searches our spirits, convicts of sin, fills us with godly sorrow when we sin, drives us to repentance, gives us grace to repent, restores fellowship, conforms us more into the image of Christ, causes us to hate sin, and changes our affections. There is a war raging inside every believer. The Spirit indwells every Christian, yet every Christian is still in the flesh. Are you at war? Do you battle sin? Are you wrestling and growing in your hatred of this cosmic tyrant? If you are, that is good. That is the Spirit of God at work in you. Christian, keep fighting! Depend on the Spirit, he will finish the work that he began. Christian, take heart, God cannot fail!
Mortification consists of the habitual weakening of sin. This is a process, which means that it does not take place overnight. Usually, it looks more like, one step forward and two steps back. Albeit, sin is weakened. Resistance to temptation and victory over sin are included in mortification. Mortification also is the consistent fight against sin. This fight will not end any time soon. As long as we are present in this life, we will be at war. Believers are to persevere in the fight against sin.
Christian, do you even realize that you are at war? During the second World War, Americans knew they were at war. Everything was effected by the war. The men were away fighting overseas, women worked in the factories, people read the headlines in anticipation of peace, baseball ceased for a time, food was rationed, items could not be purchased because they were needed for the war effort, and telegrams were received making known the awful news that everyone dreaded. The people of that day knew all to well of the reality of war. Our country is presently at war. But we do not live as though we are. Our lives go on as usual. Nothing has changed for most us. We still work and play as if nothing is happening on the other side of the world. Christian, make no mistake about it, you are at war. Fight the good fight!
What can be done about sin? How may we mortify our sinful flesh? First, be persistent. Do not give up or give in. Second, search and examine your heart looking for tendencies and weaknesses. Third, pray for conviction of sin and grace to resist temptations. Fourth, be honest about your sin. Do not tell yourself that, “It's not so bad.” Fifth, think on the dangers and consequences of sin. Sixth, think on the evil of sin. Meditate on how much God hates sin and the fact that Christ hung on a cursed cross bearing the wrath of God for sin.
Seventh, meditate on the law of God and his perfections. This practice will reveal sin and convict. Eighth, be particular and not general; focus on specific sins that are revealed and that must be fought against. Ninth, depend on God and his power for deliverance from sin and lean not on your own strength. Tenth, Identify things that trigger sin and remove them. Avoid temptations and stay away from evil. Eleventh, be on guard and remain watchful. Sin never sleeps or slumbers; we must not drop our guard for a second. Twelfth, attempt to fight sin when it first appears. Do not wait or put it off; always engage sin at the onset. Thirteenth, do not silence your conscience; do not grow hardened or used to sin. Fourteenth, meditate on Christ, his atoning work, and his continual intercession. This will transform your mind and draw your affections to Christ's work causing you to hate sin and cease from it.
Fifteenth, trust Christ and know that you have no hope without him. You must not wage war without Christ; he is the supreme leader whom we follow. Sixteenth, think on the promises that have been given to believers that they will persevere until the end (Rom. 8:31-39; Phil. 1:6). Seventeenth, put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18). Eighteenth, and lastly, rely on the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that convicts us of sin, convinces us of the truth, reveals Christ to our souls, strengthens us when weak and battered, relieves us of guilt and sin's grasp, fills us with peace and joy, applies the work of Christ to us, continues sanctifying us, hears our cries, forgives us when we repent and confess, and brings our requests to God.
The mortification of our sinful flesh is not easy. Nothing worth its weight ever is. No, be prepared for a fight to the death. And know this, sin will not die easily or quickly. Sin will not give up and go home. This fight will last until we breathe our last or the Lord takes us home. But, Christian know this, we serve an awesome God. He will never leave us or forsake us. And not only that, but our great and glorious God uses our sin for his glory and our good! How can this be? We do not know all of the details but we trust that this is true. Have faith in our God. God cannot fail or be thwarted. What God begins he will accomplish. He will win. God has to win! So, Christian, keep on fighting in the strength of the Lord and await the good news of victory. V-Day will come, so hope in this and wait for Christ's return or the call home.