John Owen starts chapter two with the reminder that Christian believers should make the mortification of indwelling sin their daily work. He says:
“Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
I find the phrase “be killing sin or it will be killing you” sobering and challenging. There will only be one winner in this battle. You cannot have a draw or a dead heat. If we don’t kill sin then it will kill us. Do we really believe this? If so we need to make mortifying sin our daily work.
The author then proceeds to give us six reasons why we must undertake this duty:
Indwelling Sin Always Abides, Therefore It Must Always Be Mortified
Owen reminds us that “indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.”
The author describes the battle with darkness and sin that we face. Our goal is for our inward man to be renewed each day (2 Cor 4:16) and that involves fighting against sin.
Indwelling Sin Not Only Abides, But Is Still Acting
We are then reminded that not only does indwelling sin abide in us but it is still acting in us. Owen states what he believes our attitude should be in this battle by saying:
“When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.”
There should be no easing off in the battle for us. Sin has no intention of leaving us alone so therefore we must not leave the battle. It is constant warfare as illustrated by this quote:
“If sin be subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish, in proceeding to the ruin thereof, can we expect a comfortable event? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.”
Indwelling Sin Is Not Only Active, But Will Produce Soul-Destroying Sins If Not Mortified
If we do not continue to mortify sin it has the potential to produce soul destroying sin in us. Whilst that might sound a scary thought it should motivate us to fight against it.
Owen says “Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head it is modest, as it were, in its first motions and proposals, but having once got footing in the heart by them, it constantly makes good its ground, and presses on to some farther degrees in the same kind.”
It can be very easy for us to let sin creep into our lives and just think that it is harmless. This is a big mistake as sin is deceitful and will create carnage without us unless we destroy it at its root.
Indwelling Sin Is to Be Opposed by the Spirit and the New Nature
Owen says “This is one main reason why the Spirit and the new nature are given unto us— that we may have a principle within us whereby to oppose sin and lust. The flesh lusts against the Spirit.”
He sees a contest between two combatants and reminds us that we need the Spirit and the new nature in this battle. It is essential that we make use of them:
“The contest is for our lives and souls. Not to be daily employing the Spirit and new nature for the mortifying of sin is to neglect that excellent succor which God has given us against our greatest enemy. If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. His graces, as well as his gifts, are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and trade with. Not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has furnished us with a principle of doing it.”
With these gifts God has given us why would we ever not want to make full use of them?
The Results of Neglecting the Mortification of Indwelling Sin
Owen now moves on to tell us the result of not mortifying sin. It is a bleak sorry picture that he paints. Sin grows in our lives and our hearts get hard. We become cold to the things of God and increasingly more carnal and worldly. This is a very sad state to be in. Therefore we must ensure that we do not neglect the mortifying of sin.
It Is Our Duty to Perfect Holiness in the Fear of God and Grow in Grace Every Day
We are reminded by Owen that:
“It is our duty to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1); to be “growing in grace” every day (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18); to be “renewing our inward man day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). “
However Owen maintains that we cannot do this “without the daily mortifying of sin. Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness and against every degree we grow to. “
If we want to grow as Christians we are going to have to face the fact that there will be a battle against sin. We might not like that but there is no escaping it.
Owen warns us about our use of time. This is always challenging for me as I do find it remarkably easy to waste time.
There is much to learn from this chapter and I shall close by quoting the phrase I mentioned at the beginning of the post: “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” I don’t think we should ever forget that challenge from Owen.