The Mortification of Sin – chapter 3

John Owen in the 3rd chapter of The Mortification of Sin writes “The Holy Spirit is the great sovereign cause of the mortification of indwelling sin.”

I think many of us can agree that any other remedies simply do not work. It does not matter how much we try ourselves we cannot do it. We can pray, fast and make countless resolutions but that will not kill the sin in our lives. Only the Holy Spirit can do this.

So why is mortification the work of the Spirit? Owen gives two reasons:

He is promised of God to be given unto us to do this work.
“The taking away of the stony heart—that is, the stubborn, proud, rebellious, unbelieving heart—is in general the work of mortification that we treat of. Now this is still promised to be done by the Spirit, “I will give my Spirit, and take away the stony heart” (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26), and by the Spirit of God is this work wrought when all means fail (Isa. 57:17-18).”

We have all our mortification from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ:
“Without Christ we can do nothing” (John 15:5). All communications of supplies and relief, in the beginnings, increasings, actings of any grace whatsoever, from him, are by the Spirit, by whom he alone works in and upon believers. From him we have our mortification…….”

Owen then provides three answers to the question of how the Spirit Mortifies Sin:

By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them.
The author reminds us that the fruits of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) oppose the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22-23). It is not possible to abound in both the fruits of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit at the same time. Christ’s followers are told to crucify the flesh, with its desires, and instead live and walk in the Spirit.

Owen goes onto say “This “renewing of us by the Holy Ghost,” as it is called (Titus 3:5), is one great way of mortification; he causes us to grow, thrive, flourish, and abound in those graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the fruits of the flesh, and to the quiet or thriving of indwelling sin itself.”

By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin, for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away.
The Holy Spirit is the one who “burns up the very root of lust.” This is a deep work that only the Holy Spirit can do.

He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives us communion with Christ in his death and fellowship in his sufferings.

Owen now asks two very valid questions:

  1. If the Spirit Alone Mortifies Sin, Why Are We Exhorted to Mortify It?
  2. If this be the work of the Spirit alone, how is it that we are exhorted to it?—seeing the Spirit of God only can do it, let the work be left wholly to him.

He addresses these questions as follows:

It is no otherwise the work of the Spirit but as all graces and good works which are in us are his.
He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13); he works “all our works in us” (Isa. 26:12)—“the work of faith with power” (2 Thess. 1:11; Col. 2:12); he causes us to pray, and is a “spirit of supplication” (Rom. 8:26; Zech. 12:10); and yet we are exhorted, and are to be exhorted, to all these.

He does not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience.
The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.

Owen concludes this chapter by looking at those who after being convicted of sin attempt to defeat it without the Holy Spirit and describes them as  being involved in “the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in”.


The Mortification of Sin – chapter 2

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.




The Mortification of Sin – Chapter 1

I am beginning today a series of blog posts working through John Owen’s book “The Mortification of Sin in believers”. The book contains fourteen chapters and I’m hoping to write one post on each chapter and post these each Thursday. I will not be commenting on each point that the author makes but instead I will concentrate on the specific points that catch my attention.

Owen starts the first chapter with the verse he believes is the foundation of the mortification of sin in believers, Romans 8:13:

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. (ESV)

This verse contains a conditional promise “for if”. Therefore if we obey the “if” and put to death our sin, there is a promise that we will receive. There is a certainty contained in the verse. However if we do not then we will die. The word “if” is only a short word but it must not be ignored when looking at this verse.

Owen stresses the importance of battling against sin and says:

“The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.”

He rightly reminds us that we must never let up in this battle against sin. It’s easy sometimes to think we are doing well in our Christian walk and relax in the battle. However there is no holiday for us in the Christian life. Sin never takes a day off in its quest to entangle us and we should therefore be constantly on our guard.

So how do we go about mortifying sin? The answer that Owen gives is:

“All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”

Any other attempt that man makes to defeat sin is futile. We cannot do this in our own strength. No amount of our own determination and self-discipline will suffice. It can only be done by the Spirit.

Owen believes that it is the duty of a believer to mortify the deeds of the body and says:

“The mortification of indwelling sin remaining in our mortal bodies, that it may not have life and power to bring forth the works or deeds of the flesh, is the constant duty of believers.”

It’s not an optional extra for only certain Christians but instead a constant duty for all believers.

The chapter closes with a reminder of the wonderful promise that is made in regard to this duty “you shall live.” And in the final line of this first chapter Owen says:

“The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.”

Owen takes the battle against sin in the believer’s life very seriously. Unfortunately if we are being honest with ourselves we would have to admit that frequently we have a rather casual attitude towards sin. However we need to learn from Owen’s example here and emulate him in the on-going daily battle we face against sin.

Live is always better

It’s been another excellent summer of sport with the World Cup, Commonwealth Games, European Athletic Championships and Wimbledon providing some wonderful moments. I’ve really enjoyed watching these events on television.

Last night I went to see Milton Keynes Dons play Manchester United, which was the first football match I have been to for over 12 months. One thing that hit me immediately on entering the ground was how much better it is to watch a game live rather than on television. The atmosphere is so much better and you really feel part of it which is not the case when watching a game on television. I had forgotten how much I enjoy attending matches!

MK Dons v Man Utd

I think there can be some similarities here with attending church. These days with the advance in technology it’s possible to listen to on-line sermons from all around the world and also watch live church services too. The temptation can be to stop attending our local church and instead just listen to the best on-line sermons and worship sessions.

However just as I rediscovered last night that live football is better than watching it on television, I also know that it is very important to actually attend your local church.

One of the most important reasons to actually attend a church is because we are members of the body of Christ and that means that we should be serving our fellow believers. Christian faith is not a solo faith but involves being a member of a body of believers.

Romans 12 reminds us that we have been given different gifts and we should be using them in serving our fellow believers. It’s difficult to serve your fellow believers if you don’t actually attend the church services but instead stay at home and watch church services on-line instead!

There is obviously nothing wrong with listening to on-line sermons or worship sessions. However that should be a supplement to us attending church and not a replacement for it.

What is God’s will for my life?

I guess at some stage many of us have asked the question “What is God’s will for my life?” Normally when we hear that question we may well be thinking about any of the following:

  • Who should I marry?
  • What job should I do?
  • Should I change my job?
  • Where should I live?
  • Should I move house?
  • What church should I join?

Interestingly when we are seeking God’s will for ourselves we often focus on the above type of questions. However I wonder if there is a whole lot more to this that we ignore?

I’m referring here to the practical living out of our faith in daily life. What is God’s will for my life at home, work, church, and in my local neighbourhood? In Romans 12 Paul provides many indications of God’s will for our lives:

  • Love sincerely (v9a)
  • Hate what is evil and cling to what is good (v9b)
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (v10a)
  • Honour one another above yourselves (v10b)
  • Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour serving the Lord (v11)
  • Be joyful in hope (v12a)
  • Be patient in affliction (v12b)
  • Be faithful in prayer (v12c)
  • Share with God’s people who are in need (v13a)
  • Practise hospitality (v13b)
  • Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse (v14)
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice (v15a)
  • Mourn with those who mourn (v15b)
  • Live in harmony with one another (v16a)
  • Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with those of low position (v16b)
  • Do not be conceited (v16c)
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil (v17a)
  • Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody (v17b)
  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (v18)
  • Do not take revenge (v19)
  • If your enemy is hungry feed him (v20a)
  • If your enemy is thirsty, give him something to drink (v20b)
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (v21)

I suspect that the most important question most of need to ask concerning God’s will is not “Shall I work for Company A or Company B?” but rather “are we living out God’s will for our life in the manner of the verses above?”


Faith under Fire

Thanks to my wife for this review of Andrew White’s book “Faith under Fire”. Andrew White is the vicar of St George’s Church, Baghdad and also president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.

This short but highly readable book gives a fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people whose daily lives are lived out against a backdrop of continuous conflict. Despite this Andrew states “we are not miserable but joyful”.

Andrew, a qualified anaesthetist and a vicar, talks about how he became involved in the work of reconciliation initially in Israel/Palestine where he was actively involved in Jewish Christian relations.

He was then called to work at St George’s church in Baghdad at a time of escalating violence and unrest in the region. All of this has been at great personal cost to Andrew and is even more remarkable when you realise that he has himself been battling ill health for many years.

This is a fascinating story of one man’s commitment to honour God’s call and to serve his congregation no matter what the cost. What is clear from this book is Andrew’s love for God and for his congregation who he refers to as “my people”.

Faith under Fire is about bringing God’s love and hope to bear on a seemingly hopeless situation. Although there is clearly no “quick fix” easy solution to the problems in Iraq, this book is an encouraging and informative read as Andrew explains that in believing and trusting in God, we remain joyful not miserable whatever the circumstances.

Go out and buy this book to be encouraged and to help support the wonderful work which Andrew and his church are doing for the people of Iraq.


Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza

As I’ve watched the news this weekend it’s been difficult to avoid feeling a sense of hopelessness at the tragic events that are happening at the moment.

We’ve seen a civilian aircraft shot down in Ukraine and then the UN investigators denied full access to the site. It’s like someone is trying to hide something!

On Saturday morning I heard that ISIS had told the Christians in Mosul that they either had to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or they would be killed.

On Sunday morning, just before I left for church, they were showing the awful scenes from Gaza as the fighting had intensified overnight.

Three horrific situations. We can feel quite overwhelmed when attempting to pray for these massive issues. However we must bring them before God even if it’s just a short sentence “Lord have mercy”.

Only God can bring healing and peace into Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza.