Digital Detox

It’s not unusual these days for people to spend hours on their mobiles or tablets each day. If you walk along the street or get on public transport there will be a number of individuals with their heads buried in their gadgets. The first thing many do each morning is to check their mobiles and they do exactly the same thing at the end of each day.

On Monday night the London BBC news had an item about a group of people going away to Wales for a few days to have a digital detox. The people featured in the item where all avid users of mobile phones / tablets who spent several hours on their devices each day. The house was in an area where there was no mobile signal and at the introduction session everyone had to hand all their mobile devices to the organizer who locked them away in a box.

The participants then engaged in a number of activities which included walking, group exercises and speaking to one another! Everyone seemed to have a good time and they did not miss having their mobiles and tablets. Interesting at the end of the time away the main two people who featured in it both said that they were not looking forward to getting their mobiles back. They had actually enjoyed being free from them.

Although a few days later they both admitted they had got back in the habit of using them again, there was a real desire expressed by them not to go back to their old habits.

I thought this was a very interesting program. Many of us, including myself, spend too much time on our digital devices. It’s good to schedule in proper breaks from them and do more constructive things with our time.

 

Come and Dine

The following is from Spurgeon’s Daily Devotions:

In these words the believer is invited to a holy nearness to Jesus. “Come and dine,” implies the same table, the same meat; aye, and sometimes it means to sit side by side, and lean our head upon the Saviour’s bosom. It is being brought into the banqueting-house, where waves the banner of redeeming love. “Come and dine,” gives us a vision of union with Jesus, because the only food that we can feast upon when we dine with Jesus is himself. Oh, what union is this! It is a depth which reason cannot fathom, that we thus feed upon Jesus. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” It is also an invitation to enjoy fellowship with the saints. Christians may differ on a variety of points, but they have all one spiritual appetite; and if we cannot all feel alike, we can all feed alike on the bread of life sent down from heaven. At the table of fellowship with Jesus we are one bread and one cup. As the loving cup goes round we pledge one another heartily therein. Get nearer to Jesus, and you will find yourself linked more and more in spirit to all who are like yourself, supported by the same heavenly manna. If we were more near to Jesus we should be more near to one another. We likewise see in these words the source of strength for every Christian. To look at Christ is to live, but for strength to serve him you must “come and dine.” We labour under much unnecessary weakness on account of neglecting this percept of the Master. We none of us need to put ourselves on low diet; on the contrary, we should fatten on the marrow and fatness of the gospel that we may accumulate strength therein, and urge every power to its full tension in the Master’s service. Thus, then, if you would realize nearness to Jesus, union with Jesus, love to his people and strength from Jesus, “come and dine” with him by faith.

 

The Mortification of Sin – chapter 5

In chapter 5 we now move into the second section of the book which covers the nature of mortification. In this chapter John Owen gives us five descriptions of what mortification is not:

Mortification Is Not the Utter Destruction and Death of Sin
“To mortify a sin is not utterly to kill, root it out, and destroy it, that it should have no more hold at all nor residence in our hearts. It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished.”

When I first read the above quote I initially disagreed with it.  I thought that it was possible to see a particular sin utterly destroyed whilst we are in this life. To support his argument Owen quotes Paul’s letter to the Philippians when the apostle says “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Phil. 3:12).  After looking at that verse in context I understand the point that Owen is making and would agree that this is what Paul is saying to the Philippians.

Mortification Is Not the Dissimulation of Sin
“When a man on some outward respects forsakes the practice of any sin, men perhaps may look on him as a changed man. God knows that to his former iniquity he has added cursed hypocrisy, and is now on a safer path to hell than he was before. He has got another heart than he had, that is more cunning; not a new heart, that is more holy.”

So often we humans look at outwards appearances. However God looks at the heart, for example in the calling of David as a future king of Israel. We need to remember that it is the heart that is important not outward appearances.

Mortification Is Not the Improvement of a Quiet, Sedate Nature
 “Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortification of the sin than the former.”

I do sometimes envy those who are of a quiet, sedate nature. On many occasions, especially at work, I’ve wished I could be more like that. However as Owen says we do not know what is happening in their hearts and the state of them.

Mortification Is Not the Diversion of Sin
“A man may be sensible of a lust, set himself against the eruptions of it, take care that it shall not break forth as it has done, but in the meantime suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself some other way; as he who heals and skins a running sore thinks himself cured, but in the meantime his flesh festers by the corruption of the same humour, and breaks out in another place………… Men in [old] age do not usually persist in the pursuit of youthful lusts, although they have never mortified any one of them. And the same is the case of bartering of lusts, and leaving to serve one that a man may serve another. He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to the contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still.”

Mortification Is Not Just Occasional Conquests Over Sin
Owen here speaks of two occasions or seasons where a man may believe that he has mortified a particular sin. Although this is a long quote it’s worth reading in full:

“When it has had some sad eruption, to the disturbance of his peace, terror of his conscience, dread of scandal, and evident provocation of God. This awakens and stirs up all that is in the man, and amazes him, fills him with abhorrency of sin and himself for it; sends him to God, makes him cry out as for life, to abhor his lust as hell and to set himself against it. The whole man, spiritual and natural, being now awakened, sin shrinks in its head, appears not, but lies as dead before him: as when one that has drawn nigh to an army in the night, and has killed a principal person—instantly the guards awake, men are roused up, and strict inquiry is made after the enemy, who, in the meantime, until the noise and tumult be over, hides himself, or lies like one that is dead, yet with firm resolution to do the like mischief again upon the like opportunity. Upon the sin among the Corinthians, see how they muster up themselves for the surprise and destruction of it (2 Cor. 7:11). So it is in a person when a breach has been made upon his conscience, quiet, perhaps credit, by his lust, in some eruption of actual sin—carefulness, indignation, desire, fear, revenge, are all set on work about it and against it, and lust is quiet for a season, being run down before them; but when the hurry is over and the inquest past, the thief appears again alive, and is as busy as ever at his work.

In a time of some judgment, calamity, or pressing affliction, the heart is then taken up with thoughts and contrivances of flying from the present troubles, fears, and dangers. This, as a convinced person concludes, is to be done only by relinquishment of sin, which gains peace with God. It is the anger of

God in every affliction that galls a convinced person. To be quit of this, men resolve at such times against their sins. Sin shall never more have any place in them; they will never again give up themselves to the service of it. Accordingly, sin is quiet, stirs not, seems to be mortified; not, indeed, that it has received any one wound, but merely because the soul has possessed its faculties, whereby it should exert itself, with thoughts inconsistent with the motions thereof; which, when they are laid aside, sin returns again to its former life and vigour. So they are a full instance and description of this frame of spirit whereof I speak:

For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works. Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant. (Ps. 78:32-37)

I no way doubt but that when they sought, and returned, and inquired early after God, they did it with full purpose of heart as to the relinquishment of their sins; it is expressed in the word “returned.” To turn or return to the Lord is by a relinquishment of sin. This they did “early”—with earnestness and diligence—but yet their sin was unmortified for all this (vv. 36-37). And this

is the state of many humiliations in the days of affliction, and a great deceit in the hearts of believers themselves lies oftentimes herein.

These and many other ways there are whereby poor souls deceive themselves, and suppose they have mortified their lusts, when they live and are mighty, and on every occasion break forth, to their disturbance and disquietness.”

Deeply challenging words!

 

The Mortification of Sin – chapter 4

In chapter 4 John Owen argues that “the life, vigour and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin.”

However before he gives us his supporting arguments on this, Owen reminds us from Psalm 88 that life, vigour and comfort are not necessarily connected to mortification. It is possible to be in a constant course of mortification but never enjoy a good day of peace and consolation. He says “The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.”

Owen then gives us the following six reasons why in the ordinary relationship with God, the vigour and comfort of our spiritual lives depend much on our mortification of sin:

  • This alone keeps sin from depriving us of the one and the other. Every unmortified sin will certainly do two things: It will weaken the soul and deprive it of its vigour. It will darken the soul and deprive it of its comfort and peace.
  • It weakens the soul and deprives it of its strength. An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit and all the vigour of the soul, and weaken it for all duties. For:
  • It untunes and unframes the heart itself by entangling its affections. It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father (1 John 2:15; 3:17); so that the soul cannot say uprightly and truly to God, “You are my portion,” having something else that it loves.
  • It fills the thoughts with contrivances about it…… and if sin remain unmortified in the heart, they must ever and anon be making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
  • It breaks out and actually hinders duty. The ambitious man must be studying, and the worldling must be working or contriving, and the sensual, vain person providing himself for vanity, when they should be engaged in the worship of God.
  • As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul. It is a cloud, a thick cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s love and favour. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them: of which afterward.

Owen then goes on to say “Men may see their sickness and wounds, but yet, if they make not due applications, their cure will not be effected.”

He concludes with the following two points:

  • Mortification prunes all the graces of God and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigor of our spiritual lives consists in the vigour and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily, nature being their proper soil), let room be made for grace to thrive and flourish—how will every grace act its part, and be ready for every use and purpose!
  • As to our peace; as there is nothing that has any evidence of sincerity without it, so I know nothing that has such an evidence of sincerity in it— which is no small foundation of our peace. Mortification is the soul’s vigorous opposition to self, wherein sincerity is most evident.

As I read this chapter I was reminded of the following quote, which I believe was attributed to Tozer: “you are only as holy as you want to be.” If we truly want to grow in our walk with God then we will be eager to mortify our sin. It’s very easy to blame others or circumstances for our sin but we need to face the sobering truth that it is our fault that we sin.

My sin is a serious matter. It must not be ignored but instead with the Spirit’s help it must be mortified otherwise I cannot expect to grow as a believer.

This chapter concludes the first section of the book on the necessity of mortification and we now move onto the nature of mortification.

 

TV Free Days

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have said that adults and children should consider having TV free days or limit viewing to two hours a day. This is one of their suggestions included in a list of proposals to tackle obesity.

Although I have never personally had a problem with obesity I certainly think that this is advice that is worth considering. I know that it is so easy to waste a lot of time watching TV when there are better things that one could be doing.

I guess we could also widen this to include the amount of time we spend online too?

Just imagine how much extra time we might have if we did this!

 

 

 

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.