Did I mention that Owen is hard to read? Well, in all actuality, he is very easy to read, but to understand, that is a much different thing. After reading, re-reading and then reading again, quite a few times, I feel like my head is about to explode. I can remember back in the early 1990’s getting my hands on a copy of A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. That was my first experience reading something that literally made me feel like my mind had grown 3 sizes. The thoughts, the concepts, the ideas that Hawking presented gave me new insight into time and space like I had never thought of before. Likewise, Owen is a giant in the Theological world. The only problem is that he is a giant from another planet. I keep looking for the Rosetta Stone so I can better make sense of what Owen is saying. So, it seemed best to me to take up reading chapter 1 multiple times, spending much time in prayer, as well as reading others views (here, here and here) on what he had written, then go through the process again and just meditate on what he is conveying.
Let me say that even though we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, mortification is not an option that we can decide to take or leave. Paul makes it abundantly clear that it is a required thing in the Christian life in Romans 8:13. Ahhhhh, the tension, can’t you just feel it?
“But sir,” I hear you say, “We live under grace and Christ said ‘It is finished,’ (John 19:30). So hasn’t he done everything that needed to be done to secure the believers salvation?”
“Why yes, yes He has,” I would reply.
“Well then, sir, if we do something, isn’t that adding to the work of Christ? Isn’t that adding our works to the work of Christ which would mean that what Christ did is incomplete?”
Again I would have to respond, “Yes it would.”
TENSION! Don’t you just love it?
So how are we to deal with this? Lets turn to the 5 issues that Owen brings up in chapter 1:
- A duty prescribed, “Mortify the deeds of the body.”
- The persons to whom the duty is prescribed, “If you mortify.”
- The promise or reward attached to the duty, “You shall live.”
- What is the cause or means of the performance of this duty, “If you through the Spirit.”
- The promise attached to those who endeavor to put to death the deeds of the body, “Life.”
Once Owen calls out these 5 points, he then turns to the the condition of, “But if…” As Romans 8:13 declares, “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.” This brings up two things, an uncertain condition and an absolutely certain condition. As someone who cannot stand heights, I could climb a tall building and look out from the observation deck and say, “If I get down off of this building, I will never put myself in a position like that again.” Now, that may or may not be true. It could come to a point in the future were I do the same thing again, or not. Owen, expounding on Romans 8:13, is not saying it could or could not happen.
What Owen says is something more along the lines of this, “Oh, you are allergic to bee stings, use this Epi-pen and the swelling you are experiencing will go away and you WILL be well.” It is an absolute certainty that if you “put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Now, lets deal with that tension. Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:1 also tells us that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So how do we square this “free gift” and “no condemnation” issue? Owen states that God has appointed ‘means’ to attain this mortification. The free gift of eternal life is absolutely freely given. We begin to pursue the mortification of the deeds of the body, “by the Spirit.” The gift of eternal life is free, and the Holy Spirit,which is given to us when we are saved, is the means by which we obtain the mortification of the deeds of the body.
Owen the goes on to state:
“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.”
This is a life long battle. One that will go on every day of our life. This is something we do, something we fight, something we endure and struggle with every second we live as a Christian. But the blessed hope, the good news, the confident joy we can look to and claim is that “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” This life is not an existence like we now have and comprehend. This is life eternal, life free from the struggle we now fight against. An existence, a freedom that we will never even remotely understand or imagine until “that” day, the day when we are glorified. Sin has so clouded, shaped and warped our bodies, our minds, that even C. S. Lewis’ quote about the “…ignorant child making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea,” does not even scratch the surface of the gulf that the bondage of sin has created in us compared to the freedom that will be experienced by a Christians when we are transformed.
Oh, we don’t want to hear the word, “strive,” yet me must. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we must strive every second of our Christian existence to mortify the deeds of the body and become more Christlike. As Paul says, “And I am sure of this, that he (God the Father) who began a good work in you will bring it to completion (by the Holy Spirit) at the day of Jesus Christ.” It will be done.
As always, please feel free to comment, critique, question, and voice cares or concerns.
Until next time:
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Owen…not an easy read even for seminarians!