Mortification of Sin – Some Observations

Image result for john owenBefore I get into my reading of John Owen and his classic book, Mortification of Sin, I would like to make a few observations.

First, depending on the version or edition of this book that you either purchase, or download off the internet, it is approximately 70 to 90 pages long.  So, in book form it would be a rather small book to take up and read.  But, I would like to bring to your attention two factors about this.  First, Owen, at least to me, is incredibly hard to read.  His style of writing and his use of logic seems to be far removed from what is commonly available to those of us today.  Which leads me to my second observation.  This work is around 40,000 words, BUT……those words are a careful, logical, exacting exegesis of ONE sentence of scripture, Romans 8:13 – “If you mortify the deeds of the body, you will live.”

I am absolutely blown away when I consider the time and effort that Owen put into a carefully exposition of just a few words of Scripture.  Can you just imagine what it must have been like to sit through one of his sermons?  How could a man devote so much time to one small sentence of scripture when we think we are doing good to read a chapter or two a day, and make it to church on Sunday?  Oh, it’s easy for us to think that they had less distractions and more time than we do today.  I submit that the probably didn’t.  Want dinner?  You can pick it up on your way home from a fast food place if you are really in a hurry. Or, you can stop off at a grocery store and get some food.  In those days, you either worked daily to get your food, or you grew it and then went out and gathered it to make a meal.  Our modern conveniences make just that one aspect of life so much easier today than it was for the people in the time of John Owen.

No, I am convinced that Owen purposed to set aside time to not only write, but to study the Word  and to meditate on the mysteries of God.  That is something I know I am most definitely lacking in.  So, right from the beginning, I am already seeing some of the inadequacies in my own spiritual life compared to John Owen.  Areas where I let my mind and body dictate what I will do with my time.  So, as you can see, mortification is something that is surely needed by me.

But, I also want to point out that Paul, in writing the book of Romans, was writing to Christians.  He was writing to people who were saved. This brings up an issue that I feel is totally missed by many today.  How do we deal with those passages of Scripture that seem to deal with what I call “conditionality?”  You know, those “if/then” statements, kind of like “If you mortify the deeds of the body, you will live.”  Almost sounds like something YOU need to do.  And after much study, I do believe that it is something we need to do but I want to qualify that statement.  It is something we do, but only because we “…. are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1.  Because of our union with Christ as Christians, we have a desire to want to live Godly, holy lives.  We have a desire to mortify the deeds of the body.  But I also want to make it perfectly clear that I do not believe it is something we do in and of ourselves.  Nor is it something that I believe that we fully attain in this life.  Ephesians 2:10 makes this clear when we are told, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  It is the Holy Spirit who has sealed us “in Christ” that gives us the power to do those good works that God prepared for us to do.  And it is because we understand that we are “in Christ” that we want to do them.  If we understand who we are, who God is, and the fact that once we become a Christian, we are “in Christ,” we should want and desire more than anything to mortify the deeds of the body.

So, these are my introductory thoughts up to this point after reading, rereading, and then reading again, just the first chapter of Owen’s Mortification of Sin.  As always, any thoughts, comments, cares, concerns, letters to the editor, etc. are welcome, just keep it civil.

We Are Not Neutral

Chapter 1 of Jeff Johnson’s upcoming book.  Having read several of Jeff’s books (The Fatal Flaw & The Kingdom of God), I’m looking forward to this one when it comes out.

“Let’s buy it, dad!” These were the words that darted out of my mouth as soon as I saw the cool yellow truck with its custom rims and ground effects. Immediately I could proudly see myself driving it to school. Not only was it cool, I couldn’t believe it was in my price range. This could be mine, so I thought.

My father responded with the dreaded but predictable words, “We need to test drive it first.” Though this sounds only reasonable, you must realize that I was young and poor. My parents promised to help me buy my first vehicle by doubling all the money I earned over the summer. I worked hard, but only saved $900.00. And even back in the early nineties, you could not expect much for $1,800.00. The last thing I wanted was some grandma wagon.

So when I saw this customized truck, I was ready to pull the trigger without any investigation. In fact, I didn’t want to test drive it, for deep down I knew it was too good to be true. If we happen to discover its mechanical problems, I knew my father would stand in the way of me being cool. You see, I thought if we bought it before we learned that it needed repairs, though more money would be needed to get the thing running, the most important thing would be accomplished – I would have a respectable looking ride to show off to all my friends. The truth is, I didn’t want to know the truth, for I assumed that the truth would stand in the way of my happiness.

As you can imagine, when we opened the hood, it was missing half of its engine. Yep, too good to be true. I ended up with my dad’s old, brown, farm truck – dependable but no ground effects.

I realize now that I was willing to overlook all the blaring red flags and knowingly do something foolish because of my foolish pride. My emotions, my pride, and my inverted values hindered my judgment. I was not objective or rational because I did not want to be objective or rational.

Foolishness is living in opposition to what we know to be true. I am afraid this irrational condition and manner of thinking is universally prevalent in all of us. We are not merely irrational every now and then. Without God, we live in a state of irrationality.

Only irrational fools would consistently and practically deny that 2 + 2 = 4. Not only is the answer to this equation a part of common sense, it is easily demonstrable and highly useful. If a postmodern thinker practically rejects the absolute and universal principles of mathematics, he may applaud himself for being consistent with his relativistic worldview, but in the process his checkbook will be a total mess. Regardless of what we claim we believe about the laws of math, we cannot live consistently without practically submitting ourselves to them. For this and many other reasons it is intellectually difficult to deny the absolute and universal nature of mathematics.

The same is true concerning the truth of Scripture. Scripture does not merely provide a few isolated, unrelated, and discounted truths; it gives us the only complete and cohesive worldview that provides meaning and rationale to the universe. In other words, without the Bible, nothing makes sense in the grand scheme of things. As the Psalmist says, “In your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9).

Yet, if the Bible provides us with the only cohesive system of thought, why is it so hated and rejected by so many? If it is impossible to disprove the truth claims of the Bible, why is it so despised and ridiculed by some of the brightest and smartest minds? Do you want to know the truth? The truth is that if people loved the truth, they wouldn’t reject the truth. The problem is not that the truth is irrational, but that fallen man is not without his personal biases and foolish pride. As we shall see in this chapter, people are selfish by nature, and their selfishness is the controlling influence in how they feel, think, and behave.

Man is Not Neutral

The Bible describes this as depravity. Depravity is an inner heart condition that prevents us from loving any truth that is in opposition to our internal desire to be independent, free, and self-governing. Because we are born depraved, with a fallen nature, we hate the God of the Bible. We may love a god of our own imagination – a god that we can control. This is because we naturally want to be in control of our own destiny. If we want to go to heaven, then we can work our way there. If we want to go to Hell and hang out with our drinking buddies, then that is what we will do. But to lovingly submit every detail of our lives, thoughts, and beliefs to the absolute, sovereign God is not enticing in the least.

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I have read about half the books on this list and am at least familiar with the rest of these books and I agree wholeheartedly.

Veritas et Lux

Often I am asked, “What are the most influential books in your life?”  While the Bible is obviously the most influential book in my life, I offer twenty-five more that should be required reading for every Christ-follower.  Some titles do not include reviews, since I read these before my blogging days.

# 1 THE DOCTRINE OF GOD – John Frame

The most influential book in my life, outside of Scripture

# 2 TOTAL TRUTH – Nancy Pearcey

One of the most important books of the 21st century.

# 3  THE PLEASURES OF GOD – John Piper

This book taught me above all that God is delighted to be God.


An absolutely foundational book that deserves to be read and re-read.

# 5  DESIRING GOD – John Piper

See my review

My introduction to Christian hedonism.


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Mere Christianity

About 25 years ago I read The Screwtape Letters and thought it was a fantastic way of looking at spiritual warfare. In the years since I have often thought of reading more by C. S. Lewis, but for one reason or another, I never got around to it. About a month ago I purchased The Great Divorce and read it in 2 days. Again, I was struck by the ability of Mr. Lewis to weave a fictional tale in such a manner that I was left thinking about some really deep spiritual issues.

Now, before you get bent out of shape, understand that Mr. Lewis had a view of Theology that is quite different than mine. From what I have gathered, Lewis’ background was Anglican, yet he seems to have held to some interesting views. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones questioned his salvation and Dr. Bob Jones affirmed it. So, since I respect both men immensely, I’ll just have to leave the sorting of the issue up to God.

So, about two weeks ago, I started reading Mere Christianity. I will admit that it was a fascinating read. Lewis had a wonderful way of looking at things and then being able to put those thoughts into words. It was one of those books you read where you feel your thoughts expanding into areas you didn’t know were possible. It’s almost as if I can hear the voice of John Piper when he is preaching and talking about how your thoughts just soar when you think about the richness of the God that Lewis described in Mere Christianity.

Hopefully over the next few days I’ll be able to post on some of the things I read and how they lifted my thoughts of God to a higher level.

Bottom line, I would not call this book a “must read,” but as long as you are firmly grounded in proper Calvinistic Doctrine, I would say that it is a book you should read. You will definitely look at a few things differently after you read it.

Just Finished Reading…

I just finished reading Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy.  Talk about packing it in.  In just 138 pages he covers the narrative story line of the Old Testament.  Granted, Goldsworthy doesn’t go into a tremendous amount of depth, it is still a wonderful way to find a way to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, ok, it’s kind of the other way around.

While this book is a lot like being hit by a fast moving thunderstorm in that it comes and goes quickly, it is easily readable by both Pastor and Laity.  I do recommend a few breaks now and again to actually dig into the context of the OT passages Goldsworthy highlights as that is both refreshing and enlightening.

Bottom line, the OT is NOT a collection of moral stories that show us how to live today.  The OT points to Christ in that it shows the redeeming work of God in the lives of His people down through history as He deals with the world and with man.  Goldsworthy states, “…The biblical history (history-as-the-Bible-presents-it, rather than merely the history of Bible times) is therefore a part of God’s word to man.  God’s own interpretation of the events of biblical history makes known to us the purposes he is pursuing within this history.  It is this interpretation of the events as God’s events which give the Bible its character of divine revelation.  This is the consistent testimony of the Bible as it records how God speaks to man declaring his purposes and intentions, how he acts on the basis of his word, and how he then interprets the events by his word.  Thus we see, contrary to some modern interpretations, that God declares to Moses what he will do for Israel (free them from Egypt and give them Canaan) and on what basis he will do it (the promises to Abraham).  When the Exodus has taken place, God then declares: ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’ (Exodus 20:2).”

He goes on to say, “Now this purposive history not only reveals the mind of God; it also affects the way in which those thoughts are communicated.  The selection of events and the recording of details is governed by the theological meaning rather than by any military or political significance.  The theology controls the writing of the history.  The fact that God acts in the history of men and interprets his acts means that these historical events will form a pattern that relates to the purposes of God.  Biblical history is theological history.”

If we were to start looking at the OT as a theological history, God’s dealing with man in God’s place instead of wonderful moral stories, the cross of Christ would be so much richer because we would see all that was accomplished for us by God coming to earth as a man, living the perfect life that Israel could not do, and then by His death, purchasing for man the promised land that Israel never fully inherited, to use the Exodus motif.

I would give this book 4 1/2 stars out of 5 mainly because it is packed with depth in a short read and it is easily readable and understandable by all who call upon the name of Christ. While I would not recommend this book to those brand new in Christ with no prior Church background (but after 6-8 months of solid biblical teaching I think it should be read), I would recommend that all pastors and teachers of any local church who have not had much in the way of theological training pick this book up and give it a read.  I think it will cast a whole new light on the way you think about the OT and how you preach/teach.