Mortification of Sin Chapter 1 – Part 1

John OwenDid 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:

  1. A duty prescribed, “Mortify the deeds of the body.”
  2. The persons to whom the duty is prescribed, “If you mortify.”
  3. The promise or reward attached to the duty, “You shall live.”
  4. What is the cause or means of the performance of this duty, “If you through the Spirit.”
  5. 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.”



Mortification of Sin – A Beginning

Image result for john owenJeremiah 6, verse 14, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” This verse, in its context deals with the nation of Israel and their turning away from the commands of the Lord.  But a closer reading finds that this is chiefly directed at the leaders of the nation, those charged with teaching the nation the commands of the Lord.  Looking back at verse 13, we see that the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, condemns them all, “from the least to the greatest.”  All of them dealt falsely, there was no justice in them.  Micah 6:8 reveals that the Lord “required justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”  These were not suggestions that the nation of Israel could take or leave, they were commands that were to be obeyed.  Because the leaders in Jeremiahs time were soft on sin, the entire nation slowly fell into corruption.  Much can be said of a comparison to the times we live in.

Now, I know that some will say that we live in the age of grace and the nation of Israel was under the law and hasn’t Christ freed us from the bondage of the law? Yes He has. But if you think that the law was abolished and done away with, then I suggest that you do not know much about the holiness, righteousness and justice of the sovereign God of heaven, not to mention the fact that He doesn’t change.  Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God, through the mystery of our union with Christ, has ordained that we walk in good works.  Works that He ordained before the foundation of the world.

What are these good works?  Justice, love, mercy, humbleness, compassion, gentleness……and the list could go on and on and on.  Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of God, he came to fulfill it, something we in our sinful nature could never do.  If we have been saved, truly saved, we will realize that not only do we abhor sin, but we want to fulfill the Law.  That is God writing His law on our heart!  Will you or I succeed in fulfilling God’s law?  Not in this life.  Oh, and on a side note, I have met people who have told me that they do find a way to fulfill God’s law on a regular and consistent basis.  I even had one gentleman tell me, without even batting an eye or showing any shame whatsoever, that he could go days without sinning.  Pffffff…….  That is a man who has no idea the depth of his sin, nor the holiness of God.

So, if we do know God, we will get a sense of His holiness and the depth of our sin and realize that there is a great gulf that no human could ever cross in his own works.  It is only in Christ’s absolute obedience to the entire Law of God, and his death on the cross, where Gods just wrath was poured out, to the last drop, on his Son, that the gulf that separated us from God was bridged.  Because of that perfect sacrifice, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When this “peace with God” floods our soul, it isn’t long before we realize that while we have peace with God, a battle still rages.  That battle is sin.  Unfortunately it has been my observation that many pastors, and laity as well, do nothing to look into the battle with sin.  Instead, pithy little slogans are preached, “Let go and let God,” or “it’s ok, no one is perfect,” or “just be controlled by the Spirit.” But in the end, if we truly understand the scriptures, we will understand that as a new creature, a new creation, we WILL bring forth fruit.  Using the analogy in John 15, Christ is the vine who will supply the life giving nutrients for the fruit that we will bear. Fruit will be born of us, but it will not be “our” fruit, but we will be the conduit through which Christ displays that fruit.  And at this point, it’s easy to say, “well then, sir, all I have to do is let God do the work.” Yes, you do, but Christ also said that we are to strive to enter the narrow gate in Luke 12:24.  We are to strive to overcome all sinful tendencies, which will show the world who we belong to.

Having dwelt on this for quite some time, I have come to the conclusion that sin, in my own life, is a putrid, horrific thing.  And yes, I use words that put sin in a very bad light, but, since I am surrounded by nothing but sin, I cannot even begin to grasp the utter sinfulness of sin as seen from God’s perspective. Paul himself could find no worse word for sin, than sin, see Romans 7:13.  Yet, when was the last time you heard a sermon or a preacher talk about sin, and it’s sinfulness?  When did you last read the Bible and fall under conviction of the horrendous nature of the sin in your own heart when held up to the righteousness of God through His Word?  We take sin so lightly.  We “heal the wounds of the people lightly,” which was the exact same case in Jeremiahs day.

This is why I consider Owen to be so important and I have embarked on this journey. My hope is that I will better understand the holiness of God, His righteousness, His perfections, as well as see the depths of the sin my flesh wallows in and desires.  Am I saved?  Most assuredly yes!  Am I perfect?  Yes, and no…….  Perfect in that I am Justified and because of Christs active and passive obedience, I am one with Him.  But on the other hand, imperfect in this life because I am captive to this fleshly, sin craving body and have not yet been glorified, Romans 8:28-30.  Sanctification has happened, is happening, and will ultimately happen, which is another way of saying, I was saved at a point in time, I am being saved daily, and I will ultimately be saved either when Christ returns, or when I die.  So, I need the Gospel every day, every minute, every second, and I need to strive by the power of the Holy Spirit to “be killing sin, or sin will be killing me,” to paraphrase one of Owen’s most famous quotes.

Also, as I blog through my study of The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, I want to mention that I am using the work that Owen originally wrote, as well as supplementing that with another book, Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  As my pastor has said about his preaching, you preach from the overflow of the sources you study, I will be using other sources to clarify and better grasp this important work of Owen.  I will try and make sure I provide citations and references to them when I use them.


As I Take Up John Owens

John OwenI have read bits and pieces of John Owen over the years, but I’ve decided to systematically read through his Mortification of Sin in Believers and while I was grabbing an online version, I ran across something that really piqued my interest about marking up books.  Now, lest you think I don’t do this already, please be assured that I do mark up not only my Bible, but many of the books I read.  I just thought it was rather odd that I did this, only to find out I may not be all that “odd,” well, in that sense anyway.  But I want to share with you an excellent article by Demian Farnworth called How to Absorb a Book into Your Bloodstream.  It is certainly worth your time to read this little article, and then put it into practice if you do not already have a system in place.

I also hope to systematically share some of my thoughts on Owen’s work over the next few months here on the blog, so, if you want to follow along, please consider it.  Mortification of sin is an often overlooked area of preaching and teaching in churches today and I must admit, I have heard very few sermons on this subject.  So I hope to become more familiar not only with Owen, but also better acquainted with the sinfulness of my heart and mortifying the sin that dwells within.



Secret Sins in the Light of God’s Countenance

What you think of God shapes your whole world-view. For one thing, if you have a low view of God, you’ll have a higher view of yourself than you ought to have, and that’s the sin of pride. So how we think about God has major practical ramifications.” – Phil Johnson

While traveling this week, I took the opportunity to listen to this sermon by Phil Johnson.  It is an excellent treatise on secret sin and I highly recommend you listen to it.  It has also been transcribed and if you prefer to read it and ponder over it, you can do that here.

Loosing Site of Sin

What follows is an article from The Banner of Truth Website and the original post can be found here.

I was reading recently some words of George Swinnock (a mid seventeenth century Puritan) that seemed (at least to me) to describe twenty-first century evangelical Christianity: “We take the size of sin too low, and short, and wrong, when we measure it by the wrong it doth to ourselves, or our families, or our neighbours, or the nation wherein we live; indeed, herein somewhat of its evil and mischief doth appear; but to take its full length and proportion, we must consider the wrong it doth to this great, this glorious, this incomparable God. Sin is incomparably malignant, because the God principally injured by it is incomparably excellent” (Works Vol.4.456, Banner of Truth). Swinnock, of course, is saying no more than the Bible itself says. The ultimate tragedy of sin is not that it spoils my life, disrupts my relationships, scars my world, but that it dishonours, defies, and disgraces my God!

This is a truth, a most basic and elementary truth, that our present generation has all but lost sight of. Sin, if it is mentioned at all, is conceived of almost wholly in self-referential terms. It is described in terms of its “psychological pains and its relational disruptions.” And truly sin does produce deep psychological pains and relational disruptions. The heart and horror of sin, however, is not its effect on me, but its effect on God, “the incomparably excellent” God. This is remarkably highlighted in Psalm 51:4: King David had been deeply convicted of his sin by conspiring to have Uriah murdered. And yet, when he comes to cry to God for mercy, David prays, “Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” David is not denying his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, his own family, God’s Church. He is, however, telling himself, and us, that the true horror of sin is that it is against God. Sin’s ultimate tragedy can only be defined theologically, not psychologically nor relationally.

This is a truth the evangelical church needs to be reacquainted with in our day. We live in a self-referential culture. The Church, rightly, wants to minister the gospel of God’s grace and love into this culture. The ever present danger facing us is that we contour the Bible’s teaching on sin to suit the felt needs of this culture. This is what “Alpha” seeks to do. The initial concern of Alpha was laudable: How can we best reach the unchurched pagans in our society with the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ? I, for one, deeply admire that desire, and am rebuked by it. But when you look carefully at Alpha, it basically seeks to present sin almost solely as a psychological, personal and social disrupter. And sin is such a disrupter. It is the root of all the evils in this world, personal and global. But until men and women are helped to see that the horror of sin is that it is against God, and makes you his enemy (Romans 5:10), Jesus Christ will never be seen for what he most essentially is, the One sent from God and by God to reconcile us to God, deliver us from the coming wrath, and fit us for eternal fellowship with God. The root of all our ills is our sin-ruptured relationship with the living God.

Many of the great theologians of the Christian Church have called sin “Deicidium,” literally “God murder!” Is that how you and I think of sin? We can so easily lose the felt sense, if not the theological fact, of the sinfulness of sin. If we do, we end up talking about sin in ways that sit easily with our culture. And, when we speak of sin only in self-referential and therapeutic terms, moral responsibility diminishes proportionately. Is there not an obvious connection between the loss of the theological dimension of sin and the moral collapse at the heart of professing evangelicalism?

Where does all this leave us? Not simply parroting what the Puritans preached four centuries ago. They were men of their times; they understood the times they lived in – and so must we. We must labour to speak relevantly into this culture. Paul’s address in Athens (Acts 17) is perhaps a model for us in many ways. We need to speak to people where they are, not where we would like them to be. We need to be less concerned with “success” and more concerned with “faithfulness.” We need to cultivate Paul’s confidence: “…we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” One of our great challenges is to commend the gospel relevantly without becoming gimmicky. This is easier said than done, but do it we must.

Where then do we start? With Sin? No. With God! Let me end, as I began, with some words from George Swinnock: “should this God of glory appear to thee…and show thee a glimpse of his excellent glory…should he discover to thee but a little of that greatness which the heavens and heaven of heavens cannot contain…of those perfections that know no bounds…what wouldst thou then think of Sin?” If we are to see sin for what it truly is, we must first come to see God as he truly is. And so Thomas Goodwin wrote, “if thou wouldst see what sin is, go to mount Calvary” – because there, we see God as he most truly is. The cross of Christ is the glory and the measure of everything.

Ian Hamilton

On 12th December at Westminster Chapel Ian Hamilton is speaking on “The Puritan Doctrine of Sin and the Wrath of God.”