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.”

 

 

Round Up

Total Depravity Is A Deplorable Doctrine – I recognize the weight of the doctrine of “total depravity”, the first of John Calvin’s Five Points. It stresses the radical corruption of the human nature, rendering him incapable of exercising saving faith and repentance and obedience to God’s righteous commands. I understand it, and I hate it.

Christ Before Pilate –  [Pilate] might have guessed that this carpenter from Nazareth could make a table or a chair, but it never entered his mind that “by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him, and for Him.” PDF Document

The Missing Ingredient In Many Sermons – I have seen this in some otherwise terrific sermons. Guys can be exegetically sound, communicate with clarity, illustrate with profundity, and then at the end of the sermon it tastes like grandma’s meatloaf: somewhat filling but not so memorable.

Five Truths About The Wrath Of God – We live in a day where we have set ourselves as the judge and God’s character is on trial. “How can hell be just?” “Why would God command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites?” “Why does God always seem so angry?”

Quote:

I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if you do not hinder it. I beseech you, be not an unseasonable kindness to me. Suffer me to be eaten by the beasts, through whom I can attain to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread of Christ…. I long for the beasts that are prepared for me, and I pray that that may be found prompt for me. I will even entice them to devour me promptly…. Let there come on me fire and cross and struggles with wild beasts, cutting and tearing asunder…. Cruel tortures of the devil, may I but attain to Jesus Christ. – Ignatius

Church SHOULD Be Boring!

I came across the following article and I could not agree more.  As one who walked away from the praise band of a “church” that prided itself on being exciting, relevant and progressive, I want to thank you, Todd Bordow, for saying what I have been thinking for a long time and what led me away from an “exciting” church to a church that does not coddle the goats, but feeds the sheep!

If the cross of Christ is foolishness to those perishing (I Cor. 1:18), shouldn’t a worship service be the most boring thing imaginable to those the Spirit is not bringing to Christ or has not already brought to Christ? Either the simple truths of the cross are glorious, or foolish; worth as much as the greatest treasure, or worthless for usefulness in everyday life. When churches try to make worship interesting, fun and relevant, are they not implicitly admitting that the cross of Christ needs help to excite people, that the gospel is really not enough? Admittedly preachers can boor genuine believers with poor organizational and communication skills, but churches should not try to change the message or simple medium of direct communication (preaching) to make the service any less “boring” to those who complain of such things, less they deny the heavenly power of the gospel to save and strengthen God’s people. When people complain about our services being too boring for them, whether they want more politics, social commentary, entertainment, or legalistic rules, that is not always a bad thing. It could be you are refusing to coddle them with earthly substitutes for heavenly manna, manna which only tastes delicious to those with eyes of faith. So hang in there – being boring isn’t always a bad thing!

Melchizedek – A Sermon By Todd Bordow

Have you ever been in a situation where someone or something wears you down to the point of giving in; a situation where someone pushes you and pushes you and pushes you; you know you shouldn’t give in, but you begin feeling the weight of the constant pressure; you feel like giving in just to relieve that pressure?

If you have ever felt that way, then you know how the Christians in Rome were feeling at the time the Book of Hebrews was written. The Book of Hebrews was written to believers who were beginning to cave in from the unceasing pressure of being Christians. Surprisingly, the most relentless pressure was not coming from the Roman authorities, but from the Jewish community.

The Romans had always considered the Christian church a sect within Judaism, so they cared little about the church’s differences with the Jews when it began. But the Jews were greatly offended at these Christians and what they were claiming.

The newly formed Christian church, made up of Jews and Gentiles, had the audacity to claim that they were the true descendants of Abraham; they were the true Israel! Even more, they had the audacity to claim that they were the ones who understood the Old Testament, while the unbelieving Jews were blind to its meaning. Imagine a bunch of white Americans in Iran claiming that they were the true Muslims; that they were the ones who truly understood the Koran. Do you think they would be in trouble?

The Jews attacked the Christians on two fronts; politically and intellectually. Politically the Jews were appealing to the Roman authorities; accusing the Christians of not being a sect of Judaism, but a dangerous cult that must be persecuted. The Romans, not wanting to upset the Jews, began putting Christians in jail and taking away their property. Even so, the young Christians did not give in; they joyfully accepted their plight, considering it a badge of honor to suffer for the Lord.

But the pressure kept coming. Compounding the political pressure was the relentless intellectual attacks. The Jews were constantly challenging the Christians about their claim to be Abraham’s children, as well as other challenges. How can you Christians claim God is with you in your little upper room worship services, when we Jews worship at the glorious temple in Jerusalem, as the Bible commands? How can you Christians claim to be Abraham’s children, when most of you men have not even received circumcision, as was required of all Abraham’s male descendants?

After a while the pressure got to these new believers. They were tired and weak; some of the Jewish arguments began to sound convincing. The Book of Hebrews was written to these beleaguered Christians ready to throw in the towel. Some of those believers had stopped attending worship because of the pressure; others were beginning to say, “Maybe the Jews are right; maybe we should just join the synagogue and be done with it.”

One of the Jewish challenges that seemed to have struck a cord among the Christians was the challenge to their claim that Jesus Christ was a priest. Not only was he a priest, said the Christians, he was the true and final high priest who eternally represents us before God, which means the entire Old Testament priestly system had been abolished.

The Jews had what seemed to be a powerful argument.  You Christians say you believe the Old Testament; and you say that Jesus was the final priest. But according to the Old Testament, only the sons of Levi were allowed to be priests. Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi; he was from the tribe of Judah. Therefore Jesus cannot be a priest according to the Old Testament, which you claim to believe.  The Book of Hebrews arrived just at the right time. The inspired author was well aware of this Jewish challenge to the faith, so in chapter 7 he addresses this specific challenge from the Jews.

It is true, Christ was not from the tribe of Levi, and it is true, the Mosaic Law required priests to be from Levi. But Christ was a priest according to a higher order than Levi, the order of Melchizedek. This argument the Jews would not have expected; after all, Melchizedeck appears so briefly on the pages of Scripture.

But the Christians were not to overlook the significance of this brief appearance in Genesis 14 of Melchizedeck. While the Levitical priests of Israel typified, or pictured, the eternal priesthood of Jesus, there was one man in Scripture who even more pictured the priesthood of Jesus, and that man was Melchizedek. The inspired author then lists the different ways Melchizedeck was a greater priest than the Levitical priests.

For example, when Melchizedek met Abraham as Abraham was returning from his military victory, Abraham honored Melchizedeck as one greater than himself. Moses never honored Aaron the priest as greater than himself. But Abraham gave a tenth of all his spoils to Melchizedek.

And consider his name; Melchizedeck, king of Salem. The word, “Melchizedek” means, “king of righteousness,” and Salem means “peace.”  What Levitical priest was ever called a king of righteousness and peace? More than all the Jewish priests, this Gentile priest pictured Jesus who also was a king; a king who conferred righteousness and peace to his people.

And consider Melchizedek’s pedigree; v. 3. What family did Melchizedeck come from that legitimatized his ordination as a priest? The Bible does not give his pedigree. He just appears out of nowhere. If you were going to be a priest in Israel you needed to prove you were from the Tribe of Levi. But Genesis says nothing about Melchizedek’s father, or mother, or family lineage. In this sense he resembles the Son of God, who came down from heaven without any earthly pedigree as priest, but was anointed a priest by God himself.

It is not that Melchizedeck himself was a heavenly being, as some in the early church suggested, but Scripture purposely leaves out his earthly qualifications to be a priest to present him as a Christ figure with a higher authority than the Levitical priests.

In vv. 4-9, the author of Hebrews dares suggest that when Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, all Israel was represented in Abraham, thus all Israelites, including all the Jewish priests to come, were honoring Melchizedek as greater than they. The Jews certainly wouldn’t have been thrilled with that suggestion.

Even more, there is that one verse in Psalm 110. In Psalm 110 the Lord promised to raise up an eternal priest for his people, and that priest would not be from the family of Levi, but one like Melchizedeck. If the one like Melchizedeck has indeed come, then there is no more need for the priestly system of Moses.

In a few brief verses from Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, the inspired author completely destroys the Jews’ argument that Jesus, because he was not descended from Levi, cannot be a true priest that can represent us before God. At the same time, the Christians are encouraged at how the Lord Jesus fulfills all the Old Testament Scriptures.

Let me close with two points about this text. The theologians of the first four centuries are often criticized for their allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament. Some of them were not sure what to do with Melchizedek, so they suggested he himself was Jesus Christ appearing briefly as a man. This is not a good interpretation, for Melchizedek could not be a type of Christ if he himself was Christ. But modern Christians too quickly dismiss these theologians of the early church, almost laughing them off.

While you may not agree with all their conclusions, you must understand the convictions driving them. If you do, you will have far more appreciation for their contributions. You see, the theologians of the first few centuries were convinced that the entire Bible, not just the New Testament, was about Jesus Christ and his gospel. If the inspired writer of Hebrews can get so much theology about Christ from a few obscure verses in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, then Christ must be everywhere.

Now, in their zeal to find Christ in the OT, they sometimes went too far; they tended to see types and allegories where they were none. But I would take their conviction of the Christ-centeredness of the Bible over all the moralistic sermons and teachings in our day from the Old Testament. The early church was so enraptured by the person of Christ that in their minds he must be the subject of every Scripture, to which we should give a hearty “amen.”

Which brings us to our final point. In the Book of Hebrews, you have the antidote to the pressure and temptation to cease walking with God. Wherever your pressure comes from, whether from another person, a difficult situation, or the inner turmoil of your soul, the Book of Hebrews presents one consistent answer to such temptation, and that answer is to consider the glory of Jesus Christ, your Savior. Consider Jesus.

Hebrews chapter 1; consider Jesus, who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature. Consider Jesus, adored and worshiped by the angels, he who had no beginning or end, who always was.

Chapter 2; consider Jesus, whose gospel is the final word from God, a word that secures judgment on all those who refuse its offer. Consider Jesus, who for our salvation was made lower than the angels, who was crowned with glory and honor when he rose from the dead; who partook of our flesh and blood that with divine sympathy he as our priest can intercede for us to a holy God.

Chapter 3; consider Jesus, who was greater than Moses; who through his work of redemption has secured for you the heavenly Sabbath rest promised from the beginning of creation.

Chapter 4; consider Jesus, whom all men will stand before on Judgment Day, whose piercing eyes will penetrate the consciences of all who do not trust in him, so that they will cry out in agony as the blinding light of Christ’s gaze pierces their souls and condemns their hearts.

Chapter 5; consider Jesus, who because of his perfect righteousness fulfilled the covenant of works for us; who is the source of eternal salvation to all who believe in him.

Chapter 6, consider Jesus; who will extract the most fierce vengeance upon those fake Christians who profess Christ but secretly live in unbelief, thinking they are safe.

Chapter 7; consider Jesus, who because he lives forever is the only one qualified to serve as our mediator between God and man; who through his own tears of suffering, obeyed every last command of God that he may grant you his perfect righteousness so you could be fit for glory.

Chapter 8: consider Jesus, who has abolished the old covenant and brought about a new covenant on more secure promises, a new covenant that unlike the old is unbreakable, so much so that if you are in Christ that even your sin cannot turn God away from his commitment to save you eternally.

Chapters 9&10: consider Jesus, whose blood did what all the blood of the sacrifices could never do; cleanse your conscience from dead works and make you alive to God; whose death once for all paid for every sin you ever committed or will commit; who abolished the Jewish temple because through faith in him you are received into God’s heavenly temple, in which the temple in Jerusalem was only a copy.

Chapter 12, consider Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who endured such hostility and pressure from sinners, more than you could experience in a million lifetimes, all for your salvation. And through faith in Jesus, wherever you gather to worship, you come to the heavenly Mt. Zion where the angels, and saints who have died, gather and worship. Remember that Jesus who you worship is a consuming fire, worthy of all reverence and awe.

And chapter 13; consider Jesus, our great shepherd, who by the blood of the eternal covenant equips you with everything good so that you can do his will; that which is pleasing in his sight, to whom be glory forever.

Congregation, when the pressure is on and you feel like compromising or giving in, consider Jesus.

 

Original can be found here.

A Sermon That Should Never Be Preached

Any sermon which leaves sinners looking at themselves, their works, their feelings, their achievements, their failures, their sins, or even their faith, rather than looking to Christ, ought never to have been preached. The object of preaching is to turn the eyes of sinners to the sinners’ Substitute. – Don Fortner

The Work Of Union With Christ

Here is a profound and thought provoking quote from the forthcoming book Christ Our Life by Michael Reeves:

When Christians define themselves by something other than Christ, they poison the air all round. When they crave power and popularity and they get it, they become pompous, patronizing, or simply bullies. And when they don’t get it they become bitter, apathetic or prickly. Whether flushed by success or burnt by lack of it, both have cared too much for the wrong thing. Defining themselves by something other than Christ, they become like something other than Christ. Ugly.

Our union with Christ thus has deep plough-work to do in our hearts. It automatically and immediately gives us a new status, but for that status and identity to be felt to be the deepest truth about ourselves is radical, ongoing business. That is the primary identity of the believer, though, and the only foundation for truly Christian living. For our health, our joy and fellowship, then, we must take up arms against the insidious idea that we have any identity — background, ability or status — more basic than that of sharing the Son’s own life together before the Father.

A Letter From John Newton

‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ are apparently pseudonyms for unnamed persons being referenced in this letter.

“First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear”. Mark 4:28

Dear Sir,

(c) The Cowper and Newton Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationBy way of distinction, I assigned to ‘A’ the characteristic of desire, to ‘B’ that of conflict. I can think of no single word more descriptive of the state of ‘C’ than contemplation. His eminence, in comparison of ‘A’, does not consist in the sensible warmth and fervency of his affections: in this respect many of the most exemplary believers have looked back with a kind of regret upon the time of their espousals, when, though their judgments were but imperfectly formed, and their views of Gospel truths were very indistinct, they felt a fervor of spirit, the remembrance of which is both humbling and refreshing; and yet they cannot recall the same sensations. Nor is he properly distinguished from ‘B’ by a consciousness of his acceptance in the Beloved, and an ability of calling God his Father; for this I have supposed ‘B’ has attained to.

Though, as there is a growth in every grace, ‘C’, having had his views of the Gospel, and of the Lord’s faithfulness and mercy, confirmed by a longer experience, his assurance is of course more stable and more simple, than when he first saw himself safe from all condemnation. Neither has ‘C’, properly speaking, any more strength or stock of grace inherent in himself than ‘B’, or even than ‘A’. He is in the same state of absolute dependence, as incapable of performing spiritual acts, or of resisting temptations by his own power, as he was at the first day of his setting out. Yet in a sense he is much stronger, because he has a more feeling and constant sense of his own weakness. The Lord has been long teaching him this lesson by a train of various dispensations; and through grace he can say, that he has not suffered so many things in vain. His heart has deceived him so often, that he is now in a good measure weaned from trusting to it; and therefore he does not meet with so many disappointments. And having found again and again the vanity of all other helps, he is now taught to go to the Lord at once for “grace to help in every time of need.” Thus he is strong, not in himself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

But C’s happiness and superiority to ‘B’ lies chiefly in this, that, by the Lord’s blessing on the use of means—such as prayer, Continue reading