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.

 

Round Up

God’s Word Sanctifies, Not Private Revelation – “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” — John 17:17

Has ‘Authenticity’ Trumped Holiness – Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?

The Doctrine of Hell:  Apologetic Problems – For many people, the doctrine of hell presents an apologetic problem for Christians. Skeptics say that believing in hell is “morally reprehensible” and that the doctrine of hell makes God a “barbaric, moral monster, the worst being ever to exist.”

John MacArthur: The Infographic – Tim Challies has been releasing infographics for various topics which he calls Visual Theology.  This one is an interesting one on the accomplishments of a servant of God.

Quote:

The chief and principal ends for which the Holy Spirit is promised and received may be reduced to these four heads:—(1.) Regeneration; (2.) Sanctification; (3.) Consolation; (4.) Edification. There are, indeed, very many distinct operations and distributions of the Spirit, as I have in part already discovered, and shall yet farther go over them in particular instances; but they may be reduced unto these general heads, or at least they will suffice to exemplify the different manner and ends of the receiving of the Spirit. And this is the plain order and method of these things, as the Scripture both plainly and plentifully testifies: — (1.) He is promised and received as to the work of regeneration unto the elect; (2.) As to the work of sanctification unto the regenerate; (3.) As to the work of consolation unto the sanctified; and, (4.) As unto gifts for edification unto professors, according to his sovereign will and pleasure. – John Owen

A Prayer for Those Battling Sin

This is a prayer based on John Owens work The Mortification of Sin and was written by Kevin Halloran.  The original post can be found here.

Most Gracious Heavenly Father,

I come to you a needy and contrite sinner,
with no power on my own to put to death the deeds of the body.

Daily come to my aid making it my business
to mortify the indwelling power of sin in my life.

May I never attempt to mortify in my own strength,
forgetting that without Your Spirit my efforts will be in vain.

Lord, through Your Spirit help me put to death
the subtle and crafty strength of the enemy.

As I wake each day, give me strength to remember my task of killing sin,
and remember that sin will kill me if I do not kill it.

Keep me from ever letting up in my battle with sin,
knowing constantly that sin will take advantage.

Help my heart abound in grace that flows from your Spirit,
and destroy in my heart the consuming lust for sin.

Give me a life characterized by the mortification of sin,
and give me life, vigor and comfort
for my life and for that battle.

Lord, each day remind me to strive after total obedience,
and so weaken the power of sin upon my life.

Aid me to know the methods and occasions for sin’s success,
and to fight and contend constantly for holiness.

May I constantly be aware of the guilt, danger, and evil of sin,
knowing that without you, I fall into a seared conscience,
hardness of heart, and deception of my soul.

Lord grant that your holy law is always upon my mind,
so that it may guide me and cause me to fear you.

By the graces of Your Spirit,
implant humility to weaken pride,
purity of mind to cleanse uncleanness,
heavenly-mindedness to counter a love for this world.

May Your Spirit,
cause my heart to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh,
consume and expose the root of my sin,
bring the cross of Christ into my heart through faith.

For it is only by gazing at the grace displayed on the cross of Christ
that I will be able experience its sin killing power.

I pray this in the powerful name of Jesus Christ that is above every name,
AMEN.

Daily Roundup

Barack Obama an Apostle Like Jesus Christ? – As much as it boggles my mind, there are just some things in this life that you can’t make up.  This article is something I just can’t wrap my mind around.

Reflections on X – You can’t look in a mirror and at a mirror at the same time.  Thought provoking article that caused me to look at my own quilt.

John Owen’s Final Words – I can only hope that my final words in this life would be such as Owen’s.

Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine or Grape Juice – Something to read and think about.

Quote:

History is not a matter of indifference in a single religion, but Christianity itself is and creates a history. Precisely because it is the perfect, absolute, and definitive religion, it is and has to be a historical religion. The reason is that Christianity regards sin not as ignorance, which can easily be overcome by some enlightenment, but as an appalling power, which produces its effects throughout the cosmos; and over against this power it brings reconciliation and redemption in the deepest and broadest sense of those terms. It brings redemption from the guilt and the stain, from all the consequences of sin, from the errors of the intellect and the impurity of the heart, from the death of soul and body. It brings that redemption not only to the individual but also, organically, to the family and generations of families, to people and society, to humanity and the world. For that reason Christianity has to be a history, rooted in facts, producing facts. The facts are the skeletal system of Christianity; specifically, the cross and the resurrection of Christ are the two mainstays on which the Christian faith rests. When that gospel is preached purely, it always includes those facts; and when the preaching of that gospel is blessed and effects faith and conversion, then, in the religious experience of sin and grace, the divinity of this history is sealed. For if Christ did not die and was not raised from the dead, our faith is vain. Those facts, accordingly, are not events that took place at some time in the past and have now lost their significance. They do not stand between us and God, keeping us separate from him. “To the New Testament writers this concentration of faith upon the historic realities of redemption does not in the least interfere with its personal character as a direct act of trust in God and in Christ. The Person is immanent in the facts, and the facts are the revelation of the Person.” – Herman Bavinck

The Dead Still Speak

The steadfastness of the promises, and the sinfulness of staggering.

by John Owen

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.”

Rom. iv. 20.

In the first chapters of this epistle, the apostle, from Scripture and the constant practice of all sorts of men of all ages, Jews and Gentiles, wise and barbarians, proves all the world, and every individual therein, to “have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” — and not only so, but that it was utterly impossible that, by their own strength, or by virtue of any assistance communicated, or privileges enjoyed, they should ever attain to a righteousness of their own that might be acceptable unto God.

Hereupon he concludes that discourse with these two positive assertions:—

First, That for what is past, “every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God,” chap. iii. 19.

Secondly, For the future, though they should labour to amend their ways, and improve their assistances and privileges to a better advantage than formerly, “yet by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God,” verse 20.

Now, it being the main drift of the apostle, in this epistle, and in his whole employment, to manifest that God hath not shut up all the sons of men hopeless and remediless under this condition, he immediately discovers and opens the rich supply which God, in free grace, hath made and provided for the delivery of his own from this calamitous estate, even by the righteousness of faith in Christ; which he unfoldeth, asserteth, proves, and vindicates from objections, to the end of the 3d chapter.

This being a matter of so great weight, as comprising in itself the sum of the gospel wherewith he was intrusted, — the honour and exaltation of Christ, which above all he desired, — the great design of God to be glorious in his saints, — and, in a word, the chief subject of the embassage from Christ to him committed (to wit, that they who neither have, nor by any means can attain, a righteousness of their own, by the utmost of their workings, may yet have that which is complete and unrefusable in Christ, by believing); he therefore strongly confirms it in the 4th chapter, by testimony and example of the Scripture, with the saints that were of old; — thereby also declaring, that though the manifestation of this mystery were now more fully opened by Christ from the bosom of the Father, yet indeed this was the only way for any to appear in the presence of God, ever since sin entered the world.

To make his demonstrations the more evident, he singleth out one for an example who was eminently known, and confessed by all to have been the friend of God, — to have been righteous and justified before him, and thereon to have held sweet communion with him all his days; to wit, Abraham, the father according to the flesh of all those who put in the strongest of all men for a share in righteousness, by the privileges they did enjoy and the works they did perform.

Now, concerning him the apostle proves abundantly, in the beginning of the 4th chapter, that the justification which he found, Continue reading

Purity By Any Other Name, Or Holiness

For the past couple of weeks, I have been reading J. C. Ryles’ book Holiness.  It is a short read, at least my version is as it is only 200 pages, but when you take the intro and preface out of it, it comes down 10 pages to 190.  Having spent many years in Church’s that espoused holiness as a way of life, many times I found myself leaning to legalism and legalistic attitudes.  That has caused its own set of problems in my own life and in my relationships with others.  But over the last 4 years or so, I’ve learned a lot about grace, and that has changed me – in some ways, but in other ways, not so much.  With that last statement, an explanation might be in order.

How has my understanding of grace changed me?  Well, in a lot of ways, even though I still struggle, it has allowed me to see that just because I don’t feel it is right for me to do something does not make it wrong for someone else.  We all have to start somewhere in our walk, right?

On the other hand, there is an area I just can’t seem to get away from and that is what I call personal holiness.  I am only 15 pages into Ryle’s book and I am amazed at how authoritative he is in his definition of holiness.  In some ways it is almost like what we read about in the Gospel accounts when “the people were amazed at his teaching Continue reading