Thoughts on Killing Sin from John Owen

Mortification of Sin in Believers

From Chapter 1

Rom. 8:13, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live;”

First, A duty prescribed: “Mortify the deeds of the body.”
Secondly, The persons are denoted to whom it is prescribed: “Ye,”—“if ye mortify.”
Thirdly, There is in them a promise annexed to that duty: “Ye shall live.”
Fourthly, The cause or means of the performance of this duty,—the Spirit: “If ye through the Spirit.”
Fifthly, The conditionality of the whole proposition, wherein duty, means, and promise are contained: “If ye,” etc.

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.

The body, then, here is taken for that corruption and depravity of our natures whereof the body, in a great part, is the seat and instrument, the very members of the body being made servants unto unrighteousness thereby, Rom. 6:19. It is indwelling sin, the corrupted flesh or lust, that is intended.

the mortification of indwelling sin remaining in our mortal bodies, that it may not have life and power to bring forth the works or deeds of the forth is the constant duty of believers.

The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.

From Chapter 2

He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, doth but half his work, Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1.

Sin doth not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still labouring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.

Who can say that he had ever any thing to do with God or for God, that indwelling sin had not a hand in the corrupting of what he did?

There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so whilst we live in this world.

Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.

Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head.

This is one main reason why the Spirit and the new nature is given unto us,—that we may have a principle within whereby to oppose sin and lust.

Not to be daily employing the Spirit and new nature for the mortifying of sin, is to neglect that excellent succour which God hath given us against our greatest enemy.

Not to be daily mortifying sin, is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who hath furnished us with a principle of doing it.

It is our duty to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Cor. 7:1; to be “growing in grace” every day, 1 Pet. 2:2, 2 Pet. 3:18; to be “renewing our inward man day by day,” 2 Cor. 4:16. Now, this cannot be done without the daily mortifying of sin. Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness, and against every degree we grow to. Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who doth not kill sin in his way takes no steps towards his journey’s end. He who finds not opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it.

The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. When a man hath confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

If vain spending of time, idleness, unprofitableness in men’s places, envy, strife, variance, emulations, wrath, pride, worldliness, selfishness, be badges of Christians, we have them on us and amongst us in abundance.

When a man hath confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

To use the blood of Christ, which is given to cleanse us, 1 John 1:7, Tit. 2:14; the exaltation of Christ, which is to give us repentance, Acts 5:31; the doctrine of grace, which teaches us to deny all ungodliness, Tit. 2:11, 12, to countenance sin, is a rebellion that in the issue will break the bones.

From Chapter 3

The Spirit kills sin by:

By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them.

By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin, for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away.

He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives us communion with Christ in his death, and fellowship in his sufferings: of the manner whereof more afterward.

He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” Phil. 2:13; he works “all our works in us,” Isa. 26:12,—“the work of faith with power,” 2 Thess. 1:11; Col. 2:12; he causes us to pray, and is a “Spirit of supplication,” Rom. 8:26, Zech. 12:10; and yet we are exhorted, and are to be exhorted, to all these.

He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.

Owen, John. The Works of John Owen. Ed. William H. Goold. Vol. 6. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. Print.

For a ‘cheat sheet’ on the book and various formats and locations for acquiring the book visit Fallen and Flawed.

You can also obtain a pdf of the modernized edition from Crossway here and a conceptual outline of the book here.

Also, as previously mentioned, Tim Challies is currently doing a readers club on the book. Join him to learn more and be encouraged in fighting sin.

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About Kevin M. Adams

M.Div.: Biblical Studies M.A.: Biblical Studies B.S.: Criminal Justice Diploma: Business Management 20 Years Youth Ministry 12 Years Food Service 9 Years School Teacher 7 Years Bus Driving 7 Years Church Planter/Pastor Enjoy Camping, Canoeing, Photography, Tennis (not good!), Reading
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