John Owen on Mortification of Sin (2)
November 30, 2016
Specific Directions for Mortification
Identify the Symptoms that Accompany a Lust
If the symptoms are deadly, the sin must be killed by special measures lest our lives end in hellish tragedy. A sin is deadly if it has become an established habit. When sin becomes rooted in our daily routines we have accepted it as part of us. A sin is deadly if it no longer stings our conscience. To casually dismiss sin under cover of God’s mercy is to turn the grace of our God into lewdness (Jude 4). A sin is deadly when its thought frequently becomes desire. Even without committing the act of sin, if we begin to love it the temptation has prevailed. A sin is deadly when one fights it only because of its penalties. If it is only law and not Christ’s love that restrains us from a sin (2 Cor. 7:1), that sin has conquered our affections and will. A sin is deadly when it is a punishment from God. God can harden our hearts toward sin as a punishment for neglecting to care for our souls (Is. 63:17). A sin is deadly when God has repeatedly warned us against it. If we habitually allow our sinful desires “to stifle conviction” we are “truly in a sad condition” (63).
Get a Clear Sense of the Sin that Troubles You
First, consider sin’s guilt. Sin downplays its guiltiness by darkening our minds so that we do not grasp its filthiness. Believers, therefore, must test sin’s evils against God’s love, mercy, grace, and assistance, remembering God’s great grief over the sins of his children.
Second, consider sin’s danger. Sin’s deceitfulness hardens our hearts (Heb. 3:12-13), weakens our assurance, and cripples our zeal. Sin can bring us under great chastisement. When God punished David’s sin, David lost his child, his reputation, and his peace (Ps. 89:32). Sin can sap our peace and strength. Abiding sin can cause us to finish our days dull to God’s kindness. Most dangerously, sin invites eternal ruin. In total sincerity God threatens with hell those who love sin (Heb. 3:12).
Third, consider sin’s present evil. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit whom God has given as a loving friend to cheer and guide us to glory. Sin wounds the Lord Jesus Christ who showed God’s great love for us by suffering in our place. Sin cancels our usefulness in this world.
Charge Your Conscience with Sin’s Guilt
First, consider indwelling sin in relation to God’s law. Believe that, because of your sin, you should drown under the unrelenting waves of God’s terror. Tremble before God’s throne of judgment, refusing to claim grace so long as you love sin.
Second, consider indwelling sin in relation to the gospel. “Look on him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you” (78). Consider God’s infinite patience and how often God has pulled you back from sin’s hardening. Reflect on God’s countless kindnesses to you.
As long as your conscience is able to justify your failure you will never kill sin.
“Do not let your heart be happy with your present condition, even for a moment” (81). In spiritual things the desire for “deliverance is in itself a grace which begins to conform the soul to the likeness of that which is longed for” (81). A heart that longs for deliverance from sin will “watch for all opportunities to gain advantage over its enemy” (82). “A strong desire sets faith and hope to work, and drives the soul in following hard after the Lord” (82).
Determine If Your Nature Is Fostering Your Sin
Our peculiar natures are prone to certain sins over others. Sins connected to our unique characters humble us as testimonies of our innate depravity. When sins stem from our dispositions we need to recognize Satan’s advantage and our need for diligence. Paul recognized and fought such sins by disciplining his body to keep it under control (1 Cor. 9:27).
Consider Sin’s Prior Deception
The Bible warns us to consider our ways, past and present (Hag. 1:5). What kind of company tempts us to sin? What physical circumstances leave us weak? What thoughts lead us down the wrong road? If we will not watch the path we are walking we cannot expect to conquer sin.
Fight Sin at its First Sign
Do not allow sin to gain the smallest ground. Do not fix boundaries for sin saying, “Thus far I shall go and no farther.” “James teaches that sin is progressive (James 1:14-15)” (86). An unclean thought desires to have you immerse yourself in folly and filth. “If sin gains grounds in your affections, so that you delight in it, your understanding will also come to think little of it” (86).
Humbly Meditate on Your Limitations
Meditate on God’s excellence and our distance from him and ignorance of him. Hearts that are humbled by God’s greatness are better framed to fight sin.
Like Moses we only see God’s back (Ex. 34:5-6). We cannot bear the rays of his glorious being. We know him only in part (1 Cor. 13:11). God’s ways are past finding out; he cannot be conquered by our knowledge. God is like the plain face of the sun. “He is not seen, not because he cannot be seen, but because we cannot bear the sight of Him” (93). We lack the right words to speak of God. Even words like “infinity, eternity,” and “Trinity” help us love and admire God, not fathom him. Everything we know of him, even in the saving light of his Son Jesus, is limited (1 Cor. 13:12). The gospel only unveils enough of God so that we can trust in him and begin to desire more of him.
Our own dullness to fully grasp God’s blazing majesty keeps us dependent on him and watchful of any behavior not suited to his glory.
Wait for the Spirit’s Assurance of Sin’s Death
Resist the urge to fabricate assurance of forgiveness. We are tempted to do so in a number of ways. First, we fabricate assurance when we do not yet hate the sin from which we seek relief. We must not assure ourselves of God’s mercy when we “keep the sweet morsel of sin under their tongue” (106). Second, we fabricate assurance when we claim God’s promises in a purely rational and superficial way. It is possible to hastily claim a biblical word of promise without sincerely trusting in God to heal our wounds. Third, we fabricate assurance when we claim forgiveness for one sin but remain unrepentant over others. We will only be at peace when we have an “equal respect for all of God’s commandments” (112).
By contrast, God’s children know, by a “secret instinct in faith” when Christ speaks pardon (John 10:27). When Christ enriches our souls, humbles and cleanses us, then we may know that sin is being killed.
Trust in Christ for Deliverance from Your Sin
Meditate on Christ’s provision for killing your sin. Remember that Christ came to give repentance (Acts 5:31). Know that no matter how weak we are, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). He can kill our enemies no matter their strength. He can renew our strength no matter our weakness. No matter how dry our souls are he can make rivers of living water come out of us (John 7:37-38).
Expect Christ to provide relief for your burden. Christ never fails those who expect his rescue. Christ is a merciful High Priest who pities us in our distress because he knows our weaknesses. Like the courses of sun, moon, and stars (Jer. 31:36) Christ is faithful to deliver promised help.
Place your hope in Christ’s death, blood, and cross. “Look upon him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, and dying” (128). He died to kill sin and to cleanse his people from sin’s every stain.
Trust in the Spirit for Deliverance from Sin
Trust in the Spirit to convict you of sin, to uncover its ugliness, and rebuke your defenses. Trust in the Spirit to reveal to you the fullness of Christ and his love for sinners. Trust in the Spirit to give you hope that Christ will grant relief from sin. Trust in the Spirit to bring the cross of Christ into your heart with its sin-killing power. Trust in the Spirit to be the author and finisher of your sanctification, despite your weak resolve. Trust in the Spirit to enable you to pray with sighs and groanings too deep for words (Rom. 8:26) through which you will find victory over your sin.