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John Owen's On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Part 2

John Owen's On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Part 2

June 11, 2003 | Andy Davis
Romans 8:13
War Against the Flesh

 See how treasuring Christ and his word blasts through sin's siege engines suffocating your spiritual life. 

- Class Transcript - 

We are looking at the topic where overall ACTS study is Puritan classics, and there's so many that would fit that description. We could be 20 years or more, but we zeroed it in on some that were going to be of immediate practical help to you, I think. And one that's been a great blessing to me is John Owen's On the Mortification of Sin in Believers. Now, we covered generally last time what this was, the mortification of sin is what? Those of you that are here last time and were paying attention and feel comfortable speaking in front of a throng like this. Putting to death sin- putting sin to death. And that is what we're called to do. The key verse on that first page is Romans 8:13. This is an essential verse in the Christian life. It says in the New American Standard, it says, "If you are living according to the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." King James actually has the mortify verb in it, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." So, this is mortification (book sales pitch, laughter).

Anyway, this is the key text, Romans 8:13. This is such a vital topic, isn't it? Because I think so many people in evangelical churches misunderstand the nature of the essential nature of the Christian life. They don't understand that having prayed the sinner's prayer, they are now engaged in a lifetime battle against sin. They're going to be fighting, they're going to be at war the rest of their lives. And those that even know that- all of us to some degree I think, underestimate the fierceness, the ferocity of that warfare.

And we are frequently victimized by our ignorance and by our underestimation of how vicious is this fight against sin. So, my goal is to rouse up within you a sense of desire and commitment to put sin to death. That you should be fighting sin at all times, and that justification does not in any way free you from responsibility in this matter. You must be putting sin to death. Now, we talked about this at great length last time. I don't want to just give that same lecture last time. You can listen to the tape. We've defined mortification, we've talked about it, putting sin to death, and we've talked about the promise that comes with it, "You shall live." On page 3 we unfolded in chapter 2 of Owen's book that it is the duty of the best believers, and that there's an evil of neglecting this duty.

One thing that I want to emphasize before we go on, yes, page 2, key doctrinal conclusion, "The choicest believers who are assuredly free from the condemning power of sin ought to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin." So even if you are absolutely the most mature Christian in this room, you'd probably know better than any of us how important it is to be mortifying the deeds of the flesh. Okay? You must be putting sin to death. At the bottom of page 2, another key statement, "The vigor, power and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh." Do you see that? Vigor, power and comfort depend on this. If you are not putting sin to death, you'll not be vigorous, nor will you have a sense of the power of God, nor will you have any comfort in your Christian life.

And I would add another that he doesn't list here but talks about later, fruitfulness. You will not be fruitful in your Christian life. You'll be useless to God if you do not put sin to death. So, I hope I have your attention. You can see very, very much how important and how essential is this mortification. Alright, page 2. He says it is the duty of the best believers, and there is an evil in neglecting this duty. Everybody must be doing it. This is for Christians; this is for Christians. Even those who are born again, who have died, and their life is now hidden with Christ in God. Even those for whom it has said there is therefore now no condemnation. For those we are talking about, these are the ones who must be putting sin to death. We must be active, and we've seen that it is necessary because sin is alive and well in us. Sin is here now, it's within us. Not only does sin live within us, but it is active. It's not a dormant virus, it's an active virus. It's aggressive. It's coming after us. It has our death in mind. And so, I love this statement from Owen on page 4, "When sin leaves us alone, we may leave sin alone."

Did sin leave you alone today? No, I didn't have that experience. Maybe some of you may have felt that sin left you alone. But even then, I would not be convinced that it was true because sin is very devious and tricky. Is it not? So, you might think that sin left you alone, but I think the days very much that I think that sin has left me the most alone is the days sin was most active in me, because sin is tricky and deceptive this way. So, sin lives in us but is active. And we must put sin to death. Because not only is sin in us, and not only is sin active and alive and moving, but sin if left alone will press us on to absolutely devastating, destructive, shameful soul-destroying sins. The stakes are huge, and we've seen it happen sadly in others.

"Because not only is sin in us, and not only is sin active and alive and moving, but sin if left alone will press us on to absolutely devastating, destructive, shameful soul-destroying sins. The stakes are huge, and we've seen it happen sadly in others."

We have seen the effects of sin in others, and we don't want, very much don't want to be part of this great, cursed, scandalous and soul-destroying sins. We don't want to get on the train if we don't want to end up where that train ends up at its final destination. Why even begin in a direction that you don't want to end up at its final destination. And it is part of sin's deceptiveness that it conceals from you at all times where it is intending to take you. It's not saying, oh, I want you to know that the end of this will be the ruin of your marriage, of your home, and of your life and everything you hold dear. It doesn't come to us that way, does it? Instead, it causes us to focus on other things. Also, this is the reason why the Spirit is given to us that we might put sin to death.

Negligence, I'm on page 5, in this duty, contradicts the gradual transformation Paul describes in 2 Corinthians. In other words, that we are outwardly wasting away, but inwardly we're renewed day by day. The order is reversed if we don't put sin to death. Outwardly, we're growing sleek and fat and comfortable, but inwardly we're wasting away day after day because we're not putting sin to death. And so, there's other verses. Now are people doing this? Well in Owen's day he said, I don't think so, not the way they should. He looked around in his day and saw that there was a great deficiency in this matter of putting sin to death. I think we can see the same thing today. You've heard those statistics about the church compared to the world concerning divorce or their views on abortion, premarital sex, all of these markers, barometers of spiritual health. We don't do very well, do we?

And some put the blame at a faulty gospel that's proclaimed, and people pray the prayer, but they're not really converted. I think that's valid. But some might also be that they're genuinely converted people, but they just are ignorant in this matter of the mortification of the deeds of the flesh. And so, they're living very much like the world around them. Now what (on page 6), what evils attend every mortified professor, that is somebody claiming to be a Christian? This is one of the things you learn about Puritan language. You start to learn a new vocabulary and the word "professor" does not mean what you think it means. It means somebody claiming to be a Christian. So, when you see that word, it means somebody claiming to be Christian. In himself, you will have small thoughts of sin, you'll underestimate it. You'll think sin is no big deal. It really is no big deal, sin. And I like this quote here on page 6: "The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. You can swallow it, you can drink it down, and it doesn't cause you any bitterness. Well, that's the root of not putting it to death. So, it is. Also to others, it hardens them and they deceive them." What do we mean by that? For somebody who's not willing to do the work, to put sin to death, you're going to have a negative effect on people around you. They'll be hardened by looking at you. And you'll deceive them into thinking that the Christian life is something other than it really is: a life of warfare, of putting sin to death. Okay, chapter 3, what is the work of the Spirit and mortification? The great sovereign cause of all true mortification is and must ever be the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

"The great sovereign cause of all true mortification is and must ever be the indwelling Holy Spirit of God."

All human strivings apart from the Spirit are false, and they will fail. We talked about Roman Catholic mortification, the penances, and fastings, and mortifications of the flesh that they did. The hair shirts and the sufferings of which Luther, I think, is a good example in others and how these things fail. Any other type of human effort and mortification, which I think as I mentioned last time, is at the core and the root of false religion. All false religion has some kind of harsh treatment of the body, and asceticism, and self-denial, and this kind of thing, working it out yourself without the Holy Spirit, and it's going to fail. We'll talk more about it later. This is the special work of the Spirit. Page 7: "It is promised by God to be given to us for this work." Mortification is a gift given to us by Christ.

How does the Spirit mortify sin? First by causing our hearts to abound in grace in the fruits, they are contrary to the flesh. Remember that mortification is a great saying "no!" to temptation, the deeds of the flesh, but the most effective way that the Spirit produces this is by the great, yes! it says to all the blessings of the gospel. There's an expulsion that happens rather than a denial, a self-denial. It's that the Spirit makes the Christian life and really Christ himself the treasure that's worth selling everything for, the pearl of great price. And the Christian life becomes greatly valued and sweet to you. And as a result, those things lose their power. And so, the fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, general self-control. These things have an expulsive power, don't they? They drive out the deeds of the flesh, which were just listed in the verses before that in Galatians 5.

So, it's a great yes! rather than a kind of a strident and harsh, No. It is a no. We are saying no because the grace of God, Titus says, teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and godly lives in this present world. It is a saying no, but the no is easy when you're filled with the yes of Christ. Do you understand what I'm saying? I know it a little hard to get it, but you're so filled with the joy of the Christian life and everything that comes from that: reading the promises of the gospel, Spirit -filled worship, godly fellowship, contemplation of your reward in heaven, and the joy of just knowing that Christ is well pleased with you. All of these things are strong and mighty and become ever stronger as the Spirit works in you. And then the deeds of the flesh are more greatly mortified at that point.

Okay, that's just so important. Also, he begins to work in a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin. He gets into the heart of it and kind of dries it up. He's just effective at finding what sin is that the faulty motions of sin and just laying waste to the root of sin. Nothing else can get to the root. Everything else must deal with the fruits, the outward actings. But the Spirit has the power to get right to the root of sin and dry it up and burn it away. And also, the Spirit works, page 8, by the bringing of the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith. Alright, so at the end we finished last time, this is all review. Number 6, "A lament for those who are under conviction of law, but strangers to the Spirit." Basically says there it is a very, very sad thing to be convicted of sin by the law, law of Moses, et cetera, and not be converted. And then begin striving out to try to meet the requirements of the law apart from the indwelling working in the Spirit.

It's a tragic bitter failure, and those kind of people among the most miserable people on earth. They know the terrors of the law, but they don't know the joy of grace and of the gospel, and so they're really struggling. They have a hard time. But, he said, how much worse for those that are not even in conviction of sin and are just dead in every respect to their danger and just living as slaves to sin. What will the outcome be for them? So that's where we ended up last time. Any questions? All review chapters one, two and three, pretty deep.

Alright, let's get going then. Page 8, chapter 4, The Usefulness of Mortification. "The life, vigor, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin." Now, life, vigor, and comfort do not automatically proceed from mortification. Instead, what mortification does is it gets out of the way the obstacle to these things that are good gifts from God. Do you see what I'm saying? God is the one who gives life. God is the one who gives comfort. He's the one that gives peace and vigor and fruitfulness, but he will not do it to a willful sinner, you see. Those things block what God intends to do. So, mortification is more good defense. Do you see what I'm saying? You're clearing away the blockage in the obstacle to those things that God will work. Now, it is the case sometimes that you can be very strongly mortified in the flesh and have no life, a sense of life, vigor and comfort, but it is unusual and rare. Owen cites the example of our brother Heman from Psalm 88, which is without question the darkest psalm in the entire book of Psalms. I don't know if you've read it, but it ends very dimly. Psalm 88:18, "You have taken my companions and loved ones from me. Darkness is my closest friend." End of Psalm. Oh, what a depression. Have you ever read that Psalm? Darkness is my closest friend. I was kind of hoping for a word of comfort and consolation at the end, but he doesn't give us one. Now that, Owen says, is a great exception rather than the rule. For the most part, those that are vigorous and active and putting sin to death under the kind of mortifying work of the Spirit are actually very much alive, powerful, healthy, and have a sense of joy and fruitfulness in their Christian life. But the only point he's making here is just because you're doing that, don't automatically assume that life power and vigor are going to come. It's just that having done that defensive work, you're now free and open for those things to flow into your life. Okay? Mortification itself, therefore, is not, page 9, not the immediate cause of life. Vigor and comfort. These come as a direct gift of God when sin is removed as an obstacle. Alright?

Secondly, unmortified sin attacks our soul in two ways. First, sin weakens the soul and deprives it of strength. Have you ever felt that? Have you ever felt how sin just sucks you dry of any strength in your Christian life? I have found, this is apart from Owen, but just my own experience, a kind of listless kind of tupor that comes over my soul so that I have no interest in any spiritual thing. I feel very much like I'm in one of those kind of cocoon things that spiders wrap around their victims having paralyzed them and stung them, and I just feel listless. I have no interest in prayer, no interest in the Bible, no interest in godly conversation or good fellowship. I'm just kind of not into those things.

Have you ever experienced that before in your Christian life? That's a time of great danger for you. That's a time when clearly sin has made great inroads. At that point you have to shake it off. You have to say, oh my goodness, what has happened to me that I have no interest in the Bible? No interest in singing praise songs to God. No desire to pray. Sin has had some deadening effect on me. This is a time of great alarm, a time of danger to get moving again. Therefore, I think that your desires are a great barometer of the health of your soul, your appetite. Just like physically. Dr: How have you been eating? How's your appetite? Are you hungry? Are you eating well? And if the person says, I just have not been eating well the last three months, I just have no desire, nothing for that's an indication that something's wrong, something's wrong.

Now the opposite's not true. I mean if you're a glutton or whatever and eating it doesn't mean you're healthy. I'm not getting that now. Spiritually it does. You can eat as much of the Bible as you want, be all the more hungry for prayer and for Bible intake and fellowship and all those good things. There's no damage that could be done to your soul from those things. Praying too much, reading the Bible too much, witnessing too much, worshiping too much. Never met anyone like that actually, have you? Has that ever been a day of yours? I just witnessed too much today. I just prayed too much today. I read the Bible too much, glutted myself on these spiritual things too much. Well, that will never happen, but what sin does is it drains you of strength. It weakens the soul and deprives of strength. It moves your heart out of tune with God and it twists your affections.

We are saying to some idol, you are my portion. You are my desire. You are my joy and my treasure. What a terrible thing that is. And we do it so easily. Don't we? We exchange the joy of fellowship with God for some earthly thing, some earthly idol and we set our affections on it, and we begin to go after that, and that is a deadly thing to us. Secondly, sin fills the soul with thoughts about the sin, how to provide for its needs. You start thinking about it, it takes up your brain. God can think of infinite things simultaneously. Isn't that amazing? How does he do that? How does he hear the prayers of millions of Christians around the world simultaneously? That's a mystery, isn't it? You know how God commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn? He does that perfectly.

So, on your best day of your life, it's somebody else's worst day of their life. And he's totally in tune with both at the same time. That's a mystery to me, but you can't do it now, can you? I've seen you try talking on the cell phone and driving at the same time, and you just can't do it. I've seen it. I saw a woman on the ramp here, the clover leaf, talking on the cell phone, curving around, curving around. There's a guy stopped waiting to come in. I watched the whole thing. I'll never forget it. She's talking the cell phone, decelerating, decelerating, rammed right into him. He had been sitting there for probably 20 seconds, unmoving. She crushed his rear bumper talking on the cell phone. I think that there's something that happens in the brain. You can't do both at the same time. Some can, I don't know. The guy in front of me was drifting from lane to lane talking on the cell phone. At any rate, that's just indication of the fact that you can't concentrate on two things at once. What ends up happening is when you're in a sin habit, you're in a pattern of sin. It takes over your brain, it really does. And you start to make provision for that lust, that sin to provide for it. Romans 13:14, it says, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust." The mind is constantly filled with thoughts of the sin, how it could be satisfied. This greatly weakens the soul. Think about a Christian that's in an adulterous relationship. Think about that for a moment. They have, I believe, only one pleasure and joy in their entire life and that's being with that individual. All the others are gone. You see what I'm talking about? They're all gone. They can't enjoy any spiritual thing. They can't enjoy physical creation; they can't enjoy meals or whatever. They all boil down to one thing. And then the joy of that diminishes because Satan hates joy and pleasure anyway. And in the end, that will go away too until everything is awful all the time.

And so, sin takes over and fills up your mind so that that thing becomes the focus of your life. And then sin also breaks out and actually hinders your duties, not just in your mind but in actual time spent. You're going to spend your efforts and your energies toward that sin. Sin also darkens the soul, and it deprives it of light. "Sin," said Owen, "is a cloud, a thick cloud that spreads itself over the face of the soul and intercepts all the beams of God's love and favor. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption. And if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them." So, you see how sin blocks, it's a blocking thing. Mortification therefore removes that blockage so the sunshine of God's love and of his pleasure just flows into your soul.

Okay, third, mortification, prunes all the graces of God and makes room for them to grow in our hearts. When you're putting sin to death, things just start to grow and flourish. They really do. Your prayer life just takes off. You find yourself far more compassionate to others that you meet. You're much more attuned and aware of witnessing opportunities than you ever were before. Just everything just seems to come alive, and you wished you'd done it years ago. You never realized that there was a tumor on your soul until you started getting serious about putting sin to death in your life. And so, you think about parables, which I'm, God willing, going to be preaching on very soon. The life and fruitfulness of the soul is likened to a garden, which the plants of God, of God's grace flourish, when they're not competing with weeds for nutrients. Matthew 13:22 says, "The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful."

So, if we're not active in mortification, noxious weeds of sin will crowd out the gentle plants of God's grace, force them out. Basically, the point is that in mortification, those sins that would suck life from the soul are removed, and then all the graces of God just flourish beautifully. That's enticing, isn't it? It's just a whole different level of walking with God available.

"The point is that in mortification, those sins that would suck life from the soul are removed, and then all the graces of God just flourish beautifully."

Alright, fourth, peace is impossible without mortification. Peace must be sincere, and without a vigorous slaying of sin, peace may actually be a false peace. We'll talk more about that in a moment. Okay, so he's been making a case of what damage basically or unmortified sin does and the benefits and blessings, the usefulness of mortification now. Now what he's going to do as a good teacher is he's going to define mortification. He's going to tell us what it is, but he actually begins by telling us what it is not.

Mortification is not this. That's what chapter 5 is about. A deep perplexing question, what should a true believer do who finds in himself some powerful indwelling sin? Do you ever have that question? What should I do if I've got sin in my heart? What should I do? How shall I mortify? And Owen writes this, "consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as to duties of communion with God. Disquieting him as to peace. Perhaps defiling his conscience and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin. What shall he do?" when you find this to be the case for yourself? Well, here's three great answers. First, he's going to show us what it is to mortify any sin first negatively and then positively. In other words, what it is not, and what it is. Secondly, he's going to give you general directions for how, "for such things without which would be possible for any sin to be truly mortified."

That is typical Puritan-ese. Lemme translate it. Basically, he's going to tell you what things you must have in order to do mortification. What's so interesting, if we can get to the end of the document today, which I don't know what we will, but he's going to give you all of these directives, all of this advice. And he says, okay, after you've got all that, now you are ready to mortify sin. But these things are not the mortification. You know what the mortification is? It's the moment of temptation, when the flesh moves. It's battle time, folks, all the others is just the accumulating of the baggage and the weapons and all that before D-Day, right? You got to get ready. If you want to win, you got to get all your troops in place and on the right ships and everybody with their battle plan and all that, and all the equipment, everything's ready.

But until June 6th, 1944, it hadn't happened yet. So, you got to cross the channel and you got to win that battle, that victory. That's it, right? But what he's saying is get ready for the battle. And so, he's going to give us a bunch of directions on how we should do that. And then third, draw out the particulars of how you actually mortify sin.

Okay, let's start with what mortification is not. First, mortification is not to utterly kill or root out sin and destroy it so that it should have no more hold at all nor residence in our hearts. It's not that. You say, well, that sounds exactly like what mortification would be. Why is it not that? That's perfection, right? So, you will never reach a point concerning any sin in which you say, okay, I'm struggling on some other fronts, but this one which troubled me before I'm finished with it forever. I know because Gabriel gave me a certificate and told me that that one will never trouble me again. And I will never fall in that way again. Never again will I argue with my spouse, never again. I may fall in other ways, but I will never do that one again, I've been told by Gabriel. How well is that going to work? That's not going to go too well, right? Is there any sin of which you can say, I'll never do that one again. The answer is course not. And so therefore mortification cannot be a perfect killing of a kind of sin. It's not that. Wish it were, in one sense. The beauty of glorification, by the way, is 100% mortification of every sin in your life. Isn't that wonderful? Aren't you hungry for that? You're like, oh boy, for the day when there's no temptation, no indwelling sin, nothing, no world, no flesh, no devil, it's done at last.

I'll think if anything mortification increases your yearning for heaven, doesn't it? Because when you're really involved in fighting, you realize just how much work there is to be done in the soul. And even if you're making good progress. And you're walking, but you see sin your brothers and sisters, and your increased in your compassion for them and yearning that they would be holy. As Paul says, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish for the lost among the Jews" (Romans 9:2). He also says in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29, after listing all of these terrible trials he goes through, "On top of all of it, I have constant concern for the churches. Who is led into sin, and I don't inwardly burn." So even if you're doing well, it means you're just that much more attuned to the failings of your brothers and sisters around the world, and then you're just yearning for heaven. Paul says, "I long to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (Philippians 1:23). So, I think that's a good thing. Anything that would make you yearn more for heaven is a good thing.

Perfect mortification in every way. Now, how do we know that perfection is impossible? How do you know it biblically? Well, Philippians 3:12 is a good verse for that. Okay? It's very important because John Wesley believed that perfection is possible. And he knew the Bible very well, better than anyone in this room, and so how do we know that he's wrong? How do we know that perfection's not possible? Well, a good verse would be for example, Philippians 3:12 in which Paul says, "not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect." You see that word? "Not." I am not perfect. That's what Paul is saying. I have not obtained perfection, "but one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and striving or strain toward what is ahead," I press on every day.

I keep pressing, but I'm not perfect. And I never will be in this world. Now it is the thing for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. He took hold of me for perfection in the end, but I'm not there yet. So, I strive on. That is a very good verse for refuting perfection. Do you see that? He says, I've not been made perfect, but I press on. Okay. Secondly, to mortify sin is obviously not a dissimilation of sin that is hypocritical- external triumph only, outwardly clean, but secretly just as vile. Before, I almost shouldn't have to mention this, I mean in other words, you used to have trouble with alcohol, used to be kind of the town public drunk. Now you just get drunk in secret. Well, wait a minute now, is that mortification? No. I mean they look good on the outside; inwardly they're full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.

It's not a show. Mortification isn't a show. So much of what you do is what you do in secret before God alone. So, this is not a matter of making a good display for the church or for your pastor or your spouse even, or somebody who's dear to you. That's not it at all. It's not a fakery, it's not hypocrisy. Almost shouldn't have to say that, but we do. Okay. Thirdly, mortification is not to develop a kind of a personality trait, being quiet and sedate. Some people are just gifted with that kind of personality. I actually envy them. A gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth in God's sight, but that's not mortification either. Developing that kind of quiet demeanor personality. To mortify sin is not to divert it to something else. Yeah, a sin is not mortified when it's only diverted.

A man may be sensible, I'm on the bottom of page 10. A man may be sensible of a lust, set himself against the eruptions of it, take care that it shall not break forth as it has done, but in the meantime to allow the same habit to vent itself in a different way. That's just deception. And the sad thing is that sin is very tricky this way, isn't it? You kind of hold it down in one way, and it kind of pops up in another way. It's like one of those mushy balloons toward the end of a balloon's life. You know what I'm talking about? You try to hold it, and it keeps sticking out through your fingers somewhere. Sin can be like that. It's tricky that way so that you think you're holding it down when actually you're just diverting it to a different way of meeting the same needs but just not in the way you used to.

We can't be deceived in thinking that that is truly mortification. "He that changes, for example, pride for worldliness, and sensuality for pharisaism, vanity in himself to the contempt of others. Let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but he is a servant still. Very, very important. We'll talk more about that concept in a moment. And then fifth or E to mortify sin is not to have occasional conquest of it. Ouch. Right? And this is challenging to us, isn't it? It's not. Well, occasionally I throw holiness a bone, from time to time I'm able. Two false occasions when people may think they have mortified a sin. For example, number one, when the sin has had some sad eruption to the disturbance of his peace, the terror of his conscience, the dread of scandal and evident provocation of God. When the sin has poked itself up in a very obvious way in that way, then the man stirs himself to a frenzy of activity in this area.

He's filled with abhorrence over the sin, cries out to God against it, sets himself to be rid of it. He's like a city in which at midnight the centuries raise a general alarm against an enemy. The whole city becomes aroused against the enemy, but the enemy finds some clever hiding place and lays low until the alarm has passed. Then the enemy rises again and continues his evil work against the town. We can't be deceived. You know what I'm talking about. When sin kind of pokes its ugly head up in some way and you say, oh, that's terrible. I never want to do that again. And so, you kind of have a temporary motion against it, an energy about it, but the thing is not actually mortified, it's just biding its time. It's kind of like the AIDS virus where it can lay low for many, many years and then come back up again. And other viruses I think are like this hiding for a while.

This is not genuine mortification because it doesn't continue but lasts only a short time. Secondly, in a time of some judgment, calamity or affliction. What do we mean by that? Well, you might be just having such a terrible time in your life physically, let's say, or some other thing, that this pet sin just doesn't have any room to maneuver at all. You have no appetite for it because you're sick, let's say. Some other things going on. The soul is troubled about other things. The sin has not had an opportunity to work its mischief, but it's still alive and well in the soul during these times of trial the person is roused against sin in general and resolves never to sin again if only to be free from God's hand of affliction. Psalm 78 is a good example of this. Speaking to the people of God, whenever God slew them, they would seek him. They eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their rock, that God Most High was their redeemer, but then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues. Their hearts were not loyal to him because they were not faithful to his covenant.

The Book of Judges is like this, where the people of God seemed to do anything they want. They live as they saw fit, and they're into all kinds of idolatries and other wicked things. Then God brings a judgment on them, and they start to cry out to God. He sends them a deliver like Gideon, let's say, and for a while it seems like it's going all right. But as soon as the trouble has passed, the people revert to their native state, which is idolatry. They don't love God. They're not yearning after him, and so they just go right back to it again. Have you read the Book of Judges and seen that cycle happening again and again and that happens individually for us as well. Also, if someone has struggled with some kind of lust but then falls seriously ill, too stick to their stomach or something. And during the whole time of illness, the lust didn't trouble them at all. But that doesn't make it mortified. As soon as health and vigor returns, so does temptation. Alright, so this is what mortification is not. Any questions about that? Okay, let's go on.

What mortification is a particular described? First, mortification of lust consists of three things. A, the habitual weakening of sin. Alright? Yes sir. (question) Well, I think he would advocate that it wasn't actually being mortified. In the last case I think you're talking about during a time of judgment or affliction or some other thing going on. Is that what you're referring to? Yeah. Yeah. He really hasn't paid it any attention. There's just so many other things going on in his life that he just doesn't give any energy or drive toward fulfilling that particular temptation. It just isn't coming up. It's just so many other things engaging his attention. And then when normalcy returns, then you see where you're at.

You're back to normal again, and once you're back to normal, everything starts to poke its way out again. Yeah, right. (audience) Yeah, and we're going to get to that in a minute, but good thing you brought it up. If you look on, where is it? Where is it? Where is it? Yeah, page 14, the bottom. We'll get to that, God willing. But chapter 8, universal sincerity required: basically, all or nothing. Unless a man attacks all sin wherever it may be found, no particular progress can be made in any sin particularly. James 2:10, "Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it." I mean, God's not going to accept it. Say, yes, that's true that I'm really failing in this one area, but at least can I trade this. I'm doing well over here, as if somehow doing well over here was above and beyond the call of duty.

You must be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. God isn't going to say, well listen, I'll just release you from that part of the law. Don't worry about it. No, there's got to be a kind of a, and this is exactly, you brought this up. This is what separates true mortification from all these other efforts. Non-Christians can give up smoking; non-Christians can amend their ways. And so, you could say, isn't that a mortification? No, it isn't. Not in any way because it's not done by faith for the glory of God. And it's not a general attack against sin, but in the end, you are going to be fighting specific sin tendencies. So, we can speak of mortifying a specific sin. But not say, God won't accept, I'm working on this one right now. Alright, have you ever had that? It's like this is the one I'm really concentrated on, this one right now.

Do you think the Holy Spirit's going to let you get away with that? No. I mean, well good concentrate on this one and all the other ones I'm convicting you of. I can assure you the Holy Spirit's not going to show you your full state in nature because you can't handle the truth. Bottom line. Alright, do you think if at the moment of conversion God showed you who you really were at that moment, would you not be overwhelmed with despair? Even now for you to realize and see with clear vision how different you are in your heart from Christ in terms of desires, yearnings, actual behavior, patterns, and all that? These things - we're a long way from Christ. We have a long, long way to go, and so we do not have a clear and pure vision of all of those things.

But bottom line, this is my take on it. We are to fight sin wherever we're aware of it. But we're not fully aware of everything, and we won't be really until we die and go to heaven. Okay, that's a very good point.

Alright, so what is mortification, bottom of page 11? Mortification is first a habitual weakening of sin. Every lust is a depraved habit or disposition, continually inclining the heart to evil. It is in itself a strong, deeply rooted habitual inclination and bent of will and affections unto some actual sin, always stirring up imaginations, thoughts and contrivances about what it lusts for, page 12. Thus, the first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust. That it shall not with that violence, earnestness, and frequency rise up, conceive, tumult, provoke, entice, as naturally as it is apt to do. Alright, so part one A, there is a habitual, regular weakening of sin's effect on you.

"Mortification is first a habitual weakening of sin. Every lust is a depraved habit or disposition, continually inclining the heart to evil."

Alright? Note that lust gets its strength by temptation. When a suitable temptation falls in with a lust, it gives it new life, vigor, power, violence and rage, which it seemed not before to have or to be capable of. Alright? And this is one of those key things: when temptation comes, there's a lust that corresponds with it and rises up. Therefore, you should be faithful in praying, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13). I don't want to be tested today. I don't have any desire to be tempted. I want to stay away from temptation. What's so foolish is when Christians willfully go to places of temptation and open their minds up to those things that naturally entice. That's so foolish. Temptation sure to come. Jesus said in Matthew 18, it's sure to come. Why go looking for it? Because what happens is when the temptation comes, it stirs this thing up.

Also note that some lusts are far more sensible than others. You can be aware of them more. Sexual uncleanness, for example, is different. All other sins, said Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." Hence, the motions of that sin are more sensible. You're more aware of it, more discernible than of others. When perhaps the love of the world or the like and a person is no less habitually predominant than that, yet it makes not so great a combustion in the whole man. In other words, you might have almost more problem with just loving the world and everything in the world than you do with a specific lust tendency, or sexual temptation. But you're just more aware of that one because it's just more visible and open and sensible to you.

Problem is deep on all levels. Thus, the first work of mortification is habitual weakening of this habit of lust. Galatians 5:24, "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." Owen gives us a picture of a man nailed to a cross. At first, he struggles and strives and cries out with great strength, but little by little he weakens. So also with sin. Romans 6:6, "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we might no longer be slaves to sin." This is absolutely essential to true mortification. A man may beat down the bitter fruit of an evil tree until he's weary. While the root abides in strength and vigor, the beating down of the persistent fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more.

I mean, what's the point knocking off the fruit off the tree. I mean, you've got to get to the root of the matter, and get the tree out, or else it's just going to keep bearing fruit. As long as the root's healthy, tree's healthy, and it's going to bear that bitter fruit in your life. Okay, so a habitual weakening of the root. B, in constant fighting contending against sin, okay? Not just spasmodically or periodically. True mortification consists in a constant, bitter warfare, unrelenting, a sense of commitment in this fight. First, to recognize sin as the vicious and bitter enemy it is. Second, to learn everything you can about that enemy's methods of success. And third, to load it daily with things that the enemy hates. Continuing to lay blow upon blow with effective weapons.

Alright, we're going to personify sin. Sin has certain things it likes. Don't do them, don't feed it what it likes. Every sin has its proverbial cold shower. Give it the cold shower all the time. The fact is, provoke and annoy your sins. Go after them aggressively. That's the point. Don't get passive and laid back. Say, I'm going to go after my sin nature, and I'm going to do those things that it hates. Alright? You say, well, what do you mean specifically? Well, for example, if you find that sin works in you if you're fatigued, worn out, stay up late at night, that kind of thing, don't do that. Go the opposite direction. Go to bed early, get a good night's sleep, wake up early for your quiet time. See, very practically do the thing that is opposite of what the sin wants you to do.

Thirdly, mortification consists in success. Yes, give me some. I want success. I want lots of success. Well, it does, and it feeds on it too, doesn't it? As you start to see progress that you're making, success against sin. Frequent successes against any lust is another part and evidence of mortification. By success, I understand not a mere disappointment of sin, that it was not able to bring forth its fruit, but a victory over it and pursuit of it to a complete conquest. Alright?

Chapter 7, mortification can only be done by believers. That should be obvious, shouldn't it? Why is it obvious that mortification can only be done by believers? Got to have the indwelling spirit. Those three things we just talked about: the habitual, inward weakening of sin, a constant fighting against it, unrelenting warfare. You don't have the strength for that. It's the Spirit alone that has the absolute unremitting determination and strength to do this in you. That's why you see, it must be by the Spirit. See, I don't have enough staying power to do that. No, you don't. And so therefore this must be done only by believers. Unless a man is a believer that is truly grafted in Christ, he can never mortify a single sin. All the scriptures commanding mortification are given to Christians. I mean, let's stop and be realistic. All scriptures are given to Christians, that's for us. And you say, what about unbelievers? Don't they read scripture? Yes, but with a mind to becoming Christians. That's the whole point. And so, these commands here clearly though, I mean you don't even have to wonder. In Romans 8, who is he writing to you? He says, if you by the Spirit, well, who's the you who live by the Spirit, you who for whom it is said there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus?

That's who it's addressing. In Romans 8, you as believers, Colossians 3:5, it's also clear as well. It says, "Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your sinful nature." To whom is this addressed, those who are risen with Christ, Colossians 3:1, "whose life is hidden with Christ in God and who shall appear with him in glory?" These are Christians. Secondly, Owen says, classical philosophers who spoke much of pure lives, lived debauched lives. Well, this isn't much to us. We got to realize Owen was at Oxford, classically trained. And so, he knows all these guys, these Latin philosophers in these Greek, and they're all like wretched, awful, lousy people. I mean, they wrote just beautifully about the pure, pristine, virtuous life, but they didn't live it at all. And so, they end up great evidence of what he's saying here. Unbelievers can't do this. They can't.

Thirdly, Roman Catholics make extreme efforts and don't get very far. We've talked about that specifically, the monastic orders, the fastings, the beatings of the body, all that kind of thing. D. Romans 8:13 says by the Spirit, we mortify. How can we do this if we don't have the indwelling Spirit? If you don't have the indwelling spirit, you cannot mortify. And then, E, unbelievers are called not to mortification. What are they called to? What do you call an unbeliever to be? Converted, right? Remember on day of Pentecost, remember after the preaching, they cried out. They said, "Brothers, what should we do?" And what did Peter say at that moment? "You must mortify the deeds of the flesh." Can you imagine? What did he say? Repent. Believe. Yeah. He says, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins," page 14, "And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). And you'll get to then speak in tongues like us. They were very interested, I think, in that. So, they wanted to speak in the tongues. Yeah, well, guess what the Spirit's going to come do in you. He's the Holy Spirit. He's going to start getting busy in you, but he doesn't give them a command at that moment. Mortify the deeds of the flesh. That's not the command. They must be converted first.

So therefore, every effort at mortification by unbelievers is futile unless a man be regenerate. All attempts that he can make for mortification be they never so specious and promising, all means he can use. Let him follow them with never so much diligence. Earnestness, watchfulness and intention of mind and Spirit are to no purpose. In vain. shall he use many remedies. He shall not be healed. Page 14. Now number two, actually it's worse for him if he tries. It's actually very, very bad for somebody who's not converted to try to mortify the deeds of the flesh. You know why? All right, three things: distraction, success and failure. Alright? If you look at this is the process. False mortification by lost people first deludes them, second, hardens them, in the end destroys them. It's worse for them.

First distraction, his mind is taken off what he should be doing. What should he be doing? He should be converted. He should come to faith in Christ. He should be thinking about his overall soul and of repentance and faith in Christ. Not worried about this or that particular lust or putting sin to death. Not at all. It takes his mind away from the cross, and the empty tomb, and what he should be focused on. Secondly, he might actually have some limited success. And what then? What'll happen to him if he starts succeeding in certain areas? He'll get puffed up; he'll get prideful. And what will he not do? Repent and believe in Christ. So actually, he might have some success. What about failure? How could failure hinder him? He might get discouraged and give up. He'd just say nothing can ever defeat sin. So, if you just go about it in this way, giving somebody who's unconverted commands toward mortification and all that, this is devastating. Devastating to sin. Alright, mortification then is the work of faith. Only faith purifies the heart, Acts 15:9, "He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith," page 14.

Chapter 8, and this is what we got to a moment ago. Alright, universal sincerity is required. You say, how can this be true? But that's exactly right. Page 14, bottom it says, all or nothing. Do you see that? "All or nothing, unless a man attacks all sin wherever it may be found no particular progress can be made in any way, shape or form." James 2:10 we already read, "If you keep the whole law and yet stumble at one point, you're guilty of breaking all of it." Without sincerity and diligence and a universality of obedience there is no mortification of anyone. perplexing lust to be obtained. You got to fight at every level.

I mean, do you think if the general that was in charge of fighting Rommel and North Africa came back and said, "Yes, but we kept this little town. We lost a thousand miles to Rommel today, but we kept this town here. Isn't that good?" It's like, no, no, that's not good. Well, I'm interested in the whole front here. I'm interested in everything. Our God is a holy God. And if you're aware of an issue in your life and turn it off, but then focus on something else, you are hardening your heart against the moving of the Spirit. Everything that the Spirit brings to your mind he wants you to work on. Do not think he's got everything in your mind you could be working on. He's not. So therefore, anything he's brought to your mind, he wants you on it. All of it. Say that's kind of overwhelming.

You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Is that overwhelming to you? Yeah, I mean it is, but that's the nature of the Christian life. God is not going to allow you to sin willfully in any known area. That's not part of the deal. The Holy Spirit wants full obedience, completely. A man finds any lust to bring him into the condition formerly described. It is powerful, strong, tumultuating, leads captive. It vexes, disquiets and takes away peace. He's not able to bear it. Therefore, he sets himself against it. Prays against it, groans under it sighs to be delivered. But in the meantime, perhaps in other duties, in constant communion with God, in reading and prayer, meditation in other ways that are not of the same kind with the lust with which he was troubled, he is loose and negligent. In other words, he's concentrated on one area, but all the rest, he's just letting it slide loose and negligent.

Let not that man think that ever he shall arrive to mortification of the lust he's perplexed with. What is he saying? Even in the area he's concentrating on he won't win. He will not succeed. He's got to fight a whole front battle. In other words, it very much has to do with, did you have your quiet time? Did you get up? Were you faithful in the things God's calling you to do? The whole picture is kept in mind by the Spirit. It's got the whole thing in mind. Why is this true? Well, the mortification he's working on at that moment comes really from a form of self-love, not a love for God and his honor and glory. He is personally annoyed by that sin. He's personally perplexed by it. It bothers him, it annoys him. It makes him think poorly of himself. So, he is going after it.

What's his motive? It isn't the glory of God; it's not the advance of his kingdom. Instead, he's personally zeroed in on that one thing. So, what does he say here? And this is so important. Page 15, hatred of sin as sin itself, not as galling or disquieting. A sense of the love of Christ in the cross lie at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification. You just find sin itself to be repugnant. I just hate it for itself. Even if I could be assured that no one ever found out, and God wouldn't punish me for it, I wouldn't do it. Because it's a wicked evil thing itself. And anywhere that sin could be found, it's my enemy. That begins the mentality. Do you see what I'm talking about? I'm not going to just concentrate on one thing. I want all of it out, the whole thing.

Alright? Thirdly, I mean, you think to yourself, I would think this point would be made obvious by the history in the Bible. What drove Adam and Eve out of the garden? What did they do? Sin. Yes, but what did they do? They ate some fruit off a tree. You think? I mean so much out of that? But God told them not to, you see, and that's the point. It may seem small to you, but sin is never small. It's never harmless. And so therefore, we must fight it wherever it's found. Everywhere, wherever it's found. Alright? God's work consists in universal obedience. Look at 2 Corinthians 7:1, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and Spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." Boy, that seems like kind of totalitarian language here. You mean wherever it's found?

That's what the verse says. Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates, and we're going to perfect holiness out of reverence for God. Alright? Also, a thought, and Owen is so sharp here, I really love this. Perhaps God has allowed this one particular lust or some problem in your life to become very irritating and annoying to you to show you how loose and negligent you are in general in your Christian life. So that all of a sudden you say, I haven't been praying the way I need to. I've not been watching myself in many ways. I've gotten into some bad habits in my marriage or in my work life. I am loose in my prayer life. I'm loose in my Bible intake. I haven't been attending church the way I need to. I've just gotten lazy in my Christian life, and this thing has cropped up to show me just in general, I'm not living the way I need to. I'm not following God the way I need to. The rage and success of sin in one particular area is usually the result of a generally careless, negligent walk in many areas. Now in chapter 9, he gives us symptoms of a particularly dangerous lust. We'll cover this and we'll stop for tonight.

Owen begins to a series of very practical steps to mortifying sin. First, he wants you to identify the symptoms of a particularly dangerous lust. I remember reading this and thinking it was very, very convicting. You read it and you say, wow, it's a good thing to know about this. First is inveterateness, and you say, what in the world is that? Okay, it's been in you a long time. Chronic, I guess would be another word for it. You've been at it a long time. The sin habit has been entrenched in the soul for a long time so that the believer scarcely even notices its presence anymore, and actually makes allowances for it. That's dangerous when that happens. Secondly, the heart speaks peace to itself despite the open presence of the sin. Ouch. I mean, when that starts happening, you're in trouble. In other words, you're at ease and confident in yourself, even though this thing's going on.

The heart gathers up evidence of its good standing before God. I'm doing this, I'm doing that. I'm doing the other. These are good things over here, but makes no concerted effort against the sin itself. Owen points out that the grace and mercy of God are not to be applied to an unmortified lust for the purpose of allowing it to continue. Not at all. So that we say, okay, I'm okay because I continue on with these other good things in my life so clearly, God's at work here. And so therefore I'm not going to do anything about that. That is very dangerous. It's a dangerous way to think. Thirdly, the sin frequently triumphs. This is especially galling when the sin entangles both the will and the affections so that the will heartily approves the sin. And the affections enjoy it or are disappointed should the temptation not be consummated in a sin. The sin's got a winning streak on you. Fourth, the sin's danger rather than the love of God is the prime restraint should there be restraint. Thus, the fear of shame is more powerful than the love of Christ, which constrains us. Here Owen makes one of, I think his most helpful distinctions. Listen to this quote, "Such a person has cast off, as to the particular spoken of, the conduct of renewing grace and is kept from ruin only by restraining grace in so far he has fallen from grace in return to the law. God sovereignly orchestrates our lives by his providence to keep us from temptation or from giving into it, but he prefers to renew our heart so that we learn to hate sin ourselves." What do I mean by this? God sometimes will actually interfere with you so that you cannot consummate or go out in a certain way. Alright? One of the common illustrations I've had of this before, I think, is beautiful. Is of a husband and wife having a conflict, and then suddenly a neighbor comes to the door or the phone rings. All of a sudden all is sweetness and light. I mean, it is instantly sweetness and light.

(Husband to neighbor) Hello. Fine. We're doing great. How are you? Oh, that's great. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Come on over. Sure. We're having a great time. You got to join us.

Oh, it wasn't like that a moment ago. Has that sin been mortified? No, not at all. That is what we call God's restraining grace. He's kind of stepped in and providentially prevented you from doing what your natural tendency was. And that's a good thing because then it caused you to take a break. What are we doing? And then you can clear, but there should be a renewing grace that without the outside interference you say, I hate this. I'm not going to do this anymore. And so, there's a renewing. And if all you are resting in now is the restraining grace, you're in trouble. There should be a renewing grace within you that causes you to hate it.

Fifth, God has hardened our hearts or chastised us for the sin. When we actually see the activity of God coming out against a particular sin in our lives, this should be a great warning to us. He's moving out. He's moving, and so we start to see a hardening, and we start to see God moving. Very, very dangerous at that point. Number 6, the sin has already withstood particular dealings from God, and yet it remains. If we have seen God do amazing things to decrease the power of a lust, yet it keeps returning, we should stand in fear of this sin's power. (Andy closes, to be continued next week.) 

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