If you read what I’ve written here today, it will deepen your hatred for sin and spark your love for holiness. At least, I think it will. All I’ve done is summarize chapter two of John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a book that has been precious to generations of Christians as they have battled sin and pursued holiness. Read on!
Here is Owen’s thesis for the chapter: “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 [“kill” or “put to death”] the indwelling power of sin.” In other words, Christians battle sin and put it to death. They battle sin every day until the day they die. They never stop. They never let up.
And so Owen asks you:
“Do you mortify?
Do you make it your daily work?
Be always at it while you live.
Cease not a day from this work.
Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
And then he gives 6 reasons you must keep putting sin to death.
1. Indwelling Sin Always Lives On
Until the day you die or the day the Lord returns, you will always have sin within you. “We have a ‘body of death’ (Rom. 7:24), from whence we are not delivered but by the death of our bodies (Phil. 3:20). Now, it being our duty to mortify, to be killing of sin while it is in us, we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, does but half his work.”
2. Indwelling Sin Continues to Act
This indwelling sin continues to act upon you and against you through your entire life. “Sin does not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring 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.”
“Sin is always acting, always conceiving, always seducing and tempting. Who can say that he had ever anything to do with God or for God, that indwelling sin had not had 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.”
3. Indwelling Sin Produces Soul-Destroying Sin
This remaining, indwelling sin is no trifling matter, but will continue to try to utterly destroy you all throughout your life. “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.” And then, perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever learned from Owen: “Sin always aims for the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin of that kind. 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.”
4. Indwelling Sin Needs to Be Opposed by the Holy Spirit and the New Nature
The sin that remains within us must (and can!) be opposed by the Holy Spirit who lives within us, and by our new nature. “This is one main reason why the Spirit and the new nature are given unto us—that we may have a principle within us whereby to oppose sin and lust.”
“Not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has furnished us with a principle of doing it.”
5. There Is a Terrible Cost If You Neglect to Put Sin to Death
The cost of neglecting this duty of putting sin to death is sky high. “Negligence in this duty casts the soul into a perfect contrary to that which the apostle affirms was his: ‘Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day’ (2 Cor. 4:16). In these the inward man perishes, and the outward man is renewed day by day.”
“By the omission of this duty grace withers, lust flourishes, and the frame of the heart grows worse and worse; and the Lord knows what desperate and fearful issues it has had with many.”
6. It Is Our Duty to Grow in Holiness and Grace Every Day
If all of this is true, then it is our Christian duty to grow in holiness every day by putting sin to death. “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 does not kill sin in his way takes no steps toward 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.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit to me, as I read Owen, is the desire he gives me to put sin to death. He makes me hate sin and love holiness, which means he makes me want to destroy sin and put on all the Christian virtues. “Sin does so remain, so act and work in the best of believers, while they live in this world, that the constant daily mortification of it is all their days incumbent on them.” May it be so with me!
Next Thursday we will continue with the third chapter of the book. We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.
I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.
Cemetery image courtesy of Shutterstock.