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Reading Classics Together

October 23, 2014

It is an experience every Christian knows. You become aware of a sin and come to fear and hate it. You focus all kinds of attention on that sin and on putting it to death. You ask friends to pray for you, and you cry out to God for deliverence. Well and good, right? Well, not necessarily. John Owen has something to say to you: You will not be delivered from this sin until you pursue a much deeper and wider obedience.

Here is how Owen describes it in chapter eight of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation:

A man finds any lust to bring him into the condition formerly described; it is powerful, strong, tumultuating, leads captive, vexes, disquiets, takes away peace; he is not able to bear it; wherefore 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, prayer, and meditation—in other ways that are not of the same kind with the lust wherewith he is troubled—he is loose and negligent. Let not that man think that ever he shall arrive to the mortification of the lust he is perplexed with. This is a condition that not seldom befalls men in their pilgrimage.

This is what Owen wants you to know: Even while you focus so much attention on that one sin that torments you, you may still be living a fast and loose life in other areas. You may battle hard against that one sin, even while allowing yourself to slip in other ways. You cry out to God to be delivered from lust or addiction, but all the while you neglect the simple disciplines of reading and praying, or you continue to have a fiery temper and to make excuses for it. If that is you, you should not expect that God will deliver you from that one sin. Your tendency will be to battle hardest against the sins you find most alarming. However, you ought to look to your entire life and to battle sins that God finds alarming. “These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why do you not set yourself against them also?” 

As he loves to do, Owen draws a medical metaphor. “He that has a ‘running sore’ upon him, arising from an ill habit of body, contracted by intemperance and ill diet, let him apply himself with what diligence and skill he can to the cure of his sore, if he leave the general habit of his body under distempers, his labor and travail will be in vain.” In other words, if you live a life of drunken indulgence which causes your body to break out in some kind of sore, you can apply all the medical attention you want to the sore, but you haven’t cured the greater problem. And in the same way we like to go to battle against the most disturbing outward manifestations of our sin, rather than the far deeper root causes. It is far easier to put a bandaid over the sore than to stop the addictive behavior that causes it. It is far more likely that we will battle the sin that most disturbs us than the sin that most disturbs God.

Owen says it well: “Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God’s. God’s work consists in universal obedience. … If we will do anything, we must do all things.” So battle that sin you hate by battling all the sins God hates.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the ninth chapter of the book. You can still get the book and read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

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.

October 16, 2014

It is something I see again and again, and something that baffles me every time: People who expect unbelievers to act like believers. So often I see Christians acting surprised that their non-Christian friends or family members are acting like non-Christians. John Owen addresses this in his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. The book deals with the subject of mortification, of putting sin to death, and Owen dedicates one chapter to explaining why only Christians can behave like Christians.

He begins by insisting that only Christians have the ability to put sin to death. Unbelievers may suppress sin, but they cannot kill it. “Unless a man be a believer—that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ—he can never mortify any one sin; I do not say, unless he know himself to be so, but unless indeed he be so. … There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.”

And again, “A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.”

If it is, indeed, the case that unbelievers cannot put sin to death, then they have a higher priority: conversion. “Mortification is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work—the conversion of the whole soul—not the mortification of this or that particular lust. … Let the soul be first thoroughly converted, and then, ‘looking on him whom they had pierced,’ humiliation and mortification will ensue.” There is a proper order to these things. First be saved, then put sin to death.

In reality, unbelievers who attempt to put sin to death actually go deeper into their sin. “This is the usual issue with persons attempting the mortification of sin without an interest in Christ first obtained. It deludes them, hardens them—destroys them.” And again, “To kill sin is the work of living men; where mean are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live.”

Owen anticipates the following objection: “Shall [unregenerate men] cease striving against sin, live dissolutely, give their lusts their swing, and be as bad as the worst of men?” If unbelievers cannot put sin to death, would it be wrong of us to tell them to stop sinning or even expect them to?

He answers the objection this way: “God forbid! It is to be looked on as a great issue of wisdom, goodness, and love of God, that by manifold ways and means he is pleased to restrain the sons of men from running forth into that compass of excess and riot which the depravity of their nature would carry them out unto with violence.” God dispenses his common grace to all men, and this grace keeps them from being as sinful as they otherwise would be. Sometimes God does convict unbelievers of sin and causes them to restrain that sin, yet without actually converting them.

So it becomes a matter of right priorities both for the person calling upon the unbelievers, and for the unbelievers themselves: “Let men know [that putting sin to death] is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy! Poor soul! It is not your sore finger but your hectic fever that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin.” Don’t call upon unbelievers to stop sinning until you first call them to turn to Christ in repentance and faith. Even if they do not turn to Christ they may still suppress a sin, but do not make it your main purpose to convince unbelievers not to sin; instead, make it your purpose to call upon them to become Christians. And do not be surprised when, as unbelievers, they continue to behave like unbelievers.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the eighth chapter of the book. There is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

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.

October 09, 2014

To become a Christian is to accept the lifelong challenge of becoming who you are — of putting sin to death and growing in holiness. Today I want to channel a little John Owen and tell you three things you ought to expect when battling sin.

Expect that the Battle Will Be Long

Owen says that putting sin to death consists of “a habitual weakening of sin,” and I take this to mean that over time and through our habits we chip away at our sin bit-by-bit and day-by-day. Rather than expecting sin to be destroyed in a moment, we expect that it will take time and focused effort. In this way putting sin to death is relative to our maturity as Christians and to the amount of time we have dedicated to battling a particular sin. He says, “The first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness, frequency, rise up, conceive, tumultuate, provoke, entice, disquiet as naturally as it is apt to do.”

He has this amazing quote that is quite an indictment of humanity: “The reason why a natural man is not always perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because he has many to serve, every one crying to be satisfied; thence he is carried on with great variety, but still in general he lies toward the satisfaction of self.”

He also makes a very helpful comparison between putting sin to death and a man being executed on a cross:

As a man nailed to the cross he first struggles and strives and cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, scarce to be heard; when a man first sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved; but when by mortification the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may have sometimes a dying pang, that makes an appearance of great vigor and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it be kept from considerable success.

Expect that the Battle Will Be Hard

Putting sin to death is a long and violent struggle against a deadly enemy that is absolutely devoted to our destruction. In this way we should not expect that putting sin to death will be easy, and we should not expect that sin will go quietly. “When sin is strong and vigorous, the soul is scarce able to make any head against it; it sighs, and groans, and mourns, and is troubled, as David speaks of himself, but seldom has sin in the pursuit.” This will be a lifelong battle and one that requires constant attention.

To fight against sin you need to know that…

  • “… a man has such an enemy to deal with it, to take notice of it, to consider it as an enemy indeed, and one that is to be destroyed by all means possible.” Always remember that sin exists, and always know that you are called to battle it.
  • “… to labor to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its success is the beginning of this warfare.” Always remember that God gives us instructions in dealing with it, and we are to know our sin so we can better attack our sin.
  • “… to load it daily with all the things which shall after be mentioned, that are grevious, killing, and destructive to it is the height of this contest.” Always remember that you are to follow God’s instructions in dealing with it.

Expect to See Frequent Success

While the battle is long and fierce, “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” Therefore we should expect to see frequent successes shown in significant and measurable victories over our sin. “Frequent success against any lust is another part and evidence of mortification. By success I understand not a mere disappointment of sin, that it be not brought forth nor accomplished, but a victory over it and pursuit of it to a complete conquest. For instance, when the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing, forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin and brings it to the law of God and love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to the uttermost.” While we do battle against our sin, we know that God has given us both the desire and the power to see victory.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the sixth chapter of the book. There is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

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.

October 02, 2014

The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. One of the ways such deceit manifests itself is through convincing us that we have battled a sin and put that sin to death when really we have done nothing of the sort. John Owen is a steady guide in the battle against sin, and in chapter 5 of his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation he deals with misconceptions about what it means to put sin to death.

Here are 5 ways to lose the battle against sin.

Expect the Utter Death and Destruction of the Sin

Though we target the utter death and destruction of the sin, we cannot expect that we will ever so destroy a sin that there is no hope of it ever returning in this life. “It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished.” Even though we can have a great degree of victory over sin and genuine success in battling it, we cannot expect perfection in this life. Even while the sin may be suppressed, we need to continue to call out for God’s grace until the day we die and are finally immune to all sin.

Will Yourself to Stop the Sin

Putting sin to death is not simply masking over a sin or even just stopping that sin for a time. This does not put the sin to death any more than putting a band-aid over a sore makes the sore go away. Here is how Owen says it: “When a man on some outward respects forsakes the practice of any sin, men perhaps may look on him as a changed man. God knows that to his former iniquity he has added cursed hypocrisy, and is now on a safer path to hell than he was before. He has got another heart than he had, that is more cunning; not a new heart, that is more holy.”

Rely on a Respectable Disposition

Putting sin to death is not just displaying respectable patterns and behavior. Some people have the advantage of a quiet nature, a reserved personality, a respectable disposition, and in their quietness can seem to have put sins to death. Owen says it well: “Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortification of the sin than the former.”

Divert the Sin

Putting sin to death is not only diverting a sin. All of our sins are first sins of the heart and have many ways of manifesting themselves in outward ways. It is easy enough to divert the outward manifestation of sin, but unless that sin is actually put to death, it will only manifest itself in a different way. “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 suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself some other way. … He that changes pride for worldliness, 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 is a servant still.”

Rely on “Occasional” Triumphs

Putting sin to death is not merely occasional triumphs over that sin (and in this case occasional does not mean “seldom” but “at particular occasions”). Owen gives two examples of ways that we can seem to put sin to death, only to later realize that we have not. The first case happens when a person commits a sin and feels great shame and remorse over it. In those times he promises he will never commit this sin again, and for a time his shame and guilt keep him from falling back into old patterns. However, he has not truly put that sin to death, but has only suppressed it for a time. When the shame and guilt have dissipated, the sin awakens from its slumber and comes roaring back. The second case happens in those times a person is convinced that his sin has brought about some divine punishment. Now he seeks peace with God and believes he can broker that peace by promising to never commit the sin again. But, again, he has not put that sin to death, so it only takes some time before the sin makes its presence known once again.

These are only 5 of the ways in which people deceive themselves into thinking they have put sin to death when, in reality, that sin remains alive and well. In other ways, these are 5 ways to lose the battle against sin. Next week we’ll see the positive side of putting sin to death.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the sixth chapter of the book. There is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along if that is of interest to you.

Your Turn

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.

September 25, 2014

We do not sin with impunity. We cannot sin without consequence. Once the Holy Spirit reveals sin within us, we cannot simply ignore that sin and expect that our spiritual lives will continue to grow and thrive. In his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen lists six evil effects of sin—sin that we identify but refuse to destroy.

In chapter four of his book, Owen wants the reader to think about this: A God-honoring life is one in which we constantly wage war against sin. He says it like this: “The life, vigor and comfort of our spiritual life depend much upon our mortification of sin.” I take life to be the existence of spiritual life, vigor to be the extent of it, and comfort to be the Holy Spirit’s assurance of its existence. All of these are imperiled by the existence of sin. He will give six consequences of sin in our lives, but first he has a couple of foundational points to make.

The first foundation point Owen makes is that putting sin to death is necessary for a secure and comfortable Christian life, and yet they are not a guarantee of it. I find this important as a Christian and as a pastor: “A man may be carried on in a constant course of mortification all his days; and yet perhaps never enjoy a good day of peace and consolation. The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.” In other words, God does not owe us anything for putting sin to death; it is our duty and we must do it out of love and loyalty to him. However, under ordinary circumstances, he rewards such action with life, vigor and comfort.

The second foundational point is that we must not confuse mortification of sin with the gospel. “In the ways instituted by God to give us life, vigor, courage, and consolation, mortification is not one of the immediate causes of it. … Adoption and justification … are the immediate causes.” Spiritual life, comfort, and vigor are not ultimately the fruit of mortification, but of justification.

With those matters aside, he now offers a series of six evil effects of refusing to do battle with sin:

  1. Sin deprives us of spiritual strength and comfort. “Every unmortified sin will do two things: it will weaken the soul and deprive it of its vigor. It will darken the soul and deprive it of its comfort and peace.”
  2. Sin weakens the soul and deprives it of its strength. “An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit and all the vigor of the soul, and weaken it for all duties.” When he speaks of duties, he speaks of the ordinary means of grace, and particularly reading Scripture, praying and gaining the spiritual benefit that comes from doing these things.
  3. Sin becomes the delight of the heart. “It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father.” Unmortified sin becomes our delight, and we come to love it and rejoice in it.
  4. Sin becomes the meditation of our minds. “Thoughts are the great purveyors of the soul to bring in provision to satisfy its affections; and if sin remain unmortified in the heart, they must ever and anon be making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” When sin goes untouched, it becomes the meditation of our heart, taking the place that should be filled with the Lord.
  5. Sin hinders our spiritual walk. “The ambitious man much be studying, and the worldling must be working or contriving, and the sensual, vain person providing himself for vanity, when they should be engaged in the worship of God.” Sin steals the time, attention and affection that we need to maintain our communion with God.
  6. Sin darkens the soul. “It 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.” When we continually choose sin over godliness, sin destroys the comfort that the Holy Spirit seeks to provide. Our souls become darkened to his goodness and to the privileges of our adoption.

The solution to all of this is to put sin to death. Here is how Owen says it: “Mortification prunes all the graces of God and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigor of our spiritual lives consists in the vigor and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts.” 

As we continue read Overcoming Sin and Temptation, we will soon come to instructions on actually putting sin to death.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the fifth 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.

Your Turn

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.

September 18, 2014

We are sinful people. We are sinful, forgiven people, who long to live in a way that pleases God. And there are few better tools for battling and overcoming sin than a close reading and application of John Owen’s classic work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. I have been reading through the book and came this week to a chapter on the critical importance of the Holy Spirit. 

Owen’s purpose in this chapter is both simple and clear: He wants his reader to know that sin is put to death only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There may be other ways we suppress sinful behavior, but true mortification always depends upon the Holy Spirit.

Here is a brief outline of his argument:

  1. Other remedies are sought in vain
    1. Because they use means God has not appointed for the work
    2. Because they do not properly use the means God actually has appointed for the work
  2. Why mortification is the work of the Spirit
    1. God promises us that Spirit for this very purpose
    2. All mortification is from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ
  3. How the Spirit mortifies sin
    1. By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh
    2. By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin
    3. By bringing the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith
  4. If the Spirit alone mortifies sin, why are we are exhorted to put sin to death?
    1. Because all graces and good works which are in us are his
    2. Becase it is still an act of our obedience

Those who read the chapter with me will have seen that much of what Owen writes here is meant to oppose Roman Catholicism, the chief enemy of true faith in his day. But the main points of the chapter remain easily applicable. While I may not be Catholic, I still feel the temptation to allow my man-centered desires to interfere with God’s gracious work. Maybe this is what Owen means when he writes of “the natural popery in man.” I may not wear rough garments or take vows and orders as an attempt to destroy sin, but I may still look to myself and my homespun remedies rather than to God and his remedies. Just as Catholicism has invented ways of putting sin to death, I may also invent ways and means, and find them just as powerless to bring about true and lasting change.

I was struck by what Owen taught about attempting to put sin to death by means God has not appointed for that purpose, and then what he taught about misusing or ignoring the means God actually has appointed. Here is the challenge: I may ignore the means that has appointed for the purpose of putting sin to death. When I do this, I appear to put sin to death, but do not actually do it. He says, “They have sundry means to mortify the natural man, as to the natural life here we lead; none to mortify lust or corruption.” This is the mistake of men ignorant of the gospel, and too often it is the mistake I make. As Owen says, “Duties are excellent food for an unhealthy soul; they are no [remedy] for a sick soul. He that turns his meat into his medicine must expect no great operation.” There is a lot to think about in those words. Do I misuse the means of grace God has given, thinking that they can mortify my sin when really they are meant to feed me, but not to cure me? Am I trying to “sweat out a distemper with working?”

Let me leave you with this fascinating and thought-provoking quote: “He does 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.”

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the fourth 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.

Your Turn

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.

September 11, 2014

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.”

September 04, 2014

I have invited the people who visit this blog to read a classic of the Christian faith with me: John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin or Overcoming Sin and Temptation. We are reading one short chapter per week, and then returning here each Thursday to discuss it. Hundreds are participating and I trust we will be blessed as we read together. If you’d like to join in, you are only one chapter (5 pages) behind—just track down a copy of the book and read along with us.

The Mortification of Sin is all about putting sin to death (or what Owen refers to as “mortifying” sin). Through 13 chapters Owen will show the necessity of putting sin to death, then define what it means to put sin to death, and give direction on how to do it. The book is deeply theological but also eminently practical and deals with a problem that is common to every one of us. It is somewhat difficult to read, but worth every bit of the effort.

Here is a short summary of the first chapter. Even if you have not read the book, you will benefit just from reading the summary. Let it be a teaser that helps convince you to read the book!

The Foundation of Mortification

Owen bases this chapter, and really his whole book, on Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death [mortify] the deeds of the body, you will live.” Within this verse is a great challenge and a great promise that extends to every Christian. In those few words from Romans, Owen finds a condition, a kind of person, a means, a duty, and a promise. Let me explain.

  • The condition. The verse begins with a condition: if. If you do one thing, you will receive the benefit. He says there is a clear connection between putting sin to death and receiving life: “if you use this means, you shall obtain that end; if you do mortify, you shall live.” It is that simple: if you put sin to death, you will obtain eternal life.
  • The persons. Owen says “If you…” and in this case the “you” refers to believers, the people to whom the Apostle Paul has written this great letter. Whatever Owen describes and prescribes in his book will be for the unique benefit of Christians.
  • The means. The cause or the means of putting sin to death is the Holy Spirit. We put sin to death only by and through his power. So Owen can say, “The principle efficient cause of the performance of this duty is the Spirit … All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”
  • The duty. The duty described in Romans 8:13 is the duty of mortification, or putting sin to death. Paul says, “put to death the deeds of the body.” The body refers to human depravity, to indwelling sin. The deeds of the body are those acts that flow out of our inner corruption. And, finally, putting a sin to death entails destroying its power, life, vigor, and its strength to produce its negative effects.
  • The promise. The great promise to those who put to death the deeds of the body is that they shall live. This life refers not only to eternal life, but also to the joy, comfort and vigor of a pure life in Christ, free from the power of besetting sins.

And all of this leads here: “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.” In the chapters to come, Owen will prove this, and show how to do it.

Reflection

I have read this book several times now, and every time I read it I am struck by something different. This time I was struck by the sheer distance between the church and the world—between Christians and unbelievers.

Owen says that Christians—the choicest Christians—hate sin and pursue it to its death. Could there be a conclusion that is farther from the world around us? The world, the flesh, and the devil tell us to pursue our sin, to enjoy our sin, to go deeper and deeper into our sin, to identify ourselves by our sin, to become our sin. God’s Word tells us to identify our sin, to hate our sin, to destroy our sin. And by God’s grace we can do that very thing. He can give us a revulsion toward our sin, and then empower us to kill it. Praise God!

Let me leave you with a few choice quotes:

  • “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”
  • “The vigor, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.”
  • “All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the second 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.

Your Turn

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.

August 28, 2014

I hate sin. Sin is destructive. Sin is insane. Sin is maddening. Sin is just plain stupid. Yet sin is also so alluring, so tempting, and always so close at hand. Even while we fight sin, sin fights us.

There are many strategies to identify and destroy sin, and one of the best is to read great books on the subject. There is no better book than John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin (or Overcoming Sin and Temptation). I plan to begin reading it next week and would love you to read it with me—and hundreds of other people—in a program I call “Reading Classics Together.”

Will you read it with me?

Here is how the program works: Each week we will read one chapter. Then, on Thursdays (beginning next week—September 4), visit my site and I will have an article on that chapter along with a place for you to add your comments or a place for you to link to your own blog (or Facebook or any other place you have been discussing it). The idea is to read the book together, so we can benefit from one another’s insights and have mutual accountability as we press on in our reading.

How do you participate? Simply by getting a copy of the book and reading along. You don’t need to register, you don’t need to comment, you don’t need to do anything other than read one chapter per week.

Buying the Book

OSAT

I am going to read Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a slight modernization of the work, edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic. This edition maintains the unabridged text, but provides useful introductions and editorial assistance. For example, the editors footnote difficult or obscure words, update archaic language (i.e. they change “thee” to “you”), transliterate words that Owen provided in the original biblical languages, and so on. They also add helpful introductions to the sections. They maintain the full impact of Owen’s words while removing some of the hindrances experienced by the modern reader.

However, if you would like to read the original, you are more than welcome to do so and will benefit just as much. Here is where you can track down the book:

Let’s Get Started

I plan to post an article on chapter one on September 4, and continue every Thursday after that. There are 14 chapters, meaning the program will last for 14 weeks. All you need to do is obtain a copy of the book and read chapter one prior to September 4.

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you plan to join the program (or if you’ve got any questions).

August 14, 2014

Many times over the years I have invited readers of this blog to join me in a reading project, mostly as part of a program I’ve called Reading Classics Together. We’ve read some incredible books together—Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Christianity & Liberalism by Gresham Machen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks, and a whole lot more.

I think it’s time to begin another classic. In this case, I’d like to return to one of the very first we read together. Of all the ones we have read, it remains my favorite, and certainly the one that has made the deepest impact in my life. It is John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin (or Overcoming Sin and Temptation). It is the absolute best book available on the life-long challenge of putting sin to death. Unless you’ve completely eradicated sin in your life, I know you’ll benefit from reading it.

Will you read it with me?

John Owen is known as being one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church and one who offered penetrating analysis of the human condition. Though his works are reputed as being difficult to read, they always prove worth the effort. Jerry Bridges says, “To read Owen is to mine spiritual gold.” Mark Dever says, “Sin is tenacious, but by God’s grace we can hate it and hunt it. John Owen provides the mater guide for the sin-hunter.” And Phillip Ryken insists that, “John Owen is a spiritual surgeon with the rare skill to cut away the cancer of sin and bring gospel healing to the sinner’s soul. Apart from the Bible, I have found his writings to be the best books ever written to help me stop sinning the same old sins.” Are you getting the theme there?

Here is how the program works: Each week we will read one chapter. Then, on Thursdays, visit my site and I will have an article on that chapter along with a place for you to add your comments or a place for you to link to your own blog (or Facebook or any other place you have been discussing it). The idea is to read the book together, so we can benefit from one another’s insights and have mutual accountability as we press on in our reading.

How do you participate? Simply by getting a copy of the book and reading along. You don’t need to register, you don’t need to comment, you don’t need to do anything other than read one chapter per week.

Buying the Book

OSAT

I am going to read Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a slight modernization of the work, edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic. This edition maintains the unabridged text, but provides useful introductions and editorial assistance. For example, the editors footnote difficult or obscure words, update archaic language (i.e. they change “thee” to “you”), transliterate words that Owen provided in the original biblical languages, and so on. They also add helpful introductions to the sections. They maintain the full impact of Owen’s words while removing some of the hindrances experienced by the modern reader.

However, if you would like to read the original, you are more than welcome to do so and will benefit just as much. Here is where you can track down the book:

Let’s Get Started

I plan to post an article on chapter one on September 4, and continue every Thursday after that. There are 14 chapters, meaning the program will last for 14 weeks. All you need to do is obtain a copy of the book and read chapter one prior to September 4.

Why don’t you leave a comment below if you plan to join the program (or if you’ve got any questions).

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