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:
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.