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.
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 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.
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.