Mortification of Sin: A Gift of the Spirit

The delightful community at The Loft has posed a question:  What would you tell your past self, and I’m sharing my musings here based on The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, a Puritan theologian who wrote this entire book based on one verse, Romans 8:13, and putting forth one huge directive:  Be killing sin, or it will be killing you!

13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Chapter Three of John Owen’s Mortification of Sin is rich with pithy quotes in which he disdains the efforts of all who would attempt to kill sin in their meager human strength:

In vain do men seek other remedies; they shall not be healed by them.

. . . prayer, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like.  These have their use in the business in hand; but whereas they are all to be looked on as streams, they look on them as the fountain.

. . . they are always mortifying, but never come to any sound mortification.

They watch over themselves, and pray for a season, until this heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin is worn off:  and so mortification goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion.

Our fallen and broken selves are most pitiful in our distractedness.  By the time we have cobbled together a coherent thought about “putting to death the deeds of the body,” our post-Edenic hearts have moved on to some more entertaining or seemingly urgent pursuit. Owen’s thesis is this:  the stony heart is removed only by the work of the Spirit, His fruit crowding out the fleshly variety that thrives like weeds in an untended tomato patch.  Sadly, our tending is often without prayer and rooted in will-power (and pride).

She Who Struggles with a Sharp Tongue (and whose fingers are poised over the keyboard at this very moment) may go an entire day without an uncharitable outburst toward man or beast, but let her get over-tired or over-taxed, and the vitriol flows instead of the honey she intended.  Indeed “always mortifying . . .”

But then — a plan.  Yes, we will tape Bible verses to the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror:  “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying.”  Oh, and “from the same mouth come blessing and cursing. . . these things ought not to be so.”  This will keep the sin-killing wrecking ball swinging for another day or two.  Maybe.  But like other “remedies, [she] shall not be healed by [it].

Finally, the “heat waxes cold, and the sense of sin [having] worn off,” she makes a virtue out of her unrighteous habit, extolling the benefits of “speaking one’s mind” at all times.  “I’m blunt, that’s for sure.  No one ever has to wonder where he stands with me.”

And so the dust rises.

Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin when they have only raised a dust that they see it not.

May God help us.

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Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

9 thoughts on “Mortification of Sin: A Gift of the Spirit”

  1. Michele, I especially appreciated this quote, “. . . prayer, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like. These have their use in the business in hand; but whereas they are all to be looked on as streams, they look on them as the fountain.” It is easy to turn “means” into “ends.” Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Our fallen and broken selves are most pitiful in our distractedness. By the time we have cobbled together a coherent thought about “putting to death the deeds of the body,” our post-Edenic hearts have moved on to some more entertaining or seemingly urgent pursuit.”
    How very true.

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  3. Wow. My toes are hurting!

    I’m a big believer in pasting scripture everywhere, but you are right, the lasting answer is walking in His Spirit. We have to die daily in order to do that … killing our carnal nature. You are so right: God help us!

    Thanks for sharing at The Loft today!

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    1. Those Puritan writers are blunt, for sure, but I needed that in my early days in the faith. I’m afraid I fell into a habit of trying to do the Christian life by operation bootstrap. I really enjoyed the words you shared at the Loft today, Jerralea. Thanks for your faithful welcome!

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  4. Michele, thank you for your insights on what we should tell our past selves: Sin is sin and the cure is not in us. Those Puritan writers were beautiful in their speech and honest in their words. The truth is the truth…….period. Thanks you. Chris

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