I’m currently reading the book Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen which is actually a collection of three of his classic works on sin and temptation, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It, and Indwelling Sin. I’ve only scratched the surface of what Owen has to offer as far as his insights are concerned; so much can be gleaned from him expounding the scriptures.
One particular insight that has really hit me is the quote for this entry: “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Sin has waged war on the souls of men. And for the regenerate in particular, those who profess to be saved, there is no neutral place. There is no where to hide for a time from sin and its evils. Every day, every moment even, sin is at work, waging war on the members of our bodies. If we are not in a daily practice of mortifying sin by the Spirit, it is very conceivable that sin will gain such a foothold in your life and direct you to do things you never thought you would do, taking you further than you ever wanted to go. And so either you are killing sin or it is killing you. There is no third option, as many suppose, that if you just stop pursuing Christ and think of yourself as neither progressing nor backsliding, you are actually backsliding. Sin is so deceitful, that just like novocaine, it numbs your soul to the injury it is actually inflicting on it to where you cannot feel the damage it is causing to your soul. If every day we are not pursuing the mortification of sin in our lives, it is harming our souls, whether we see it or not.
“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6) How do we daily mortify sin in our lives? I mean we believe it is impossible for us in our flesh to conquer sin, do we not? The verse above clearly asserts this fact. Owen’s answer: we mortify sin by means of the Spirit alone. If we attempt to mortify it by our own means, we may for a time hold sin back, but it will not get at the root problem in our hearts, where only the Spirit can go. Any attempt by man to mortify sin in his own strength is futile, which is why people grow weak and tired over time of pursuing holiness: they are doing it in their own strength, not by the Spirit. Romans 8 makes this clear. We can restrain sin for a time on our own, but simply restraining sin doesn’t fix the problem; it will not supernaturally change us from the inside out and cut out the root sin has grown in our hearts. And eventually sin will quickly find its place right back where it was. The Spirit is the only means by which we can mortify sin. We will not eradicate it in this life, but by the Spirit, we can pursue true righteousness that gets at the heart of our sin problem. The Holy Spirit alone effects change in the life of the believer. All other forms of change will not last. But the Spirits’ change lasts forever, unto eternal life even. “For the mind set on the flesh is death.” Employing our own means of conquering sin, produces death, because it is self-righteousness, which fixes nothing, but in fact produces more sin. “But the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” However, by employing the means of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us by the work of Christ on the cross, we can mortify sin by striking at the root.
This may sound abstract and distant from real life, but practically speaking, what this looks like is simply coming to an utter end of yourself, realizing you fix nothing of yourself and your works, but trust solely on God’s work, by the Spirit, to change you. We are totally dependent on Him to change us. “Go on to maturity … And this we will do if God permits.” (Hebrews 6:1,3) We will grow in grace, if God permits. We are at His mercy. And how He desires us to grow, but not by our own works, rather His work, through His Son, in the work of the cross. We are at the mercy of God to change into godly people. And He is full of mercy, displayed clearly in the work of the cross. Throw yourself at the the feet of Jesus in desperation, because you are inadequate to cure your disease infested heart. I am a sinner of the utmost kind, and everyday, if I’m not fighting against sin by means of the Spirit, it is fighting me, and winning. And man do I feel it. Oh how we need Christ to change us! May we all fall on our faces before God, plead with Him to have mercy on us to change, and then look to the cross to see that mercy has already been given us in the Gospel. “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” But do this by the Spirit, not yourself.