Monday, June 7, 2010

On John Owen's "The Mortification of Sin in Believers", Part 1

Well, I guess I promised some posts on what I've been studying in the weeks leading up to my summer mission project in Milwaukee. Considering I leave in four days, I should probably get on that.

One of the main things I've been doing in the way of Christian study is going through a sermon series my college church did two years ago. They have all their sermons from the last four or so years online here. This series was on a classic work by the Puritan theologian John Owen, The Mortification of Sin in Believers. If you're looking to deepen your relationship with God by getting rid of the crap that sin puts in the way, I highly recommend getting this book and/or listening through my church's solid sermon series on it (almost halfway down the page). if you don't have the time/money, I'm going to write about it here.

The whole book is based on Romans 8:13: "But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." The first chapter is devoted to unpacking this verse in all its detail: the conditionality of the statement ('If'), the persons given this duty ('You'/believers), the means by which it is carried out ('by the Spirit'), the duty itself ('put to death the misdeeds of the body'), and the promise ('you shall live'). What a promise indeed! Tell me more!

This "putting to death the misdeeds of the body" is the aforementioned mortification of sin. More on defining it later. In the next three chapters Owen goes into three reasons for mortifying sin: as my church puts it, you must, you can, and you get to! Chapter two goes over Biblical commands for mortification (Colossians 3:5) on top of the connection with mortifying sin and living. (Pretty important to do) Additionally, he argues, Christians need to mortify their sin or it will multiply in them and drag them down and away from their relationship with God. The sermon series it titled after a line in the book, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you".

Luckily, since we must kill sin, we've been given power over it by the Holy Spirit, which weakens sin and produces goodness in us to counteract it. This is what makes mortification of sin possible; Owen describes other, futile means people to try use against sin like empty religion and rituals; outward actions that try to change out inner nature, as opposed to the Spirit changing us from the inside out. This is a crucial distinction that many get wrong then and now. (I get the feeling that Owen dislikes Catholics, as he uses their practices from that day as examples of how not to kill sin)

Then in chapter four, he offers the converse to chapter two: just as not mortifying sin results in spiritual death, mortifying sin indirectly results in "the life, vigor, and comfort of our spiritual life". He makes clear that without mortification of sin, we won't find any of there things, but it's not the only condition to having them; it's an "only if" relation. But that shouldn't discourage us from fighting sin, which ruins one's spiritual life by "weakening and darkening" the soul in its ability to live for God.

This is all good stuff, but it gets better. Next time: what mortification actually is! (And is not)

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