Mortification is NOT:
- The utter destruction of and freedom from sin. Even Paul, one of the most saintly and influential Christians ever, claimed not to have been "made perfect" yet in Philippians 3:12. Contrary to what some heretical sects have claimed, no one except Jesus can be completely free of sin. No amount of mortification can get rid of it altogether; that's reserved for when we see God face to face.
- The dissimulation of sin. This is another one of Owen's archaic words; basically it means covering up sin by acting righteous. Owen points out that someone who simply stops practicing a sin without being changed on the inside has added hypocrisy to his sins, and "is now on a safer path to hell than he was before." Ouch!
- The "improvement of a quiet and sedate nature"; trying to avoid sin by changing one's disposition to a quiet and sedate one to avoid "sinful passions" and the like. If it were, I'd be in good shape indeed!
- The diversion of a sin from one action to another. As Owen puts it "a man may be sensible of a lust, set himself against the eruptions of it, take care that it shall not break forth as it has done, but in the meantime suffer the same corrupted habit to vent itself some other way". If you focus on stopping one specific sinful behavior without looking to the inner cause, the sin will likely just start expressing itself in a different way. I made this mistake while trying to fight sin the wrong way and can attest to the fact that sin is smarter than we are! Don't think you can kill it with discipline and behavior modification; at best, you'll only be trading one sin for another.
- Occasional conquests over sin. For example, only fighting a sin because and when it causes you discomfort or distress, and then once it's temporarily settled down returning to a state of complacency and thinking everything is A-OK.
So these are how not to try and fight sin. If you've been making any of these mistakes, read on! Owen describes the mortification of sin positively as three things:
- The habitual weakening of sin; reducing its ability to tempt us, draw us aside, and disrupt our spiritual life.
- Constant fighting and contending against sin. Just just when it's at its worst; constant. Basically mortification is a war against sin that we fight for as long as we're on the earth; there are no truces and we should make a habit of learning the tactics and strategies of the enemy and doing as much damage to it as we can.
- Frequent success. If we're doing mortification right, it really works!
Again, I recommend listening to my church's free online sermons (in my previous post) and/or reading the book. I forgot to mention that the book is available for free online. It's not the same as reading it on paper, but it's free!