Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On John Owen's "The Mortification of Sin in Believers", Part 3

Another day (I'll be in Milwaukee in 48 hours!), another post on John Owen. This week I'll summarize his writings on some general and specific directions for the mortification of sin; basically things to keep in mind to prepare yourself for the great work itself. Owen offers two general directions for the mortification of sin:

  • One must be a believer to mortify any sin. This one is pretty easy; as Romans 8:13 says, it's "by the Spirit" that we mortify sin. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to believers (Acts 1:8), and it can be concluded from the contrapositive of Romans 8:9 that whoever has accepted Christ has the Spirit. So only a believer who has accepted Christ, and therefore has the Spirit in them, can go about the Spirit-enabled work of mortification. If someone hasn't accepted Christ, it's foolish, legalistic, and ultimately futile to try to get them to mortify sin.
  • The other general direction for mortification is "sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience". Basically it means that if a believer is disobeying or ignoring God in some glaring way, he or she probably won't have much success at mortifying sin. Owen specifically targets those who (as I, and likely many others, have) set out to mortify a sin simply because it distresses them or disturbs their peace of mind, while ignoring other, less perplexing sins and essentials in one's relationship with God like prayer. If preserving our own peace of mind is our reason for mortifying sin, if we only come to God because we need help dealing with this one thing, what will become of our relationship with Him if that sin were mortified? As Owen puts it, "God says, 'Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost.'" This idea that God might leave us to struggle with sins to keep us coming to Him floored me when I first heard it. God is glorified even through our struggles and temptations when we trust in Him to deliver us through them (1 Corinthians 10:13). If our sufferings bring us closer to God, then let us rejoice in our sufferings!
Owen then gives nine more specific directions to mortification of sin, the first two of which I'll go through tonight.
  • Know the symptoms of serious sin that requires extra prayer and mortification. These are inveterateness (basically the sin being entrenched in your heart and behavior without fear of mortification, so that you're used to it); attempts to justify the sin or look over it and convince yourself that you're still "mostly" a good person; simply dismissing the sin as forgiven by Jesus without attempting to stop; frequently giving in to the sin or temptation; opposing the sin only because of punishment or negative repercussions of it; and the ineffectuality of God's convicting it in you. What these look like is that intellectually, you might know that some particular sin is wrong, but you just don't care, or convince yourself that everything is OK and Jesus forgave it all while continuing to do it even if God convicts you about it. When I listened through my church's sermon on this point for the third time, I reliazed that my tendency to blow off time with God in favor of cheap distractions (computer, music, games, etc.) fit most of these symptoms--a sobering realization indeed. If a sin you struggle with fits any of them, it's time to buy John Owen's book--I mean get serious with mortifying that sin. Which may or may not involve buying the book.
  • But wait, it gets more convicting: "get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of your sin". One symptom of dangerous sin, as already stated, is the tendency to see it as "not a big deal" or "not a serious problem". Before mortification can begin, it's important to get rid of that misconception. God doesn't see your sin as no big deal--it breaks His heart! For a look at what it looks like when we realize just how bad our sin really is, see Psalms 38 and 51. Owen also points out possible dangers of continuing in sin: it might harden your heart and make you resistant to God; punishment or physical repercussions and the poss of one's peace (as I stated above, these shouldn't be the only reasons for mortifying sin, but they are still reasons); and the danger of not being saved. Calvinists and Arminians disagree over whether salvation can actually be lost, but they agree that  a believer who turns away from God and sins freely until death is not saved; either he lost his salvation, or he never was saved. Scary! Finally, as to the evils of sin, Owen mentions that sin "grieves the Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30) and decreases a believer's usefulness in kingdom work in the  here and now.
Well, that was quite a bit of typing. Again, I encourage you to listen to Hope Community Church's sermons on the book and/or read it, online or from a store. (Note: I had trouble finding it in physical stores and ordered my copy from Northwestern Bookstore) Feel free to comment with thoughts or questions. Pray for the Spirit today and God will fill you as He promised! (Ephesians 5:18)

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