The Foundation of Mortification

jpegI’m joining Tim Challies and hundreds of his closest friends in reading through John Owen’s classic work Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers.

I encourage you to consider getting a copy and joining in. You will not waste your time. And you could catch up to us in 20 minutes.

You can see Challies’ summary at the link above. Let me just offer my reflection on this pass through chapter 1.

Owen reminded me of a kind of bravado that “sin killing” can sometimes parade in, a prideful approach I have participated in. Here’s the line that caught my attention:

Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.

Make no mistake: killing sin is most certainly our duty, but is my aim self-improvement? Do I want to kill sin in order to be seen as some kind of Christian special-agent?

The means dictate the end, and end determines the means. So, if I am trying to mortify sin in my own power, it probably means my goal is self-importance. But, if my goal is life with Jesus, then I must kill sin by the Spirit.

So what does Spirit-empowered sin-slaying look like? Well, Owen will help us think through that in the next chapters, but he helped me see one massive connection already in chapter 1.

Romans 8:13 has a promise, like a check you can take to the bank: “If by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” But Owen asks the question, who is authorized to sign the back of this check? It’s the same group as Roman 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those who can cash the “mortify…and live” check are those who “are in Christ Jesus” and have “no condemnation” pronounced over them.

So what does putting to death by the Spirit, and not by “self-strength” look mean? Well, of all the things it means, it at least means this: putting to death sins already pardoned in Christ.

Or, as I love to sing:

He breaks the pow’r of cancelled sin
He sets the prisoner free

Spirit-powered sin-slaying calls to mind the fact that in the death Christ, the sin you fight has already been killed! So we walk in that resurrection power.


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