Mortification of Sin

In continuation of the previous post, I thought it would be helpful to further discuss the mortification of sin. As Christians, we are in union with Christ by faith. One of the realities of that union is that sin no longer has dominion over us as Romans 6 makes clear. However, as noted at the end of the last post this does not mean our fight with sin is over. Again, Sinclair Ferguson’s words are helpful. He wrote:

When we discussed Paul’s teaching that the Christian has died to sin, we noted this does not mean that sin has died in him. It remains, and it is still sin. What has changed is not its presence within our hearts, but its status (it no longer reigns) and our relationship to it (we are no longer its slaves). (pgs. 156-7)

Not only has our relationship to it (sin) changed, but God has planted within us his divine seed (1 Jn. 3:9), and in this sense has ‘added’ to our powers as well as subtracting from sin’s status! We have good reason to enter the conflict with the enemy of sin in optimistic mood! Not for a moment, however, dare we delude ourselves into thinking that the victory will be won consistently without blood, sweat and tears. (pg. 157)

Puritan John Owen’s book, The Mortification of Sin is a classic work on this subject. The foundation for Owen’s work is his exposition of Romans 8:13. He also looks to Colossians 3:15 which reads; “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry.” The word “death” is synonymous with the older term, mortify. Owen began the work this way:

Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you. (pg. 5)

However, he makes clear that this fight is not about self-effort, but can only be done, “by the Spirit” as Romans 8:13 states. He is also clear that we can only do this “work” in light of our union with Christ. Yet, in agreement with Ferguson’s statements above he would affirm it is indeed work. Owen wrote; “Your position in Christ, and the new life that you have in Him, does not excuse you from this work.” (pg. 5) In fact, he goes on to say that calling people to mortification apart from genuine conversion only results in them being self-righteous or hypocrites (failures). (pg. 47)

Since this is not the place to outline Owen’s work, the following summary statement will perhaps help us understand what he means by “mortification of sin.” He wrote:

For instance, when the heart at any time recognizes sin and temptation in action, seducing it and forming sinful imaginations to put the lust into practice, the heart must immediately see what is happening, bring the sin to the law of God and the love of Christ, condemn it, and follow it to execute it to the uttermost. (pg. 38)

Do not ignore the words, “law of God and the love of Christ.” The law will condemn our sinful action and by grace we can turn to the gospel of Christ for mercy. The law will also guide the believer, for whom there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1), in a life that honors the Lord. The reality of mercy and grace and the fact that there is no condemnation, gives the believer the courage and security to address their sin honestly and boldly. Also, with sin’s dominion ended, there can be victory!

See also: The Gospel is Fuel for Battling Sin

About Pastor Matt

Matt Baker is the Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship Church.
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