How Does the Holy Spirit Mortify Sin?

March 8, 2010

Christian Life

By John Owen

[This is a bit of a long read for a post, but you just can’t take Owen in context without a little effort.  If you’ve never read him before, treat this as an exercise in patience and concentration.  Owen is a wonderful writer, but his style will be difficult to grasp if you approach it hurriedly with a short attention span. – DB]

How doth the Spirit mortify sin? I answer, in general, three ways:–

[1.] By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them. So the apostle opposes the fruits of the flesh and of the Spirit: “The fruits of the flesh,” says he, “are so and so,” Gal. 5:19-21; “but,” says he, “the fruits of the Spirit are quite contrary, quite of another sort,” verses 22, 23. Yea; but what if these are in us and do abound, may not the other abound also? No, says he, verse 24, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” But how? Why, verse 25, “By living in the Spirit and walking after the Spirit;” — that is, by the abounding of these graces of the Spirit in us, and walking according to them. For, saith the apostle, “These are contrary one to another,” verse 17; so that they cannot both be in the same subject, in any intense of high degree. This “renewing of us by the Holy Ghost,” as it is called, Tit. 3:5, is one great way of mortification; he causes us to grow, thrive, flourish, and abound in those graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the fruits of the flesh, and to the quiet or thriving of indwelling sin itself.

[2.] By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin, for the weakening, destroying, and taking it away. Hence he is called a “Spirit of judgement and burning,” Isa. 4:4, really consuming and destroying our lusts. He takes away the stony heart by an almighty efficiency; for as he begins the work as to its kind, so he carries it on as to its degrees. He is the fire which burns up the very root of lust.

[3.] He brings the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith, and gives us communion with Christ in his death, and fellowship in his sufferings: of the manner whereof more afterward [Next].

Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.

But thou wilt say, “How shall faith act itself on Christ for this end and purpose?” I say, sundry ways:–

(1.) By faith fill thy soul with a due consideration of that provision which is laid up in Jesus Christ for this end and purpose, that all thy lusts, this very lust wherewith thou art entangled, may be mortified. By faith ponder on this, that though thou art no way able in or by thyself to get the conquest over thy distemper, though thou art even weary of contending, and art utterly ready to faint, yet that there is enough in Jesus Christ to yield thee relief, Phil. 4:13. It staid the prodigal, when he was ready to faint, that yet there was bread enough in his father’s house; though he was at a distance from it, yet it relieved him, and staid him, that there it was. In thy greatest distress and anguish, consider that fullness of grace, those riches, those treasures of strength, might, and help, that are laid up in him for our support, John 1:16, Col. 1:19. Let them come into and abide in thy mind. Consider that he is “exalted and made a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance unto Israel,” Acts 5:31; and if not to give repentance, to give mortification, without which the other is not, nor can be. Christ tells us that we obtain purging grace by abiding in him, John 15:3. To act faith upon the fullness that is in Christ for our supply is an eminent way of abiding in Christ, for both our [engraftment] and abode is by faith, Rom. 11:19,20. Let, then, thy soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these: “I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption if too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of nought. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succour and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, that hath all fullness of grace in his heart, all fullness of power in his hand, he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, drying soul and make me more than a conqueror. ‘Why sayest thou, O my soul, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgement is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint,” Isa. 40:27-31. He can make the ‘dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water;’ yea, he can make this ‘habitation of dragons,’ this heart, so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place for ‘grass’ and fruit to himself,” Isa. 35:7. So God staid Paul, under his temptation, with the consideration of the sufficiency of his grace: “My grace is sufficient for thee,” 2 Cor. 12:9. [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=dirt+road&iid=186727″ src=”0183/b07aca40-34ab-4883-a843-9d714f7278ec.jpg?adImageId=11126190&imageId=186727″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]Though he were not immediately so far made partaker of it as to be freed from his temptation, yet the sufficiency of it in God, for that end and purpose, was enough to stay his spirit. I say, then, by faith, be much in the consideration of that supply and the fullness of it that is in Jesus Christ, and how he can at any time give thee strength and deliverance. Now, if hereby thou dost not find success to a conquest, yet thou wilt be staid in the chariot, that thou shalt not fly out of the field until the battle be ended; thou wilt be kept from an utter despondency and a lying down under thy unbelief, or a turning aside to false means and remedies, that in the issue will not relieve thee. The efficacy of this consideration will be found only in the practice.

(2.) Raise up thy heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. Relief in this case from Christ is like the prophet’s vision, Hab. 2:3, “It is for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, yet wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Though it may seem somewhat long to thee, whilst thou art under thy trouble and perplexity, yet it shall surely come in the appointed time of the Lord Jesus; which is the best season. If, then, thou canst raise up thy heart to a settled expectation of relief from Jesus Christ, — if thine eyes are towards him “as the eyes of a servant to the hand of his master,” when he expects to receive somewhat from him, — thy soul shall be satisfied, he will assuredly deliver thee; he will slay the lust, and thy latter end shall be peace. Only look for it at his hand; expect when and how he will do it. “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.”

[This post consists of excerpts taken from chapter 3 and chapter 14 of John Owen’s book “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.”  The last word being key in all of this.  The Holy Spirit works to mortify sin in believers only.  Prior to salvation He convicts the unregenerate (once that was me) of his sin.  After salvation God works to perfect you and I into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I love not only the color of Owen’s writing (comparing sin filled souls as dragon’s habitations) but his imperative; the unfeigned reality that we all have sin in need of mortification in our lives.  We’ve worked hard throughout our lives to paint a respectable face, but our bodies our still of this world.  God will endeavor to draw us unto Himself and continue to achieve His sanctifying work. – DB]

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