Fellowship in Reading: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (Chapter 1)

Mortification of Sin

What Are We Doing Here?

If you are not already familiar with the blog of Tim Challies, it is one that I would highly recommend. It stands above many within the “Christian” world. Tim Challies offers up articles, resources, and book reviews from a Christian mindset and worldview. Therefore, it is one that I highly recommend to visit at challis.com.

With that said, he has started a weekly series on his blog that I have taken a great interest in. He has begun reading John Owen’ The Mortification of Sin with his readers. Each week they will read a chapter and on Thursday of that week he posts an overview of what has been read. For more information click here. He then invites readers to comment under his postings and/or post links to their own blogs detailing their reading. For the sake of time, I had decided I may read and follow, but I wasn’t going to do much more than that. However, after recent conversations with a number of people and discussing the issues of sin, I decided that indeed, this book would be a great thing to go through. Therefore, I have decided to jump on board as well, even though I am a few weeks later.

The version that I am reading can be found here at Amazon both in paperback or Kindle. Admittedly, this version is a bit harder to read, especially because it uses the older English language style. If you would like a more readable copy, visit here for other recommended versions (including the one that Tim himself is reading through and posting from).

For Today

For today, my plan is to give thoughts regarding chapters 1 & 2. The chapters, while rich in convictions and concepts, are short enough that catching up should not be too difficult, even though it means reading three chapters by Thursday.

Mortification of Sin Book iowenjo001p1

Chapter One

“So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” ~Romans 8:12-13[1]

Recitation: Romans 8:13 begins to be the foundational verse for the premise that John Owen outlines in his book. This chapter then, is important in order because it flows into the subsequent chapters and into the final development. Therefore, he begins with this proposition: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.”[2] That is to say that those who claim to be in Christ, true followers of Him, have a responsibility to put to death the sin that is in their life.

Because of the explicit call for believers to put to death (or mortify) sin, John Own furthers his proposition or thesis statement using Romans 8:13 as a source text and notes the following five premises regarding this verse:

  • The Call: to mortify the deeds of the flesh.
  • The Responsibility of the Call: The verse indicates ‘you’ referring to the believers in Rome that Paul writes to. As by extension, all believers are called to do the same.
  • The Promise of the Call: Paul writes a promise to those who put to death the sin, and that is that they will live.
  • The Means of the Call: It is rightly noted that this is not something that one does on their own, but rather, it is through the means of the Holy Spirit that one is able to overcome sin.
  • The Condition of the Call: The word ‘if’ used within the text indicates a conditional clause. There are two conditions noted in the text speaking to the fact that an individual can either follow a right path or a wrong path that leads to either blessing or consequence.

There is a choice given for one to either mortify sin or continue in it. It is certain if one mortifies sin, he or she will live, because that is promised within Scripture. However, it cannot be done alone, but rather by the Holy Spirit. So what is it that you want to do?

Response: The concept of mortifying sin is exactly as it sounds. It is to put sin to death. Sin that has died no longer has life. Something that does not have life is unable to function, unable to sustain, and unable to exert control. To mortify sin is to slay it and no longer go back to it.

According to 1 John 1:8 and 10, it is clear that all people have sin. This is a battle each of us will face for as long as we are in our present state. However, we also know that according to 2 Corinthians 5:17, each of us in Christ is a new creation and therefore, we are no longer slaves to sin, but sins to righteousness (Romans 6:15-23). Each of us will either be slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. The question becomes, “What are you a slave to?” Before sin can be put to death, it requires first a decision by the person to want to put the sin to death. If one is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, it should be easy to want to set sin aside, it’s the follow-through that becomes difficult. I am of the mindset that unfortunately, we as Christians too often minimize the issue of sin and the severity of it. As a result sin is not seen as a very serious thing, and therefore we become comfortable and complacent in our sin, refusing to acknowledge it and put it to death.

Related to that is how to put it to death. John Owen rightly points out that while individuals are responsible for their sin, putting it to death cannot be done in one’s own strength. Instead, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to both convict one of sin and convince one to change. As he states, “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.”[3]

To read Tim Challies’ posting for chapter one click here.


[1] All Scripture References, unless otherwise noted are taken from the English Standard Version by Crossway, 2001. This particular quotation is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible and only differs in the phrase “you are going to die” which is rendered “you will die” in the ESV. However, I like to use the HCSB phrasing because it sounds a bit more forceful, thus emphasizing the impact of sin.

[2] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin (Louisville: GLH Publishing, 2014), 10.

[3] IBID, 10

Photo Notes: The Mortification of Sin Banner was used from the website found here and is not my own work. Likewise, the image of John Owen was used from the website found here.

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