Chapter 7: To Mortify Sin, One Must Be A Believer
The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
Over the past four weeks, Tim Challies has been reading through The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. A book written centuries ago, the relevance today transcends through time, across today’s cultures and touches on the seriousness of sin that we fail to address today. He has invited others to read along with them and post their own thoughts and comments. I have decided to do the same and invite you to join me in this process as well. You can read more about the project by clicking here.
“To kill sin is the work of living men, where men are dead, sin is alive, and will live.” ~ John Owen
Recitation: I was listening to a Christian radio show just the other day and because of the recent Association of Certified Biblical Counselors conference in Southern California. The host of this particular program had a great interest in the events taking place, even using much of the material in support of the topics his show covered, which involved analyzing our current societal status from a Christian worldview. I find this important, because the host brought up several interesting things. First he quotes Dr. Bob Sommerville, professor at the Master’s College, who indicates that there are thousands of licensed Christian counselors and there are almost the exact same number of counselors licensed as mindfulness counselors. Thus the influence of new ideology is far outpacing that of biblical ideology. Second, the host reads a letter from a listener who criticizes the hosts use of material by and relationship with Dr. John MacArthur. The author writes that Dr. MacArthur is no scientist or psychiatrist; he simply always repeats his same point that a person needs to believe and read the Bible to find answers for mental health problems. That’s the point. Mental health issues are spiritual problems in which the Bible is the only authority equipped to handle. Anything man-created is just that; something created by fallible man, and thus itself is fallible. The only thing with any real authority is anything that comes from our divine creator, God.
This is the same emphasis that John Owen makes in chapter 7 of The Mortification of Sin. The only way to mortify sin is through God. This presupposes then that one is a believer. Citing Colossians 3:5 and Romans 8:13, Owen quite rightly says “Sin is to be mortified, but something is to be done in the first place to enable us thereunto.” This first point of four in chapter 7 provides the overarching framework for the entire chapter. Nothing can be accomplished apart from Christ, especially the mortification of sin. In fact he indicates that any attempt to mortify sin without an interest in Christ is done in vain. Therefore, one must be a believer in Him.
The second point by John Owens is that the only way to mortify sin is through the Holy Spirit. This is a point that he earlier emphasized and thus does not need to spend much time here. Because it is he who mortifies sin, any other means to it are empty and vain.
Thirdly, the work of mortifying sin is a work of God through faith. In making this point, Owen points out four things:
- “God is pleased to restrain the sons of men from running forth into that compass of excess and riot which the depravedness of their nature would carry them out unto with violence. In other words, although men have a propensity to sin, God is pleased to deliver them from it.
- There is convincing power in the Word. Scripture provides the power to convince people to mortify and quit their sin.
- Although it is the work of the word and spirit, it is not available or profitable as a main end in unbelievers.
- It is men’s duty to mortify sin, but in its proper place. In other words, conversion must take place first before mortification of sin can take place.
Finally, John Owen brings up an important point that is not often though about. There is a duty to preach against sin. This is definitely counter to today’s culture in which preaching against sin is considered offensive. In this point, Owen mentions that preaching and confronting sin leads to a discovery of man’s true state. This is important because ultimately, it brings the conversation to the need for Christ as the only way to conquer sin, and thus the Gospel is preached and heard.
Response: If we take to hear the things of John Owen’s writing, there are three responses that we should recognize in regards to the mortification of sin.
First, we should recognize the need to be a believer. That is the foremost point in chapter 7. Therefore, those that are not believers cannot expect to mortify sin. For an unbeliever there may be moments of separation in which there is a temporary appearance of mortification, but ultimately it is just that….temporary. “To kill sin is the work of living men, where men are dead, sin is alive, and will live.” We all of course are dead until we find new life in Christ and only then can we be considered truly living. Until the point of life, sin will reign in dead men’s bodies.
A second important point is brought out in the middle of the chapter in which Owen points out that there is a need for genuineness. Mortification of sin must genuinely be done for God because of who He is. To do it simply in order to avoid God’s judgment and wrath in order to be comfortable will ultimately lead to one simply deceiving himself. This is not true mortification, but simply points to the self-focus that one has.
Finally, there is a need to stand firm in the preaching against sin. It may not be easy, and in fact will often times be difficult. This is because it is preaching against the culture and they will find it offensive, because the things of God are foolishness to them. Ultimately, we live in a society that is in dire need of Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is a great need to stand against sin, which leads to the preaching of the Gospel.
Therefore, our response to the teaching of John Owen here is three-fold:
- Be a believer.
- Be genuine.
- Be a preacher.
For a link to read Tim Challies’ post on Chapter 7, click here.
 The show mentioned above is Wretched Radio hosted by Todd Friel. While not everyone enjoys his style, the information and perspective he provides is grounded in the Word of God and goes beyond surface level thinking. Therefore, it is one that I would recommend as an additional resource for any Christian seeking to grow in truth. You can visit the website at http://www.wretchedradio.com/