Killing Sin: Mortification


“Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” (John Owen)

You cannot tame sin, it will turn on you at the first opportunity. You cannot get the wild out of sin simply by caging it. Sin will never be domesticated. It’s a wolf, not a dog; it’s a piranha, not a goldfish. Evil is untamable. Sin is wired to destroy.

Mortification Misunderstood

1. Mortification does not produce perfection. While sinless perfection and holiness are the goal you realize it is not possible (Gal.5:17). The Bible describe the Christian life like a walk, you are moving in the direction of holiness, increasing in Christlikeness, and pressing on for the prize (Phil.3:12-14).

2. Mortification is not furthered by asceticism. You cannot remove yourself from the world and expect to be unworldly (1 Tim.4:1-5; Col.2:21-23). God created the world good. The problem lies within your heart.

3. Mortification is more than behavior modification. It is possible to change what you do, even reduce the frequency of certain sins, without actually becoming more pure of heart.

Mortification’s Meaning

Mortification is killing sin (crucifying the flesh). It includes putting to death sinful actions and their sinful motivations. The image of mortification does not suggest finality, but the vehemence, enmity, and total-war mentality to be had towards sin. Mortification is not a once and for all action, but a process. (Cf. Romans 8:12-14; Colossians 3:5-10; Galatians 5:24)

10 Ways to Kill Sin (not exhaustive, but helpful)

1. Yield yourself to God. Surrender (Rom.6:12-13; 12:1). “We try to hold at bay the gnats of small sins while swallowing the camel of self.” (David Wells) To win the war on sin you’ve got to first dethrone yourself. Deny self-rule for God’s rule (Mk.8:34).

2. Accept that the battle never ends. “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.” (John Owen; Rom.8:12-13) There is no cease-fire in this war.

3. Take God’s side against your sin. Act on holiness; act against sinfulness. It takes a discipline of ongoing repentance.

4. Make no provision for the flesh. Fire starts small, then gets bigger. Put out the matchstick flame before it becomes a forest fire. (Rom.13:14) Light few matches and snuff out the ones already lit. “Rise mightily against the first sign of sin. And do not let it gain the smallest ground” (John Owen) Sin is subtle and it sneaks up on you like soft-soled slippers. Be ruthless and radical with sin (Mk.9:43-48).

5. Use your spiritual sword. “Either this Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.” (Ps. 119:9-11; Cf. Eph.6:17; Rom.8:13; Mt.4:1-11). Sharpen your skills within the Word of God, your spiritual sword.

6. Aim at the heart. Sin is a matter of the heart (Lk.6:45; Mt.23:25-26). Stomping on the fruit of sin, won’t kill the tree. You got to hack the roots out. Hypocrites fail to grow in holiness.

7. Replace sin with grace. The most practical way to kill specific sin is to cultivate the particular virtue that counters it.

8. Stay in community. Battles are best fought with armies, not individuals (Ecc.4:9-10; Heb.3:12-13). Perseverance in the faith is a community project. “Lone rangers are dead rangers.” (Joshua Harris) Cherish the “one another” commands and be willing to confess your sins to one another (Js.5:9).

9. Look to the cross. “There is no death to sin without the seat of Christ.” (John Owen; Rom.8:1-13; Gal. 6:14) Because of the death  resurrection of Christ, we fight from a position of victory.

10. Depend on the Spirit. (Rom.8:13; Gal.5:16) Mortification from self-strength, carried by ways of self-invention, to the end of self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all the false religions of the world.

The battle is not against our joy and happiness, but for our maximum pleasure, pleasure in God.

Adapted from Brian G. Hedges, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2010. p.77-96

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