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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How God uses Suffering

The cross and the resurrection are the ultimate answer to suffering. And we really can trust the good purposes of God in suffering to make us more like Jesus.

1. God uses suffering to teach us His Word.

Suffering makes us more receptive to God’s transforming Word. “Though the word and the Spirit do the main work, yet suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that the word hath an easier entrance.” (Richard Baxter) Thomas Watson called afflictions our “preacher and tutor,” and “A sickbed often teaches more than a sermon.” (Ps.119:67, 71, 75, note: Matin Luther said Psalm 119 follows the pattern of prayer > meditation > trial)

2. God uses suffering to wean us from idols.

“Sinful desires can lurk in our hearts unnoticed because those desires are neither threatened nor thwarted. But suffering stirs the calm waters of latent sinful desires. It reveals the true state of our hearts. It’s God diagnostic tool, preparing the way of the medicine of gospel truth.” (Tim Chester, Ps.119:50, 92, 107, 153; Ecc. 7:13-14)

3. God uses suffering to discipline us.

Suffering through discipline is a badge of sonship. There is a distinction between God’s father discipline and punishment for guilt (Ps.103:10-13). Suffering is part of our training (Heb. 12:5-11). “God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively on us.” (Thomas Watson)

4. God uses suffering to test and purify our faith.

Endurance is essential, not optional (Mt. 10:20; Rom. 5:3-5). Rejoicing in trials reveals the genuineness of our faith (Js. 1:2-4; 1 Pt. 1:3-7) Suffering refines our faith (Ps.12:6; Prov.27:21; Job 1:13-19; 2:7-8; 23:1-10). Like a Damascus blade, a believer is strengthen only by sleeping in the flames. The refiners fire is hot–but it burns away the dross and tempers the metal of our faith, making it stronger.

5. God uses suffering to increase our usefulness.

“Let a Christian be but two or three years without an affliction and he is almost good for nothing.” (John Flavel) God uses suffering to work on our character to become dependent on Christ and useful to others (Jn.15:1-2). Sometimes, God positions us in difficult circumstances that paradoxically make us more effective (i.e. Paul, Philippians 1:12-14; 2  Cor. 1:3-7; 4:7-12). The gospel achieves victory through our apparent defeat.

6. God uses suffering to prepare us for glory.

Present afflictions actually work for our future glory (Rom.8:18; 2  Cor. 4:16-18). “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (C.S. Lewis) View your trials as seeds of eternal glory planted in the soil of your present lives. God is using our trials to make us better, more beautiful creatures than we could ever otherwise become. Demolishing our old cottage is painful, but God is building a palace is you allow Him.

Suffering is not good in itself. It is the result of sin and brokenness in our world. Yet God promises to weave dark threads of affliction and trial into the tapestry of His ultimate saving plan. He is a sovereign God, but His ways involve suffering. With wisdom, love, and goodness, He designs our difficulties and assigns our afflictions to conform us to the character of Christ (233).

My greatest comfort comes from knowing that, because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus; the suffering will someday cease once and for all, and that God’s ultimate purpose to glorify Himself in bringing many some and daughters to glory will be fulfilled (234).

Adapted from Brian G. Hedges, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2010. p.222-234

5 Characteristics of Spiritual Growth

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)

The mystery of the Christian life is how the Spirit works in and through us. Our role is to keep in step with Him (Gal.5:25).

1. Spiritual growth is always relational.

The passage is framed with “one another” commands. Love one another (v.13) but do not provoke one another (15, 26). The fruit of the Spirit are very relational. Spiritual growth does not take place in isolation from other believers. Genuine transformation will affect how you treat and relate to one another.

2. Spiritual growth involves conflict.

It never happens in ideal conditions. Expect a fierce conflict between the Spirit and the flesh (vs.15-16, 24; cf. 1 Pt.2:11; Rom.8:13-14). Conflict is normal in the Christian experience.

3. Spiritual growth is inside out.

Spiritual growth is organic, not mechanical; fruit is grown, not built. Notice that the fruit are not “works of the Spirit” like the “works of the flesh” (vs.19-21; Cf. 2:16; 3:2,5,10; 2:20; Jn.15:1-17). Compare a Christmas tree to a real tree. You can hang ornamented suit on the Christmas tree but that does not make it alive, but the real tree bears real fruit, which shows that it is alive. We are dependent upon the Spirits work of renewed life to bear fruit at all.

4. Spiritual growth is symmetrical.

The nine qualities of fruit listed grow together. (note: singular form of “fruit”) There is a unity to the fruit like a bunch of grapes instead of a bunch of separate fruit in a basket. All the fruit are found in all Christians. You cannot discern spiritual growth by the presence of one or two fruits of the spirit; all must be present. “You are only as spiritually mature as your weakest trait.” (Tim Keller; cf. 6:1-2) Genuine spiritual growth is balanced, symmetrical growth.

5. Spiritual growth is supernatural.

Spiritual growth and holiness is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will not grow if left to ourselves. We must depend on the Holy Spirit. Everything depends on the Spirit. Even Jesus, our example, depended on the Spirit (Rom.8:9).

Spiritual growth leads us to greater humility. The process of growing up turns out to be the process of growing down (163-164).

Adapted from Brian G. Hedges, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2010. p.158-164