John Owen on the Mortification of Sin

ESV Romans 8:6-13 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

What is mortification? A habitual weakening of sin. Although we are united to Jesus Christ by faith and sin has lost it’s dominion, or rule and reign over believers, nevertheless, sin remains in us, and is hostile to our spiritual growth (Romans 6-8).

Mortification consists in constantly fighting against sin. We must understand that the Christian life is a conflict, it is a great spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-20).

  • Know that God hates sin and will judge it.
  • Know that you have such an enemy to deal with.
  • Labor to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its success.

You must be a believer to mortify sin. Without the Spirit of God, you cannot mortify (Rom. 8:13). There must be sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience. Read 2 Cor. 7:1. Consider whether your lust has these dangers symptoms accompanying it:

  • It has long corrupted your heart and it has had power and prevalency over you for some time.
  • Secret pleas of the heart approving of itself and making excuses for why you do it in order to remain in you.
  • Rather than fight the sin, you seek to find evidences of good things you do to give you peace, rather than dealing with the sin that is corrupting you through its power.
  • Has it had a frequency of success in you?
  • You have sought to mortify the sin simply by being frightened of judgment or the consequences for you and your reputation.
  • Has God dealt with you about your sin, particularly through the discipline of affliction?

Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, dangers and evil of your sin. Load your conscience with the guilt of your sin. Bring your lust to the Gospel, not for relief (yet!) but for further conviction of its guilt; you might say:

“What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Spirit for his grace Do I thus treat the Lord in this way?! Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? …Do I account communion with him of so little value? …I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?!”

Constantly long and breath after deliverance from the power of sin (Rom. 7). Consider whether the distemper is rooted in your nature and increased by your constitution/temperament (Psa. 51; 1 Cor. 9:27). Rise mightily against the first actings and conceptions of your distemper. Use and exercise yourself to such meditations as may serve to fill you at all times with self-abasement and humility before God and thoughts of your own vileness.

  • Think on the majesty and holiness of God and His infinite distance from you.
  • Think much of how little you yet know Him and seek to commune with Him.

Do not speak peace to your soul before God speaks it to you; but hearken to what God says to your soul. Raise your heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. Consider Jesus’ mercy, tenderness and kindness to sinners, as He is particularly Priest at God’s right hand. Consider his faithfulness to help you as he has promised. Act faith on the death of Christ: Have an expectation of power and expectation of conformity to Him by His Spirit.

  • The Spirit of Christ alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief.
  • The Spirit of Christ alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ.
  • The Spirit of Christ alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
  • The Spirit of Christ is the author and finisher of our sanctification.