The past two years have been devastating. I have watched the lives of four Christian friends destroyed for want of care. These are men I have loved and respected. All of them had families, loving wives, and children. Three of them were pastors and another was a nationally recognized professional at the top of his field. And all of them were consumed by their lusts. Everything in their lives destroyed because they chose to play with fire. For each of them it started small. One look at a website or the brush of someone’s hand. And now the three pastors are out of the ministry, one sits in prison, and two of them are separated from their children and wives. The professional’s wife is exploring divorce. All of them have lost their homes, their jobs, their friends, their churches, their reputations, their lives. Sin is deadly. As Christians, we must be busy about the business of the mortification of sin. We are to employ ourselves with all our strength by the power of the Spirit. Here are a few thoughts on mortification:
Renewal of the Mind (Romans 12:2): The mind is crucial in battling sin. We must renew our minds. We need to remind ourselves of the indicative: what we are in Christ Jesus. I am already a child of God, holy, set apart, free from the dominion of sin, a temple of the Holy Spirit, sanctified, etc. I must now seek to live like it.
Rely Upon Christ (Matthew 5:8): Christ is the true pure in heart. All that is secured in sanctification is purely by my union with Him. I must never trust myself, but rather always have my eyes fixed upon Him It is in Him that I must rest and upon Him that I must rely
Spirit enabled effort: Though I need to strive in my sanctification, it must always be by the power and strength of the Spirit. There will be no mortification apart from Christ and the work of the Spirit. Only those who love Christ will have the desire. Only those set free from sin will be able. Only those who are filled with the Spirit have the means. Only those with eyes set on eternity will be zealous to prosecute.
Have a view to all of life (Isaiah 58:2,5-7): The Israelites fast in Isaiah could not heal them, because though they were particular in fasting and praying they were negligent and careless in other areas. As I seek to mortify the deeds of the flesh, I must consider my entire life. As Owen said, “There is harmony in obedience: break but one part, and you interrupt the whole.”
Look Back to the Cross: Looking back to the cross reminds us of the awfulness of sin, the horrible wage it inflicted, the offensiveness of sin is to the Lord, and how great his love for us is.
Look Forward to Heaven (1 John 3:3): Looking forward to heaven makes it easier to pass up fleeting pleasures for those that are eternal. Hope for the eternal excites practical purity. John demonstrates this in 1 John when he links the two together, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
Assess Your Enemy Rightly: Never underestimate the power and effect of sin. There are no small sins. One crack of the door can reap a destruction. It can wreck home, work, society, reputation, finances, body, mind, and even soul.
Flee when Needed (Gen. 39): Joseph fled, even leaving his clothes behind, when faced with temptation in Potipher’s house. Flee from sin. If there is a billboard in a certain part of town, then go a different route. If a particular person leads your mind to wander, steer clear of them. If having cable television is a temptation, then pull the plug. If you can’t have the internet, then don’t. If Jesus said we are to gouge out our eye, then surely we can pull the plug on the television or cancel the internet subscription.
Attend to the means of grace (Acts 2:42; Romans 8; Galatians 2;): God has given means to His church. He works through the Word, sacraments, and prayer. They convey grace to us as we receive them in faith. And weary pilgrims need the refreshment, sustainment, nourishment, and life they provide. Neglect them, you neglect your soul.
Vivify (Colossians 3:12-17; Galatians 5): If we are to mortify, we are also to vivify. It is not enough to just put to death the deeds of the flesh, we must live by the Spirit and walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
Sin is our enemy. Don’t entertain it, play with it, be gentle with it, ignore it, or feed it. Its desire is nothing more than our very destruction. Let us seek, by the power of Christ and the strength of the Spirit, to inflict blow after blow upon it rather than it upon us. Mortification is business that the Christian is to be gainfully employed in. An employment that is aimed at life and living that life abundantly.
John Owen Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway, 2006).
Thomas Watson The Doctrine of Repentance (Puritan Paperbacks) (Banner of Truth, 1998).
Thomas Brooks Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) (Banner of Truth, 2010).