“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41 ESV)
“If we do not abide in prayer, we shall abide in cursed temptations.” Puritan John Owen
Pastor Sinclair Ferguson recalls a conversation he had with a young pastor who came to him for advice. Dr. Ferguson shares, “My friend — a younger minister — sat down with me at the end of a conference in his church and said: “Before we retire tonight, just take me through the steps that are involved in helping someone mortify sin.” We sat talking about this for a little longer and then went to bed, hopefully he was feeling as blessed as I did by our conversation. I still wonder whether he was asking his question as a pastor or simply for himself — or both.”
How would you have responded? How did Dr. Ferguson respond? He said, “The first thing to do is: Turn to the Scriptures. Yes, turn to John Owen (never a bad idea!), or to some other counselor dead or alive. But remember that we have not been left only to good human resources in this area. We need to be taught from “the mouth of God” so that the principles we are learning to apply carry with them both the authority of God and the promise of God to make them work.
What Scriptures should we specifically read in order to meditate, memorize and apply in our lives so we can put sin to death? Here are some Dr. Ferguson recommend: Romans 8:1-13; Romans 13:8–14 (Augustine’s text); 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1; Ephesians 4:17–5:21; Colossians 3:1–17; 1 Peter 4:1–11; 1 John 2:28–3:11. All of these passages, while not all use the word “mortify,” do address the subject and discipline of the mortification of sin.
Let’s use Colossians 3:1-17 as our biblical source in addressing the subject of mortifying our sin. What does the Apostle Paul have to say in this particular text? I respectfully borrow Pastor’s Ferguson’s outline and observations from the text.
First, Paul underlines how important it is for us to be familiar with our new identity in Christ (3:1–4). “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Principle number one, then, is: Know, rest in, think through, and act upon your new identity — you are in Christ.
Second, Paul goes on to expose the workings of sin in every area of our lives (Col. 3:5–11). “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Principle Two: Mortifying sin is a whole-of-life change.
Third, Paul also focuses upon the workings of righteousness in every area of our lives (Col. 3:12-17). “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Principle Three: Mortifying sin is not only what God calls believers not to do, but also what God calls them to do.
In his preface of his book The Mortification of Sin, John Owen wrote, “I hope…that mortification and holiness may be promoted in my heart and in the hearts and lives of others, to the glory of God; and that in this way the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things.”
More to come! May the LORD’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!