Friday, November 10, 2006

The Mortification of Sin

The following is a 5 page essay on "The Mortification of Sin" I had to write for my Principles of Sactification class. There were several questions that had to be answered for the assignment but I managed to insert my opinions anyway.

The Mortification of Sin

The mortification of sin is taught, thoroughly, and throughout the Bible with its roots springing primarily from Romans 8:13, “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.” Mortification literally means “to put to death”. The term “body” refers to “all the corruption and depravity of our natures.”[1] The mortification of sin is an active putting to death indwelling sin in the body of the believer. However, mortification of sin is not the complete elimination of sin in our fallen bodies. This will not and cannot happen in our present bodies as Paul declares in Philippians 3:12.[2] Mortification of sin is not simply an improvement of an outward appearance either. Nor is it one type of sin traded for the other. It is “the weakening of sin’s indwelling disposition.”[3] It is the believer’s fervent, vigorous, and constant waging of war against sin.

Without the Holy Spirit, no one is able to mortify their sins. It takes God’s grace in our sanctification to empower us. If the Holy Spirit is not present all methods, contrivances, and spiritual pursuits are ineffectual and worthless. Not only that, but without faith, and depending on Christ we will never mortify our sins. Man’s striving without the Spirit’s assistance will always fail.

Mortifying indwelling sin in our bodies is a command of God (Phil. 2:13, II Thess. 1:11, Rom. 8:26). God’s Law is holy, perfect and upright. The law exposes the wickedness of men. Christ came and obeyed it perfectly while we do not and cannot. However, this does not mean that we should not try to obey the law of God. Further, Christians do not have the option or the right to disobey God. By the continual mortification of our indwelling sins we are becoming more holy and becoming more righteous. We should make it our aim to personally practice the discipline of the mortification of indwelling sin. In doing this we must first fully recognize the seriousness and power of sin. If we understand the ruthlessness of sin and the depravity of our own hearts we should be alarmed and thus provoked to do something about it. We should learn to identify the subtle tactics of evil so to prepare ourselves and flee from it. If drunkenness is a besetting sin for a Christian, he should make it his practice to not even set foot into a bar or anywhere he could easily stumble. Or when dealing with sexual sins, do not be around places or people that you will be tempted to compromise, then weaken, then fall. In Genesis 39:1-22, we find Joseph as a great example for us. Potiphar’s wife continually propositioned him for illicit sex, and after continually denying her, she finally grabbed him while alone, “but he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.” He ran so fast she was left standing (and angry) with his garment in her hand! Joseph knew how to keep himself pure.

Only the most thoughtless and immature believer thinks that because of God’s grace shown to sinners, that God isn’t calling us to live holy and obedient lives. They may flatter themselves by holding their lifestyles up in comparison to a godless, perverse culture but this is vain self-deception. The standard Christians should strive for is absolute perfection, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). As it is written, “. . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14b). The mortification of sin produces holiness in the Christian life. Becoming holy is a process whereby we grow in it over time. We are not to assume since one Christian may not be as holy as the other that therefore we should not strive for holiness. How many think this way when pursuing financial wealth? None.

Mortification is widely rejected in our culture today. There are various and sundry reasons for this. Chief of these would be the charge of “legalism”. Once mortification is taught or preached it is inevitable the moniker “legalist” will be used against you. They accuse the Christian obeying Christ’s commandments of attempting to justify themselves before God rather than obeying God. They assume mortifying one’s sins in order to live a holy and obedient life is contrary to their view of grace. This is utter foolishness and should be condemned as anti-Christian. With the spread of easy-believism it is no wonder that many professed Christians assume that they may live as they had before because of God’s grace forgiving them. This is cheap grace and it diminishes Christ’s perfect and substitutionary atoning work on the cross. This person ought to head the warnings of Christ, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20). Mortification of sin is in no way legalistic. It is usually the “Christian” living an ungodly, disobedient life that uses the word “legalist” as an epithet against a Christian pursuing godliness. This is obviously self-serving to say the least.

It is rare to here the mortification of sins, sanctification, righteous living, and holiness being preached because of the unpopularity of it. This kind of teaching and preaching has an exposing effect on the hearer and hypocrite alike. The natural man despises this kind of teaching and to the shame of many ministers they tailor the Word of God to suit the tastes of the people. Shine a light in a dark room where someone is stealing and you will get a stark reaction to the light. Be that as it may, this teaching should be given to the church from the pulpit, and the classroom if were to be obedient disciples of Christ.

There are ways that the mortification of sins can be taught to and implemented in congregations. But this will not happen until the ministers and teachers make a concerted effort to reject the falsehood that this is somehow legalistic. To put it simply, teachers of the Word need a backbone. There first must be a reformation in the way preaching and teaching is done. This will come by an acknowledgment and repentance of sins and past failures. Many churches today resemble a circus or movie theater. They are taught a man-centered, hedonistic, or seven steps to self-fulfillment – not holiness. Being fed this type of unsatisfying candy-coated doctrine produces weak, spiritually emaciated and immature Christians who cannot tolerate the “solid food”[4] of the scripture. Indeed, the problem lies with the under-shepherds of God’s sheep and their neglect of the office they assume.

It is only when the minister of the Word or teacher starts to fear God rather than man where we will see this doctrine being faithfully proclaimed as it was in times gone by. The teaching of mortification of sins, producing holiness in the lives of believers, and growing in righteousness must be preached from the pulpit and taught from the classrooms. The preacher should not take sections of scripture teaching mortification of sins and holiness then formulate broad principles or trite little anecdotes from it. No, faithful preachers should exposit the scriptures teachings on holiness and exhort the people to obey and practice them – without apology or qualification. Clarification, however, of what scripture teaches is fine and proper. But to water the message down or remove its cutting condemnations for living disobedient and unholy lives is the devil’s work. In the classrooms, the teacher should be qualified to teach. Not just in expounding doctrine but the teaching should be evident in his life as well. His life ought to reflect these very teachings of scripture. Is he mortifying his indwelling sin whereby it is evidenced in becoming more holy and righteous? If not, he should sit down and learn from one who has proven himself.

[1] Owen, John. Sin & Temptation (Vancouver, B.C., Regent College Publishing, 2002).
[2] Philippians 3:12. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
[3] Ibid, p.158.
[4] Hebrews 5:12-14. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.


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