John Owen on Motives for Mortifying Sin

November 12, 2009

Owen says that, “Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained.” In other words, we cannot go about the process of mortifying sin in only one area of sin, we must be about mortifying all of our sin. If you’re anything like me then you are typically aware of one or two areas of sin that you struggle with and would like victory over. But Owens says that merely trying to get rid of one area of sin in our lives without getting at sin as a whole will only lead to other areas of sin rising up in its place. We can’t just try to deal with only one sin in our lives and make it our goal to get rid of it.

I find that in my life the sin that I usually am struggling with and desire victory over most is the most shameful one before men. It’s the thing that I want to get rid of because I don’t want anyone to know that I deal with that sin. And so that particular sin haunts me and I wrestle with it for a long time and it appears to be the main battlefield in my war against sin. Owens points out that seeking this type of victory over one particular sin is not proper for mortifying sin and seeking for total obedience. He writes, “Do you think that [God] will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves him? No! God says, “Here is one, if he be rid of this lust I should never hear from him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost.” The point being, if I limit my sin to one simple area that is most apparent to me, then when I am rid of it (even for a time) I am liable to cease the battle against sin because the “main battlefield” has been won (at least, in my mind). I know that I have done this often only to have the very same sin come back twice as bad, or I will fall heavily into pride that I have kept myself from sin for so long and thus drift further from God.

Owens also convicted me in this by asking the question: what your motive is for getting rid of sin. Do you really see sin as sin, or is it the guilt and shame that you want to get rid of? There always seems to be sin that burdens me down with guilt and shame, and those are the sins that I want to get rid of. But why do I want to get rid of them? Because of my fear of men and my desire for a good reputation, or because my sin is offensive to a holy God? There are plenty of sins in my life that do not cause me distress through guilt or shame or worry about what people will think of me struggling with them. But are those sins any less offensive to God simply because they are not as distressful to me?

Owens says,

“These are no less sins and evils than those under which you groan. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why do you not set yourself against them also? If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul. It is evident that you contend against merely because of your own trouble by it.”

I must confess that I too often fight sin because of how it troubles me and not because of how it offends God. The result is that I leave much sin alone because it does not bother me or bring me shame. So my motive in mortifying my sin is to protect my reputation and get rid of my guilt and shame and make sure that there is nothing in my life that I am not troubled by. Even in dealing with sin I have become selfish and self-centered and only focus on myself. But all of my sin is offensive to God, and if I want to mortify my sin I must deal with all of it, not merely what troubles me right now.

So I find that my sin is deeper and greater than I had ever imagined… Thanks be to God that though I was dead to sin I am now alive to Christ and His Spirit dwells in me to mortify my sin!

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