by Josh Hicks
A new year has come swiftly upon us. However, why is it we wait until January 1st to start pursuing a goal of sorts? Well, there is a Christian duty (one of several) in which we should never be found dull, neglect, or waning. It is one in which we must be constant, consistent, and continuous if we profess to know the God of Scripture. This duty, this absolute necessity, this practice is called Mortifying Sin.
As I have alluded to elsewhere, John Owen once wrote, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” This is precisely why one cannot wait until January 1st. In fact, you cannot afford to defer another moment from this duty! You must resolve yourself this instant to dedicate your very essence of existence to this task. Why? Because the wages of sin are DEATH. Now surely I have some qualifications to make.
First, in order to engage in this distinctly Christian duty, you must be a Christian. If you’re not a Christian, it is not only the height of arrogance to think for a moment that you can effectively engage in the duty of mortification, but it is also sheer futility and the compounding of your condemnation to do so. If this applies to you, I implore you to read this. If you are a Christian, read on.
Secondly, not only must you be a Christian, but you must engage in this duty by the Spirit. If you attempt to mortify your sin apart from dependance upon the Holy Spirit, your efforts are just as vain as that of an unbeliever. Though you are now a Christian, you are still affected by that residue of indwelling sin, which is exactly why you must engage in this duty! So then, you must be a Christian to do this, and you must also do it by the Spirit.
You say, “That’s great, Josh. Thanks for telling me what I need to do (and why), but then totally leave me hanging by not telling me how.” Well, my friend, this is where the Big Guns come in. I can absolutely no better exhort you in this manner than has already been exhorted by some of the godliest men of the past. Therefore, I will give you a few brief pointers, and then suggest a book or two concerning the pointers.
What is Sin?
To kill sin, you must know sin intimately. Now, don’t twist that. Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying to engage more heavily in sinning so that you might know it better. That’s utter foolishness. I am saying that you must know your enemy– that is, Sin– and know it intimately within the context of Scripture’s light. In doing this, as a Christian, you will come to have a holy hatred for your sin. Book Suggestions:
The Sinfulness of Sin-by Ralph Venning (Banner of Truth)
The Evil of Evils-by Jeremiah Burroughs (Soli Deo Gloria-buy it used if you can)
How Does Sin Work?
You must also know sin personally. By that, I mean you must know how sin approaches you, specifically. How does Satan use your own sinful nature to tempt you and bring you to a halt. You must learn his strategies. Book Suggestion:
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices-by Thomas Brooks (Banner of Truth)
How Do I Mortify Sin?
Now we come to the clencher. And I’m not gonna say a thing. I’m going to suggest three books. One of them is a compilation of three works by John Owen. The other two are more contemporary works on the subject of mortification. Obviously, I’m partial to Owen. However, he can be a stickler to read most of the time for many, and some of the time for some. Therefore, the latter of the three suggestions are recommended, and are theologically solid, sound, and from a Reformed understanding of Scripture and the Christian Faith.
Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen-edited by Justin Taylor & Kelly Kapic (Crossway)
Don’t wait another moment! Start killing sin now. Develop a more holy hatred of sin, YOUR SIN, each passing moment. We must truly seek to know the sinfulness of sin, and the wretched vile stinch it is in the nostrils of God. I’ll leave you with some applicable quotes from the grand ole Puritan Divines:
We do not want sin covered, but cured-Thomas Watson
Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes. He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so will he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to the death.-John Owen
If you wish to stand firm in the midst of suffering, forewarn yourself of this fact: Temptation is never stronger than when relief seems to dress itself in the very sin that Satan is suggesting.-William Gurnall
Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.-John Owen
When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.-John Owen