This in an interim Study Guide. It is only complete through chapter 11. The formatting is a bit inconsistent. However, the substance is all here.
(I will be using the text found in the 2006 book Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Crossway, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor – all page references will be to that edition. If you have not read John Owen before, I would recommend this edition as a good starting place. The editors provide introductions, explanatory footnotes and outlines of the books; without such helps you may easily find yourself lost in the text. )
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 1.
Read the chapter through three times. The first time, just get through it from beginning to end. If you have difficulty with some idea, do your best and keep reading. Read it a second time, this time make sure you understand every element of the chapter in some detail. Look up words you do not understand. Read every verse cited in the chapter. Pay attention to every detail. Third: Go the back of the book, page 411, and read the outline for chapter one. Then read the chapter a third time noting how all the parts go together. Repeat this strategy for reading with every chapter in the book.
- Read Romans 8 through once. Make an outline of the basic progression of thought in Roman 8. Note our 8:13 fits into the over scheme of the chapter.
- What are the five elements of 8:13? Note that Owen does not put the five elements in the same in which they are found in the verse. He has reordered the elements so as to make the main verb (Mortify) the most important element of the text.
- Explain what is meant by “conditionality” and “connection”. Does the word “if” in 8:13 mean that a believer has a choice as to whether to mortify sin? Do you agree with Owen’s argument concerning the word “If”?
- Who is being addressed in 8:13? Look back over the immediately preceding context (Rom. 8:1-11): Does Owen correctly identify the class of persons who are told to “mortify sin”? There is a block quote at the top of page 47, restate that observation in your own words.
- If you have trouble with the phrase of “efficient cause” on page here are two links which may help you understand the question of causation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficient_cause#Efficient_cause and http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/. Efficient cause in this instance merely refers to the agent who actually makes something happen.
- Look over your own life: Can you rightly say that the Holy Spirit causes you on a daily basis to kill your sin? Do you know how to distinguish between whether the Holy Spirit or your own efforts are principally responsible for your growth in holiness? If you are unclear on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, there are many good resources which can help you get started in this area. There are entire books which cover the subject as well as sections from systematic theology.
- How does Owen explain the phrase “deeds of the body”? Read Romans 8:1-12 and note how Paul uses the word “flesh” in that section. If you are tempted to think of “flesh” as merely your skin and bones try to make sense of the word “flesh” in Romans 8:9 using that interpretation. Read Galatians 5:16-24. What two principles are contrasted in that passage? How does the passage in Galatians help you understand the proposition that the Holy Spirit is the “efficient cause” of your sanctification?
- What does “mortify” mean? How does Owen describe the growth in holiness? Is it fast, slow, instantaneous, possible but not likely?
- Read the block quote on the top of page 49: restate that quotation in your own words.
- What does the promise of “life” mean in Romans 8:13? Isn’t a Christian already alive, why does he need to do this work? Using a search tool, find at least three other verses in the New Testament which use the word “life” in the same manner. Why does God offer “life” to someone who is already alive? Compare Gen. 2:17 and Ephesians 2:1-3.
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 2:
- Owen makes the statement, “The choicest believers who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin” (50). If we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) and yet we are required to do the work of putting sin to death (Owen, on this point is merely summarizing the clear teaching of Scripture, see, e.g., Col. 3:5), how then are we not saved by works? Does the requirement that I do something mean that I am now being saved by what I do? Compare Ephesians 2:8 & Ephesians 4:25-32: What relationship can you find between these two sections?
- Read Colossians 3:5-10. Make a list of all of the commands set forth in this section. Does Paul, in this section, tell us how to put our sin to death? What process do you think is necessary to put sin to death?
- Now read Colossians 3:1-4. What is commanded in this section? How would this help you to fulfill the commands in Colossians 5-10?
- Now read Colossians 3:12-17: What commands are found here? How would this help you to fulfill the commands in Colossians 5-10?
- Read the offset quotation on page 50. What is the command and what is the warning?
- How is that sin can be said to “be killing” me? If I am saved, isn’t it true that I can’t be killed?
- Owen lists a series of verses on page 51 to describe our status and our duty as Christians. Summarize his statements. Read these verses and summarize the status and duty of Christians: Phil. 3:12, 2 Cor.4:16, 1 Cor. 13:12, 2 Pet. 3:18; Gal. 5:17; 1 John 1:8; Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1.
- Read the quotation on page 51 which begins the section on sin “still acting”. Do you find Owen’s description of our relationship with sin accurate?
- Owen’s observation about sin is very scriptural, but it also speaks to the subjective experience of sin. Now Owen was obviously a very knowledgeable man on this subject and was accounted quite a godly man. Even his enemies had little to condemn in his life (some said he was too fond of fashionable dress – so much for the stereotype of Puritans and their clothes). What does this tell you about the subjective experience of growing in godliness: Does our growth in godliness mean that we reach a stage where we no longer feel temptation or are beset with sin? Consider it this way? Was Jesus ever tempted? How much and in what way? See, e.g., Heb. 4:15.
- What will happen if we take ease and don’t worry about our battle with sin? Do you find this true of your own experience? When have you found yourself more likely to fall into sin: directly after you have sinned and have then repented and come humbly before God, or after you have had satisfying spiritual time and think that you will never again fall into that sin?
- Describe the progression of sin discusses on pages 52-53. Have you ever found that sin is satisfied with a “little” sin? What happens after the “little” sin?
- What is the main mechanism which Owen lists for responding to indwelling sin? See 53-54.
- What are the two main means for establishing and increasing grace (the counter force to sin. See, 54.
- What must be done if we are to progress in holiness? 55
- What is the “first general principle”? 55. Explain this in your own words.
- What are the bad effects of unmortified sin on oneself and upon others? 56-57.
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 3:
- How does Owen describe the need of the Holy Spirit in sanctification? (p. 57).
- The Holy Spirit as the “efficient cause” of sanctification (p. 58). The phrase “efficient cause” may be understood as follows:
The efficient cause is the agent or force immediately responsible for bringing this matter and that form together in the production of the thing. Thus, the efficient cause of the house would include the carpenters, masons, plumbers, and other workers who used these materials to build the house in accordance with the blueprint for its construction. Clearly the house would not be what it is without their contribution.
- What would it mean then that the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause of sanctification?
- Why is it necessary that the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause?
- Read Jeremiah 17:9-10 and explain how (a) the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause of sanctification; (b) Why the Holy Spirit would need to be the efficient cause.
- Read James 1:14-15: What does sin do to a man under temptation? Why then would the man need outside help to deal with sin?
- What sort of means for sanctification does John Owen condemn (p. 58)?
- Read Colossians 2:20-23.
- Is sanctification the act of doing or not doing some-thing? If someone does not engage in some bad action X, does that mean that they have been sanctified? If a monk lives in the desert and so never actually interacts with any other human being, does that mean that he is free from sin?
- What is that we are really trying to do when mortify sin?
- How does Paul state the goal of mortification in Romans 8:13.
- Is the person who is told to mortify sin already saved and beyond condemnation? Rom. 8:1.
iii. Read Romans 8:14-15: What is the goal of this new “life”?
- Read Rom. 12:2: How does this help you understand the point of mortification?
- Read Rom. 8:8: How does this help you to understand mortification?
- Owen gives two reasons for why the wrong means will not work: what are they (p. 59).
- How do we know that this is the work of the Holy Spirit? (p. 60).
- What are the three ways in which the Holy Spirit kills sin? (p. 61).
- How does the Holy Spirit cause us to crucify the flesh? See discussion of Galatians 5, middle of page 61.
- Take a recent incident of your besetting sin.
- Consider carefully what you desired when you were tempted. You certainly wanted the particular sin action – because you did it. But you wanted that sinful action/thought because you hoped it would bring you something else, some good thing. Perhaps you were angry, and you hoped that by being angry the other person would give up and give you want you wanted. Perhaps you were envious and you wanted someone else to hurt, because you thought their pain would make you feel better. What did you desire?
- Now read through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Imagine that you truly abounded with the fruit of the Spirit. Now imagine that while you were filled with love, joy, peace, et cetera that the moment of temptation came upon you. If you were filled with love, joy and peace, etc., would you have been subject to temptation?
- How does abounding with the fruit of the Spirit protect you from sin?
- Read chapter one of Piper’s book, Future Grace. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/future-grace-sample How does he explain the means for defeating sin? How does hoping in something better, having faith that God will give you something better than sin defeat sin?
- What is the something better God will give you? Gal. 5:22-23.
- What do you think it means that the Holy Spirit actually destroys the root of sin? How does this relate to repentance?
- Why are we exhorted to put sin to death if the Holy Spirit does the work? (p. 62).
- Do you work or does the Holy Spirit work? (p. 62).
- What does the Holy Spirit do within (p. 62, middle of page).
- How does Owen describe someone who is trying to mortify sin without the help of the Spirit (p. 62, last two paragraphs).
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 4:
This Saturday morning is it likely that you will stuff yourself underneath your house – or perhaps a friend’s house – to paint the underside of the building? Unlikely. It would take great effort, cost money and provide very little benefit. Why then do you paint the interior walls of your house. That, too, can take great effort and it does cost money – perhaps a lot of money. The difference is benefit: Few people will ever see the underside of your house and no one will care whether it is painted or not.
We expend effort and resources because we deem the outcome sufficient. It is the same with mortification of sin: Mortification takes tremendous effort: it requires an entire structuring of our life to be pleasing to God. It runs against our natural inclinations and the weight of sin. Therefore, unless we see the benefit as sufficient, we will not undertake the work.
- In the first paragraph of chapter 4, Owen discusses the benefit of mortification: How does he summarize it? How would such a thing look in your own life? If you were to have the “life” he references, what would it appear as in your experience?
- He sets out two categories of “wants,” that is, things we lack. What are the categories?
- When you consider whether to pursue mortification of sin, do you find yourself desiring the good discussed by Owen? Do you have yourself lacking vigor in walk with God or a lack of peace? What would be enough desire in this area? When have you found yourself desiring such things passionately? When you find yourself having little desire to a vigorous walk with God?
- On page 64, Owen writes, “The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.” What does this sentence mean?
- An “immediate cause” means a cause which attaches directly to an effect: there is no medium between the cause and the effect. What are the “immediate causes” of life and vigor and comfort? How do these things relate to mortification?
- Are we promised peace if we pursue mortification of sin? See pages 63-64, and the discussion of Psalm 88.
- What are the six reasons given by Owen explaining why/how mortification of sin leads to comfort for the Christian?
- What is the first thing which sin does which leads to a lack of peace?
- Read Psalms 32 & 38: What is the problem described by David and what solution does he find? Read Psalm 40: How does David describe the receipt of comfort in this Psalm?
- What is the third effect of sin listed by Owen (bottom of page 64)? The word “affections” here means all the emotions and desires of a person. What does sin to our desires and emotions? Have you found that to be true of your own life? When you have persisted in a sin for some length of time, have you found that it made you more desirous of God?
- What is the fourth effect of sin? Read Romans 13:11-14 and use the passage to explain Owen’s meaning. How do the thoughts respond to a desire for some sin? To understand how sin affects one, it may be useful to consider that sin entails both a desire (for the sin) and a deceit (a thought, an excuse which calms down my conscience and permits me to engage in the sin). A useful exercise is to consider some sin which has entangled you consider carefully: (1) what it is you hope to obtain by means of the sin? (2) What excuse do you use to continue to permit the desire to persist? Do you think it a “small” sin – or no real sin, or something else? Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices is an excellent resource on recognizing and responding to your excuses (the deceit) you use to continue in a sin.
- Fifth reason: How does sin hinder duty? What is it that you should be doing with your time (as noted by Owen)? Notice your own heart: Has sin ever effected either the actual performance of worship or your desire for worship of God?
- What is the six effect of sin? How has this shown itself in your own life?
- What is the effect of mortification (page 65)? Explain the gardening metaphor used by Owen. What does sin do to our spiritual state? How then does mortification counteract the effect of sin?
- Consider carefully: Is the vigor and peace of your life worth the effort of mortification? List out various substantial problems you have had in your life. Now determine how sin (whether your own or others) has related to your most substantial difficulties – even if it is in your response to a difficulty? Imagine now that you have fully mortified your sin and had been presented with the same circumstance: would it have made a difference?
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 5:
- Owen proposes a hypothetical in the introductory section (page 69).
- What are the six elements which he lists as to describe being “in …a powerful indwelling sin?
- Explain each of those elements as to how they appear in practice. For example, what does it mean as a matter of practice that one’s thoughts are perplexed?
- What does Owen lay out as the end point/result of continuation in indwelling sin?
- Owen’s description of the result (hardening) comes from Hebrews 3:12-14.
- Read this passage.
- What is the danger warned against? (Note, the warning is set forth in verses 12 & 13 in two related ways). Explain the warning in your own words. What might it look like to fall into this danger?
iii. What are the means set forth in the passage to protect one from sin?
- What must you do to protect yourself from sin? How does exhorting another protect you from sin? How might you go through the actual work of holding firm your confidence in Christ?
- What implied responsibility do you have toward other believers to help them with their sin?
- How is that you think that John Owen knows so much about the discouraging and overwhelming power of sin in a believer’s life?
- Does Owen say that a believer is damned because they are under the powerful influence of sin?
- In what ways is Owen’s knowledge about sin encouraging to you?
- What means have you used to deal with powerful sin(s) in your life? What sort of means have you used that have not worked? What is the result of using means which do not work?
- What is the goal of the mortification of sin?
- Does anyone ever achieve the end in this life?
- When I fail to become perfectly holy, should I be discouraged?
- How can the end of perfect holiness become a trap and means to fall into further sin? How does discouragement encourage sin?
- How might the inability to ever become perfectly holy become a trap which leads me into sin? Christians are not perfect: However, does that mean that I should settle for imperfection? I may not be a perfect, father, husband, brother, employer, employee – does that mean that I should settle for being a poor one?
- If you seek anything less than perfect holiness, will you ever mortify sin? Why not?
- On page 70, Owen writes that mortification is not merely giving up the outward practice of sin? What does he mean?
- Is it easier to give up sin or some sinful behavior?
- What is the source of sin (Mark 7:21-23)?
- How could one give up a sinful behavior and still be in sin? (Note, this is why psychology will always be too little.)
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 6:
- What are the three principle elements of mortification (pp. 73, 76 & 77):
- As a practical matter, does the mortification of sin in the believer result (during this life) in the perfect elimination of sin?
- Owen writes a “natural man” (a man who has not been regenerated) is limited in his pursuit of sin because he has too many desires (lusts) to serve at one time.
- Consider this as a practical matter: What reason might lead a natural man to not commit adultery, steal, cheat on his taxes? Think through Owen’s explanation: Is it true? Does the desire to commit some sin X really cause me to forgo committing some other sin Y?
- Does this same principle affect how or whether you might sin – even after one has come to know the Lord?
- Consider carefully what constitutes a sin? Read 1 Cor. 10:31; Matt. 22:24-40; 1 John 3:4. Now, how frequent is sin in your own life? Do you ever desire to please yourself ahead of others? Do you ever act without love toward God or your fellow human being? Have you failed in some element of the pursuit of God’s glory so that you could favor yourself?
- Owen speaks of a “habitual” weakening of sin. What does that mean?
- Owen speaks of the difference between “natural” or “moral habits” and “sinful habits.”
- What do you think he means by “natural habits?”
- Are habits necessarily bad? How is it that you know how to speak a language or tie your shoes?
- How does Owen describe “sinful habits”?
- Read 1 Peter 2:11: What sort of language does Peter use to describe these desires of the flesh? How does Peter say we should respond?
- Read James 1:14-15 & Owen’s description of the motions of sin. Also consider Owen’s explanation for the nature of the habitual weakening of sin. With those ideas firmly in mind consider a persistent sin or temptation: How does your relationship to that sin change when the sin is “mortified”? Is the sin any less demanding? Does the appeal of the sin change? Are you not tempted? Are you tempted but distressed that you cannot engage in the sin? What happens?
- Owen writes of sinful desires which seem to match the particular constitution or temperament of a person: such a sin well suited to the man’s natural inclination may prove particularly powerful in that man. Consider the matter carefully:
- Give an example of a sinful desire which matches and does not match a particular man’s constitution or temperament.
- Is someone less responsible for their sin because it is “easier” for them to commit? Does the fact that a sin is “easy” to commit make it less of a sin?
- How do you find yourself responding to sin in another person which you personally would not commit, but which someone else is powerfully drawn toward?
- When there is a sin which is particularly “fit” to you, what is the best way to deal with such a sin?
- Why do you think that Paul writes that one is to “flee” sexual temptation? 1 Cor. 6:18.
- “Lust gets strength by temptation.”
- How does temptation work with lust?
- Give an example of this in your own life.
- If this is true, then how should you respond to temptation?
- Read the following passages: Prov. 4:14-15, 4:23-27, 23:31, 26:22, 27:12. Now take a particular sin and apply those passages to your preferred temptation knowing that your sin gets strength by being tempted. Read Matt. 5:27-30 and Romans 13:14: How vigorous and careful must you be to avoid even the instances of temptation?
- Read Ephesians 5:3-20: Consider how Paul discusses the avoidance of sin and the cultivation of what? When we think of avoiding sin, we typically think that it means merely to stay away from the instance of temptation – and it includes that aspect. However, when you look at the passage in Ephesians, what else do you see is involved in avoiding sin? Ask the question this way, if you could live in a cave in the desert would you be free from sin?
- In his book Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices Thomas Brooks lists “presenting the bait and hiding the hook” as the first means which Satan uses to bring one to sin. That means that we look at the apparent good which we will receive and neglect the end which the sin will bring about. How might this observation be useful to you in avoiding temptation?
- Read Proverbs 5: What is the bait and what is the hook in this chapter? Can you readily avoid the hook if you think that the bait is real and will provide a real pleasure or good?
- How might knowing the evil which will befall you when you succumb to temptation help to cause a “habitual weakening” of a sinful habit?
- Read this quotation from Thomas Brooks: Anselm used to say, “That if he should see the shame of sin on the one hand, and the pains of hell on the other, and must of necessity choose one; he would rather be thrust into hell without sin; than to go into heaven with sin,” so great was his hatred and detestation of sin. It is our wisest and our safest course to stand at the farthest distance from sin; not to go near the house of the harlot—but to fly from all appearance of evil (Proverbs 5:8, 1 Thess. 5:22). The best course to prevent falling into the pit is to keep at the greatest distance from it; he who will be so bold as to attempt to dance upon the brink of the pit, may find by woeful experience that it is a righteous thing with God that he should fall into the pit. Joseph keeps at a distance from sin, and from playing with Satan’s golden baits, and stands. David draws near, and plays with the bait, and falls, and swallows bait and hook! David comes near the snare, and is taken in it, to the breaking of his bones, the wounding of his conscience, and the loss of fellowship with his God.
- Do you have a sin with which you “struggle”? Are you avoiding temptation? Do you see a connection?
- Read Romans 13:14: The word which the ESV translates as “provision” is the Greek word which means “thoughtful planning to meet a need, forethought, foresight, providence” (BDAG). Now consider your life – are you living in such a way that you are planning to participate in some sin? Are you creating space and opportunity to be tempted but to stop short of the point at which your conscience would balk?
- How often would your particular besetting sin strike you if you were not exposed to opportunity to engage in it?
- Note: Avoiding temptation will not mortify sin, nor will it cure you of sin. However, if you do not avoid temptation you will not actively seeking to thwart the growth of godliness in your life.
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 6, Part 2
To know that a man has such an enemy to deal with, to take notice of it, to con- sider it as an enemy indeed, and one that is to be destroyed by all means possible, is required hereunto.
The first step that mortification must entail is the realization that one has a real, significant, deadly enemy. Do you treat your sin as an actual enemy?
- What things do you do practically which would demonstrate you believe the sin was an actual enemy?
- In what areas of your life do you continue to treat as if it is an annoyance rather than a deadly foe? Do you consistently treat sin as an enemy? This enemy must be “destroyed by all means possible.”
- Consider your favorite sins: What would be necessary to de- stroy these sins? Be honest here, because you likely understand that you are better than you are willing to admit. At the very least what can you do to remove yourself from all temptation?
- Jesus famously admonishes us to pluck out our eye or cut off our hand which leads us to sin (Matt. 5:29-30). While he does not re- quire actual amputation, he does point to the need for drastic action and responding to sin. How have you done so? What remains to be done?
- Paul, in Romans 13:14 commands, “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” The word provision could also be translated as foresight (Acts 24:2,
ESV). The word emphasizes some sort of forward-looking planning. Consider your life carefully. Are there any ways in which you make a provision or with foresight to make it possible for your sins to come to fruition?
Labor to be acquainted with the ways, oils, methods, advantages, and occasions of its success is the beginning of this warfare. So do men deal with their enemies.”
- To what extent have you studied your own indwelling sin? If you’ve never done so previously, begin a temptation journal. In your journal, make a list of the times, circumstances and places of your temptations. Pay close attention to what things provoke you to sin. This journal will provide valuable insight into sin.
- This is a first step in acting to watch/guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23). You must watch what goes into your heart and what comes out of your heart.
- Your journal will help you to avoid occasions for temptation (Prov. 4:24-27). One merely avoiding temptation is insufficient to mortify sin, it is a foolish man who puts himself in harm’s way.
Sin always entails an element of desire and deceit (James 1:14-15). A temptation journal should help you learn what it is you desire or seek in temptation. In seeking de- sire to be met in temptation, you’re foregoing a better good, available to the believer in Jesus Christ. Seeking that better good in God is a great means of mortification. Read over John Piper’s ANTHEM strategy to see this point as a prac- tical means of sanctification.
Consider also the deception which makes it possible for you to continue with your sin. Every sin
entails an excuse, a justification to proceed. Perhaps you should con- sider your sin a small matter; or, perhaps you think you can simply repent later. There are many such deceptions which soon raises to the believer to justify an act of sin. Your temptation journal—along with the prayer help of a brother or sister—should help reveal to you the excuses which you use to per- sist in your sin. The first section of Thomas Brooks’ book Precious Remedies catalogs the common excuses used.
http://gracegems.org/Brooks/ precious_remedies_against_ satan5.htm
Review this list of excuses, deter- mine which are applicable to you, and then put the applicable “remedies” into practice.
Be consistent in your mortifica- tion. You must never think your lust dead because it is quiet; but rather labor to give the new wounds and blows every day.
Mortification of sin seeks far more than merely modifying overt behavior.
Mortification seeks a weakening of the indwelling disposition, a change at the level of the heart. Mortification is not merely refrain- ing from a desire to do some-thing. The Puritans referred to such re- fusal as “legal mortification.” Gos- pel mortification is a desire for godly things which take the place of sinful desires: “by the implant- ing and growing of humility is pride weakened, passion by pa- tience, uncleanness by purity of mind and conscience, love of this world by heavenly mindedness.”
Mortification also requires vig- orous, constant, cheerful seeking after godliness in the power of the Spirit.
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 7
In Chapter 7, Owen begins with the first essential prerequisite to mortification of sin:
The one seeking mortification of sin must be a true believer in Jesus Christ: Unless a man be a believer,—that is, one that is truly ingrafted unto Christ,—he can never mortify any one sin; I do not say, unless he know himself to be so, but unless indeed he be so .
- What does Owen mean by distinguishing between the one who merely believes himself to be a believer and the one who actually is a believer?
- How would you distinguish between a true and false profession of faith? Where would you go in the Bible to distinguish between true and false faith? True or false concern for sin?
- How does Owen use Romans 8:13 to prove that only a believer may mortify sin?
- Explain this quote: “An unregenerate man may do something like it; but the work itself, so as it may be acceptable with God, he can never perform.”
- But can’t an unbeliever fully leave off some bad act, some sinful behavior?
- If a person fully refrains from engaging in some bad act, has he mortified that sin – if he is an unbeliever?
- Mortification begins with repentance. Consider the following discussion of counterfeit repentance by Thomas Watson:
- “Legal terror”: someone performs an action which dreadfully troubles their conscience. In fear they leave off the behavior: “Do not be deceived: this is not repentance….It is one thing to be a terrified sinner and another thing to be a repenting sinner.”
- A resolution, a vow to never sin again – even if it is kept is not repentance.
- Any other reason which may result in one no longer engaging in a sin is not repentance – and thus not mortification.
- Why are these actions of leaving off a sin not repentance for or mortification of sin?
- How does this relate to Owen’s point that someone may not mortify sin without being a believer? What does this have to do with Romans 8:13?
- Explain this quotation: “It is true, it is, it will be, required of every person whatever that hears the law or gospel preached, that he mortify sin. It is his duty, but it is not his immediate duty; it is his duty to do it, but to do it in God’s way. “(79)
- What does Owen mean that is the duty of one to leave off sin, but it is not the immediate duty?
- Imagine that you meet a man who (1) makes no pretense of being a true believer and (2) who engages in some open and obvious sin. Is it right and good that the man continues in his open sin? Yet, should you tell him to knock off with the sin? Why or why not? Does it make a difference what sin he is committing? Is the difference based criminality? Disgust?
- Consider the following quotation from Jay Adams in Competent to Counsel in light of Owen’s discussion: “Actually, counseling becomes truly nouthetic [redemptive and empowered by the Spirit] only when the counselee is a Christian. Otherwise, it is always something less. When the Holy Spirit effects regeneration in a soul, that person becomes “a new creature in Christ; old things have passed away and all things become new.” The Holy Spirit takes up his residence in the life, begins to change that life, and empowers the individual to live according to the promises and commands of Scripture.2 Unsaved counselees are neither capable of understanding God’s revealed will (cf. 1 Corinthians 2) nor capable of doing it (Romans 8:7, 8). The Holy Spirit is the one who must motivate both counselor and client. Motivation not generated by the Spirit is humanistic and cannot honor God (cf. Paul’s words on the ministry of the Spirit in Romans 8). To ignore this transforming change in counseling, to attempt to effect changes apart from God’s power, is a colossal mistake.”
- Owen explains that false repentance only “pacif[ies] the conscience without Christ” (83). Why is that bad? What is the danger?
- Owen says that driving on to mortification without an interest in Christ “deludes them, hardens them – destroys them” (83). How? What does he mean?
- Owen writes that mortification of sin the “peculiar work” of what? What is absolutely essential for mortification of sin?
- Owen states the “first general rule” of mortification: What is it?
The Mortification of Sin: Study Guide, Chapter 8:
- Before you begin to work through this study guide, stop and read chapter 8 one time through completely. Read it a second time, and work through the questions herein. Then, read the chapter a third time to see how the points go together.
- This chapter is difficult to follow, because Owen does two things: (1) first he uses “love” and “obedience” in a manner which is not common today; (2) he speaks about sins in a manner different from how we typically understand them. In both cases, Owen is being more biblical and more careful than is common among most Christians. Therefore, the problem is not with his writing, but rather with our theology in practice.
- Read John 14:15: What is the connection between love and obedience? Read John 15:10: What is the connection between love and obedience?
- Read Mark 12:28-34: What are the greatest commandments? Pay specific attention to only action verb in each commandment. Extra credit: Listen to Pastor Tim’s two sermons from February 2012 on the love of God and love of human beings.
- Read Romans 13:8-10: What is the relationship between obedience, commandment and law?
- Read Galatians 5:6: What counts?
- Now to Owen: What is the “second principle” of his discourse?
- Is it possible to “mortify” only one sin at a time? Consider the verses written above: What is the relationship between obedience, faith & love? If you cherish any one sin, if you fail to seek to obey any single command, what does that say about your love toward God? Is it possible to have love and disobey at the same time?
- We tend to keep “love” and “obedience” in very separate spaces in our minds and words. What then do you mean when you say that you “love” God or “love” Christ? Do you really love God if you do not obey him?
- What reason does Owen give for why we want to mortify a particular sin?
- Read the second full paragraph of chapter 8. Note there is one long sentence divided into two sections. The first section concerns the sort of sin we would like to be freed from. Read again the second half of this sentence (everything after, “but in the meantime”). What is the sin(s) described in the second half of the sentence? Rather than just consider the matter vaguely, stop now and make a specific list of what “constant communion with God” would look like in your life. Do you know how to develop a life of “constant communion with God”? By the way, don’t think that “constant communion” was easy for John Owen. Owen did an extraordinary amount of political and social work when he was around – in addition to his teaching and preaching and writing. Yet he found time to develop a close and deep communion with God, therefore, you’re “I’m too busy” excuse is just a lame excuse. If you don’t know how to develop communion with God, stop now ask one of the elders of the church to help you. Find another godly man or woman you can help develop the discipline necessary to know and love God. Resources: Pastor Jack’s sermon series “Practicing the Godly Disciplines”; Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines.
- What lies at the “bottom of all true spiritual mortification” (two elements)?
- If you are only seeking mortification of a single bothersome sin, what is the nature of your love (middle p. 87).
- When you are continually afflicted with a sin, what does Owen suggest may be the problem?
- What sort of things are “no less sins”? Go back up to question 11 and read over your list. Does the difference between what you are in practice and what you know should be tell you anything?
- What will Spirit not “bear witness to”? How does that relate to you?
- Why might God permit you to struggle with a disquieting sin?
- What must we do if we hope to be freed from sin?
- Owen ends with a long question and answer. He provides two separate answers to the question: what are they? How does this question relate to your actual practice and life?
- Did you ever consider that God permitting you to sin was a means of correcting you for other more serious sins? Did you ever consider that your failure to commune with God was a greater sin than the sin which so troubles you today?
- How does he describe the negligent soul (last paragraph, end)?
- Now, re-read the chapter and examine your life carefully: Do you see any negligence in your life which may be leading to sin in other areas?
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide Chapter 9:
Chapter 9 begins the section of The Morti- fication of Sin in Be- lievers, wherein Owen provides “particular direction” as to the means of mortification. Since this begins a new section of the argument, it would be best to review:
Owen has first explained at length that our spiritual life and peace depends upon the mortification of sin, “The vigor, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life de- pends on the mortification of deeds of the flesh.” This duty of mortification lies upon all believers; it will never come to an end in this life; and, it is a work of the Holy Spirit.
To prevent discouragement, Owen explains that mortification of sin never results in the utter destruction of sin. Moreover, mortification is not merely the lessening of this or that behavior or occasionally refraining from some favorite sin. Mortification is “the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with violence, earnestness and frequency, rise up,… as naturally it is apt to do.” But mortification will not occur unless (1) one is a believer, and (2) unless one seeks universal, sincere, diligence to obey the Lord.
Owen asks the following question: “Consider what dangerous symptoms your lust has attending or accompanying it—whether it has any deadly mark in it or no.” The remainder of the chapter will cover the various “dangerous symptoms.” If the sin does bear such “dangerous symptoms,” “extraordinary remedies are to be used; an ordinary course of mortification will not do.”
To perform the following analysis, you must begin with an honest examination of your “bosom sin,” the one you keep closest to your heart: what sin is your favorite sin, if you will. To what does your heart most easily run? Is there a sin which has be- come your “rock,” your “fortress,” your “comfort?”
- Does this sin show itself to be “inveterate”? An inveterate sin would be one which is hardened into place, it is habitual, deep- rooted and unchanging.
- Have you grown accustomed to this sin? Does it trouble your conscience, or is it a sin with which you in some manner have made peace?
- Does this sin “eat up other du- ties, duties wherein you ought to hold out constant communion with God?” Does this sin take time which should have been given to prayer, meditation, Bible study, service?
- Have you failed to make any true effort to see the source of this sin dried up, or have you arranged things so that you can accommodate this sin?
- What reason does Owen give for why an extraordinary course of mortification is needed in such a case? Why would such a sin be especially hard to see for what it is?
- Does this sin present excuses or pleas for its continuance?
- Compare your life to the standard set by God? Does your speech always comport with the standards set in Ephesians 4:29? Do you love your enemy? Your neighbor? Do you love your wife as Christ loved the church? Would your husband say you have a gentle and quiet spirit?
- When you see that there is sin in your life, do you make excuses for it? Do you forgive anger because, “My grandfather was from country X and everyone from X has a sharp tongue!” Do you forgive some sin because your parents or your back- ground or your body make it easy for you to sin? Do you contend that your sin is no sin and rather it is really some sort of virtue (I’m not gossiping, I’m just asking for prayer).
- Do you refuse to judge your sins by the demands of the law of Christ? Do you call obedience “legalism”?
- When your conscience provokes you over sin, do you seek for ways to calm your conscience rather than confront your sin?
- Do you seek to keep your sin on some ground of “mercy?”
- Do you routinely fall to sin, is it an easy temptation—or are you never able to avoid the temptation? Do you make it easy to sin?
- Do you seek to avoid the occasion of the sin?
- Do you seek to justify the sin?
- Do you contemplate the benefits of the sin?
- Do you justify the sin with some name of virtue?
- Do you think that you can merely repent later?
- Do you refuse the sin only on the grounds that it may cause you trou- ble if you commit it?
- Do you think of how to avoid the consequences of the sin so that you may keep the “benefits” of the sin?
- Do you leave off the sin only when it could result in punishment?
- Would you continue in the sin if you could do without punishment?
- Owen makes a detour to speak of “renewing” and “restraining” grace: What do these terms mean?
- Take a particular sin: When temptation arises do you think (1) I must do this sin for it will result in punishment or a bad conse- quence? Or, (2) I must not do this sin against Christ, whom I love? a. Willpower based upon fear of consequence alone will not de- liver you from sin. Willpower will always break down. Fear of punishment will eventually nego- tiate an apparent means to avoid the punishment. “What Gospel principles do not do, legal mo- tives cannot do.”
- Owen (bottom of page 94, Kapic edition), speaks of “chastening punishment” wherein God leaves you to one sin to correct for “former sins of negligence and folly.” What does he mean? How does this apply to you (if at all)?
- Look at your life? Did you find a “slide” into carelessness before you fell into sin?
b. Have you lived with unrepentant sin in your life?
- “A new sin may be permitted, as well as a new affliction sent, to bring an old sin to remembrance.”
- 10. Has God already brought instruction and/or consequence to bear upon this sin—and yet you have continued with the sin?
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 10:
The Mortification of Sin is a carefully constructed argument. If you do not understand the structure of the argument, you will not Owen. The first section of the book discussed what mortification is and is not. The final section of the book will discuss the actual means of mortification, what actually does one do to kill sin? In this section, chapters 9-13, Owen will explain the preparation for the actual work of mortification. Owen will spend a great deal of time on guilt and self-examination. If you do not understand that this is preparation for mortification, you will wrongly think that mortification is a matter of guilt and suppression. But that is not Owen’s point. In fact, Owen will make clear that the actual work of mortification is a fleeing to Jesus, a desire for Jesus, an absolute reliance by faith upon the power of the Spirit to bring Christ into our hearts.
Owen’s argument follows the structure of Proverbs 5: There is an introduction to the topic, followed by a discussion of the danger of sin: its deceit and danger. The final section sets forth the positive pursuit which effective puts the sin to death by putting the desire to death. James 1:12-18 follows the same pattern: First, there is the demonstration of the danger and deceit of sin: Sin promises good but delivers death. Second, there is the positive recognition that God is the giver of good gifts.
Step one: Get an abiding sense of the guilt of your sin.
- What is your “prevailing lust”, your darling sin (another favorite Puritan phrase, along with “bosom sin”)?
- To engage in a sin, we must bribe our conscience: there is always a “rationalization” which accompanies the sin: It is a just a little sin! It’s not really a sin. I can repent later. Someone else made me angry. They deserved it. Et cetera.
- What is your rationalization, your excuse for sin? To put your finger on your sin, make a journal of temptation and sin: When does this happen? What is the temptation? What did you want, think at the time? Use the table of contents to Precious Remedies Precious Remedies by Thomas Brooks (http://gracegems.org/Brooks/precious_remedies_against_satan.htm) . This list will provide you with the most common types of excuses used to perpetuate or engage in a sin.
- Understand that sin has the ability to deceive you as it proceeds. The very act of engaging with the sin will cause you to be more susceptible to the sin. Read James 1:12-15; Hebrews 3; Hosea 4, particularly verse 11; read also Hosea 7, particularly vv. 1-2; Proverbs 7, particularly vv. 21-23. What do you notice about sin and temptation?
- What is the effect of stripping all the excuse and being left with the bare sin (consider the discussion of the effect of upon David, bottom of p. 97 – Kaipic edition).
- What effects of sin remain after conversion? What can God see of sin in the believer?
- What is the danger?
- How does sin “deceive” someone? How does that appear in the life of a believer? Consider the effect of any sin which has long had a hold upon you: how has it effected your thinking or behavior? Consider this: Would you be willing to openly discuss this sin with another person – anyone? If the answer is “no”, then the sin is both dangerous and shameful – and it has acted to deceive to persist in it.
- What does he mean by “temporal correction”? In what way might God correct someone? Read Hebrews 12:3-17. How does correction differ from punishment? Does that mean that every difficulty and trial in one’s life comes directly in response to some particular sin? (Consider the case of Job.) Read Matthew 18:21-35: What is the warning at the end of the parable? One this point, read the sermon of John MacArthur, here: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/2335/learning-to-forgive-part-3
- What of the loss of peace in one’s life? Read Psalm 32 & 38: what caused the loss of peace? What is the great blessing of salvation? Read Romans 1:18 & 5:1. What effect does such peace have on one in the midst of a trial? Read Romans 5:1-5. When one lacks peace, what is the effect on the rest of one’s life? Do you now know peace with God? Is it due to unrepentant sin?
- Consider the final effect of unrepentant sin. What happens/what does it mean if one persists in sin and does not repent?
- What is the evil of persisting in sin?
- Read Ephesians 4:25-32. What sins are listed in that passage? What sins do we tend to take most lightly – as if they were insignificant? What is the effect of such sins on the Holy Spirit? Read Owen’s discussion of grief and grieving. Consider the effect of your own sin – what is it? Do you care as you should?
- What does sin do to Jesus?
- What is the effect upon one’s service?
- How would you practically go about responding to sin in the manner prescribed by Owen: “Keep alive upon thy heart these or the like considerations of its guilt, danger, and evil; be much in the meditation of these things; cause thy heart to dwell and abide upon them; engage thy thoughts into these considerations; let them not go off nor wander from them until they begin to have a powerful influence upon thy soul,—until they make it to tremble.”
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 11a
The eleventh chapter of The Mortification of Sin can easily be misunderstood, and if not carefully digested may end up directing one to the “legal mortification” which Owen condemned earlier in the book:
The truth is, what between placing mortification in a rigid, stubborn frame of spirit, which is for the most part earthly, legal, censorious, partial, consistent with wrath, envy, malice, pride, on the one hand, and pretences of liberty, grace, and I know not what, on the other, true evangelical mortification is almost lost amongst us: of which afterward.
Owen’s argument in this section of the book may be best understood when compared to a similar statement by Thomas Watson in The Body of Divinity:
What are the chief INDUCEMENTS to sanctification?
(1.) It is the will of God that we should be holy. “This is the will of God—your sanctification.” As God’s Word must be the rule, so his will must be the reason of our actions. This is the will of God—our sanctification. Perhaps it is not the will of God we should be rich—but it is his will that we should be holy. God’s will is our warrant.
One principle means of growing in godliness is seeing truly that God’s will, God’s rule; God’s law calls us to a holy life.
- What is the third direction for mortification? By “specifics”, Owen means particular sinful events.
- Owen writes that “your conscience will invent shifts and evasions”: what does that mean? How would that look in practice?
- On the top of page 104 (5th paragraph), Owen makes a very important qualification as to the purpose of law and conscience: It is a false security and assurance before God to seek to limit the reach of conscience (and the law) thereby to secretly countenance himself [yourself] to giving the least allowance unto any sin or lust. Explain that idea.
- Owen writes of the “proper work of the law”: what does that mean? Consider Romans 3:19-20 & 7:7-12. What is the purpose and effect of the law?
- What purpose could one have to “tie up your conscience to the law”?
- What does he mean by “bring it to the Gospel”? Consider carefully the questions Owen asks as an example of bringing one’s sin to the Gospel. What effect does that have on the sin?
- In the section on how one is to consider God with respect to one’s sin, it may help to see this point through Watson’s pen (again), “God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing him and so good that he is afraid of losing him” (The Great Gain of Godliness, 13).
- You may question Owen’s directions at this point, to seek to know guilt for one’s sin and to let the law draw up the full hideousness of sin may seem “unchristian” and “legalistic”. But consider carefully: One reason we continue to return to sin is that at some level it must appeal to us: We only choose to do things which we want. Like the adulterous in Proverbs 5, sin will appear with lips which “drip honey” – yet, in the end “she is bitter as wormwood”. Solomon lays out plainly the deceit and danger of sin. Owen is merely saying that we must see sin for its true self and in full bitterness, or we will be willing to dally with it.
- The fourth general direction is, “get a constant longing, breathing after deliverance from the power of it.” The law comes to drive us to Christ and release from sin. We will not see Christ as beautiful and sin as vile unless we see as uncovered by the law and the Gospel.
- Owen defines the content of the strong desire for deliverance by Luke 21:36. Read Luke 21:34-36 and compare it to the directions given by Owen.
- Read Psalms 38 – 43. When reading the Psalms make it a point to thoroughly understand what is taught in each. Then meditate upon the prayers of these Psalms in relation to your own sin. Finally, pray through these Psalms, applying the content of the Psalms to your own soul and sin. Note that the progression of the Psalms begins with “Lord rebuke me not in your anger” and ends with, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” This is a proper progression in repentance, from a sight of sin to hope in God.
- The fifth direction is to consider yourself carefully: For whatever reasons, we all tend towards particular sins. The fact that you tend toward a sin – even that you greatly desire a sin does not make the sin less wicked. Owen notes that spiritual disciplines such as fasting may be useful or necessary to wean us from the world and set us upon God, “They are to be looked on only as ways whereby the Spirit may, and sometimes does, put forth strength for the accomplishing of his own work” (108). For further direction on spiritual disciplines, see Donald Whitney Spiritual Disciplines and the sermon series on practicing godly disciplines recorded during the summer of 2011, available on the CBC website.
 John Owen, vol. 6, The Works of John Owen., ed. William H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T Clark), 14.
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide Chapter 11b
The SIXTH direction is,—
Consider what occasions, what advantages thy distemper hath taken to exert and put forth itself, and watch against them all.
Quite simply: look for the things that tempt you and avoid them.
As Jesus admonished Peter in the Garden:
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38 (ESV)
Owen interestingly ties this command to two eschatological passages. First in Mark:
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
Mark 13:32–37 (ESV)
Secondly in Luke
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” 37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. Luke 21:34–38 (ESV)
Jesus in Mark 13 & Luke 21 is specifically concerned with the Second Coming, we must be careful to watch for the Second Coming. Owen is specifically concerning with watching our hearts to avoid temptation. These seem to be two separate topics: How does watching my heart to avoid temptation relate to watching for the Second Coming of Christ?
Read 1 Peter 1:13-17. How does Peter’s command to “set your hope fully” relate to Jesus’ command to “watch”?
What is the connection between preparing your heart and life for Jesus’ return and avoiding sin this afternoon?
Illustration: Whenever you teach an idea always follow up with a picture; give an illustration. (http://www.amazon.com/Expository-Preaching-Word-Pictures-Illustrations/dp/1857926587/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1438455757&sr=8-1&keywords=jack+hughes+preaching) Illustrations help the hearer (1) apprehend the idea and (2) remember the idea.
Here Owen gives the illustration of diet and health. Some types of food may not sit well with our stomach. We note those foods and avoid them. Certain plants or animals may cause an allergic reaction — we will remain the things which hurt us and avoid them.
What sorts of foods, animals, plants or circumstances do you avoid because those circumstances make your body hurt? Have you ever made such an observation about your temptation and sin? Why are you more careful about avoiding a stomach ache than sin? What does this tell you about how seriously you consider sin?
The Bible is filled with illustrations about how making oneself available for temptation leads to sin. In the following examples look at the passage and then consider the progression from circumstance to sin:
- Genesis 3:2-6
- Joshua 7, particular 7:21.
- 2 Samuel 11:1-5.
- Proverbs 7
As Thomas Boston writes:
Temptations artfully suited to one’s circumstances. Satan has a hellish art of framing his temptations upon his observation of people’s circumstances, wherein they are most likely to take with them. Thus Christ being an hungered, the devil tempted him to distrust, Matth. 4:3. Job was tempted to blaspheme and despair under his afflictions. Achan was tempted to steal, a fair opportunity offering. Thus he has his temptations suited to the age and the young, the poor and the rich, the jovial and those of a sorrowful heart. He knows, that in such a case he rows with the stream, and is most likely to prevail
Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons and Discourses on Several Important Subjects in Divinity, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 6 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1849), 631–632.
Sin has a devilish ability to conceal itself. When it comes to temptation, sin does not point to its real aim, rather it points to some lesser sin and a greater desire. Owen gives this example:
Know that he that dares to dally with occasions of sin will dare to sin. He that will venture upon temptations unto wickedness will venture upon wickedness. Hazael thought he should not be so wicked as the prophet told him he would be. To convince him, the prophet tells him no more but, “Thou shalt be king of Syria,” If he will venture on temptations unto cruelty, he will be cruel. Tell a man he shall commit such and such sins, he will startle at it. If you can convince him that he will venture on such occasions and temptations of them, he will have little ground left for his confidence.
The story is found in 2 Kings 8:7-15. There is an old saying, “When one falls into adultery, he doesn’t fall far.” Spectacular sins have small beginnings. A thousand mile journey begins with opening the door.
Consider the psychology here: The most vicious political criminals rarely began as vicious men. There are a series of small compromises which lead one to become a monster.
Here are the points to consider first:
- If you willing submit to be tempted, you will submit to sin.
- Willingly involving oneself an activity:
- a) Affects one’s desires.
- b) Affects ones knowledge.
Knowledge, Affections (emotions & desires) and Actions all support & reinforce one another.
Consider an occasion of your own sin. Trace the thing through from the beginning. Notice how the first temptation lead to the eventual sin. You saw the cookie, you handled the cookie, you smelled the cookie, you ate the cookie.
Next — and this is more difficult — pay attention to how the act of sin changes both your desires & knowledge. You ate the cookie, which you to desire to more cookies. Having eaten a cookie, it didn’t look like such a big deal to one more cookie.
Do you honestly admit that you have a heart which is capable of such sin? Consider Peter who thought himself incapable of such great failure.
First, When the soul readily closeth with temptations, or when it is a force you cannot withstand: Prov. 7:21, ‘With her fair speech she caused him to yield; with the flattering of her lips she forced him.’ Easiness of insinuation, efficacy of operation:. James 1:14, ‘Every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.’ You are at sin’s beck. If it say, Go, you go; if it say, Come, you come. As the angels, Ps. 103:20, ‘that do the Lord’s commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word,’ so they hearken to the voice of their lusts, whatever cometh of it. If envy and malice bid Cain kill his brother, he will break all bonds of nature to do it. If ambition bid Absalom rebel against his father, it shall be done, and he is up in arms presently. If covetousness bid Achan take a wedge of gold, he will do it. If adultery bid Joseph’s mistress tempt her servant, she doeth it. That is done readily which sin willeth and commandeth to be done; we are as ready to yield to temptations as our corrupt heart to suggest them. We are at the beck of sin; we cannot withstand it, whatever checks and reasons we have to the contrary.
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 21, Sermon IV, Psalm 19:13, (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 376–377.
Prepare a temptation journal. When dealing with a substantial sin, it is necessary to note the nature of temptation. Make a journal which lays out the time, place, nature of the temptation. What sort of things happen before or afterwards. If you see a
Avoid the Occasion
In Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices, Thomas Brooks that on we are lead onto sin by presenting ourselves to the temptation:
Device (7). By making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin. Saith Satan, You may walk by the harlot’s door, though you won’t go into the harlot’s bed; you may sit and sup with the drunkard, though you won’t be drunk with the drunkard; you may look upon Jezebel’s beauty, and you may play and toy with Delilah, though you do not commit wickedness with the one or the other; you may with Achan handle the golden wedge, though you do not steal the golden wedge, &c.
Brooks lists four remedies to this device:
First, know the Scripture: find, read, meditate upon and obey those commands in Scripture to avoid temptation: “Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (ESV) Take the time to find these commands. Rather than read these commands as legalism, understand them as warnings — similar to the traffic sign on a dangerous road. Take the time to know the road. Many Christians seek to “know God’s will”, when God has often made His will clear. 1 Thess. 4:3.
“To venture upon the occasion of sin, and then to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ is all one as to thrust thy finger into the fire, and then to pray that it might not be burnt.”
Second, you will not part with a sin until you part with the temptation to that sin:
“God will not remove the temptation, except you turn from the occasion. It is a just and righteous thing with God, that he should fall into the pit, that will adventure to dance upon the brink of the pit, and that he should be a slave to sin, that will not flee from the occasions of sin.”
Third, think of the saints who have gone before you. They made it safely because they turned from temptation.
Fourth, if you turn from temptation, you show evidence of God’s grace in your life.
Rise mightily against the first actings of thy distemper, its first conceptions; suffer it not to get the least ground. Do not say, “Thus far it shall go, and no farther.” If it have allowance for one step, it will take another.
- Sin in our actions begins as sin our hearts:
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Mark 7:20–23 (ESV)
Thus, sin first begins in our thoughts and affections, it is an idea and desire before it ever becomes an action. Read James 1:14-15: What are the steps there listed for the beginning of sin?
Read Genesis 3:6: What takes place in Eve before she takes the fruit?
What about sins which seem to spring up spontaneously without any precursor, such a rage of anger: in what ways do such sins have start? Consider a recent experience of anger: What thoughts and desires had to be in place for anger to be possible? How would an increase in humility, pity, love have altered your heart in such a way that anger would not have been expressed? By way of comparison — consider other sins which you see others commit but you do follow in yourself. What is different your thoughts and affections that lead you to not following in that sin?
- We must stop sin at first actings.
It is impossible to fix bounds to sin. It is like water in a channel,—if it once break out, it will have its course. Its not acting is easier to be compassed than its bounding. Therefore doth James give that gradation and process of lust, chap. 1:14, 15, that we may stop at the entrance.
Sin does not move like an animal or machine which will eventually expend all its energy and then stop. Sin moves like a fire, which gains strength the longer it continues. Sin moves like a flood where there is no end of rain.
There is an idea which holds that the way to deal with sin is to give it some indulgence, let it have its way and then it will be satisfied and stop. For example, it was common to teach people to “vent” their anger. This advice was foolish and since been rejected:
Solomon knew this 3,000 years ago:
Proverbs 17:14 (ESV)
14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
There are two aspects sin gaining power: in the immediate action and in the habitual action.
Consider the story of Saul’s anger in 1 Samuel 18-20. What are the points of escalation of his anger?
Read 1 Samuel 15:23, to what Samuel compare Saul’s disobedience? Read 1 Samuel 28:3: what had Saul done? Read the remainder of the chapter: What is the irony here? To what had Saul’s habitual sin led?
Sin is of an encroaching nature; it creeps on the soul by degrees, step by step, till it hath the soul to the very height of sin.
David gives way to his wandering eye, and this led him to those foul sins that caused God to break his bones, and to turn his day into night, and to leave his soul in great darkness. Jacob and Peter, and other saints, have found this true by woful experience, that the yielding to a lesser sin hath been the ushering in of a greater. The little thief will open the door, and make way for the greater, and the little wedge knocked in will make way for the greater.
Satan will first draw thee to sit with the drunkard, and then to sip with the drunkard, and then at last to be drunk with the drunkard. He will first draw thee to be unclean in thy thoughts, and then to be unclean in thy looks, and then to be unclean in thy words, and at last to be unclean in thy practices. He will first draw thee to look upon the golden wedge, and then to like the golden wedge, and then to handle the golden wedge, and then at last by wicked ways to gain the golden wedge, though thou runnest the hazard of losing God and thy soul for ever; as you may see in Gehazi, Achan, and Judas, and many in these our days. Sin is never at a stand: Ps. 1:1, first ungodly, then sinners, then scorners. Here they go on from sin to sin, till they come to the top of sin, viz. to sit in the seat of scorners, or as it is in the Septuagint—τῶν λοιμῶν—to affect the honour of the chair of pestilence.
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 19–20.
- To stop a sin at the beginning consider where it will end:
Dost thou find thy corruption to begin to entangle thy thoughts? rise up with all thy strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at. Consider what an unclean thought would have; it would have thee roll thyself in folly and filth. Ask envy what it would have;—murder and destruction is at the end of it. Set thyself against it with no less vigour than if it had utterly debased thee to wickedness. Without this course thou wilt not prevail.
Read Proverbs 5:3-6. This is a picture all temptations, not merely adultery. How is sin pictured in the temptation? But what does sin become if it is able to express itself?
Read Proverbs 7:6-9: How does the adultery begin?
Read Matthew 27:3-10. What happened to Judas? How did he respond as soon as sin had revealed itself to him?
Ah, souls! when you shall lie upon a dying bed, and stand before a judgment-seat, sin shall be unmasked, and its dress and robes shall then be taken off, and then it shall appear more vile, filthy, and terrible than hell itself; then, that which formerly appeared most sweet will appear most bitter, and that which appeared most beautiful will appear most ugly, and that which appeared most delightful will then appear most dreadful to the soul.
Ah, the shame, the pain, the gall, the bitterness, the horror, the hell that the sight of sin, when its dress is taken off, will raise in poor souls! Sin will surely prove evil and bitter to the soul when its robes are taken off. A man may have the stone who feels no fit of it. Conscience will work at last, though for the present one may feel no fit of accusation. Laban shewed himself at parting. Sin will be bitterness in the latter end, when it shall appear to the soul in its own filthy nature.
The devil deals with men as the panther doth with beasts; he hides his deformed head till his sweet scent hath drawn them into his danger. Till we have sinned, Satan is a parasite; when we have sinned, he is a tyrant.
O souls! the day is at hand when the devil will pull off the paint and garnish that he hath put upon sin, and present that monster, sin, in such a monstrous shape to your souls, that will cause your thoughts to be troubled, your countenance to be changed, the joints of your loins to be loosed, and your knees to be dashed one against another, and your hearts to be so terrified, that you will be ready, with Ahithophel and Judas,3 to strangle and hang your bodies on earth, and your souls in hell, if the Lord hath not more mercy on you than he had on them. Oh! therefore, look upon sin now as you must look upon it to all eternity, and as God, conscience, and Satan will present it to you another day!
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 17.
Exercise: Consider a sin which often tempts you. Rather than consider what the sin offers, consider what the sin costs. Read Proverbs 5:8-14 to see a list of what troubles came upon the man because of adultery. Take out a piece of paper and write out: (1) Where this sin will ultimately lead in terms of action: anger goes to murder, lost goes to adultery. (2) Where will this sin lead in terms of consequence to you and others?
- Conduct Changes Thoughts & Desires:
As sin gets ground in the affections to delight in, it gets also upon the understanding to slight it.
Human beings are a combination of actions, desires & thoughts: each of these affects the other two. Owen here explains that what we do will change what we think (“understanding”) and what we desire (“delight”).
This is a theme which runs through the Scripture, but it is routinely neglected.
Read Deuteronomy 6:1-2: Explain the relationship between conduct & fearing the Lord.
Read Proverbs 2:1-5: Explain the relationship between conduct, desire and thought.
Read Psalm 37:1-9: Explain the relationship between Thoughts, affections (emotions & desires), and actions.
Now these passages all speak to training ourselves to godliness (1 Timothy 4:8), but the same principle applies to sinful actions (see, e.g., Micah 2:1).
The Mortification of Sin, Study Guide, Chapter 12
The eighth general direction is one which could easily be misunderstood:
EIGHTHLY, Use and exercise thyself to such meditations as may serve to fill thee at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of shine own vileness;
The danger here is that one engages in a false-humility; a self-centered, “I am awful”.