Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Defining Mortification: part two
One of the most helpful and graphic pictures that expresses how God wants us to treat any residual sin in our life, is the account in First Samuel 15 regarding God's command for king Saul to lead Israel in the extermination of the Amalekites. Through God's prophet Samuel, king Saul was ordered by the Lord to carry out a total destruction of the Amalekites, leaving no survivors - not even infants or animals. This people and all that belonged to them was to be wiped off the face of the earth (this was in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
But king Saul did not obey God fully on this matter. Although by God's design and power, Saul and the army of Israel delivered a crushing blow against the Amalekites (I Sam.15:8); yet, Saul fell short of full obedience. In First Samuel 15:9, we are told that Saul spared the king of the Amalekites, Agag, and "the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good." Saul was not willing to destroy these enemies of God with utter destruction. Instead, motivated by his own greed, pride, and the fear of man, king Saul chose not to follow through in his obedience to the Lord.
As a result of his rebellion, the prophet Samuel declared God's judgment upon Saul and all his descendents: they were to be permanently removed from Israel's throne (I Sam.15:23). But in addition to this judgment, Samuel finished what Saul had merely started. He took a sword and literally hacked king Agag to pieces (I Sam.15:33). Samuel did what Saul was unwilling to do: to carry out God's command to the full.
Now when it comes to the Christian's responsibility to mortify sin (see Rom.8:13), this image of Samuel severing the life of king Agag, serves as a vivid and striking illustration. Rather than being like Saul and letting sin live, we must be like Samuel and hack sin to pieces! In short, there must be no mercy shown to the "Agags" in our life.
But what does it mean to "hack" sin to death? When we read in Romans 8:13 that we are to "mortify sin", what is the substance of this work? In my last post I began answering this question by pointing out that there are five ways to define biblical mortification, based on Romans 8:13. So far, we have considered the first three: (1) to mortify sin is chiefly a work of the Holy Spirit; (2) to mortify sin is a lifetime process for every Christian; and (3) to mortify sin is not to eradicate sin but to subdue it, to deprive it of its power, to break the habit pattern we have developed of continually giving in to the temptation of any particular sin.
Now here are the final two ways that true mortification of sin can be defined: to mortify sin is to mortify all known sin. In Romans 8:13, it reads that we are to "put to death the deeds of the body." The term deeds is obviously in the plural. It refers to all known sinful acts which are the manifestation of indwelling sin that remains in our bodily members (cf. Rom.6:12-13; 7:23). It is not therefore one sin we must concentrate on to kill, but all known sin present in our lives.
Finally, to mortify sin is the responsibility of every Christian in the process of daily sanctification. What I appreciate so much about Romans 8:13, is that it expresses with great clarity the responsibility of the believer in the work of sanctification. We're told: "by the Spirit [you] put to death the deeds of the body." Mortifying sin is never done apart from the Holy Spirit, but it is also not the sole work of the Spirit leaving the Christian with nothing to do in this process. The truth is, based on Romans 8:13, mortification is not what the Holy Spirit does but rather it is what He empowers the Christian to do. It is the believer who puts to death the deeds of the body, as the Spirit of God gives him the strength and wisdom to carry out that work.
So, in putting sin to death, we must not buy in to this false idea that says, "Just let go and let God." God does not treat us as sticks and stones or as an empty glove that only needs a hand to fill it. Rather, we are personally involved in this lifelong work as the Holy Spirit empowers us to kill sin and live in pursuit of holiness (Col.3:5; Heb.12:14).
What then is the biblical meaning of mortification? Tying together the five different ways mortification has been defined from Romans 8:13, this is what we can conclude: mortification is the lifelong process and work of every Christian, by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, to crush, sap, root out, weaken, and subdue all known manifestations of indwelling sin.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Defining Mortification: part one
The greatest struggle, the most intense battle that every Christian faces everyday of their lives in this fallen world, is a war with "indwelling sin" (cf. Rom.7:14-24). This means that my spouse, my kids, my neighbor, my work, the economy, the government, or terroists will never qualify as my ultimate problem. In fact, not even the devil himself can take this position in my life. No, the supreme battle for a believer in Christ comes from the remaining power and influence of sin in his members.
But the most pressing question for a Christian facing this unpleasant reality is: how do deal with remaining sin? Or to be more practical: how do we effectively battle our pride, envy, jealously, bitterness, anger, and lust? In my last post I began answering these questions by bringing to our attention a principle work in our daily sanctification called "mortification." This term is taken from Romans 8:13, where Christians are exhorted: "...but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." In this verse, the phrase, "you put to death" is where the concept of mortification is derived. Thus, when it comes to battling with our personal sin, we are to mortify sin - and hence, to put it to death.
But it is not enough to simply tell a Christian, "You must mortify sin!" We need direction and guidance as to how. Therefore I began in my previous post to unpack this from the standpoint of considering what mortification is not. It is not therefore covering sin up, internalizing sin, exchanging one sin for another, by-passing the cleansing of our conscience, or merely repressing sin. If any of these examples describe how we have attempted to deal with sin, then we must realize that true mortification has not taken place.
So, what is true mortification? If we go to Romans 8:13, there are five ways to define biblical mortification: first, to mortify sin is chiefly a work of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:13, we're told, it is "by the Spirit" that we put sin to death. This is not a work therefore that Christians can ever do in their own strength. The Puritan, John Owen (1616-1683), said in this regard:
"All other ways of mortification are in vain. Men may attempt this work based upon other principles, but they will come short. It is a work of the Spirit, and it is by Him alone that we are to experience victory. Mortification from self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, to the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion."
Secondly, to mortify sin is a lifetime process for every Christian. The verb tense used for the term, "you put to death", is a present tense. This means that our war on the presence and influence of indwelling sin will never let up until we are taken to heavenly glory. There are no vacations, no weekend getaways, no breaks whatsoever from this work in the life of the believer. We will always have to be mortifying sin somewhere in our lives. Again, consider the wise counsel of John Owen:
"When sin lets us alone, we may let sin alone; but sin is always active when it seems to be the most quiet, and its waters are often deep when they are calm. We should therefore fight against it and be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even when there is the least suspicion...Sin is always acting, always conceiving, and always seducing and tempting. Who can say that he has ever had anything to do with God or for God which indwelling sin has not tried to corrupt? This battle willl last more or less all our days. If sin is always acting, we are in trouble if we are not always mortifying. He that stands still and allows his enemies to exert double blows upon him without resistance will undoubtedly be conquered in the end."
Third, to mortify sin is not to eradicate sin but to subdue it, to deprive it of its power, to break the habit pattern we have developed of continually giving in to the temptation of any particular sin. We cannot eliminate indwelling sin in this life. It will be with us until we die (see Rom.7:14-25). However, in the work of mortification, we can sap sin of its strength, rooting it out, and depriving it of its influence. And this is really at the heart of what it means to mortify sin. It is a lifelong process of draining sin's power and influence which has been wielded over us. We are literally seeking day by day through the Spirit to take away everything that gives sin its strength and power in our lives.
In my next post, we will consider the last two ways that Romans 8:13 defines mortification.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Mortification: The Christian Response to Personal Sin
One of the great acid tests of proving whether or not someone is a Christian, is to ask the question: how do you deal with your own personal sin? For instance, do you repent of it or do you molly coddle it and make excuses for it? Also, is your heart broken over personal sin because it is an offense against God or because it just makes you feel bad? Further, when you do sin, do you keep short accounts with God - confessing it immediately to Him for what it is as "sin?" All of these questions are vital for our own self-examination as professing Christians.
Think about it: there are a lot of people in the visible church who cry down the sins they see in others, but do not ever consider the vileness, guilt, and pollution of their own sin. They are the proverbial "hypocrite" whom Jesus warns us about in Matthew 7:1-5. They are quick to point out the "speck" of sin in their brother's eye, while never seeing the "log jam" of sin in their own. It is a tragically comedic picture of the fool who is always condemning others for the tiny particle of dust in their eye, while not seeing the massive tree trunk gaping out of his own eye. In short, such a person never deals with his own personal sin. But what's worse, by never giving admission to his sin but instead denying it - he is actually proving that he is a total stranger to saving grace (see I Jn.1:8,10).
So, again, how do you deal with your own personal sin? If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, what do you do about the sin that remains in you (cf. Rom.7:14-25)? The biblical answer to these questions takes us to a passage of Scripture that I intend to camp out in for my next several posts. The passage is Romans 8:13, which says: "...but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." In the language of exhortation, this verse describes what is true of every Christian, in relation to the remaining influence and corruption of sin that dwells in our bodies: by the power of the Holy Spirit, a Christian seeks to kill sin wherever he finds sin in his flesh.
This is how a Christian deals with his own personal sin. In fact, this is a Christian's only course of action he takes by virtue of his life in the Spirit - he puts sin to death! This means that even if a Christian may fall in a state of going back to certain sins, it is only for a season; because his new nature and the indwelling presence of the Spirit will renew him to repentance and declare a revived war on personal sin. In other words, a true Christian does not and cannot live in sin (see Rom.6:1-14; I Jn.3:9), though they commit sin - but instead, the Christian life is a life of war on all known sin that remains in our mortal bodies.
Now the theological term for this warfare is what's called "mortification." This word is derived from a Greek verb Paul uses in Romans 8:13, translated in the words: "you put to death." The King James Version of the Bible actually translates these same terms as "mortify." So then, when it comes to dealing with personal sin in our lives as Christians, we are called by God to "mortify sin."
But what does this mean practically? How do we mortify or put sin to death? My first approach to these questions must be to underscore what mortification does not mean. First, to mortify sin does not mean covering sin up. You can obscure sin from the sight of others, but that is not mortification. Until we confess and forsake our sin we have not begun the work of mortification (Prov.28:13). Second, to mortify sin does not mean to only internalize sin. If you forsake the outward practice of some evil yet continue to ruminate on the memory of that sin's pleasure - beware. Although you may have moved that sin into the privacy of your imagination, where it is known only to you and God, yet it has not been truly mortified. Third, to mortify sin does not mean to exchange one sin for another. What good is it to trade stealing for lying or to trade gossip for gluttony? Neither sin has been mortified. Fourth, to mortify sin does not mean to by-pass the cleansing of our conscience. Having a good conscience is to work through the issue of our guilt. We should be ashamed of our sins, and let that sorrow do its full work in our hearts to produce a deep, honest repentance (II Cor.7:10). Finally, to mortify sin does not mean to merely repress sin. To push sin back rather than to deal with it forthrightly in the light of God's Word, will not bring about true mortification. Instead, it will only create more problems as it remains brushed under the proverbial rug, and allowed to fester and gain more influence. This therefore is not mortification.

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