Wednesday, February 03, 2010

How do we mortify sin?: part two
John MacArthur once said: "Mortification involves the cultivation of new habits of godliness, combined with the elimination of old sinful habits from our behavior." This statement sums up the practical outworking of what Romans 8:13 describes as mortifying or "putting to death" the sinful deeds of our body. This spiritual discipline is not for only a few elite Christians to practice, but it is for all believers in Christ. Moreover, it should be our daily practice - since the presence of indwelling sin is always there to ensnare us at every turn in all our thoughts, words, and deeds (see Rom.7:14-24).
In my last post I began to unpack the ways in which we carry out this discipline. So far, we have only covered two means of grace that should be exercised for the purpose of mortification. First, we mortify sin by remembering the truth of our death to sin's dominion and our new life in Jesus Christ (see Rom.6:1-11; Gal.2:20). Knowing who we are in Christ and the glory of what God has done for us in Christ is vital to healthy Christian living. And in the arena of killing sin, it is especially important that we understand that sin no longer has power over us to enslave us since we are now united to Christ in spiritual union. Secondly, we mortify sin by abstaining from fleshly lusts (I Pet.2:11). Having been set free from sin's former dominion, we have the power in Christ to say "NO!" to sin. We are not victims to the temptations of the flesh - but in Christ we can "abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against [our] soul" (I Pet.2:11). Thus, to kill sin is to refuse to sin by God's grace.
Another means though of mortifying sin is by making no provision for the flesh. In Romans 13:14, we are commanded "to make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." Now the question must be raised: what is the difference between "make no provision for the flesh" and the previous point from I Peter 2:11, "abstain from the passions of the flesh?" The difference between these two imperatives is that to "abstain" means just to stop sinning, whereas "to make no provision" carries the idea of not making plans to sin. The word translated "provision" in Romans 13:14 comes from a Greek term that carries the idea of "forethought" or "planning in advance." Hence, when we're commanded to "make no provision for the flesh", then we're being called to refuse accommodating the flesh in any way that will inevitably set us up for a fall.
Let's face it: this is why most Christians fall into sin - they foolishly set themselves up to gratify the desires of the flesh. And what's worse, it is our own wicked pride that leads us into that pit of sin. We say to ourselves, "I can handle this. I'm strong. I can beat this." So we watch television programs and movies that only stir up the lusts of the flesh; we listen to gossip that only excites our taste buds for more of those little trifles; we look at magazines or read books or view websites that fill our minds with ungodly, immoral images; or we keep company with people who have no passion or love for Christ whatsoever, allowing their godless worldview to slowly erode our thinking away from the Bible. And all the while, we're saying to ourselves in the stupidity of our pride: "I can handle this." No, you can't handle it - you're falling!
Consider again the counsel of Romans 13:14, "...make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." If you don't want to fall, then don't walk where it's slippery. To mortify sin we have to become strategists. We have to be aware of what is going to tempt us and seduce us and drag us into sin; and make strategic plans to stay away from whatever that is. For instance, if we struggle with the sin of gluttony, then we should plan to stay away from those foods and restaurants where the temptation to indulge ourselves is strongest. If we struggle with gossip, then we need to plan out how we are going to converse with others on subjects that will neither draw us into that sin nor the person we are talking with. To mortify sin we must become strategists.
But in addition to this, there must be a wholehearted commitment to give up whatever is necessary, even the most cherished things we possess, if doing that will help protect us from falling into sin. This is what Jesus meant by gouging out the "right eye" and cutting off the "right hand" (Matt.5:29-30). If we are going to mortify sin, then we must make no provision for the flesh - no matter what that self-denial will cost us. Anything that would ensnare us to sin must be eliminated immediately.

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