I recently have had the distinct privilege of reading one of the most beloved books in all of Puritan literature, John Owen’s Of The Mortification of Sin. It is a deeply sobering treatise into the reality of the wickedness and pervasiveness of sin and its power. Owen argues that it is the duty of every Christian to put sin to death. In this volume, he demonstrates the awfulness of sin and the immediate need for its mortification He then goes into detail on how this is to be done. At one point Owen advises believers to “load your conscience with the guilt of sin”. A powerful sub-point to this direction is given here:
Bring your lust to the gospel—not for relief, but for further conviction
of its guilt; look on him whom you have pierced [Zech. 12:10; John 19:37],
and be in bitterness. Say to your soul:
What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have
I despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for his
love, to the Son for his blood, to the Holy Ghost for his grace? Do I thus
requite the Lord? Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, that
the blessed Spirit has chosen to dwell in? And can I keep myself out of the
dust? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head
with any boldness before him? Do I account communion with him of so
little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left him any room in
my heart? How shall I escape if I neglect so great salvation? In the meantime,
what shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy,
consolation—I have despised them all, and esteemed them as a thing of
naught, that I might harbor a lust in my heart. Have I obtained a view of
God’s fatherly countenance, that I might behold his face and provoke him
to his face? Was my soul washed, that room might be made for new defilements?
Shall I endeavor to disappoint the end of the death of Christ? Shall
I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?
Entertain your conscience daily with this treaty. See if it can stand before this
aggravation of its guilt. If this make it not sink in some measure and melt, I
fear your case is dangerous.
– Taken from Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, edited by Kim Kapic and Justin Taylor.
If Owen’s words don’t cut straight to the heart when you consider the remaining sin in your life – then, as he alluded to at the end, I just don’t know that you belong to Christ at all. We usually think of the Gospel only as a relief to our misery, the alleviation of our guilt and the freedom from our bondage. Yes, it is all those things, but after we’ve crossed the threshold from death to life it also becomes a judge of guilt upon our tender conscience when we fail to live up to the standards of the author of the Gospel, Christ himself. The Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans writes:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Rom 6:1-2, 15-16)
Paul teaches that the grace the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides is not a license to sin. When God regenerates us our heart of flesh is built to live a life pleasing to him. Our indwelling sin compels us to live a life pleasing to us. The two desires are diametrically opposed. It is impossible to please both. When conflicts arise in our soul between these two forces the gospel stands as the clearly defined border that we must not cross. To do so brings down upon our consciences the conviction Owen so eloquently pens above, if indeed we are in Christ. If we truly love Jesus and his gospel why do we trample it underfoot by our actions? We should be disgraced to bring such dishonor to his name. The reality is that we do all sin as Christians, but to be content in remaining in that sin is a sure sign of a false conversion. We are slaves to the spirit we obey. To struggle and fight against sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ in us is the battle call of every believer. We sometimes call it ‘spiritual warfare’ or simply ‘sanctification’. To refuse engagement with the enemy means that we are the enemy. Be not deceived!