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Why do we have to mortify the flesh? (John Owen)

This article is taken from the book The Mortification of Sin é by John Owen

The apostle Paul addresses believers in his challenge: " Therefore put to death the members that are on the earth" (Col 3.5). Do you make this fight your daily activity? You must be engaged in this task constantly during the time of your life here on earth. Don't even give yourself a day off. You must be continually busy killing sin, otherwise it will kill you.

Your position as a new creature in Christ does not exempt you from this work. Our Savior Himself tells us what the Father does with each branch of the vine which bears fruit: " he prunes it, that it may bear even more fruit" (Jn 15.2) . And when he pruns it, it's not just for a day or two. The Christian, while on this earth, should expect to be pruned and pruned. Paul describes his own experience to us: “ But I treat my body harshly and hold it in subjection” (1 Cor 9:27). It was the apostle's daily occupation. Yet Paul was filled with all kinds of graces, revelations, spiritual joys, privileges, and special consolations from God. But this did not mean that he believed himself exempt from this daily struggle against the flesh. If Paul was not exempt, then how could you believe that you are, you who are much less advanced than Paul in grace?

Now here are six reasons to get down to this important task.

1) The sin that dwells in you will remain there as long as you are in this world.

Therefore, you have to constantly mortify it.

Some people mistakenly imagine that we can fully obey the commandments of God right here on earth and die completely to sin. But these are carnal thoughts that have nothing to do with the gospel. By their inventions, these thinkers show their ignorance of what life in Christ and the action of Christ really is in the soul of the believer. In fact, as long as we are still in this world, sin will continue to dwell in us to a certain extent and to a certain degree. That is why we should avoid speaking as if we have already arrived at the goal, or as if we are already perfect: “ It is not that I have already won the award, or that I have already won the prize. achieves perfection; but I run, to try to seize it, since I too have been seized by Jesus Christ " (Phil 3:12). Thus, our inner man renews himself from day to day during our life here below (2 Co 4.16) . Now, the renewal of the new creature in us implies that the old man, for his part, weakens and gradually disappears. As long as we are in this world, we only partially know (1 Cor 13.12). There remains a part of darkness which will only be dispelled little by little, as we grow “ in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18 ). However, the flesh has desires contrary to those of the Spirit, so that we cannot do as we would (Ga 5.17) . This is why we are still limited with regard to both obedience and light (1 Jn 1: 8). We have a " body of death" (Ro 7.24) from which we will be definitively delivered only with the death of our body (Phil 3.21). This is why you must, day after day, be busy killing the sin that still abides in you. You must not slack off.Indeed, it is impossible to conceive that a soldier leaves his adversary knowing that he is only wounded The soldier cannot leave nor rest until he does not know if the enemy is completely dead (see Ga 6.9; Heb 12.1; 2 Co 7.1).

2) Sin still lives in you and it is active!

Sin is always active, even when it seems quiet. Its waters turn out to be deep waters, even at times when they seem calmest. This is the reason why you must fight sin vigorously even when you do not feel its presence. Indeed, the flesh has desires contrary to those of the Spirit (Ga 3.21); lust pushes us to temptation and it gives birth to sin (Ja 1.14) ; sin easily envelops us (Heb 12.1); sin is always at work, always seeking to seduce and tempt us. What Christian can say that sin did not seek to corrupt his relationship with God? This fight will continue until the end, and if you slack off in this tough fight you could be in serious trouble. If you don't react, you allow the enemy to redouble their blows; if you don't resist, you will be defeated. Sin is subtle: it watches for the slightest opportunity; he is full of strength; he is constantly busy destroying the soul. Can you then hope to get out of it if you are careless or lazy in this battle? Sin must be overcome every day, otherwise it will prevail in your life. And it will be so as long as you are in this world. Sin will give you no respite. So you have to wage war on it every day if you want to be freed from its puzzling influence.

3) If sin is not continually put to death, it risks causing serious, scandalous acts, as well as the ruin of your soul (Ga 5:19,20).

We know David's story and we know how far sin took him. Whenever sin arises to tempt and seduce, it does everything to obtain the maximum. If we left the field open to him, every impure thought would lead to adultery; any envious desire would turn into oppression; any incredulous thought would lead to atheism. Sin is like hell: it is insatiable!

So we can see how far his power to deceive men goes. Sin hardens the heart little by little, and if you let it happen, it will ruin your life (Heb 3:13). At first the claims of sin are modest, but once it has gained a foothold in your life it gains traction and becomes more demanding. And, during this time, the soul does not notice that it is drifting away from God. Indeed, it even becomes indifferent to the presence of sin, and the evil seed takes advantage of this to grow. From then on, the evil will not cease to increase until the soul has completely turned away from God, in an attitude of opposition, and even of revolt against him. Sin will gradually set in and harden your heart as it progresses. Her skill in deceiving the soul will cause her to sink deeper and deeper. Nothing can stop this process except mortification. Indeed, as soon as you implement it, it will dry up the roots of sin, and will strike the headache. This is the reason why Christians, even the most advanced in holiness, should not slack off in the practice of mortification, otherwise they risk falling!

4) To effectively fight against sin and lust, the Holy Spirit has been given to you together with a new nature (Ga 5.17; 2 Pet 1.4) .

How do you escape the various corruptions of this world when your lusts drive you there? This is made possible by the fact that you are “ partakers of the divine nature” In this struggle, you need the Holy Spirit as well as the new nature that has been planted in you. If you neglect to use the means that God gives you, it would be right that God did not give you additional help, because it is for you to exercise them usefully that he grants you his gifts and his graces. So you sin against his goodness, his love, his wisdom and his grace when you do not seek to kill the sin in your life day after day. Why? Because, precisely, God has given you weapons to fight against sin, and, if he has given them to you, it is for you to use them.

5) All neglect weakens the inner man and opposes his renewal.

Paul said : "And even as our outer man is destroyed, our inner man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor 4:16). When a Christian neglects to put sin to death, he is allowing the " inner man" to destroy himself. He must therefore implement the grace that God has granted him. If this grace remains there, in your heart, unused, it will wither (Rev 3.2), and, in turn, the lusts will flourish and prosper (Heb 3:13) . If you neglect mortification, grace will be put on the back burner and, conversely, your lusts will become overwhelming. This will make your heart condition worse. Every time a man allows sin to win a great victory, this reality breaks his bones (Ps 31.10; 51.8). The man is considerably weakened; he is as if sick, on the verge of death (Ps 38.3-5), not even being able to raise his head (Ps 40.12).

When a poor creature thus suffers defeat after defeat, wound after wound, humiliation after humiliation, and can no longer exert vigorous opposition against sin, what can she expect? What can she expect if not to harden herself more and more by the seduction of sin and by her ability to deceive the soul until bleeding it to death? The result of this neglect is a terrible thing to consider, and this threat constantly hangs over us. Haven't we seen this result before in Christians whose hearts had been touched in the past? They were humble, sensitive, fearing to offend God and zealous in his service, and now they are carnal, cold, and angry. Little by little, they began to make concessions to men and to the world, which was an occasion of downfall for them.

Today, real mortification is lost between two extremes. On the one hand, we see rigid Christians, with a narrow-minded and carnal mindset. They are legalistic, harsh, critical, indulge in anger, envy, malice and pride. On the other hand, we see Christians allowing themselves all kinds of freedoms under the pretext that they are under grace.

6) Spiritual growth should be your daily goal.

Every day we are to grow in grace (1 Pet 2.2; 2 Pet 3.18), “ completing our sanctification in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7.1) , so that “ our inner man is renewed from day to day” (2 Co 4:16). Now, this can only be accomplished through a continual practice of mortification. For if sin is not weakened by constant warfare, it will hinder you as much as it can from seeking holiness, and it will stand in the way of all spiritual growth.Do not imagine that you will progress in holiness if you do not trample on your lusts. If you do not kill sin as you walk, you will not get very far spiritually.

We must now emphasize one essential thing: all of our sins were crucified with Christ. So, a new principle has been implanted in us, and this new principle opposes the taking of our sin, and it tends to prevent our lusts from being expressed. However, we see one thing: sin remains and still works in us, even though we are the best Christians in the world. He will remain, act and work in us as long as we are still in this world. That’s why, all of our lives, we will have to fight him, trying to kill him day after day.

Before continuing, it should also be noted that those who profess the Christian faith are more and more numerous. Indeed, they talk a lot about religion and piety. They preach abundantly to others, but we don't see many signs of fighting sin among them. And if we judge them by the criteria of mortification, and not by their words, there are not so many true believers as we might think, for many are "Christian" only in their profession of faith. Some profess to have a spiritual life and to be converted for a long time, but, when we watch them live, we do not see the slightest sign of a mortified heart. If futile occupations, idleness, envy, quarrels, divisions, rivalries, worldliness, anger, pride, worldliness and selfishness are the hallmarks of the Christian, then there are among we Christians in abundance! May our merciful God send us a true spirit of mortification in order to heal all these disorders of the soul, otherwise our condition will be unenviable!

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