Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Biblical Definition of Mortification

Part III of Triumph Over Temptation(Houston, John M. Triumph Over Temptation. Colorado Springs: Victor, 2005) focuses on the work of practical theology by John Owen originally entitled Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656).

Owen, via the editor James Houston, wants the reader to understand mortification before he begins to consider the need to practice the duty. He starts by refuting several false notions about it.

  1. "The first thing to remember is that the mortification of sin never means the death and final elimination of sin. This cannot be expected in this life." (195)
  2. "Second, mortification does not consist of pretending sin is removed. That would only add hypocrisy to iniquity." (195)
  3. "In addition, mortification does not mean the improvement of a quiet, controlled temperament." (195)
  4. "Moreover, sin is not mortified when it is only diverted...To change pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, or vanity for contempt is not mortification of sin." (195)
  5. "Furthermore. occasional conquests of sin do not count as mortification." (195-6)

Following these considerations, Owen ventures the questions "What then is mortification? What does it mean to mortify sin?" (196) To which he answers that mortification consists in three things:
  1. Mortification is the habitual weakening of sin. "Now the primary task of mortification is to weaken this habit of sin so that its power to express itself-in violence, frequency, tumult, provocation, and unrest-is quelled...The first expression of mortification is to weaken these lusts." (196-7)
  2. Mortification is a constant fight and contention against sin. "First, it is necessary to recognize the enemy you face. Take sin seriously-most seriously indeed.When people view sin superficially, they have no sense of need or motivation to mortify sin...Second, it is important to learn the wiles and the tactics of sin before engaging in spiritual warfare...Third, severely attack it, loading against sin all the firepower most destructive to its survival." (197-8 emphasis mine)
  3. Mortification is evidenced by frequent success against sin. "By success, I do not mean the frustration of sin, but the pursuit of it for a complete conquest. When sin no longer hinders our duty or interrupts our peace of mind, then mortification has succeeded to some extent." (198)

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