Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
The famous Puritan, John Owen, wrote a classic work over 350 years ago entitled, The Mortification of Sin. It addresses the lifelong battle Christians should wage against indwelling sin by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Owen takes his cue from Colossians 3:5 which declares, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (KJV). He famously writes, “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? You must always be at it while you live: do not take a day off from this work: always be killing sin or it will be killing you.”* The Bible makes it very clear that we are all born with a very sinful nature. Jeremiah 17:9 confirms this truth, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
It requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to enable a person to put indwelling sin to death. Nonbelievers have no choice but to keep on sinning because they are not possessed by the Spirit of God. We believers, on the other hand, have a choice. We, by the power of the Spirit, can and should put to death all indwelling sin that works to destroy our souls and our fellowship with God.
Paul confirms this truth in Romans 8:12-14, “Therefore brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Here is the bottom line: if you, as a believer, want to experience joy, peace and inner satisfaction, you must be killing sin. Otherwise, the sin left unchecked will gradually destroy your soul. As children of God, we cannot lose our salvation, although it may feel like it because it causes separation from fellowship with God. Sin leaves the soul in a state of guilt, self-condemnation, anxiety and darkness, even for believers.
Killing sin is not easy. Owen suggests two directions we should follow to be killing the sin that lives within us**:
Direction 1: Set your faith upon Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in the light of Christ’s great work, and you will die a conqueror. You will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet.
Direction 2: Consider the part that the Holy Spirit plays in mortification and the effects that are particularly ascribed to Him. He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil, guilt, and danger of the corruption, lust or sin that is to be mortified. [He] reveals to us the fullness of Christ for our relief. [He] alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power. [He] is the Author and Finisher of our sanctification. Finally, all of our soul’s prayers to God in our need are supported by the Spirit.
I have experienced the joy of walking obediently to Christ and His Word, and, sadly, I have experienced the pain of turning aside and following the sinful desires within my heart that wage war against my soul. But I have reached the point where I truly hate sin and ask the Lord daily to keep my mind and my heart focused on Him and His word. I hope and pray you will do the same.
Holiness is where we discover true happiness.
*John Owen, The Mortification of Sin (Carlisle, PA: Richard Publishing, 2007), 5.