12 October 2007

A Word from the Doctor about Mortifying Sin

posted by Phil Johnson

ou've probably been exposed to teaching about sanctification suggesting that believers ought to be totally passive in their quest for victory over sin and simply trust God to take the evil desire or temptation out of the way. The idea is that since human effort is fleshly and our efforts are always flawed and imperfect anyway, we should just "let go and let God."

Here's what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said about that:

I do not know of a single scripture—and I speak advisedly—which tells me to take my sin, the particular thing that gets me down, to God in prayer and ask him to deliver me from it and then trust in faith that he will.

Now that teaching is also often put like this: you must say to a man who is constantly defeated by a particular sin, "I think your only hope is to take it to Christ and Christ will take it from you." But what does Scripture say in Ephesians 4:28 to the man who finds himself constantly guilty of stealing, to a man who sees something he likes and takes it? What am I to tell such a man? Am I to say, "Take that sin to Christ and ask him to deliver you?" No, what the apostle Paul tells him is this: "Let him that stole, steal no more." Just that. Stop doing it. And if it is fornication or adultery or lustful thoughts, again: Stop doing it, says Paul. He does not say, "Go and pray to Christ to deliver you." No. You stop doing that, he says, as becomes children of God.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

From D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Sanctified Through the Truth: The Assurance of Our Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 1989), 54.
Phil's signature


Daryl said...

Thank you. Great post, short and bang on.

An excellent reminder for us recovering ex-Charismatics.

DJP said...

Good find, Phil.

"Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you," said old Owen.

He got that from Paul: "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13).

You put them to death; the Spirit will not do it for you. But you do it by the Spirit, for you can never do it unaided.

wordsmith said...

This is true spiritual warfare - not the hokey, this-present-darkness, prayer-walking/Jericho-marching, tele-evangelist kind of nonsense.

Thanks for the reminder.

northWord said...

mmm, yes, so very true.

an example:
I smoked for over 30 years, at some points, during my more piotous seasons in my otherwise apostate christian life, I would ask God to take away that craving. Obviously it doesn't work that way.

After I really met Jesus where He must be met, (through the complete surrender of self) I was able to claim it, claim the power through Christ to just stop. It will be 1 year this Nov 6th when I decided to trust God this way.

I won't get into all ramifications of quitting such an insidiously all encompassing habit, but will say that whenever a craving would rear it's ugly head I would just start thanking and praising God not just for my finally being counted amongst the non-smokers in the world, but for saving me from so much more (!)

northWord said...

ps- I have not had so much as a tiny puff since that day, notta :)

tck said...

Hello you Pyro guys.

I'll just get started:

I don't understand this teaching fully. Now, please don't hammer me down, and label me this or that, I really would like to grasp this. So a humble sincere round of questions, hoping for a loving and true answer:

#1: We are to kill sin. Repent daily. Mortify the flesh. That's well and true.

#2: We live in a fallen body/creation, so we will not be perfect, is that correct?

#3: How does this then work together?

#4: ..and what about Romans 7:21-25? (NO, I do not believe a saved person keeps on living as he used to before he was saved, or that this text can be taken as argument for anything like that..)

Yours, (take a deep breath)a conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical rosenian-lutheran theology student from Norway.


Mike Riccardi said...

In Owen's Mortification (Ch III), he writes the following concerning the role of the Spirit in our mortifying sin.

[1.] It is no otherwise the work of the Spirit but as all graces and good works which are in us are his. He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure,” Phil. ii. 13; he works “all our works in us,” Isa. xxvi. 12, — “the work of faith with power,” 2 Thess. i. 11, Col. ii. 12; he causes us to pray, and is a “Spirit of supplication,” Rom. viii. 26, Zech. xii 10; and yet we are exhorted, and are to be exhorted, to all these.

[2.] He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience.
The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.

Luther said something very similar about God's sovereign grace in salvation in Bondage of the Will, p. 268:

I say that man, before he is renewed into the new creation of the Spirit's kingdom, does and endeavours nothing to prepare himself for that new creation and kingdom, and when he is re-created has does and endeavors nothing towards his perseverance in that kingdom; but the Spirit alone works both blessings in us, regenerating us, and preserving us when regenerate, without ourselves… But He does not work in us without us, for He re-created and preserves us for this very purpose, that He might work in us and we might co-operate with Him (Luther, Bondage of the Will, p. 268, emphasis mine).

When I taught Owen's chapter 3 in a small group this summer, I wrote this:

[The Spirit] works in our hearts and affections, not to present us as unwilling slaves to His wonderful Word, but to begin to see the Word as wonderful, Christ as beautiful, God as glorious, and obedience as satisfying. The Spirit illuminates our lives to have us see things as they are,. Sin is devalued and Christ is exalted, and so we follow with all our hearts!

All in all, we better get on our knees and pray to God that He would pour out His Spirit on us so generously that our affections would be changed, our eyes would be opened, and we would love the glory of the preeminent Christ more than the temporal gratification of our own sinful flesh.

stratagem said...

So seeker insensitive!

What the Bible doesn't say: 'if your right eye offend thee, pray that it will be plucked out'...?

Johnny Dialectic said...

Asking for deliverance and cleansing from sin seems not only appropriate, but essential. E.g., Matthew 6:13; Psalm 51:2; Ez. 36:27. I wouldn't want to take on sin without asking God for deliverance and power. I can use the help.

Yes, we have to struggle against sin, but thank the Lord, not without him.

My Daily Bread said...

The Christian experience is viewed in the scriptures in both the passive and active voices. God works upon us and we work. God has responsibility in the perseverence of the Christian and the Christian has responsibility.

I think we can balance our teaching on Christian experience by giving attention to both aspects. The sinner cannot overcome sin in himself, in his own power. Yet, he is responsible to be active in his overcoming of sin.

In Christ,

Stephen M. Garrett

Papias said...

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Phil 2:12-13

Work out what God has worked in.

Nobody better than the Doctor. Someday I'll finish "Preaching and Preachers". Thanks Phil.

northWord said...

We humans just get caught up in feelings too much:
why don't I feel good?

sometimes we're just gonna feel bad for no apparent reason, those are the times we really are to trust God and walk by faith, not turning to man for answers but really get into the word, not just bits and pieces.

As sinners we are conditioned, conditioned, formed, shaped by this world to: feel good; feed self; save face, that kind of thing.

If we are to be "as children" in our faith, I don't see too many 3 year olds on ego trips, or worrying about what others think. (well, you know what i mean)

Really, all we need to do to be brought back down to reality, as it were, is think of the Standard set by Christ on the Cross, and the standards set by the Martyrs and that oughtta take us away from our self - putting the focus back on the verticle (looking at Him).

I think this is sorta what is meant by daily repentance and faith - now I'll leave the floor to the much more learned and articulate 'round here.

Blessings on your studies Andreas!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.
Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Luke 22:40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
John 17:15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
Ephesians 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
2 Corinthians 13:7 Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

the phantom of the bookstore said...

Great tidbit from the "Dr."-


I would suggest reading:"Holiness" by J.C. Ryle. Simple, practical, and biblical. Look for the edition that has an introduction by Lloyd-Jones.

Daryl- "An excellent reminder for us recovering ex-Charismatics."

I laughed at your comment- but how true! Good biblical thinking on progressive sanctification is the best medicine against the fluffy "Keswick" deeper-life type thinking. It promises big things, but does not deliver on the battlefield against sin. Only biblical truth does.

S Ewing said...

Whoops, my "responsibility-index" just went up again! (HT: Dan).

Northword: Praise the Lord (re your mini-testimonial).

"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

S Ewing said...

(Note: Of course, there's no consensus on what exactly the nature of Paul's thorn in the flesh was: whether it was a particular sin or temptation, or something that had nothing to do with either—the point being that the Lord saw fit to keep Paul humbled and chastened on this one matter, in order that he not be destroyed by spiritual pride.)

tck said...

Northword and Phantom, thank you very much for your comments. Phantom, I'll check if the library has the book you mentioned.

And pyroteam: Thanks for a very good blog. :)


Tyler said...

Lloyd-Jones: 1
Fatalism: 0

Anonymous said...

Wow. Wow.

Just this morning had a discussion about such things with some folks I teach in the disciple program at the local rescue mission.

There is a huge difference between the following two prayers:

a) "God, deliver me from this sin."

b) "God, give me power to resist this sin."

Which is Biblically correct? Option (b). God has already accomplished deliverance from sin for all believers in Christ. "knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin" - Romans 6:6

Kim said...

"Stop it."


"Because God says so!"

SolaMeanie said...

As much as I detest country-western music (odd for someone with such deep Southern roots), I have to recall the late Archie Campbell's skit with Roy Clark:

Patient: "Doc, Doc! I broke my arm in six places."

Doc: "Well then, stay out of those places!"

mike rucker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Riccardi said...

Is Rucker still trying to comment? Sheesh!

In the words of that sage, Stanley Ipkiss, "This guy's incorrigible!"

Daryl said...

My apologies guys, I'll avoid answering him should he post again.

DJP said...

Thanks, Daryl. That's called "feeding the trolls."

Phil Johnson said...


Actually, those are excellent questions; just the sort of questions I hoped this post would raise—but bigger questions than we can deal with exhaustively in a comment-thread. Watch for us to tackle those issues in some upcoming posts.

Anonymous said...

Wow, solameanie. A closet Hee-Haw fan?

Actually, I've always thought that one of Buck Owens' old songs was a great description of the lifestyle of the depraved sinner: "Doin' What Comes Naturally!"


donsands said...

I think the key for the child of God is to walk in the Spirit.

Paul said we can't do what we want to, because the flesh is weak, ans "wars" against the Spirit.

For the believer sinful behavior can be a blood, sweat, and tears struggle. We need the Chruch, the Word, and we need prayer.

The struggle for all of us will be till we go home to be with our Lord.
But we should be growing in His grace on the way.

Some in the Church say they are struggling with this or that sin, but what they actually mean is I have a bad temper, and that's just the way i am. Or what ever sin it may be.
Been there, seen that, and done that.

D. ML-Jones is one of the best.
The comments were all great, except for what's-his-name.

SolaMeanie said...

He's commenting still on the UU thread, too, I see.

S Ewing said...

I was setting the clock radio last night for waking me up this morning, and they were playing "Staying Alive" by the Bee-Gees:

"Life goin' nowhere. Somebody help me. Somebody help me, yeah...Stayin' alive."

Praise God, all I could think of was God's unmerited offer and gift of eternal life ("Stayin' alive") to damned souls whose lives are "goin' nowhere" and need "help" from "Somebody"!

(I trust that the readership 'round here is discerning enough that no one will try to turn this into a sermon... ;))

SolaMeanie said...

What was it the writer of Hebrews said? "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin." Striving seems to indicate a struggle of some kind.

Then there's always the Flip Wilson School of Theology. "The Devil made me do it."

SolaMeanie said...


You would have made a good host for the Southern Baptist Convention's radio program, "Powerline."

Somehow, I'll never see John Revolta and his leisure suit the same way.


No, it was more like memorization by coercion rather than being a closet Hee Haw fan. My father liked the show, and since fathers back then tended to dominate the television, guess what we watched. Those were the days when you had three channels and no cable. He also would occasionally listen to Grand Ole Opry. I am amazed that I never jumped off a bridge. To this day, whenever I hear the whine of a pedal steel guitar, my left eye begins to twitch.

Kevin said...

Some sins exercise a more subtle control over one's behavior than say lust or lying. For instance, I procrastinate: six months late in submitting my tax forms. Procrastination is just a symptom of sloth. But how to turn away from sloth when you don't even recognize it--there might be a dozen issues a day where I allow myself to be pleasantly diverted, and I'm not even aware that this particular iniquity is at play. What if the best choice at this moment were to be in prayer rather than reading/responding to this blog? Am I sinning?

Anonymous said...


Only if you responded to this post six months from now!


Buck said...

Interesting words and a lot to chew on. While I agree with Phil that there is no biblical basis for being "totally passive in [our] quest for victory over sin," the good Doctor seems to take an equally extreme position. I suspect there's more to it. Would love to read the passage in context if anyone can save a search and post a link to the work.

How would you weigh the Lloyd-Jones passage in light of this one? (Sorry for the length.)

"The only weapon to fight sin with is the spear which pierced the side of Jesus. If you want to overcome an angry temper, how do you go about it? It is very possible you have never tried the right way of going to Jesus with it. How did I receive salvation? I came to Jesus just as I was, and I trusted Him to save me. I must kill my angry temper in the same way. It is the only way in which I can ever kill it. I must go to the cross with it, and say to Jesus, 'Lord, I trust Thee to deliver me from it.' This is the only way to give it a deathblow. You may struggle against this evil as long as you please, but if it is your recurrent sin, you will never be delivered from it in any way but by the blood of Jesus. Take it to Christ. Tell Him, 'Lord, I have trusted Thee, and Thy name is Jesus, for Thou dost save Thy people from their sins; Lord, this is one of my sins; save me from it!' Laws are nothing without Christ as the means of putting these sins to death... No one but Jesus can do helpless sinners any good - or helpless saints, either."

Jim Pemberton said...

Running the race as though to win and putting on the whole armor of God in order to stand firm doesn't sound very passive.

YnottonY said...

I think the good doctor is correct, but his answer is incomplete. Sanctification is not merely a matter of "putting off" [stopping], but of "putting on" [doing]. In other words, we are to stop doing evil acts by clothing ourselves with virtue. Practice righteousness and thereby make no place for evil. Put off by putting on, so to speak.

YnottonY said...

There's no problem with going to God to ask for his gracious help to resist temptation or to remove it altogether. The problem is with MERELY doing that while not seeing our responsibility AS WELL. It seems to me that we are to go to God to ask for gracious assistance in the Spirit in order to put off evil by practicing righteousness. I think that's a more complete answer, which I meant to say above.

Daryl said...


You said "I procrastinate: six months late in submitting my tax forms. Procrastination is just a symptom of sloth. But how to turn away from sloth when you don't even recognize it--"

By your own admission, you do recognize it. Not to single you out, you're like the rest of us, we all claim not to recognize things that we know full well are there.

777law said...

Jonathan Flavel says this about dying to the flesh: "He that denies the necessity of mortification confounds all discriminating marks between saints and sinners, pulls down the pale of distinction, and lets the world into the church.

Isn't it amazing that much of today's church instead of recognizing this truth, denies it. Rather than focus on ridding the body of sin, many, if not most of todays church leaders actually encourage sin by minimizing its wickedness (a word you won't hear them use).

Sacchiel said...

Saint Paul is quite a succint fella!

David said...

"Without me you can do nothing."

And if you do nothing, it will be without Him.

courtesy of Dallas Willard

Marie4thtimemom said...

Good thoughts, and definitely needed in the Church today. We "strive" alongside God to obey, but there's a difference between striving "in the flesh" and being led by the Spirit. Staying in the Word and constant communion with God goes a long way towards overcoming the sin in question, including addictions.

My pastor made a similar point not too long ago, saying we can't claim to have a sin that "can't" be overcome - only that we "won't". Obviously, some bondages are much harder to break than other "trivial" sins....that's why accountability and encouragement from the Body is important.

I truly believe that secular therapy for substance abuse issues (among others) does more harm than good, as it gets people focusing inward on themselves rather than looking upwards to God in surrender. When is the last time a counselor of any sort used the word "sin"? The concept is so very antiquated!

dec said...

I do not know of a single scripture —and I speak advisedly— which tells me to take my sin, ...to God in prayer and ask him to deliver me from it...
He does not say, "Go and pray to Christ to deliver you."

Psa 39:8 Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.

Psa 119:10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

Psa 119:80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame!

Psa 19:13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!

Here's a better statement:
By drawing a believer near to the Lord and focusing his thoughts on Him, prayer both steels against fleshly temptation and weakens the temptations when they come.
Watch and pray.
(MORTIFICATION OF SIN, John F. MacArthur, Jr.)

tck said...

Phil Johnson:

Thank you and thank you. Looking forward to the post.

May God bless you.


Bill Gnade said...
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Bill Gnade said...
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Bill Gnade said...

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones might be right when he speaks advisedly. But I am not sure he is right about the silence of scripture regarding "casting ALL" our anxieties on our Lord. OK. Anxieties are not sins; but surely anxiety can be viewed as a sin -- one of fear, faithlessness, doubt.

St. Peter tells us to cast "all" our cares on Christ. I wonder if Mr. Lloyd-Jones would permit me to cast on Christ all my struggles with sin, too, since my struggles make me quite anxious.

What do we do with "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"? This sounds like a fairly strong petition for help: God, You do it -- and I trust that You will.

Then there's poor St. Paul -- a Pharisee of Pharisees who knows self-control -- who does what he does not want to do and doesn't do what he wants. Who delivers him from this wretched state? The Lord, the giver of life.

Mr. Lloyd-Jones ultimately might be right here. But I can understand why many believers might disagree with him. He strikes me as a man who has not known addiction: those of us who are addicted can assure him that repentance does not always come so easily. It is easy to say "stop." But what is not so easy is to actually stop. That is why we find the extreme language of Christ regarding sins that offend: "IF thine eye offend thee," chop it off. Some things even need exorcism.

When I read the following verses from Romans, I can understand why some believers become "totally passive," (as Phil Johnson describes):

"Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

"You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ."

If anything, this passage intimates that one cannot be an overcomer without the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? I might know the answer to that question, but surely many others don't -- or don't agree with me. Thus, I fully sympathize with those brothers and sisters who call out to the Holy Spirit to help purge them of their sins. Unlike Phil here, I don't see trusting God as total passivity. St. Paul asks God to deliver him from something that surely bothered Paul; irrespective of what Paul's thorn in the side might have been, we know that it was not something he liked, nor was it something he could remove. That he turned to the Lord in prayer "three times" suggests that there are some things that need special attention and require special help; and even some things that will not be purged in this life.

I am not advocating a kind of antinomian indifference to moral purity. That strikes me as passivity to the extreme. Nor am I advocating an "I-can-do-nothing" laziness regarding sin. I am merely saying that I can find biblical passages that can easily be construed by sincere Christians as meaning that we are helpless without God in the stopping of our sin; that repentance will not come without divine intervention; that we need to be delivered, even if that deliverance only comes in learning how NOT to be tempted anymore.

Those Pyros struggling with addiction know exactly what I am talking about.



lawrence said...

"An excellent reminder for all us recovering ex-Charismatics."

Kind of ironic considering The Doctor was, you know, charismatic.

tck said...

Bill Gnade, thanks for your insights.


So spricht der HERR said...

Consistently this blog helps me to live the Christian life better to the glory of God.
Thank you
- Greg