21 October 2010

Repentance: the vital element

by Dan Phillips

Preface: I know, this is longer than my usual. But I think that I'd have a mass uprising on my hands if I extended it to a third. So make yourselves comfortable and, without further eloquence....

We began looking at the subject of repentance here on Tuesday. Then over at my place, on Wednesday, we took a little side-trip into the topic of apologies. Now we return to identify what I think is a vital, often missing element in how many Christians think of and deal with their sin(s).

First, though, let me just briefly (and probably unnecessarily) note that both of those posts, as well as this one, could easily be multiplied by a dozen or two. I almost have to force myself to write this, because I am so conscious of the many implications and related issues that beg for development here. Alas, those pleas must go denied.

Let's suppose that at least some Biblical reality has come to bear. Perhaps we fled for a time, jumping at shadows,  knowing no real peace of mind (Proverbs 28:1a). Perhaps we tried blame-shifting (1 Kings 18:17), or lashing out (1 Samuel 20:30) or vain, nauseating shows of religion (Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:12-20). But now the Holy Spirit has arrested us. The Holy Spirit has brought days and nights of misery (Psalm 32:3-4). He has used the word, spoken His "Thou art the man" (2 Samuel 12:7), and His word struck home to our heart.

But what now? We begin to see the sin as God sees it. We admit to God that it is sin, agreeing with Him.


The element I have in mind is mortification. It is dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches. It is seeing it dead, dealing death to it, killing it, depriving it of all means of life and burying it.

Here I think of Luther and Paul.

It was Luther who said, in Thesis #1 (timely, eh? I'm here all week! Try the veal!), "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." And it was Paul who wrote,
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  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.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14)
Get that: if (A) by the Spirit, (B) you (C) put to death the deeds of the body, (D) you will live. There's a whole theology of Christian living in that verse, but let's keep it simple. Paul is saying:
  1. That our objective must not be to wound sin, nor to weaken sin, nor to hamper nor cripple sin — but to kill it, to put it to death.
  2. It is we who are commanded to do it, and so we who must do it. To give it no thought, or to shrug it off on God, is to thumb our nose in God's face. Yet...
  3. We cannot do it unaided, but can only do it by the Holy Spirit's aid.
This is the Christian life.  It is characteristic of being a Christian. The many, many folks who isolate verse 14 and try to fabricate some mythology of living by semi-revelation does great violence to the context. Let me set it out like this:
  1. To be a son of God is, definitionally, to be led by the Spirit. Being Spirit-led is not a subset among Christians. The two sets (sons-of-God and Spirit-led) are co-extensive.
  2. To be led by the Spirit is to put to death the deeds of the body.
  3. To put to death the deeds of the body is to live according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh.
At least a few of you are shouting "Owen! Owen!" at your monitors. So here indeed is the great man, on this passage, in words of gold that might well be written on the front-page of anyone's Bible:
Do you mortify;
do you make it your daily work;
be always at it while you live;
cease not a day from this work;
be killing sin or it will be killing you (p. 47, Overcoming Sin and Temptation; Crossway Books: 2006, Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor [emphases added])
But so often we do everything but kill our sin. We grant it was sin, perhaps, yes; we feel bad about it, we do a bit of this and that about it, plucking at its edges... yet we keep sneaking it crumbs and morsels, a bit of water here and a bit of wine there. We seem bound and determined to keep it alive — maybe just a little, maybe on the sly; but alive nonetheless.

How so? Well, positively, we find some way to cushion our darling sin, to protect it, to provision it. We focus on others' contributions ("If my wife hadn't...."; "If my pastor would only...."), or others' behavior ("What _____ did is a lot worse"). Or we find some obscure author or big-name apostate who says our sin isn't really sin — and maybe we don't go that far, but we use that to attach an IV to keep our sin hydrated enough to stay alive.

Work at it hard enough, and we can see ourselves as noble heroes or tragic martyrs. I fear I've seen that in folks struggling with temptations to sexual sin, for instance — in theory, they grant the sinfulness of the sin... yet they expend an awful lot of effort to protecting its tragic dignity.

Or, negatively, we refuse to deal death to it. We refuse to tear down our connections to that sin, the monuments we've raised to it, the apparatuses for indulging in it. We hide the magazines, rather than burn them. We don't go into that place... though we drive by it. We maintain those corrupting friendships, relationships, subscriptions, memberships, associations. We are private and soft-spoken in our expressions of repentance. Our disownings are carefully-worded and pride-sparing.

What we need to do, of course, is see the sin the way God sees it. God doesn't understand it. God doesn't think it's technically wrong, but kinda wistfully cute in a way. No, God hates it (Hebrews 1:9), He loathes it, He abominates it.

How much does God hate my sin, your sin? With such a molten hatred that nothing but the death of His dear Son could make it possible for Him to look on us with other than a white-hot fury (cf. Matthew 26:36-46). See Him hanging yonder, on the Cross. Why? For that sin, because nothing but the Lord Christ's death and His blood could atone for that sin, and bring you and me to God as other than damned, doomed, hopeless criminals.

So dash all rationalizations and equivocations and evasions and minimalizations. Burn all bridges. Disown! Flee! Kill! Ask God to help you to hate that sin as He hates sin. Would you be content to share your bed with just a few potato-bugs, or have just a little dog-dung on your ice cream? Ask God to help you see what you did to your spouse, your friend, your parents, your children, your neighbor — ask Him to help you see it as He sees it. Find the root of it in your heart. Pour spiritual Round-up on it, kill it dead, all of it, roots to branches. Don't rest, don't think it's done, until it's gone, and all traces renounced, disowned, dead by your own hand.

This is part of what it means to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14).

I'll close with words far better than mine; I recommend that you read them aloud:
The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet. ...Soul, take thy lust, thy only lust, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughter, from which thou has promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down — and all this now, before thou hast one embrace more from it.

...Who is able to express the conflicts, the wrestlings, the convulsions of spirit the Christian feels, before he can bring his heart to this work? Or who can fully set forth the art, the rhetorical insinuations, with which such a lust will plead for itself? One while Satan will extenuate and mince the matter: It is but a little one, O spare it, and thy soul shall live for all that. Another while he flatters the soul with the secrecy of it: Thou mayest keep me and thy credit also; I will not be seen abroad in thy company to shame thee among thy neighbors; shut me up in the most retired room thou hast in thy heart, from the hearing of others, if thou wilt only let me now and then have the wanton embraces of thy thoughts and affections in secret. ...Now what resolution doth it require to break through such violence and importunity, and notwithstanding all this to do present execution? Here the valiant swordsmen of the world have showed themselves mere cowards who have come out of the field with victorious banners, and then lived, yea, died slaves to a base lust at home. As one could say of a great Roman captain who, as he rode in his triumphant chariot through Rome, had his eye never off a courtezan that walked along the street: Behold, how this goodly captain, that had conquered such potent armies, is himself conquered by one silly woman. (The Christian in Complete Armour, William Gurnall (Banner of Truth: 1995 [reprint of 17th century work]), p. 13)
"Be killing sin, or it will be killing you." Amen.

Dan Phillips's signature


Thomas Louw said...

Love the post but my flesh “hates” it.
Dr Wayne Mack wrote a nice book. “Fight to the death.”
Enough said.
I'll be silent now.

David Kyle said...

Oh wretched man that I am...

Robert said...

Thanks, Dan. I love that quote by Owen because it is the truth...although my flesh (which is just the manifestation of my own sinful desires) tries to tone it down and put it aside. MacArthur likens this to Samuel hacking Agag to pieces and suggests that this is the attitude that we should take towrds sin in our lives. Too often I feel like I follow in the steps of Saul, though.

DJP said...

Yep. Or (I say) getting the Canaanites out of the land during the Conquest. Don't study their religion, don't make treaties, don't co-exist, just exterminate.

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

Oh how often I desire to just bop sin on the head, stick it in a cage, and keep it as a pet, only feeding it the bare minimum just to keep it alive.

For as that prophetess says, "Sin in secret is sweet." (Proverbs 9:17; of course you need to forget that her name is folly and that her path leads directly to death)

"He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so will he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to death. Sin will after a while revive, and the man must die. It is a great and fatal mistake if we suppose this work will admit of any remissness or intermission." - Owen

Paul D said...

"we do a bit of this and that about it, plucking at its edges... yet we keep sneaking it crumbs and morsels, a bit of water here and a bit of wine there."

superb. And awful.

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

Thanks, Dan. This has come at a time when the Lord has been working on my heart in a number of interrelated areas, and it fits in very well with everything else that's been going on.

It all started when I was on a trip to Korea a month ago and going through a spiritual crisis, and the preacher's sermon was on this verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14:

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

Praise God that He has already forgiven our sins through the shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ upon the Cross, and that He has given us His Holy Spirit, to enable us to humble ourselves, pray, seek God's face, and turn from our wicked ways!

I mean, this is all over the Bible, of course, but it resonated with me in a new way, and it's been a 6-week of process of beginning to relearn what this all really entails.

By the way, Owen's Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers is available for free at Christian Classics Ethereal Library: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/mort.html.

By copying and reformatting the plain text version, you can create a printable, readable hard copy.

I haven't begun reading it in earnest yet (am in the middle of the Early Prophets in Bible school), but there appear to be some encouraging words in it for all of us.

Stefan Ewing said...

Let me repost that link:


Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...


This is absolutely your best article ever! And you can take that to the pulpit!

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:12).

Stefan Ewing said...


Is it all right to say that this is a lifelong process—that the moment we are saved is not the end of the journey, but the beginning?

I mean, that's not supposed to let us off the hook in trying to overcome sin, but I've been beating myself up looking at progress of my own sanctification, thinking that maybe I'm not truly saved, and forgetting that (a) don't look to yourself: look to Christ! (duh) and (b) we will never become perfectly holy in this lifetime, although we must always strive to do get closer and closer to it.

...And to think of how Trinitarian doctrine can affect even our understanding of sin: God the Father forgives us through His Son Jesus Christ, and gives us His Spirit to help overcome sin.

Stefan Ewing said...

Sorry, I'm just a jumble of thoughts this morning.

Mark Patton said...

Thanks Dan.

Now, will I retreat to my tower of agreement or will I begin the work (again and again) of identifying sin and killing it. Jesus, keep me near the cross (and your Word).

allen said...

"There must be sorrow for sin and hatred of it in true repentance, or else I have read my Bible to little purpose. In very truth, I think there is no necessity for any other definition than that of the children's hymn—

"Repentance is to leave
The sins we loved before,
And show that we in earnest grieve,
By doing so no more."

Yes he said children's! hymn!

allen said...

Thanks Dan. Your posts are fantastic and so timely.
Now gotta go kill some things and nullify some treaties I've made. It aint gonna be pretty nor easy.
Help, Lord!

Terry Rayburn said...


You are missing the point of the passage.

1. First, at the risk of sarcasm, and to quote the eminent TV pop psych guy, "How's that workin' out for ya?"

No honest person can say that they've ever put even a DENT in the myriad of sins that they commit on a daily basis, if that means "dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches."

That's crazy talk.

If anyone can claim such a thing, let him stand forth now and tell us all.

After we're done snickering and doubting and mocking him [like I do the "perfected" Finney), we can dismiss him with a wave of our hand and get on with the discussion.

2. If anyone thinks they've even put a dent in their sins in the above manner, they don't even begin to grasp Jesus' point on the Sermon on the Mount regarding murder, adultery, etc. being even in thought, not just deed.

3. In quoting Rom. 8:12-14, you apparently are using that darn ESV, because the correct translation (NASB, e.g.) is, "are PUTTING to death the deeds of the body" (present tense, ongoing lifestyle action) -- not "put to death" (as though it were a final and complete action).

(Unless, of course, you mean PUTTING to permanent death one sin at a time, which would take the average sinful human...oh...about six thousand years...if it were possible...which it's not.)

I admit a level of fear in making such a point to a Greek guy like you, but I'll stand by it :)

The point is that the Lord is working in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure, OR WE'RE NOT HIS.

But not to the level of "dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches."

4. In the spirit of interpreting Scripture by Scripture:

To take a relatively obscure and somewhat difficult passage like Rom. 8:12-14, without first laying down the New Covenant groundwork that Paul did in Rom. 1 through 8:11, is to skip the DONE nature of the Gospel and jump to the DO THIS OR ELSE kind of thing that puts an unbiblical burden on the Saints.

That's exactly why Paul typically lays out DONE New Covenant truth before laying out "how should we then live?" (e.g., Ephesians, Romans).


Terry Rayburn said...

5. That's why Nouthetic Counseling as "founded" by Jay Adams and promulgated by Wayne Mack types is so destructive to the Christian life.

It sees all problems as "sins" and all solutions as "correcting those sins", instead of the Gospel truth that problems and their solutions stem from the lack of Truth and the revelation of Truth (IOW law-based, not grace-based).

The Emperor's Clothes of the matter is that such "biblical" counseling is nothing more than phonily sanctified Behavior Mod.

Knowing the Truth (and that primarily of the Gospel of the New Covenant) is what sets us free, not constantly zeroing in on our sins (even if we tack on "by the Spirit", in most cases not even knowing what that means).

6. People often love this kind of law-based teaching because it appeals to the fleshly sense of self-righteousness (the flesh loves a good challenge).

And I'm well aware that my comment will touch that self-righteousness right in the groin for some who read it. That's OK.

7. For those who repudiate what I'm saying, I urge you to check back in a year or two or ten and see how well you've progressed in "dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches."

I'm pessemistic, but only after 34 years of observation as a believer.

8. I'll close with a quote, too:

"The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One.

While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do."

Terry Rayburn said...

Sorry, the quote was from A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God.

DJP said...

Hi Terry. Bit of a kitchen-sink response; let me just pick out a couple of parts more directly related to the post.

1. There's nothing wrong with the ESV translation of the present tense Romans 8:13. I doubt you'll find a modern grammar that insists on (or defends) translating every last combination of ei + {present tense} as "if you are ____ing."

2. Doesn't Paul say we are to put the deeds of the body to death?

3. Shouldn't we?

4. What's your alternate goal?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...


Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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 which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13)

I believe this verse clearly makes the case for human responsibility. The above verse implies that it is our responsibility to work out (manifest) what God works in us.

John MacArthur had a really good article on this, it was at one time on Bible Bulletin Board, but I can’t seem to find it now.

God works it in, we work it out. God supplies the grace necessary and we act on it.

Terry Rayburn said...

1. There's nothing wrong with the ESV translation of the present tense Romans 8:13. I doubt you'll find a modern grammar that insists on (or defends) translating every last combination of ei + {present tense} as "if you are ____ing."

It's not grammatically "wrong" to not put ___ing on every occurence, but in this case it *implies* something that is wrong, namely that such putting to death is a once-for-all completion thing. (It doesn't imply that in the Greek, which is why I think the NASB is the better translation).

2. Doesn't Paul say we are to put the deeds of the body to death?

Clearly, yes, but what that *means* is not "dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches" or else there is no true repentance.

3. Shouldn't we?

Of course (but see #2 above).

4. What's your alternate goal?

It's not a matter of *alternate* goals, but *foundational* ones.

There are numerous goals, but foundationally it's communion with Jesus Christ, fellowship with Him, in the freedom of our already-forgiven sins.

In other words, it *starts* with the Good News, and our *response* flows from that.

The Rom. 8 passage we're dealing with is preceded by the truths that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, and that nothing can separate us from His love.

And it's followed by the truth that He is working all things together for good to those of us who love Him.

We love Him the more when we bask in the radical enormity of His love and forgiveness for us and His desire for fellowshiping with us.

And "the love of Christ constrains us" to walk in His ways, as does His very Life in us, as we commune with Him.

Lynn Dean said...

Paul cries, "Wretched man that I am" and John (in I John 1-2, esp.) says we lie if we say we have no sin, but also lie if we say we love God and continue to practice sin. Obviously there is an aspect to working out our salvation with fear and trembling that requires us to take up our cross daily and die to sin continually. That's a far cry, though, from the chorus of "Oh, it's all good! Jesus loves you!" that we hear in too many modern circles where "Just as I am without one plea," becomes "Just as I am--now let me be! Let us sin the more, that grace may abound." Perhaps this explains why the statistics for various sins are about the same among church members as in society at large. We may congratulate ourselves that our own sin makes us more merciful, less self-righteous, but would not a sincere effort to deal each sin a fatal blow as it is revealed also make us merciful and mindful of the struggle?

Thank you, Dan, for writing truth. I have in the past flirted with my own sins and was never so happy as when I began forsaking them. We need to take lukewarmness seriously.

DJP said...

You know, Terry, I love and like you a lot. No kidding and no sweet-talking; every time I see that Terry Rayburn has made a comment, I grin inwardly and look forward to seeing what you've written. I'm always glad you're among my readers and commenters, and I still am.

Here's what really concerns me about your response to this post, and my questions.

Any time Christ or an apostle says "Do X," and someone writes "I think we should do X," and a third person says "What? We can't do X! It isn't that simple! Instead of agreeing that we should do X and focusing on how to do it, let me bring in 47 deep-sounding qualifications and wheretofores and look-over-heres!"

Which is how your response to this is striking me.

I wrote a post on that, and wish I could remember where it was, but that's the bottom line: if I can't take a straightforward apostolic command and say "Amen, let's get to it," my doctrine needs a re-do.

Terry Rayburn said...


You write re the Phil. 2 passage, "I believe this verse clearly makes the case for human responsibility."

I'm not denying human responsibility. I'm *elevating* it to where God elevates it:

"Be perfect, for I am perfect".

There are just three little problems: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

As they deceive us, temporarily, we drift into sinning again (anybody not fit that category? -- speak up).

Then as we come to our senses through Truth, we change our mind, confess and renounce the sin (repent), and seek to walk in the Truth again (all this assuming we are born again, of course).

I write this so that you don't sin, but if you do (can't you hear John chuckle a little here?) we have an Advocate.

Or back to Phil. 2, the imperative to "work out your salvation" is founded on the DONE TRUTH that He is working in us. The Truth is always foundational to the imperative.

We need to get real.

Jesus died FOR our sins, not to eradicate them in this life.

Praise Him for that.

Terry Rayburn said...


"I wrote a post on that, and wish I could remember where it was,"

I remember the post well, and I even agreed with it.

An imperative is an imperative.

Which is why I agreed with you above in answer to your question, "Shouldn't we? [put to death the deeds of the body]".

See my answer to Mary.

Again, "be perfect for I am perfect". I take that literally.

I'm not denying our responsibility for perfect obedience to every imperative given us, nor excusing ANY sin.

That's the difference from the ones you were [rightly] taking to task in your old post.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...


"See then that ye walk circumspectly...(Eph 5:15)."

I believe that Christ did it all, but we are responsible to walk circumspectly. And when we do fall, which we all will, we have an adovate with the Father.

Robert said...


I would ask how it is that we are supposed to go about the task of sanctification if we are not putting sin to death? I don't think any of us are claiming that we'll ever be free from sin this side of glorification, but how do we put off the old man and put on the new unless we are putting sin to death?

When Jesus said we must deny ourselves, He was saying that we're to have nothing to do with our sin. The only way to do that is to kill it at the root. If we don't, it will pop up and take hold of us every opportunity it has. Now part of that involves what you are talking about...we have to keep focused on Christ.

That said, we can't just "let go and let God". We have responsibilities. James tells us in his epistle that faith without works is dead. He also says that as sinners, we should cleanse our handsand that the double-minded should purify their hearts (James 4:8).

We have to rest somewhere between the libertines and the legalists and not wind up in the errors they promulgate. There is clear warning against both of these positions in Scripture.

Terry Rayburn said...


An illustration might be in order.

If I talk meanly to my beloved wife (that's sin -- agreed?), and I change my mind before God, and confess that sin, and renounce it (and let's add in that I confess it also to my wife and seek her forgiveness), then I have effectively "repented".

I have truly realized my sin, and am against it. And my true goal is that I never do it again. It really is.


If I ever do it again -- unlikely, yeah, right--, you would say that I had never repented in the first place.

Why? Because I was missing the "vital element": "dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches."


I contend that with that "vital element" required for repentance, an unbiblical burden is put on the Saints, and one that takes their eyes *off* of Jesus, except when they miserably look at Him crying "Please, Lord, I am in constant anguish" -- which come to think of it was a common state of the law-based Puritans :)

...or they look to Him when they think they've self-righteously accomplished some sort of perfection (they're wrong of course), and they think, "See Lord? Now do you love me? Now can we be friends and Beloveds? Huh, huh?"

Not knowing (or feeling) that He is already their Friend and Beloved.

Terry Rayburn said...


"And when we do fall, which we all will,"

Not if we "repent" as defined in today's post -- I speak as a madman :)

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...


Might you be confusing positional holiness with practical holiness?

Mike Westfall said...

But I'm unable to mortify sin (wretched man that I am). Lord knows, I've tried. What shall I do to be saved?

Stefan Ewing said...


I think and trust that's what Dan means. I can't speak for Terry, but I suspect his concern is this: that we as reformed believers acknowledge that we are saved not by anything we do, but by believing in the objective truth of Jesus Christ's death for our sins and resurrection from the grave. It's done, it's finished. Look to be Christ and be saved.

But there's no question that sanctification is important: every New Testament writer without exception attests to that. It's not to earn our salvation or favour with God, or placate His wrath. Jesus Christ has already done that for us. But rather, as the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we work to conform more and more closely to Jesus Christ, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith.

The problem is that despite our reformed theology, the way we talk and think about sin in our own lives or the lives of others seems as if we think that it is a work to please or placate God or atone for our sins, and that when we stumble and fall, we have fallen out of God's favour and must regain His good graces. And if we fail, then we didn't do something right—like repent right, or pray hard enough. (Not to say that prayer and repentance aren't helpful: they are of paramount importance!) And then we despair that we're not good enough Christians, and are falling short of what our preachers and teachers (all good reformed folks) are telling us.

Our theology doesn't match our own habitual, fleshly way of thinking about sin.

What greatly encouraged me in Owen whas what I read a couple of days ago, in Chapter 5, section I.1.(1) of his Mortification of Sin. Presuming upon Dan's goodness, I reproduce it here in its entirety because it is so important to know this:

To mortify a sin is not utterly to kill, root it out, and destroy it, that it should have no more hold at all nor residence in our hearts. It is true this is that which is aimed at; but this is not in this life to be accomplished. There is no man that truly sets himself to mortify any sin, but he aims at, intends, desires its utter destruction, that it should leave neither root nor fruit in the heart or life. He would so kill it that it should never move nor stir any more, cry or call, seduce or tempt, to eternity. Its not-being is the thing aimed at. Now, though doubtless there may, by the Spirit and grace of Christ, a wonderful success and eminency of victory against any sin be attained, so that a man may have almost constant triumph over it, yet an utter killing and destruction of it, that it should not be, is not in this life to be expected. This Paul assures us of, Phil. iii. 12, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." He was a choice saint, a pattern for believers, who, in faith and love, and all the fruits of the Spirit, had not his fellow in the world, and on that account ascribes perfection to himself in comparison of others, verse 15; yet he had not "attained," he was not "perfect," but was "following after:" still a vile body he had, and we have, that must be changed by the great power of Christ at last, verse 21. This we would have; but God sees it best for us that we should be complete in nothing in ourselves, that in all things we must be "complete in Christ;" which is best for us, Col. ii. 10.

Stefan Ewing said...

This doesn't mean that we should set ourselves any goal less than the complete overcoming of sin in our lives, but also knowing this is a lifelong process, and if it's hard work for me (and it is), then it's also hard work for that guy over there who seems to have it all together, or that lady who's been walking with Christ all her life.

So we need to truly desire to overcome the sin in our lives (and to be honest, that's a weak point for me). And we need to turn to God daily in prayer, and seek our dependance upon Him. But we do stumble and fall, we need to look back to Christ, thanking God that He has already paid the price for our sins upon the Cross, repenting and picking up the pieces, and going on trusting in His grace and mercy.

donsands said...

"The Rom. 8 passage we're dealing with is preceded by the truths that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, and that nothing can separate us from His love.

And it's followed by the truth that He is working all things together for good to those of us who love Him." -Terry


And Paul also says, ".that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

The genuine believer will walk in the Spirit, as we live in the Spirit, by faith of course. Yet the flesh will war against the Spirit, until we go home to be with our Lord, or He returns.

The Holy Spirit sees how wicked pride and lust are, and He will never stop working in our lives to overcome sin, and grant us repentance, and fill us with wisdom, power, and faith.

God receives all the glory for our salvation, and for our works of resisting Satan, the flesh, and the world, which is crucified to me, and I to it.

This subject is incredibly deep. And it fulfills the truth that the Word is sharp as the sharpest razor, and cuts swiftly and deep, which brings conviction and peace.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

God will always get the glory, because He is the one who works in us both to will and to do.

NoLongerBlind said...

Wow; and here I thought sanctification was simply a matter of following the adage,

"let go and let God..."

/sarcasm off


Aaron Snell said...

Hmph. That's just great - I've been tinkering with a future sermon on Romans 8:12-14 titled "Led By the Spirit: The Mortification of Sin" or possibly "Led By the Spirit: It's Not What You Think" and now I'll just look like a johnny-come-lately. Thanks, DJP :o/

Seriously, great stuff.

Unknown said...

This issue came up today as my weekly bible study groups was considering Philippians 2:12, where we are exhorted to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling."

Someone asked the question, "what does this really mean?"

My answer to him had much to do with the incredible awesomeness of the God who has in fact saved us by His grace through faith for good works (Eph 2:8-10), this God who is so unfathomably immense that the universe itself cannot hold him (I mentioned the video about relative star sizes Phil posted last week as a partial means of trying to comprehend this), yet He condescended to earth to save even me, this God who, when Isaiah was in His presence in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1ff), was brought low by his own sin by the incredible holiness of this God who was revealing Himself to Isaiah so directly.

We work out our salvation in fear and trembling, because we *should* tremble before God, the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell. We should fear Him, because this is the beginning of knowledge. We work out our salvation, not that we are saving ourselves, but rather we are doing the good works for which Christ saved us by His grace through faith, and we are to work it out, because our flesh is at war with our spirit, seeking to prevent us from doing those good works, yet through our work we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh and growing in grace.

The issue here is not whether it is actually possible (in this life) to mortify all sin, or even any sin, absolutely and completely.

The issue is whether I, as a believer in the perfectly holy and righteous God of the universe, recognize just how repugnant my sin is before Him and how much my continued sinfulness clouds my judgement and hardens my heart toward Him.

Such recognition *should* motivate me to mortify such sins with all my might. My real problem is that I all too often see my sin in the light of how it affects me or others, and not in the light of the holiness of God, the incomprehensible, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, gracious, and merciful God who became a human being, lived, died, and rose again to save me from its consequences.

Long comment. Sorry if it rambled, but Dan's post really hit home.

DJP said...


Stefan Ewing said...

S. Driesner:

Thank you for that.

Maybe we don't know how to work out our salvation in fear and trembling because we don't really fear YHWH our God.

Yet He is a consuming fire (Dt 4:24), a refining fire (Zech 13:9), and His very words are fire (Jer 23:29). Even His Son is to be feared (Ps 2:12; Rev 6:16).

What a fearsome thing, that we take the grace of God so lightly, considering that great day of darkness our Lord and Saviour endured, when the Father poured out all His righteous wrath for our sins upon His own Son.

And yet...to know that Christ died for sinners is such a joyous thing; that God Himself has atoned for our sins through His sacrifice (Ps 79:9), once for all time.

How are we supposed to respond in the face of such awesome truths? The only answer that I with my feeble mind can come up with is just to pray, humbling myself every day, repenting for what I've done, thanking God for what He's done, and actively begging for His grace.

...And doing what Paul commands us to do, which Dan has reminded us of today.

Stefan Ewing said...

Not that I'm an expert on any of this. I'm just a stiff-necked fool relearning it all, as if for the first time.

Ron Reffett said...

Wow!! I so needed this today! Thanks

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

John MacArthur talks about our part as well as God's part in our sanctification @ gty.org under the title "God at Work in You." It is in three parts. I mentioned this earlier, but could not find it at Bible Bulletin Board.

This is such an important read, it is long but so, so worth it.

Anonymous said...

An imperative is an imperative.
A command is a command.
The law is the law.
Thank God for the Gospel.

The ability to do anything is always predicated upon the first working of the Spirit. Yet, we are to show due diligence to the commandments as it is written without holiness no one shall see God. Or, blessed are those who are pure in heart for they shall see God.

Thanks Sewing (Stefan Ewing for the newbies). But donna forgayt, it is His work. Owen pretty well sums up the WCF view (the 1689, also).

There are two chapters beg attention. The first is on sanctification. But equally important is the chapter on good works, especially: Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.

And yay Terry, you're right, tell your sister, you were right.

Hope delayed brings bitterness to the bones. So we must see to it that we do not fall short of the grace of God who has provided all blessing in Christ. A morbid obsession with sin is a mark of pride, a desire that displaces what God accomplished in sending His Son. It says, "I am not satisfied in Him except I be relieved of the burden I carry." But Christ says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weaknesses." So, when we cry Father take this sin from me, he says, I have done so, and more than you can imagine.

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Louw said...

The mortification of sin.
My “kitchen-sink response”
We start our Christian life in Christ. He is the gate keeper and the one who chases us I the gate. (We are to sinful to listen to the call)
This Jesus, calling us and chasing us in never stops. God is always the one getting the glory.
I’m not the one “wanting” to fight sin to the death. The Holy Spirit gives me that desire and enables me to do it. Will I ever kill sin?
No, I will not kill sin, Jesus killed sin. He conquered death. He did it all.
Will I ever stop sinning? No
Must I fight sin to the death? Yes
We will never accomplish a sinless life, we will never give sin the death blow but, we must fight it till we die.
It comes down to “already but not yet”.
Our war against sin is a command from God. It is our hearts desire, placed in us by God.
Our longing, our love for God drives us to the battlefield. The battlefield drives us to our knees. Every small victory shines a spot light on Christ victory

Susan said...

Hmm...John MacArthur's sermon on Grace to You tonight runs along a similar vein....


God is indeed telling me something. So hard to get rid of sin, though. :(

allen said...

When did Romans 8 become an "obscure" passage?

Bill R. said...

Wow! What a HIGHLY relevant topic. I am preparing a sermon on this very passage and subject for this Sunday. I am also very grateful for the comments because it tells me what sort of issues folks may have with the subject.

Terry, I think John Owen addresses your concerns about how successful we can be in practical terms in his book the Mortification of Sin (short name). He describes mortification as depriving sin of the things that make it alive, choking the life out of it. He then says it has a nasty habit of coming back to life when we relax. Solution: Don't relax! Be vigilant, tireless, unrelenting, run the race, fight the good fight, etc.

I agree that we are never free of sin while we have the flesh with us, but we can work hard at making it less and less until we have a measure of holiness here on earth. Paul said,

“12 not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of god in Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:12-14 NAS95)

Mortifying sin must be possible because 1) We are commanded to do it and God would not give us an impossible command, and 2) We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

My take on it. I hope this helps.

Robert said...

Didn't Jesus say that if our hand causes us to sin to cut it off? And if our eye causes us to sin that we should pluck it out? Of course, neither of these cause us to sin. The point being that we should find the root of our sin and work to remove it.

David Kyle said...

Wow! What a great meta!

This is the internet at it's best.

DJP said...

The one thing this meta lacks is someone correcting someone else's grammar or spelling.

On, btw, it's "its," not it's. It's = it is.


Mike Westfall said...

No way I'm gonna cut off my own hand or pluck out my own eye. The point, I think, is that we are completely beyond being able to root our own sin.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

In the book Future Grace by John Piper, he says this about fighting sin.

“The fight of faith against lust is the fight to stay satisfied with God. “By faith Moses …[Forsook] the fleeting pleasures of sin…he looked to the reward” (Heb 11:24-26). Faith is not content with “fleeting pleasures.” It is ravenous for joy. And the Word of God says, “In thy presence is fullness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasure forever” (Ps 16:11). So faith will not be sidetracked into sin. It will not give up so easily in its quest for maximum joy.

The role of God’s Word is to feed faith’s appetite for God. And, in doing this, it weans my heart away from the deceptive taste of lust. At first, lust begins to trick me into feeling that I would really miss out on some great satisfaction if I followed the path of purity. But then I take up the sword of the Spirit and begin to fight. I read that it is better to gouge out my eye than to lust. I read that if I think about things that are pure and lovely and excellent, the peace of God will be with me (Phil 4:8f). I read that setting the mind on the flesh brings death, but setting the mind on the Spirit brings life and peace (Rom 8:6). I read that lust wages war against my soul (1 Pet 2:11), and that the pleasures of this life choke out the Spirit (Luke 8:14). But best of all, I read that God withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Ps 84:11), and that the pure in heart will see God Matt 5:8).

I love how Piper gives fundamental principles in his book of how to overcome sin, but then he has these grand overviews that simply point out that truly loving God is far greater than the love of sin, which is ultimately the victory over sin.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Piper also says: "Out of all the aromur God gives us to fight Satan, ONLY one piece is used for killing--the sword. The Word of God."

Larry Geiger said...

"How are we supposed to respond in the face of such awesome truths?"

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Live life and live it abundantly. Whatever you put your hand to, do it to the glory of God.

How do I know what abundant life is? Every time I see my son with my granddaughter, I know I'm closer. Every time I watch TV I know I'm further away. Every time I help someone achieve something I know that I'm closer. Every time I put someone down I know that I'm further away.

I'm busy, like Dan says, killing sin and I'm busy, like Terry says, believing that I'm forgiven and it's all a big mess, and my head is starting to hurt. Praise Jesus for his salvation!

Stefan Ewing said...

Praise Jesus indeed!

donsands said...

"No way I'm gonna cut off my own hand or pluck out my own eye. The point, I think, is that we are completely beyond being able to root our own sin." Mike

I think Jesus point is to show us how serious the consequences are. "Beter to enter heaven with one eye, then be thrown into hell with both."

It's a very disturbing truth, it should cut deep down into our soul's marrow.

And then we can rejoice in the truth of His grace, and how once we have been sought out by our Savior, and gathered into His fold, nothing can pluck us from His hand. We can't even fight our own way free, because we are now His in the real, and were predestined for this salvation from our sin and hell.

Someone surely could cut off both hands, and both feet, and pluck out both eyes, and still have a corrupt mind, and hard heart, I suppose, if weunderstand the root of the matter is the heart and mind.

Have a blessed weekend and Lord's day.

David Kyle said...

Eric Raymond had some good thoughts on this at his blog Irish Calvinist.


And no, I am not Eric Raymond, or any relation to Eric Raymond.

Jacob said...

::puts on Captain Obvious hat::

Interesting comments. The way it seems, imho, is that we have the subject approached from several angles of concern by the most prolific commenters in this "meta". We have one brother, the author of the post, who is exhorting any believers who have an apathetic view of sin in their lives to strive to be holy. A worthy and good intention.

And we have a brother who is understandably concerned with some of the wording in that post and how it can lead to self-condemnation and legalism by setting an impossible standard and not providing the greater context within which the passage is written and to be understood.

We also have a sister who is perhaps concerned that said brother's statements might be mistaken for the polar opposite of Dan's post, something along the lines of easy-believism, because he disagreed with some of the language Dan used in the post.

It's interesting how things go back and forth in the comments with everyone concerned that everyone else might be an extremist of one sort or another, and trying to feel them out with certain questions or statements. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But it appears that (for the most part) the main commenters would all agree that sanctification is a part (an ongoing and important part) of the Christian's temporal life here on Earth. It just comes down with how we understand it and the extent to which we are responsible for it.

Ken said...

Dan, your article was a blessing, as was Terry Rayburn's comments and caution against legalism (I understand both of your concerns) and Mary Elizabeth's comments.

I expanded a little in the context of the 95 theses, the Reformation, justification, and sanctification.


To think on these things is a good way to celebrate the Reformation, and see how we can put Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and John Owen all together. Your article stirred me and moved me to harmonize them all together. Thanks!

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan wrote, "You know, Terry, I love and like you a lot. No kidding and no sweet-talking;"

Likewise, Brother Dan.

I got a private email from someone that seemed to infer otherwise, and I apologize if others wrongly inferred that I have anything but respect and appreciation for you.

We go back a ways, and I sometimes leave out extraneous disclaimer-kindnesses that I shouldn't.

You know how I like to keep a comment short :)