Unmortified Sin

by Josiah Audette

Mortification of Sin in Believers

Sin is any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God. 

Solemn Sins Don’t Make a Sinless Saint

There was a small, seaside village where lived two sailors. While they were both out at sea a frightful hour arose with the heavens turned as black as hell, clouds disgorging as would a mountain cascade, and surging wave began. At the moment the first wave spewed its harrowing expanse over the first sailor his vessel became overset and descended into the fathomless depths of the shadows. Whereas the other sailor pressed on as the wind assailed his masts, the sharp mist pierced his eyes, and the sea continually swallowed his vessel only to vomit it out again until the storm had finally passed. Which sailor knows more about the sea? As the proverb says, “Smooth Seas Don’t Make a Skilled Sailor.” Somehow Christians miss the picture when it comes to sin. We think the person who knows the most about sin is the person who has sinned the most, not the least. This is why we who with conservative upbringings often regard our testimonies as inferior to the testimonies of those who come out of ill-bred backgrounds. Not so. Contrarily, the one Person who knows the most about sin, its efficacy, its reality, its temptation, its nature, its deceit, its prevalence is the one Person who never sinned. Christ. Even in our own experience with temptation, it never gets easier. It is like the pain of an insatiable appetite which increases moment by moment until it is fed. It is like the irritation of an itchiness that perpetually festers and hankers to the point of shrouding all other bodily sensation until it is scraped. In one sense Christ was tempted like as we are, yet in another sense he wasn’t. The compulsion of Christ’s temptation surpassed that which has ever been known to human experience, because he never gave in. He entered into temptation, but temptation never entered into him. We think we know so much about sin and its effects, but we know so little because we know so little of Christ. So if you want to learn about sin and how to mortify it do not look to another sinner. Do not look to your own sin. Look to Christ. “Solemn Sins Don’t Make a Sinless Saint.”

The Breeder is Inbred.

“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” There is a point of time in Christian experience when we all come to the same discovery as the Apostle Paul and echo with Job, “Behold, I am vile.” These declarations are not intellectual conclusions. Paul says, “I found.” Job says, “Behold.” Their discovery was unexpected. They learned by experience that they are vile and as Isaiah wail in shock, “Woe is me! for I am undone.” Herein is the difference between knowing the law of sin and experiencing the power of this law. Paul is not reading an electrical schematic here, he is grasping the hot wire. Believers likewise experience the power and efficacy of indwelling sin. Evil is present with you. Yes, through regeneration by the Holy Spirit you now have an ordinary, constant prevailing will of doing good, but it does not go unchecked by the force of indwelling sin to the contrary. This evil within you is not just dormant and abiding, but furthermore active. It is always seducing, tempting, and deceiving you. Sin conceives and brings forth death and this breeder of every evil is inbred first in you. Consequently sin is either killing you or you are killing it. There goes not a moment where sin foils or is foiled, conquers or is conquered, prevails or is prevailed on. John Owen writes, “Sin will be always acting, if we be not always mortifying.” This is the daily business of every believer. There is no compromise, no truce, no agreement between the flesh of your old man in you by natural generation of your first father Adam and the Spirit of God in you by supernatural regeneration of your second Adam. Hence Christ exhorts, “What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Few things in war are more dangerous than a traitor within the gates. Its been said that Napoleon once confessed that he would rather face 10,000 well trained, well commanded soldiers than one Calvinist who thought he was in the will of God. Similarly, the one thing more dangerous to the state of your soul than 10,000 demons in hell is one unmortified instrument of unrighteousness in you.  The old man within you is more dangerous than ten thousand demons without. Ambrose Bierce then rightly defines “Alone” as “In bad company.” You are in bad company “So I say unto all, Watch.” Be killing sin or sin will be killing you. “Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps towards his journey’s end. He who finds not opposition form it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it.” John Owen.

The Bonds without Bounds

Unmortified sin aims always at the utmost and outermost. Owen observes, “Every time it rises put to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every coats desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head… it is like the grace that is never satisfied.” When you swallow one mouthful into excess it aims to make you an bulimic glutton. When you perform just one task in a lethargic manner it would make you an unresponsive sloth. When you quaff one sip beyond propriety it seeks to make you an insatiable drunkard. When you countenance one flirtation it seeks to make you an unreserved whoremonger. So have no toleration for sin because it has no toleration for you. Have no mercy upon it or it shall have no mercy upon you. There are no bounds to the bonds sin would have on you. “So I say unto all, Watch.”

The Irrational is Smart

Sin is totally irrational. Sin is suicidal because it kills you. “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” Sin is cosmic treason because it foists itself against God. Although it be incomparably irrational, unmortified sin is smart in deluding, deceiving, and disillusioning the hearts of men. Here are the 7 deadly progressions of unmortified sin.

  1. Unmortified sin will weaken the soul by depleting its vigour. “It was weak through the flesh” the Apostle writes.
  2. Unmortified sin redirects the affections towards its own ends as desirable thus exiling the excellencies of God for the soul’s communion. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one , and despise the other.” Sin is a surrogate pleasure.
  3. Unmortified sin will rob the soul of its comfort and peace. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” By rule of reference, unmortified sin is not life and peace.
  4. Unmortified sin consumes the mind. Owen illustrates the thoughts of our mind as being the purveyors or delivery service carrying objects to satisfy our soul’s affections. If our affections thus have been reconstituted by unmortified sin, consequently our imaginations will be darkened and now begin to generate defiled provisions to satisfy the lusts of our sinful soul. The knowledge which has been bestowed upon as the image bearers of God has been dethroned.
  5. Unmortified sin hinders our duty before God as we labour and contrive to provide for our sensual, vain imaginations when we ought to be engaged in the worship of God.
  6. Unmortified sin desensitizes us. The frequency and habit of the lusts which unmortified sin is generating in our affections and imaginations tend to interrupt any moment, dispel any notion, or mute any consideration to hinder its reign of death. This process is characterized by an inveterate hardening where with each new temptation our lusts receive a fresh vigour, violence, and vitiated expression which before was not capable.
  7. Unmortified sin is an incubator of death. This engrossment of debauched affections, this defilement of the imaginations renders the Christian to have no great fear of God’s chastisement, no bitterness as they daily digest sin, no beleaguering guilt of sin, but only slight and transient thoughts of their lusts. So they are not easily disquieted by sin, not especially sensitive to sin, nor altogether considerate of sin. Secretly their indulgent heart countenances a particular lust, reserves judgment upon it, and applies instead mercy to it. We say with Naaman, “The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.”

If any of these irrationalities have outsmarted you dear Christian; awake, “You are fast asleep in a storm of anger round about you.” “So I say unto all, Watch.”

How Not to Mortify Sin

If the Holy Spirit has spoken over the noisome chatter of your defiled imaginations so that you now have a mind to mortify your sins. Mortification is not to utterly terminate sin, this is the aim but in this life cannot be accomplished. If now you make cry out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” consider first what mortification does not consist of.

  1. Mortification of sin consists not in spiritual disciplines. Often we subordinate the Holy Spirit and subrogate spiritual disciplines with him to perform the work and play his role in the duty of mortification. Spiritual disciplines, fasting, praying, meditation, silence, solitude, and such things are insufficient things in and of themselves to mortify your sin. Those who employ such means are always mortifying but never come to any measurable mortification. They may come to a sudden and fearful realization of their frightful state in unmortified sin and instantly pledge themselves to God in new rituals, disciplines, and duties yet never to experience mortification. John Owen reminds us, “Duties are excellent food for an healthy soul; they are no physic for a sick soul. He that turns his meat into his medicine must expect no great operation. Spiritually sick men cannot sweat out their distemper with working. But this is the way of men who deceive their own souls.”
  2. Mortification of sin consists not in a quiet, sedate nature. Ambrose Bierce humoursly defines, “Abstainer” as “A weak person who yield to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.” Impairing your body and weakening your temperament is not a good thing in itself and no mortification consists therein. A man may have a lean body and still have an unquiet soul. Impeding your personality, temperament, and disposition does not necessarily mean you are improving it. Such persons have no understanding of indwelling sin. They see their bodies which are created in the image of God but imagine them to be the incarnation of sin. So they set out to impair, weaken, abstain and suppress their human flesh. But even if they were to peel every strip of skin from their bodies still they would not have mortified sin. For while unmortified sin may subsist their appetites and affections they do not consist in them. Outward weakening and impairing “Are to be looked on only as ways whereby the Spirit may, and sometimes does, put forth strength for the accomplishment of his own work.”
  3. Mortification of sin consists not in the diversion of sin. Capping a frequent sin only to have it vent itself elsewhere is not mortifying its multiplying. You may alter your temperament, vocation, relations, and designs only to change your master but be a servant still.
  4. Mortification of sin consists not in just occasional victories. Yea, this is often merely an illusion of mortification when in reality your unmortified sin is just playing dead. Suppose you quaff back drink in a uncontrolled carousal to the point of intoxicated unconsciousness. As you spent the next days recovering you would have no care for liquor. It would be foolish to confuse this effect as mortification. Your sin isn’t mortified its malignant. Similarly you may encounter some egregious sin and in a fit of fervour set out against it. Consequently your sin quiets itself for a season until your busying is over and the inquest past. Your sin isn’t mortified its malingered. The mother of death is playing dead. “So I say unto all, Watch.”

Mortify & Master

Owen writes, “All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.” This is the task of every Christian. The vigour, peace, and comfort of the soul, the thoughts of our mind, the duties from our God, and our life in Him depends upon this constant warfare. To neglect the mortification of sin is to neglect the Holy Spirit who was given us for the task. Only the Holy Spirit is both sufficient and efficient for the work of mortification.

  1. This work of mortification consists in the habitual weakening of sin. All means of grace, all spiritual disciplines are subordinate to Him in this effort. How are we to mortify sin? By the Spirit. How does the Spirit mortify sin? By increasing in us the fruits which are contrary to the lusts of the flesh. “For I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” By weakening the root of sin. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” By applying the work of Christ to the sinner so we can commune with him. “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.” But if the Holy Spirit does the mortifying why are we exhorted to mortify? Because “we live in the Spirit” and “also walk in the Spirit.” We do not act against the Spirit nor does he act without us.
  2. Mortification of sin consists in fighting and contending against sin. “To load it daily with all the things which… are previous, killing, and destructive to ti is the height of this contest. Such a one never thinks his lust is dead because it is quiet, but labours still to give it new wounds, new blows every day.” John Owen
  3. Mortification of sin consists in frequent success. Habitual, consistent, steady weakening is the true mark of mortification. It searches out the root and proceeds to beat it down.
  4. Mortification of sin consists in universal obedience. The war against unmortified sin is a universal one effected by a declaration of universal obedience. Let not a man think if he regards iniquity in his heart that he shall ever arrive at mortification of an indwelling sin. You will only love God so much as you first hate sin. If you reserve judgment and instead apply mercy to an unmortified sin you evidence that you contend against sin merely because it disquiets you. Consequently if it did not trouble you, you would not be troubled. If it did not disquiet you, you would not be disquieted. If it did not hurt you, you would not hurt it. Owen states, “Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God’s. God’s work consists in universal obedience.” So if you will do anything you must do everything. It is not the mortification of sins, rather it is the mortification of sin, universally and unreservedly. It will cost you everything, but it would cost even more to fail in paying such a price.

Charge & Commission

  1. Examine yourself for the seven deadly delusions of unmortified sin. 
  2. Provoke your senses with a clear awareness of the guilt of unmortified sin. Say not with Naaman, “The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.” Consider that your sin is especially grievous and aggravating before God. That your unmortified sins have inconceivably more guilt  than those who have not been bestowed with countless means of grace, upheld by the mercies of God, and experienced relief and deliverance from the hand of God which you have. “God sees a great deal of evil in the working of lust in their hearts, yea, and more than in the open, notorious acts of wicked men.” Do not belittle the guilt of your cosmic treason. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin.
  3. Imbue your faculties with a clear apprehension of the danger of unmortified sin. The danger of inveterate hardening. The danger of a delusional mind and defiled imaginations. The danger of temporal correction. Is it a little thing that God should bring weakness to your body, ruin to your estate, suffering to your family, reproach to your name?
  4. Incite your consciousness with a clear empathy that unmortified sin grieves the Holy Spirit. We have harboured those enemies He was meant to destroy in our hearts with Him. Be ashamed that your temple is kept defiled.
  5. Instil your your considerations with a clear perception that the Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it. “Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
  6. Do not declare peace to your soul before God declares it. A false peace will not abide, but only create an environment for sin to once again fester. Wait upon God to speak peace to your soul.
  7. Declare Total War & Total Obedience. Be watchful for sin is watching you. Be killing sin or sin will be killing you. Be foiled by sin or foil sin. Be conquered or conquer. “So I say unto all, Watch.”

If you feel the guilt, danger, and evil of unmortified sin accept the call to worship. Say not you are to sinful to worship. It would be like saying your to dirty to have a bath, to hungry to eat, or to tired to rest. Come to Christ.

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