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Mortifying Sin

do not smoke in hereFor if you live for the flesh, you will die: but if through the Holy Spirit you mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live. (Romans 8:13 KJV ~ simplified)

Understanding Lust

The secular definition of lust goes as follows:

  • An overwhelming desire or craving.
  • Intense eagerness or enthusiasm.
  • craving, desire, hunger, itch, longing, thirst, wish, yearning

The biblical definition is consistent, but comes with implications.

…we…all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind…(Ephesians 2.3 NAS)

The Bible says that lust is the indulgence of the desires of the heart and mind. This is the

What is Mortification?
  • The secular definition of mortification is as follows:
  • To practice ascetic discipline or self-denial of the body and its appetites.
  • Comes from the middle English word ‘mortifien’ which means ‘to deaden or subdue’ and from the Latin word ‘mortificare’ which means ‘to kill’.

abolish, annihilate, blot out, clear, eradicate, erase, exterminate, extinguish, extirpate, liquidate, obliterate, remove, root out, rub out, snuff out, stamp out, uproot, wipe out.

Again, the biblical definition is consistent, but comes with implications.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, (Romans 6.12 NAS)

To mortify is to get rid of sin, so that it is not the focus of your mind and heart so that you will not act in sin.

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is…with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you shall also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members…(Col 3.2-5 KJV ~ simplified)

To mortify is to remove all concentration on worldly things and to focus on heavenly things. To mortify is not simply to root out or eradicate sin, but to remove the focus of sin from things which are against God to things which are for God.

Why Should I Mortify Sin?

…God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie [literally: we are liars] and do not live by the truth. (1 John 1.5,6)

This passage makes it abundantly clear that the person, who walks according to Christ’s ways, is a brother of Christ and will receive his inheritance in God’s kingdom. The person who claims to be a brother to Christ, but instead of following His commands lives according to his own lusts is living a lie and does not live according to the truth. The implication is that this person whose sin is un-mortified is only claiming the name of Christ, but has no inheritance, has not made a true commitment to follow Christ and therefore is not saved from eternal condemnation.

How Do I Do It? *

Habitual weakening of lust. Every lust is a righteous habit, which has not been developed and is therefore pushing the heart toward evil. This person who does not form righteous habits is described in Genesis 6.5, “the LORD saw that…every intent of the thoughts of [man’s]…heart was only evil continually. A persistence for bodily and mental sin leads to an evil heart. By nature, man’s habit is to “gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Rom 13.14 NIV). Sin is “waging war against the law of my mind [God’s law according to general revelation] and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Romans 7.23 NIV).

If every desire of the heart is habitually bent on evil, then the logical conclusion is to form righteous habits to replace the negative ones. Even clinical psychologists agree on this principle and have used it to break smoking and other drug habits. Paul gives advice on the matter of discerning good and evil when he told the Corinthian church, “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31 NAS). The idea is that we should not be so concerned with formulating a legalistic set of rules to follow; rather in all we do, we should take time to discern what would glorify God and do that. As we perform actions for God’s glory, we replace actions which are for our own gratification, thereby mortifying our sin. In case of specific struggles that we have, the principle applies as well. Find an action which you know to glorify God and when the lust of your flesh tempts you to sin, do what glorifies God. Examples are prayer, singing of hymns and reading God’s word.

Fight against sin. We are at war with sin. The following are important in any battle and are pertinent even on the topic of overcoming lust.

  • Know the enemy. It is critical that you understand what you are dealing with in order to overcome it. The enemy is our own sinful nature. Adam and Eve were only had one sin, which was to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2.17). There was only one lust. That lust was a desire to be like God. The temptation was to eat the fruit so that they could be like God, able to discern good and evil (Gen 3.5). Notice that where the serpent was the tool of for the temptation, the lust itself was rooted at the heart of man. If Adam and Eve did not have the wicked desire to be like God, they COULD NOT have been tempted by the serpent. Your battle against sin is rooted in your own wicked heart. “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick;” (Jer 17.9).
  • Be acquainted with the success of lust. I’m not suggesting that you intentionally fall to sin. That would be foolish indeed. Rather, you must be aware of situations, places, people and occasions which make it difficult for you to overcome your sin. Once you know your enemy, where they go, what they do, it is easier to defeat them. So it is with sin. We must be familiar with the situations which cause us to fall and succeed. Once we know how to defeat an enemy, we can do it repeatedly, which means we can form a habit so that the sin will be mortified.
  • Intentional daily attack. Don’t wait for sin to attack you in order to attempt defense. Form a game plan. List your struggles and make conscious efforts to attack them daily. Do this by considering what you will be doing day by day so that you can prepare yourself for the temptations that are coming. You know your lusts so only you are qualified to determine this attack.

We can only mortify our sins in order to overcome lust by the power of the Holy Spirit and through forming of convictions. We do this so that we can bring glory to God and partake in Christ’s inheritance which is the kingdom of God.

* Much of this section on mortifying sin is sampled from John Owens, “The Mortification of Sin.”

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