The Mortification of Sin

Discussion Guide for Romans 8:5-17

John Owen

John Owen is one of the most important theologians to ever come from England. He was a chaplain to the New Model Army, a regular preacher to Parliament, a local church pastor, and the vice-chancellor of Oxford University.

Owen’s influence at Oxford in the 1650s led it to become the most important training ground for evangelical preaching in the entire world. He believed deeply in teaching young people to become disciples of Jesus. He also had high expectation that even young men could live in a holy manner.

Putting Sin to Death

Owen’s most famous work deals with Romans 8:13. On the Mortification of Sin comes from a sermon that John Owen preached to students when he was the head of Oxford. Owen is portraying our sanctification as battle to the death that we must fight to gain victory over sin in our life.

The picture is scorched-earth warfare against our flesh. The efficient cause of victory, however, is not our own strength and discipline. It is the living Spirit of God inside each follower of Jesus. If Owen’s message can work for a bunch of teenage college students, it can certainly work for us today.

Memorable Quotes from The Mortification of Sin

  • “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
  • “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto an end of self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”
  • “A sense of the love of Christ in the cross lie at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification”
  • “The life, vigour, and comfort of our spiritual life depend much on our mortification of sin.”
  • “Sin is not mortified when it is only diverted. Simon Magus for a season left his sorceries; but his covetousness and ambition, that set him on work, remained still, and would have been acting another way.”
  • “A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary; while the root abides in strength and vigour, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bringing forth more. This is the folly of some men; they set themselves with all earnestness and diligence against the appearing eruption of lust, but, leaving the principle and root untouched, perhaps unsearched out, they make but little or no progress in this work of mortification.”
  • “Indwelling sin is compared to a person, a living person, called “the old man,” with his faculties, and properties, his wisdom, craft, subtlety, strength; this, says the apostle, must be killed, put to death, mortified, — that is, have its power, life, vigour, and strength, to produce its effects, taken away by the Spirit.”

Further reading on what the mortification of sin is all about can be found in this blog from the Gospel Coalition.

Living in the Spirit

Much of our struggle against sin comes down to what we believe about our identity. Verse 9 lays the groundwork for victory over sin when it says

“you, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit
if, in fact, the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

We must first know whether we are living children of God or dead slaves to our flesh.

Killing sin is difficult, and it comes with suffering. But the key is to remember that we are suffering with Christ. We are not becoming something contrary to our nature. Through the difficult process of putting sin to death, the Spirit of God is making us into the people he has already declared us to be.

Discussion Questions

  • How have you seen a mind set on the flesh lead someone to death? (v. 6)
  • Do most people with such a mind view themselves as hostile to God and unable to please Him? (v. 8-9)
  • Why do so many people have minds set on the flesh, yet believe they are OK with God?
  • What difference does it make if the Spirit dwells in somebody? (v. 9-11)
  • How have you noticed the Spirit kill sin inside of you? (v. 13)
  • What is the difference between being a Son of God and a slave of sin? (v. 14-15)
  • Are you taking seriously the fact that you are a child of God? (v. 16-17)

Related Message: The Holy Spirit and Us

Prayer for the Community

Remember the Crisis Pregnancy Center and the work they do in Gaston County. In addition to providing resources and counseling for mothers and fathers in crisis pregnancy situations, they are committed to sharing the Gospel and connecting young parents to churches. We have many people within Venture who volunteer in different capacities with CPC.

Jonathan Pugh
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