Sometimes the way God weaves themes and teaching into my life just blows my mind. Yesterday I was reflecting on exuding Christ in every aspect of my life – and the direct Scriptural exhortation to that end is the fruit of the Spirit that ought mark every Christian’s life as he puts to death the deeds of the flesh.
I love to read. And there are a few books that have helped to lay foundations in my life that I would highly recommend. One of those books is “The Mortification of Sin” by John Owen. I read it for the first time while I was in college, and it is so helpful to my Spiritual walk that I reread it every few years. As I was reading yesterday afternoon, I came across a portion that has captured my thoughts for the past twelve hours:
“With all troubling sin, no matter whether it encourages us to do evil or hinders us from doing good, the rule is the same: it must be mortified (killed) or it will arise again. A man may beat down the bitter fruit from an evil tree until he is weary but while the root of the tree continues to abide in strength and vigour, the beating down of the present fruit will not hinder it from bearing more evil fruit. This is the folly of some men; they set themselves with all earnestness and diligence against the breaking out of a lust, but they leave the principle and root untouched. They will make little progress in the work of true mortification.”
As I read that last night, the picture of a man hitting apples off of a tree with a baseball bat popped into my head. If you struggled with cheating on homework or exams in school and you do not uproot that sin, once schooling is complete it will no longer be expressed in that way – but the root, the need for approval, success, and human valuation will be expressed in different ways: using others to get ahead in your career, counting other’s ideas as your own, etc. If you struggled with sexual lust as a teenager and the root of self indulgence is not eradicated then you might look for fulfillment in your spouse or over indulge in big houses, excess food or even an affair.
We are not to be about behavioral adjustment. The change must occur at the heart level. And it can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. John Owen says, “The Holy Spirit is our only sufficiency for the work of mortification. All ways and means apart from Him have no true affect.” The work of the Spirit in salvation is to give us a new heart, one on which the Law of God is written (Ez 11.19; 36.26; Is 57.17-18). It is the Spirit that leads us to repentance (Acts 5.31) and it is through the power of Jesus Christ that we do anything that honors God (John 15.5). The Spirit “works in [us] to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2.13). He works “all our works in us” (Is 26.12), and He works “the work of faith with power (2 Thess 1.11; Col 2.12). He even causes us to pray (Rom 8.26; Zech 12.10)!
These things have been commanded of us, but we are only able to do them through the power of the Holy Spirit. Such is the mystery of the dual responsibility of God and man, and we trust Him alone to empower us to obedience! “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1.6). And through His empowerment we work diligently to mortify sin at the heart level: fighting it daily. Thus the fruit of the Spirit is not sharing the Gospel ten times a day, buying flowers for your wife and abstaining from worldly pleasures! It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It is through love that you share the Gospel. It is through kindness that you buy flowers. It is through goodness and self control that you pay your taxes and honor the laws of the land. If our hearts are not right, we have accomplished nothing. Temperament can cause one to appear as though he has mortified sin, but if his heart is not right, he is still guilty – though he might not be as “outwardly scandalous” as John Owen says.
Let us not cheapen grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, by thinking that God will forgive whatever we do and therefore choose to sin or by attempting to earn it by behavioral modification. Rather, let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling, through the power of the Holy Spirit by prayer, seeking to mortify sin and eradicate it from our lives at the root level: the heart.