“Thou settest thyself against a particular sin, and dost not consider that thou art nothing but sin.” -John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
How easy it is for us as believers to fall into the trap of putting a band-aid on a brain tumor. How easy it is for us to prune “diseased trees” and expect good fruit to grow back (Matthew 7).
In reading The Mortification of Sin by Puritan John Owen, I have been reminded, among many, many other things, that our goal as believers is not to stop the sin of the unbelievers around us. The “mortification” of our sins, as Owen calls it, or putting to death our sins, as we might call it, is a job for believers. It is a present responsibility for us. For unbelievers, it is still a command, but only in turn. First, the unbeliever must come to know Christ, or no sin of theirs will ever be mortified.
Have you ever spent hours and hours pouring into an unbelieving friend trying to get them to stop sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend? Trying to get them to stop partying so much? Are you ever exhausted when these efforts get you (and them) nowhere?
What about those friends who you pour into for months and months and finally the particular sin that is so obvious starts to go away? You start to feel better about them and yourself until the sin creeps back up and the discouragement is unbearable.
What Owen is calling us to is an impassioned, zealous effort not to kill the sins of our unbelieving friends, but to get them to Christ! Until they know him, any effort at stopping their sin is futile and vain. Unbelievers are dead in their sin, but we have been given life in Christ. Until they have that life, until they have the Holy Spirit, the mortification of their sins will be impossible.
Owen is also calling us to a renewed confidence in the Holy Spirit. He is calling us to put aside the discouragement we feel when our unbelieving friends continue in their sin, knowing it is not our responsibility to fix them, but simply to lay them at the feet of Jesus. How they respond is up to them and up to the sovereignty of God.
“Be sure to get an interest in Christ;” Owen says, “if you intend to mortify any sin without it, it will never be done.”