by Steve Martin

When a person becomes a Christian, God the Holy Spirit applies the victorious work of Christ to a dead sinner (John 3:1-10; Ezekiel 36:16-32; Ephesians 2:1-10). A new life in Christ has begun, a new creation is afoot. The joy experiencing the love of Christ shed abroad in one’s heart soon gives away to an alarming discovery–something is still wrong with me! The saved sinner comes to discover that he or she is not a sinless person nor a sinless Christian. Sin has not been eradicated from the human heart by the new birth. Sin still exists in the human being, lurking about in the heart and mind and affections of the believer. The Bible says it no longer reigns (Romans 6:1-14) BUT it sure does like to throw its weight around!

Some have sought to honor God and help the saints by teaching that a believer can reach a state of either “perfect love for God and man” (John Wesley and faithful Wesleyan theologians) or “sinless perfection” (Charles Finney and certain types of charismatics). Faithful Bible students see that the New Testament knows nothing of sinless perfection or perfect love for God or man…in this life.

Faithful Bible students see in Scripture that the state of sinless perfection is not attained in this world of probation. Rather sinless perfection is reached in heaven where the believers receive a new, resurrection body akin to our Savior’s resurrection body. Our new bodies will be without sin and perfectly righteous. To repeat, not until heaven do we become perfect.

What are we to do in the meantime? Grit out teeth and adopt a Stoic grimness about life and the Christian life in particular? Are we to listen to those who claim sinless perfection and who chide us that we settle for too little when we could be perfect? (Honest souls have to ask how realistic and honest these charismatic and perfectionist friends are in evaluating their own lives. Have their spouse’s been interviewed as to their perfection? Do their children know their “perfectionistic parent” to be perfect?)

Real help for believers has come from the Puritan and Reformed churches through writers who take the promises of God and the indicatives of God (what God has said in His Word He has done or is doing for believers in and through Christ and the Spirit) and the imperatives of God (commands God gives His people based upon what He has or is working out in their lives–E.g. Philippians 2:12-13–“work out what God has worked in”) very seriously. [I apologize for that long sentence with subordinate clauses but I wanted to keep the thoughts together!]

Puritan and Reformed authors have shown us that believers are to put to death their remaining sins while putting on their new life in Christ by the Spirit. This two-fold “putting on” and “putting off” are the prescribed means of believers gaining control over their remaining sins and seeing real progress in having them sharply diminished. Believers are to “by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13).

Today I wanted to gather together those Puritan and Reformed authors who can do you real good in explaining and illustrating how to put on who you are in Christ and put to death your remaining sins still lingering in your fallen body. I emphasize that you must be alive in Christ before you can put your sins to death. Good works follow the new birth and conversion. Dead works dwell in the hearts of those who seek to earn favor with God on the basis of their own deeds.

Kris Lundgaard, THE ENEMY WITHIN; P & R Publishing–Missionary and pastor Lundgaard chews, swallows and digests the great Puritan John Owen’s works
on the subject at hand and then like a mother bird with her hungry chicks, regurgitates food in a form they can digest. Highly recommended.

Wayne Mack, FIGHT TO THE DEATH; P & R Publishing–A straight-forward manual on dealing with your remaining sins.

Brian Hedges, LICENSED TO KILL (A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin); Cruciform Press–the next best place to go. Clear, compelling and practical.

Stuart Scott, KILLING SIN HABITS (Conquering Sin with Radical Faith); Focus Christian Publishing–ditto

John Owen, INDWELLING SIN IN BELIEVERS (Puritan Paperback Series); Banner of                                                              Truth paperback

John Owen, MORTIFICATION OF SIN (Puritan Paperback Series); Banner of Truth paperback

John Owen, MORTIFICATION OF SIN (Study Guide) by Rob Edwards; Banner of Truth paperback. (Classic works of Owen that should be studied together and prayed over together.)

John Owen, OVERCOMING SIN AND TEMPTATION; edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor; Crossway (The most thorough and helpful edition of Owen’s
profound and biblical works on this subject.)

In a related vein, the believer is encouraged to read C. S. Lewis’ portrayal of mortification in THE GREAT DIVORCE. A young man, wanting to go to heaven, is told by a fiery and slightly intimidating angel that the red lizard on the man’s shoulder must be put to death. The ensuing discussion between the angel and the man and the man and the red lizard is a priceless retelling of how our remaining sins want to be spared and how we must depend upon divine power to put sin to death. It is also a good section to role play for family devotions with teens or with a class of adults.

In teaching the doctrine of mortification (putting to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit), Professor of Old Testament in 19th century Edinburgh, Scotland, John “Rabbi” Duncan told his class to go home and read and study Owen. But then he closed in adding: “Prepare for the knife!” What he meant was that Owen was not going to tell you how to coddle your sins but to put them to death. To name your pet sin “Cuddles”, to give it a bath, spray it with Chanel and tie a pink ribbon around its neck is not going to change its essential nature. Sin will show itself. It cannot be played with, toyed with or managed–it must be put to death!

May the Lord give you and me grace to put our remaining sins to death–not by our feelings but by faith in the revealed Word of God by the power of the Spirit.