The Christian marketplace is filled with T-shirts, tracts, and trinkets that speak of how to have the ideal Christian life. Every year, Christians spend millions of dollars on self-help books and “how-to” guides for living an abundant life. For the most part, Christians are told that if they want to be really great Christians they simply need to follow a few easy steps.
In truth, every Christian, who has not been seduced by the superficial tactics and magical pixie dust of childish Christian gurus from evangelical Neverland, knows full well that there is more to living the Christian life than reading the latest Christian self-help book. It is somewhat ironic that one of the greatest books ever written on Christian living is John Owen’s classic The Mortification of Sin, a book dealing with the Christian’s death to self and the book after which this issue of Tabletalk has been published.
The thesis of Owen’s book is founded upon the apostle Paul’s admonition to mortify the flesh: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13 KJV). How strange to think that the path to life is through death — the death of our sin and the denial of ourselves (Luke 9:23). In fact, the very foundation of our justification is in the death of death itself in the death of Jesus Christ, and the foundation of Christian living and sanctification is in the death of self in the death of our sin. Therein lies the simplicity of the Christian’s abundant life in Christ (John 10:10).
What makes us different from the watching world of sinners is not that we don’t sin but that we hate our sin, repent of our sin, and earnestly seek to mortify our sin that has been taken to the cross and placed upon our Savior who atoned for our sin — and all this for the glory of God. In his preface of The Mortification of Sin, Owen wrote, “I hope…that mortification and holiness may be promoted in my heart and in the hearts and lives of others, to the glory of God; and that in this way the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things.” While many Christians suppose their spiritual growth is monitored on some sort of heavenly growth-chart, we only grow as we become more and more convinced of God’s holiness and the absence of true holiness in our own lives, mortifying sin and living obediently coram Deo, before the face of God, for the glory of God on account of God the Son in whom we died and in whom we have been raised to abundant life.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.