This past Sunday, we continued our sermon series through James at CrossPointe. We’re taking it pretty slow (so far at least) and hitting 3 or so verses at a time. In the sermon on James 1:12-15, our pastor Jared referenced John Owen’s famous quotation, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Highly appropriate for these verses detailing how our desires give birth to sin which eventually grows up and has its own baby of death. As long as our sin nature is hanging around, we’ll continue to have its fruit, but by God’s grace we can at least develop our skills as fruit ninjas. We can’t quite kill our desires completely, but we can slaughter its little ones before they grow up.
The quote from Owen comes from his famous book length meditation on Romans 8:13. Known as The Mortification of Sin, Owen’s book is a must read for anyone serious about using the weapons of grace to grow in Christ. If not the book itself, at the least understanding the concept of mortification is a necessity.
Yesterday, Tim Challies happened to post on this very topic and he is basically trying to distill the essence of each chapter in Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (which includes, The Mortification of Sin, Temptation, and Indwelling Sin in it). I would highly recommend his CliffNotes, but if you want to pick up some books on the subject, you have a couple of reading options:
- The Works of John Owen Volume VI: Temptation and Sin (advanced, but you get the original unfiltered Owen)
- Overcoming Sin and Temptation (same as above, but edited to be easier to read)
- The Mortification of Sin (Puritan Paperback, one third of the above volumes, abridged and made easier to read)
- License to Kill: A Field Manual For Mortifying Sin (a more recent adaptation of Owen’s work)
As you might guess from the both the blog title and picture, I’m recommending the last option. Unless you’ve been doing a good bit of theological reading, Owen may be more mystifying than anything. Owen was said to think in Latin and then translate into English so simpletons like you and me could understand him. And since you want to understand how to mortify your sin and not be mystified by Owen’s Latinized English sentence structure, I would opt for License to Kill instead (or follow Challies CliffNotes)
In it, Brian Hedges takes the essence of Owen’s thinking and puts it into clear, concise 21st century English prose. As such, he’s a good entrypoint into John Owen. Speaking of his book’s purpose, Hedges says:
Licensed to Kill is intended to serve you as a field manual for mortifying sin. But this isn’t the kind of field-manual a backpacker or naturalist might carry. There is nothing so tame as bird-watching or collecting butterflies in the pages that follow. This is more like the field-manual of a covert intelligence agent. The context is war and the goal is survival. Kill or be killed. What we need is detailed instruction on surviving a dangerous assignment while in aggressive and hostile enemy territory. With that aim in mind, each chapter of this book will:
- address an important aspect of this gritty but necessary business of killing sin
- explore a key passage from Scripture about mortification
- and conclude with a series of “Examine and Apply” questions (Kindle Locations 108-115)
Using that basic layout, Hedges takes you through the process of mortification in a way that would make John Owen proud. I think everyone should get to where they can eventually read Owen, but it would be frustrating to jump into his books too soon. If you think you’re there, then grab Overcoming Sin and Temptation and get started. If not, then License to Kill is your best bet.
Ali and I are going to be reading it this week, and if you’re in our city group, we’ll be talking about it on Wednesday night.