Killing Sin: A Lesson from John Owen

**The following is an excerpt from Killing Sin: An Adaptation of John Owen's 'The Mortification of Sin.' Our Student ministry will be using this book throughout the spring semester to dive deeply into the Bible's teaching about how to deal with remaining sin in the lives of believers. Books will be available in Alex's office beginning this week.**


What is the most practical piece of advice you have gotten for your Christian walk? My guess it that the answer has something to do with fighting sin. Some of the best advice we ever get comes from those who have been tested and tried, who are battle-worn, and yet who by the grace of God have had some measure of victory over sin.

In my early 20s, I got this kind of advice. And the man who gave it to me had been dead for over 300 years. John Owen is a giant. He was the greatest English Puritan during the time of the post-Reformation, and he wrote extensively about how to deal with sin. His short book The Mortification of Sin is one of the best things ever written on the daily business of fighting sin. Owen takes the Biblical doctrine of the mortification of sin and drives it home to the heart, in classic Puritan fashion. The Puritans were brilliant heart surgeons, seeking to let God’s Word do its work on the hearts of God’s people. 

During his time as vice-chancellor at Oxford, Owen must have realized the importance of fighting sin early and fighting sin often, for he preached a sermon series about killing sin to a group of teenagers and young university students. Owen could look back on his life and see the importance of the Puritan devotion instilled by his parents, along with the sweetness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which enables us to fight sin. And to this day, The Mortification of Sin remains one of the most influential works on the doctrine of sin the Christian Church has ever seen.

In our day, sin is swept under the rug. It is not a popular subject. And if John Owen were ministering to teenagers today, he might scarcely find a job, because there are so few churches that will get excited about teaching the doctrine of sin to their youth. That is precisely why it is needed. This world is fallen. Broken. Sin-sick. And the redemption that is offered in Christ is about being free from sin’s dominion. It is about walking in newness of life, experiencing the fullness of redemption in God’s sanctifying and glorifying work. In other words, the gospel is not only about “getting saved” from spiritual hell. It’s about being redeemed—mind, body, and spirit—by the grace of God in Christ. God wants us to be free of sin and to embrace the newness of life granted to us in Christ.

Since all this is true, we must recognize the times. We are at war. Look around. Do you still see a sin-sick world in need of redemption? Do you still experience temptation on a daily basis? Do you fail to keep the law of God? Yes. Of course you do. Remaining sin is a real problem in the lives of believers, and it will be until Christ returns! When we become Christians, we are not automatically exempt from all temptation to sin. Indwelling sin—the sin that remains even after we are saved—is an enemy to be visciously fought. In the words of John Owen, you must always “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”[1]


[1] John Owen, The Mortification of Sin (Christian Focus, 2006), 27.