Mortification is a word that not many of you likely have heard. Two concepts that appear in Christian approaches to sanctification are mortification and vivification. Building on the language and imagery of Colossians 3:9-10, the idea of mortification is understood as putting off the “old man,” and vivification was conceived, as the reality of being made alive by the Spirit. These twin ideas of sanctification require not only the shedding of sin but also renewal in the grace of God.
The importance of mortification though cannot be overstated. To mortify is to put sin to death. Christians can kill or mortify their sin because of Jesus. Jesus is our High Priest, He rules, and reigns as our Intercessor. Christians struggle to kill their sin because they don’t know role of Jesus as their High Priest, Intercessor, and Mediator before the Father.
Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest and Intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-16). He knows everything that is going on in our lives. Nothing is hidden from view of Him who knows His people. He died in our place and for our sin. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He experienced suffering on a level we will never experience. Yet, He submitted Himself to the Father and His Father’s plan for Him to die and rise on behalf of His people. Through Him now, His people have a High Priest and Intercessor who knows what they are going through. On the Cross, the full wrath of God was laid upon Jesus. Now through Christ, the righteousness of God is imputed to man apart from good works, to those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, all men bow in humble allegiance for they find that they have met their match, and in Him they are now satisfied by His love. Jesus makes all things new. He takes our sin and imputes to man His righteousness through which He gives man a new nature, with new desires, and affections for Himself.
Many Christians struggle to understand mortification because in the North American Church, we are so used to speaking about what we’ve been saved from that we hardly ever talk about what we’ve been saved to. When you combine this, with the idea that many Christians earnestly think that they can live however you want, you have a recipe for a disaster. To use the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he called the idea that man can live however we want, cheap grace. Bonhoeffer would point out that the grace of God is costly—it cost the Son of God His life when He bled and died a horrible awful death in our place and for our sin. Through Christ, we can put our sin to death. This is what Bonhoeffer called costly grace.
When you combine all of this with the fact that many Christians don’t want to speak about sin but only the love of God, you have a disaster. It’s no small wonder why the American church is by and large anemic today. We have such a low view of sin that when we read Paul’s words in Romans 6:1, “May it never be?” in reference to living, however, we want we don’t hear their full force. Paul’s point in Romans 6:1 is to counter the idea that because we’re saved by grace, we can live however we want to live. Instead, he counters by explaining our new identity in Christ is to inform our progressive growth in Christ. Progressive sanctification always goes back to positional or definitive sanctification. We don’t grow past our position in Christ, we grow into our position in Christ. Yet, the way that we often speak about sanctification as Christians focuses only on how we’re growing by grace (progressive sanctification). By not talking about what we’re growing into- namely our position standing in Christ we encounter many problems. As Christians grow in grace, they grow in their understanding of their new identity which propels their growth forward in His grace. Let’s now take a look at a few ways this affects our understanding of prayer and taking responsibility for our sin.
First, understanding our new identity in Christ will affect the way we pray. Through the intercession of Christ, He lives to plead the treasure of His own blood for His people. Our Lord is not dead and defeated. He is alive and empowers His people through the resurrection to live new lives. Furthermore, He empowers them to be His witness by His grace for His glory. When we witness for Christ, we witness not from our progressive growth in Him, but from our new identity in Him. Understanding our new identity in Christ affects not only our putting sin to death but every facet of our ministry for Jesus.
Second, understanding our new identity will mean we no longer play games or excuse our sin but rather take responsibility for it. Many Christians think they can live however they want, which is why pornography, adultery, and divorce are such big issues in the Church. Rather than coming out into the Light and living from their new identity in Christ, many Christians live like Adam in the Garden hiding in shame and nakedness. The thing about Adam though is that he wasn’t allowed to live in shame and guilt for his entire life, since God called him out and asked, “Where are you?” in Genesis 3:9-11. If we’re truly born again we will come awake and out of the shadows by embracing our new identity in Christ. Furthermore, the Lord will discipline us if we decide to live however we want. Christ died in the place of sinners and for their sin so, they would daily slay the dragon of sin, and testify to His power. Christ died in the place of sinners for their sin, so now they would no longer be under the dominion of sin, but instead by grace fueled obedience, daily slay sin through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit who summons them to come to His throne of grace and intercession for help in time of need.
We live in church culture where often times what is overemphasized is that you need to get saved. There is nothing wrong with calling people to become Christians. Yet Christians need to be told that now because they are saved they are to put to death their sin and live from their new identity in Christ (Romans 6). Christians have been transferred from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a result of this, they are to put off their sin and put on the Lord Jesus Christ in all of life. This also includes not living how you want to. This means you must decide if you will go and sin no more or if you will continue on in sin. With that said we also need to understand that we have indwelling sin. None of God’s people will be perfected until the day when the Lord Jesus clothes us completely in the righteousness of Christ. This is why theologians speak about the already and not of salvation.
Christians are saints and not yet perfected. Christians are saints because they have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them by faith in Christ. Through Christ, the Christian is as adorned in the perfection of Christ as they can be here while they wrestle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is also why the Christian is to engage in spiritual warfare. At the heart of mortifying the flesh is the idea that they are putting their sin to death. The Christian who shows no semblance of repentance in their life shows that they have serious doctrinal decencies. Discipleship problems are always doctrinal problems.
One day, Christians will be thoroughly clothed in the righteous robes of Christ. That Day is not yet since they are not in heaven. We will face hardship, persecution, and difficulty. After all the Lord told His people that we would in John chapters 15-16. The Lord to uses the good and difficulty of His people’s lives to refine and mold them into His image and likeness. This is why when Christians behave like how they live doesn’t matter, what they are saying by their actions is they don’t believe the gospel. The gospel is the power of God. God will bring His elect to glorification. Everything God does in the life of His people is to bring forth a pure and holy bride to the Lord Jesus. There is no fault on the side of the Lord Jesus for the lack of sanctification in the life of His people since He lives to make intercession for them. The entire responsibility lies in the individual Christian for failing to repent of sin. This is why many Christians to use the language of 1 John 1 are deceived. They think all is well with their soul, attend church every Sunday and yet not all is well. They go home from church, yell at their spouses, look at pornography during the week, men lust after every girl on every magazine cover, and look at that inappropriate image on social media and think, “Wow my life would be so much better if I had that toy or that attractive spouse.” The lust for more and greed is so rampant in our culture that for many of you, you’ve become desensitized to it. The sad truth is you have no understanding of holiness because you have a tiny gospel of your own making. This is why you live however you want to. You don’t even understand that you’re under divine discipline which is why you’re so discouraged and struggling.
There is good news though for sinner-saints. When Paul addressed the Corinthians at the opening of his letter in 1 Corinthians he called them saints. Now keep in mind these were people who were living however they wanted to do a gross degree. They were truly messed up and yet Paul said they were saints. Notice though that he doesn’t say they are perfect. Paul writes to correct them on how they are living because they were not living out the gospel before a watching and waiting world. This is why Paul wrote Corinthians to correct them on church governance, church government, spiritual gifts, biblical manhood, and womanhood, and biblical sexuality among other topics. The Lord desires to do the same in the life of His Church today. The book of Corinthians is a rebuke to much of North American Christianity with its lax attitude towards sin and towards its view of doctrine. 1 Corinthians may be one of the best letters for contemporary Christians to read and study because it’s there that we’re confronted with matters that we’re all dealing with, especially biblical sexuality. As I said discipleship problems are ultimately doctrinal problems.
Throughout this article, I’ve written to you in a confrontational style on purpose. I write as one who is deeply concerned and saddened by the state of the Church and who is concerned about the eternal state of many professing Christians. It’s not enough to say, “I’m a Christian” but the question is, is there enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian? Can people truly see Christ being formed in you? No man can judge your heart and whether you’re saved or not but your life can and does testify against your profession. This is why your profession must be matched by your possession. If you don’t believe me read 1 John, a letter the Apostle John writes to deal with this very issue of thinking you can live however you want to and be saved. Instead of this the Apostle John writes to confront us with hard truths. The Book of Hebrews uses warnings to warn Christians about falling away. Does the writer of Hebrews use these warnings because Christians have fallen away? No, he uses warnings because the writer wants his readers to heed the warnings and examine their lives in light of what Christ has done in their lives. This is precisely what I want for you as well. I want you to examine your life in light of Christ and His demands. After all, Christ has called His people to be holy. The holiness of God is to reshape our lives as Christians as Peter says in 1 Peter 1:13-17. The Christian is being remade in the image of God’s holiness and likeness through Christ. The image of God that was marred by the Fall is being remade in the image of Christ through the finished work of Christ. Now through Christ the Christian is to kill sin by the grace of God.
Conrad Mbewe, a well-known African Pastor consider by many the Spurgeon of Africa at the recent Desiring God Pastors conference said, “We deserve death, wrath, and hell forever. Jesus took our liability, and God crushed him. Jesus drank our hell.“ John Piper at that conference said the following, “At the very center of our deliverance from sin is the slaughter of the Son of God.” Jonathan Edwards once said, “A true love of God must begin with a delight in his holiness.” At the same Desiring God conference, Dr. Piper said, “A true understanding of sin will devastate you. And, in Christ, it will gloriously refresh you”, as well as, “He was killed for our sin, you were killed in Him, so kill your sin.”
The above quotes articulate in bit size form what I’m trying to say in this article—namely that through Christ, the Christian can slay the dragon of sin. Don’t’ make excuses, instead refuse to hide in the darkness any longer. Instead, come out of hiding and shame. Refuse to hide in shame and guilt any longer. Even Adam had to come out of hiding at the command of the Lord God. God through His Word calls man to come out of darkness and into the Light for this very reason—God wants His people to be holy and happy. He wants them to utilize the means of grace, He has given which are fueled by the grace of God. The grace of God provides the fuel by which we grow and go in the Christian life. God calls His people because of His grace to exercise grace-filled effort in the pursuit of Himself. He does this through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit.
So the next time you think you can live however you want—think again! Heed Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:1, “May it never be!” You were bought at the prices of the Son of God. Now because of Him put your sin to death and live unto the righteousness of God. What God commands He supplies. His grace is true and real. He hasn’t left you and He hasn’t forsaken you. Instead of this He has supplied you with everything you need to live a holy life in light of the cross and resurrection of Christ. So now because of His grace live for Him. Slay the dragon of sin in your life. Christian you are no longer under the dominion of sin, so now live unto the righteousness of God.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Theology for Life. Download this issue here.