Written by R. Fowler White |
Sunday, January 8, 2023
What benefits may believers enjoy through mortification? A. The benefits that believers may enjoy through mortification include the following: that their strength and peace—indeed, their power and comfort—in their life with God will be stirred up, increased, and built up through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of adoption (Col 1:10–11; Eph 3:16–19; Rom 7:4-6; Gal 5:16, 22-23, 25; Heb 6:11–12; Jude 20); that they will more and more die to sin as its power to produce unholy thoughts, words, and deeds in their lives is taken away (Rom 8:4, 13; Gal 5:16, 19-21); that they will more and more have power to fight and overcome sin (Rom 6:14; 1 John 5:4; Eph 4:15–16), to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and to grow in all saving graces (Ezek 36:25-27; Rom 6:11-23; 7:4, 6; 8:13b; 2 Cor 7:1; Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:8-14; 1 Pet 2:24); and that they will enjoy communion with Christ in His death to sin (Rom 6:2-4, 6, 14; 8:13; Gal 5:16, 25; Phil 3:10b; 2 Cor 1:5), the assurance of God’s love (Rom 5:5), peace of conscience (Rom 5:1), joy in the Spirit (Rom 14:17), and growth and perseverance in grace to the end of their lives (2 Pet 3:18Phil 1:6; 1 Pet 1:5).
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth. Colossians 3:5 (KJV)
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. Romans 8:13 (KJV)
For most folks, that word mortify in the citations above is plainly just an antiquated term found in an antiquated Bible translation. That opinion, however, is more than a little naïve, showing only how afflicted we can be by the arrogance of the modern. The fact is, the more we study that word and concept in the context of the Bible and in the context of the church’s historic confessional and theological discussions, we realize that there is enduring benefit in recovering their usage. That is particularly true if we want to get a handle on the basics of the Bible’s teaching about the Christian life: after all, as indicated by the citations above, mortification is evidently fundamental to Paul’s conception of the believer’s new life. The continuing value of the term is also seen when we seek to understand and engage responsibly in the current debate over the meaning and relevance of mortification in the lives of men who aspire to occupy or already occupy the office of elder or deacon in Christ’s church.
It was precisely for the reasons just stated that the questions and answers below were drawn up. Oh, to be sure, the catechetical format might not appeal to everybody. The format is not so much the point, however; the content is. It aims to distill the insights on mortification from what is widely regarded in Reformed circles as the masterwork on that biblical doctrine by John Owen (1616-1683). No doubt improvements can be made; hence the word “Toward” in the title of this post. For the moment, however, let me mention that, in drawing up this catechism, great benefit came from consulting the annotated edition of Owen’s original work by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, the modernized edition of it by William Gross, and the popularized summaries of Owen’s teaching found in the books of Sinclair Ferguson, Kris Lundgaard, and Jerry Bridges. Readers may also notice that an attempt was made to integrate, wherever possible, language and concepts related to mortification found in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Finally, let me express my gratitude to Reed DePace, teaching elder and pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCA), Montgomery, AL, as well as contributor here at Green Baggins. His patient interaction with multiple drafts of this catechism was very valuable. Of course, responsibility for the final form of this document must be my own.
Overall, my aim in drafting this catechism for myself and for others has been to get a firmer grasp on the serious business that mortification is, together with a greater appreciation for just how central mortification is to our Christian lives. This project has certainly motivated me to heed Owen’s stark reminder: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” As a result, my prayer is that we’ll all buckle down and go on to mature in holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1; Col 3:5-14; 1 Pet 2:24; Heb 12:14; Col 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 3:13; cf. Phil 3:12-14; 1 John 3:1-3), to grow in the saving grace and knowledge of Christ (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18), and to be transformed inwardly day by day (2 Cor 3:18; 4:16; Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23; Col 3:10).
Q. 1. What is mortification?
A. Mortification is both an initial and a progressive work of grace in believers by the Holy Spirit: the initial work of grace being that the Spirit unites believers to Christ in His death to sin, with the result that they are said to have been crucified with Christ and to have died to sin with Christ (Rom 6:3-7; Gal 2:20; 5:24; Phil 3:10b; Col 2:20; 3:3, 9);….