When the angel announced good news to a band of startled shepherds, the heavenly messenger could not possibly have anticipated the extent of the gift or its impact. In Chapter 14 of The Mortification of Sin, John Owen puts words around the unwrapping of God’s gift in his Directions for the Work of Mortifying Sin. He invites his readers to fill their souls with the “consideration of that provision laid up in Jesus Christ.” What a gift, and what a gospel-tempered offset to the “thoughts of thine own vileness” that he prescribed in Chapter 12!
The believer’s hope of mortifying sin lies in the Person who was the object of the angel’s announcement: “the Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Owen is effusive on this point:
“There is enough in Jesus Christ to yield thee relief.”
“There is sufficient provision in Him for relief and assistance.”
Poll a group sometime for their one-word responses to the name of Jesus, and don’t be surprised if the words “enough,” “sufficient,” or “satisfying” are conspicuously absent. Even so, there is only richness in the grace He displayed in the incarnation. Putting our hope in Him for the mortification of sin is compared to the hope expressed in Psalm 130:6: “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.” This hopeful certainty “engages the heart to attend diligently to all the ways and means whereby Christ is want to communicate Himself to the soul.” This is as fine a definition of spiritual disciplines as I’ve heard. Taking time to meditate on the angel’s message of good news, silently giving thanks for the True Gift of Christmas, and quietly lifting the heart for God’s examination are practices of stillness which must not be confused with idleness or inactivity. The action to be taken as a result of having read Chapter 14 is guided by Paul in Romans 6: live in a manner that demonstrates that Christ’s death and burial have become ours.
Chapter 14 brings us full circle to the foundation laid in Chapter 1: it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer that accomplishes the work of mortification.
“The whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit in all the parts and degrees of it.”
“He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the corruption, lust or sin to be mortified.”
“All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”
Having read The Mortification of Sin, I will read Romans 8:13 with appreciation for the truth that killing sin is all of grace, all of the Spirit, and flows from the “good news of great joy” that we celebrate when we say “Merry Christmas!”