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How to deal with besetting sins: Get a clear sense of:

  • The guilt of the sin perplexing
  • The danger manifold – Hardening
  • Temporal correction
  • Loss of peace and strength
  • ? Eternal destruction
  • Rules for the management of this consideration .
  • The evil of it (1.)In grieving the Spirit  (2.) Wounding the new creature (3.)
    Taking away a man’s usefulness.

John Owen


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Consider the dangerous symptoms of any lust:

  • Inveterateness…if it is longstanding (Psalm 38:5)
  • False peace obtained under it e.g.  to apply mercy to a sin not vigorously mortified is to fulfill the end of the flesh upon the gospel, to cherish thoughts of it even when not acted upon, to only think of the consequences of the sin.
  • Frequency of success in its seductions
  • Its being attended with judiciary hardness
  • Its withstanding particular dealings (discipline) from God (Isaiah 57:17).


  • THE RIGHT ATTITUDE IS: Those who are Christ’s, and are acted in their obedience upon gospel principles, have the death of Christ, the love of God, the detestable nature of sin, the preciousness of communion with God, a deep-grounded abhorrency of sin as sin, to oppose to any seduction of sin, to all the workings, strivings, fightings of lust in their hearts. So did Joseph. “How shall I do this great evil,” saith he, “and sin against the Lord?” my good and gracious God. And Paul, “The love of Christ constrains us;”  and, “Having received these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit,” 2 Cor. 7:1

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Keep thy heart (mind)!

Whilst a man keeps a diligent watch over his heart, the root and fountain of lust,  whilst above all keepings he keeps his heart, whence are the issues of life and death, lust withers and dies in it.

He, then, that would really, thoroughly, and acceptably mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be equally diligent in all parts of obedience, and know that every lust, every omission of duty, is burdensome to God..

Hear Paul, ”  And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.” (Acts 24:16).

Adapted from John Owen.


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Owen states that the true and acceptable principles of mortification are:

Hatred of sin as sin, not only as galling or disquieting, a sense of the love of Christ in the cross, lie at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification.

God’s work consists in universal obedience; Hence we have 2 Cor. 7:1, “Cleanse yourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” If we will do anything, we must do all things. Hence all sin of every sort is to be guarded against and mortified, not just one particular lust.

John Owen


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Principle two:

There must be universal sincerity for the mortifying of every lust, or no lust will be mortified.
So when subject to a powerful, strong, captivating, vexing, disquieting lust that takes away peace; it is not enough to set yourself against that alone but you must be in constant communion with God, in reading, prayer, and meditation, in all the means of grace and in the rest of your life and habits not be loose and negligent. In other words you must be totally consecrated to God (Romans 12;1,2)

Hear the Heidelberg Catechism LD 44:

  • Q. 113.  What doth the tenth commandment require of us?
    A.  That even the smallest inclination or thought contrary to any of God’s commandments never rise in our hearts; but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness.
  • Q. 114.  But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
    A.  No; but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.

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To mortify sin:

  • You must be a believer (no death to sin without the death of Christ and it is by the Spirit we put to death…) Can sin be killed without an interest in the
    death of Christ, or mortified without the Spirit? The root must be holy, the foundation gold. There is no real meaningful killing of sin if you are not truly converted.
  • It is an act of faith…Acts 15:9, “Purifying their hearts by faith.”
  • First job on conviction is confession and note the promise attached (I John 1:9,10)

Adapted from John Owen’s book.


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Lust gets strength by temptation. When a suitable temptation falls in with a lust, it gives it a new life, vigour, power, violence, and rage, which it seemed not before to have or to be capable of.
Some lusts are far more sensible and discernible in their violent actings than others. Paul puts a difference between uncleanness and all other sins: 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins
against his own body.” The one temptation we cannot stand up and fight!-JK

“Sin,” saith he, “is crucified; it is fastened to the cross.” To what end? “That the body of death may be destroyed,” the power of sin weakened and abolished by little and little, that “henceforth we should not serve sin;” that is, that sin might not incline, impel us with such
efficacy as to make us servants to it, as it has done heretofore. And this is spoken not only with respect to carnal and sensual affections, or desires of worldly things, — not only in respect of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, — but also as to
the flesh, that is, in the mind and will, in that opposition unto God which is in us by nature. .

To labour to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of its success, is the beginning of this warfare. So do men deal with enemies. They inquire out their counsels and designs, ponder their ends, consider how and by what means they
have formerly prevailed, that they may be prevented. KNOW YOUR ENEMY!-JK

From John Owen.


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Description of the mortification of sin

  • — the parts and degrees thereof
  • — The habitual weakening of its root and principle
  • — The power of lust to tempt
  • — Differences of that power as to persons and times
  • — Constant fighting against sin
  • — The parts thereof considered
  • — Success against it
  • — Summary.

The mortification of a lust consists in three things:–
(1.) An habitual weakening of it. Every lust is a depraved habit or disposition, continually inclining the heart to evil. Thence is that description of him who has no lust truly mortified, Gen. 6:5, “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually.” He is always under the power of a strong bent and inclination to sin. All lie towards the satisfaction of self. So the lust is a strong, deeply-rooted, habitual inclination and bent of will and affections unto some actual sin. Hence, men are said to have their “hearts set upon evil,” the bent of their spirits lies towards it, to make “provision for the flesh.” This sinful, depraved habit, impels with violence and impetuousness; whence lusts are said to fight or wage “war against the soul,” to lead captive as in success in battle, darkening the mind, extinguishing convictions, dethroning reason. The power of the lust depends on the disposition of the man, opportunity or temptation. Some more obvious than others e.g. uncleanness 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.”

Adapted from John Owen.


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Any particular sin will never be entirely killed or eradicated in this life as Paul says in Phil.3:12, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.”

Owen goes on to state what mortification IS NOT.

  • Diverting it is not mortification. “He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to the contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still.” Simon Majus gave up his sorcery but wanted spiritual gifts for personal aggrandizement.
  • Defeating it for a time is not mortification.
  • Turning from it in a time of chastisement or judgment and then being hypocritical is not mortification (Psalm 78:34-37).


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[2.] Sin that is not killed weakens and  it darkens the soul. It is a cloud, a thick
cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s love and favour. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them.

Now, in this regard does the vigour and power of our spiritual life depend on our mortification: It grieves the Spirit leading to spiritual weakness.  Men sick and wounded under the power of lust make many applications for help; they cry to God when the perplexity of their thoughts overwhelms them, even to God do they cry, but are not delivered; in vain do they use many remedies, — ” they shall not be healed.” So, Hos. 5:13,
“Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound,” and attempted various remedies: nothing will do until they come (verse 15) to “acknowledge their offence.” Men may see their sickness and wounds, but yet, if they do not confess and forsake, their cure will not be effected.

Mortification prunes all the graces of God, and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigour of our spiritual lives consists in the vigour and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts. Now, as you may see in a garden, let there be a precious herb
planted, and let the ground be untilled, and weeds grow about it, perhaps it will live still, but be a poor, withering, unuseful thing. You must look and search for it, and sometimes can scarce find it; and when you do, you can scarce know it, whether it be the plant you look
for or no; and suppose it be, you can make no use of it at all. But let it be well weeded, and everything that is noxious and hurtful removed from it, — it flourishes and thrives;
you may see it at first look into the garden, and have it for your use when you please. So it is with the graces of the Spirit that are planted in our hearts. That is true; they are still, they abide in a heart where there is some neglect of mortification; but they are ready
to die, Rev. 3:2, they are withering and decaying. The heart is like the sluggard’s field, — so overgrown with weeds that you can scarce see the good corn. Such a man may search for faith, love, and zeal, and scarce be able to find any; and if he do discover that these graces are there yet alive and sincere, yet they are so weak, so clogged with lusts, that they are of very little use; they remain, indeed, but are ready to die. But now let the heart be cleansed by mortification, the weeds of lust constantly and daily rooted up (as they spring daily,
nature being their proper soil), let room be made for grace to thrive and flourish, — how will every grace act its part, and be ready for every use and purpose!

(3.) Mortification is the soul’s vigorous opposition to self, wherein sincerity is most evident and it leads to peace.

Adapted from John Owen