“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 does 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!” (John Owen).
“How did I get this far? … How have I strayed so far from what I knew to be true? … How was I so blind to the work of God in my life?” Have you ever thought these ideas? Have you ever talked with a brother or sister in Christ who has come out of a dark time of rebellion and they have asked this question?
In John Owen’s book titled “The Mortification of Sin,” Owen describes the necessity for believers to constantly fight against sin’s desire to reign in our hearts. In the above quote, Owen likens our hearts to a garden. Gardens grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables. As we know, weeds grow very well in the soil that we plant or produce. If the gardener is not regularly pulling weeds from the garden, the weeds will eventually choke out that which is the desirable produce. So it is with the heart. One day we feed our hearts with the Word of God and the graces of time spent with the Lord. The next day we give in to the temptations of the flesh and forget about the sweet time of fellowship we had with the Lord.
Two years ago, we planted a garden in our backyard. We planted some mint in one part of the garden because we love to add mint to ice water or iced tea in the summer. We planted something good but didn’t keep it in check. Now we have a mint garden in one large part of the garden. It took over like weeds. Isn’t it often the case that we feed our hearts and our lives good gifts of the Father, but don’t guard ourselves from our feeding? We eventually either become spiritually obese from the good things God gave us, or we have idolized the gifts that God has given and worshiped them more than the Giver of the gift.
When we allow good gifts to be idolized and worshiped, and when we allow sinful temptations to go on unchecked, the graces of God are choked out of our lives and we end up walking down a path we never planned to walk. It is after years of allowing sin to reign that we comfortably commit sins that even some of the more immature in the church would say is despicable.
To mortify the flesh according, to John Owen, is to follow Romans 6:11-13. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
To mortify is to put to death. It is to take that temptation captive and give it to the Lord. To mortify is to confess. To mortify is to cut off sin’s power. The way to cut off sin’s power is by giving it over to the Holy Spirit through the power of the cross. May we never be a people who can ever wonder, “How did I stray so far?”