The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification

Recently, I have been helping a couple of guys in the area of sexual temptation and the Internet. During this time, the concept of mortification (i.e., the putting to death of sin) has inevitably arisen. Mortification is a an essential part of the believer’s sanctification process.

One of the most well-known teachers of mortification is John Owen. Few have probed the doctrine of mortification more deeply and exhaustively than Owen. Owen’s famous book, Mortification of Sin in Believers, has helped thousands of believers in their fight against remaining sin.

Owen based his entire book on an exposition of Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” One of the most oft quoted lines from his book, which seeks to summarize Romans 8:13 is, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

We have much to be thankful for in John Owen’s classic work. Equally helpful, though less known, is Ralph Erskine’s sermon on the difference between legal and gospel mortification.

Erskine, one of the twelve Marrow Men, shows how mortification, if not kept in check by Gospel principles and means, easily leads to a legal method of holiness. Thus, he sought to set forth the difference between a legal and gospel method of mortification (The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification).

In your fight with sin, it is critical to make sure you are fighting in a gospel rather than legal way. As Walter Marshall writes,

    “Understanding the true way of sanctification is absolutely critical for living a holy life in your Christian life. You will not be able to successfully live a holy life unless you use the means God has given you to pursue this holy life! God has chosen and ordained the means of salvation and sanctification that will give Him all the glory! These are the only means that he will bless in your life. He will not crown any man who strives, unless he strives lawfully (II Timothy 2:5), (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 22).

Every believer who desires to live a Gospel-Driven Life will seek, as Erskine writes, “…not only to have it (i.e., sin) weakened, but extirpated.”

One great way to thrust out sin when it comes to surfing the Internet is to use Covenant Eyes. Internet filters do not work. Covenant Eyes does. Sin cannot flourish when it is brought out into the open. I have used CE for over two years. I would not get on my computer without it. I highly recommend it.

Gospel blessings!


4 Responses to The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification

  1. Manny says:

    Wonderful words in a day of much needed purity and accountability. I greatly appreciate your words on mortification and plan to take up your recommendation on Owen. Thank you and may God bless your ministry!

  2. Great thoughts. I’ve often wanted to read more John Owen, but have never found the time. I love the link you provided from Erskine. Very challenging and convicting.

    I work for Covenant Eyes and it is great to read your testimony about how the program has worked for you!

    Luke Gilkerson
    Internet Community Manager
    Covenant Eyes

  3. I just finished reading Owen’s book and it was truly amazing. I loved every second of it. Painful to the conscience, but great for the soul!

    By the way, Covenant Eyes just posted its new video online. Please check it out and see if you like it. Its all about the power of Internet pornography and how accountability works. Please, help us out by pasting it into your blog some time. We want a lot of people to see this and find the help they need. Thanks, and God bless!

  4. […] have written previously about the critical importance of mortifying sin in our lives, particularly in relation to our […]

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