One thing I have learned from reading John Owen is the difference between sin and sins. That may sound confusing at first, but the Bible makes a distinction.
David says in Psalm 51:
“Hid your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
In this passage it is clear that David is referring to the many transgressions he has committed.
But Paul says in Romans 7:
“But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” v. 8
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” v. 22-23
In these two passages we see a difference between transgressions we may commit, such as covetousness, and a principle, or law of indwelling sin that still dwells in our flesh as believers.
Understanding this has shed a lot of light on other passages that speak of “the old man” or “the old self” such as Ephesians 4:22,
“to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires..”
It’s not just the case that we commit sins. More than that, and at the bottom of that is a lingering law of sin that still dwells in our flesh. Yes, we have been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6, Gal. 2:20) and as a result the body of sin has been brought to nothing so that we are no longer enslaved to sin. But Paul still tells us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Rom. 6:12). This law of sin is still in our flesh.
Owen describes our responsibility better than I can in this quote:
“Indwelling sin is compared to a person, called ‘the old man,’ with his faculties and properties, his wisdom, craft, subtlety, strength; this, says the apostle, must be killed, put to death, mortified – that is, have its power, life, vigor, and strength to produce its effects taken away by the Spirit.”
Avoiding certain sins is only half the battle. There is an enemy that still dwells in our flesh and we are commanded to put it to death.
Here is another challenge from Owen which includes one of his most famous quotes:
Do you mortify;
do you make it your daily work;
be always at it while you live;
cease not a day from this work;
be killing sin or it will be killing you.
Does this sound too serious? Too, too, … (dare I say it)… Puritanical? I think maybe we take sin too lightly and don’t understand its intrinsic evil, depth of power and ability to deceive. If we did, perhaps we would treat it as the enemy it really is. After all, the only way sin and death were defeated was for God to send his only Son to die on our behalf. There was no other way.