In chapter 9 of The Mortification of Sin, John Owen lays out several symptoms of sin. It is dangerous for us when we have become callous to sin, seek to justify sin, experience sin’s success over our will (even if our bodies don’t comply), or allow sin to remain despite discipline. Our greatest weapon against such symptoms is the gospel. Killing our sin is only possible because of the Jesus on the cross. He shed his blood so that we might have victory over sin and death. Yet some people would attempt to apply the law to mortifying sin. In this case, sin would only be mortified by a certain set of obedient works. This case is not only sad but dangerous. As Owen says, “But now if a man be so under the power of his lust that he has nothing but law to oppose it with, if he cannot fight against it with gospel weapons, but deals with it altogether with hell and judgment, which are the proper arms of the law, it is most evident that sin has possessed itself of his will and affections to a very great prevalency and conquest.” (93-94) The law is powerless against sin. The law can only highlight sin. It cannot mortify or eliminate sin.
How can you recognize this scenario?
Try yourself by this also: When you are by sin driven to make a stand, so that you must either serve it and rush at the command of it into folly, like the horse into the battle, or make head against it to suppress it, what do you say to your soul? What do you expostulate with yourself? Is this all – “Hell will be the end of this course; vengeance will meet with me and find me out”? It is time for you to look about you; evil lies at the door [Gen. 4:7]. Paul’s main argument to evince that sin shall not have dominion over believers that they “are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). If your contendings against sin be all on legal accounts, from legal principles and motives, what assurance can you attain unto that sin shall not have dominion over you, which will be your ruin? (94)
The gospel is good news to all that believe. It has brought us liberation and continues to be our greatest weapon in the battle against sin. Employ it often.